As the Buffalo Sabres’ bye week continues, and the NHL All-Star break begins, it’s time to continue our evaluations of the team as it stands at this point. The trade deadline is coming up, and April really doesn’t seem very far off as the season’s end and the ever-enticing playoffs approach.
In case you missed it on Wednesday, Erik provided his evaluation of the Sabres’ forward group. We continue now by evaluating the team’s defense core - or, to some extent, lack thereof. The Sabres have struggled at times defensively this season, and as has been the case across the board, injuries haven’t helped them. Then again, neither does a player asking for a trade (in the case of Zach Bogosian) or being horribly misused by the team (as in the case of Colin Miller.)
Let’s start with the obvious: Zach Bogosian. The 29-year-old has been a thorn in the side of many fans this season. He’s only appeared in 18 games, missing much of the beginning of the season following hip surgery. But in the 18 games he’s played in, he’s often cost the team a goal here, a goal there or even a win. He hasn’t proven himself to bring anything substantial to the team, and then reportedly requested a trade in mid-December - yet he’s still here in Buffalo, costing his team points on occasion. Sigh.
Rasmus Dahlin has been the spotlight defenseman for the Sabres, but even he can’t make up for everything else the blueline has done. Dahlin missed time this season after sustaining a concussion, but has appeared in 41 games this season and has generally been good or even great when he is on the ice. He’s certainly a bright spot in Buffalo’s future and arguably the best piece of their defense core.
Next question: what in the world are the Sabres doing with Colin Miller? It’s been downright painful to watch how the team has been handling a player who could be a huge part of Buffalo’s defense. Instead, he’s been scratched - often in favor of Bogosian, or Jake McCabe (who isn’t having a much better season than Bogosian). Fans have certainly been frustrated, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Miller were to ask for a trade at some point. He’s a player who should easily be in the lineup every night, and yet....
Then there’s Henri Jokiharju, Brandon Montour and Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen has put up 23 points on the offensive side of things this season, and has also once again been tasked with some heavy ice time. He’s currently averaging 22:47 per game, most of any skater on the team. Jokiharju’s been a nice surprise at times, considering some didn’t know what to make of him upon his acqusition. In general, this trio has been what I’d call “alright” this season - some good moments, some not so good moments, but overall, not the best or worst out there.
In regards to other players who have been pieces of the Sabres’ defense this season: Marco Scandella was certainly a tradable asset in his time with Buffalo, and just after the calendar year turned to 2020, he was shipped out to Montreal; no big loss there. John Gilmour has played four games for Buffalo this season, but is back up in the AHL with the Rochester Americans until (if) a spot opens back up. Lawrence Pilut has also made a few appearances with the Sabres - six games, to be exact - but is back up in Rochester during the All-Star break, and will appear in the AHL All-Star Classic. He, like Dahlin, appears to be a bright piece of the future for this hockey club.
Overall: there’s certainly room for improvement among the Sabres’ defensemen, but it should start with a close examination of how the team is using Bogosian and Miller. From my perspective, it doesn’t look like they’re using either player the way they should be, and it’s undoubtedly cost them some games and points, and something has to change going forward.