We’re finally here. After 311 days without Buffalo Sabres hockey, the 2020-21 NHL season has arrived. Following the longest non-lockout offseason in league history, there are a lot of storylines surrounding the blue-and-gold. In what promises to be a bizarre year of revised divisions and pandemic-related obstacles, the range of potential outcomes is vast.
As is tradition, the editorial staff has come together for their yearly prediction on a few specific categories for the upcoming campaign. Unlike last season, there is a little bit more variety here in terms of the answers each writer came up with.
Given the fact that the Sabres could reasonably dress up to seven new players from opening night in 2019, that really isn’t a surprise. It will certainly be interesting to look back at the end of the year to see how well we prognosticated the results of a season that will likely throw a few curveballs at us.
Without further delay, let’s take a look at the responses.
Jack Eichel (9 Votes) - Anthony, Austin, Calvin, Chad, Chris, Jason, Melissa, Ryan, Steve
Alright, we started with the first of three unanimous categories on the list. Let’s be honest with ourselves - after an MVP caliber performance in 2019-20, Eichel is the logical choice. Taylor Hall could contend here, and so could Rasmus Dahlin if he takes a quantum-leap into elite status on the back end, but the captain is by far the surest bet.
Jack Eichel (4 Votes) - Anthony, Austin, Jason, Ryan
Taylor Hall (4 Votes) - Calvin, Chad, Melissa, Steve
Jeff Skinner (1 Vote) - Chris
We have our first tie! Following a 36-goal outing last season, Eichel is the easy answer here. That total could be replicated in 2021, but the presence of two more talented shooters on the top line in Taylor Hall and Tage Thompson, could turn Eichel into more of a setup man.
That’s probably the logic applied to everyone who selected Hall, and it’s certainly founded in reason. Chris made a bold choice, projecting a bounce-back year for Skinner. Notoriously inconsistent year-over-year, he could very well rediscover his goal-scoring touch in a renovated top-six.
Tage Thompson (4 Votes) - Anthony, Austin, Calvin, Chad
Rasmus Asplund (1 Vote)- Melissa
Casey Mittelstadt (1 Vote)- Chris
Curtis Lazar (1 Vote)- Steve
Riley Sheahan (1 Vote)- Ryan
Carter Hutton (1 Vote)- Jason
Nine voters, six different choices. Of all the topics to follow, this one was certainly the most diverse. Thompson was the leader, and it makes sense. After a really rough first season in Buffalo, the 23-year-old finally got a second chance with the big club after re-earning his place in Rochester.
Sadly, his season was cut short in his first game back with the Sabres due to a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery. As of right now, he finds himself on the top line alongside Eichel and Hall.
Rasmus Dahlin (9 Votes) - Anthony, Austin, Calvin, Chad, Chris, Jason, Melissa, Ryan, Steve
I mean, who else is it going to be? Putting aside the fact that players like Rasmus Dahlin and Brandon Montour are routinely criticized for having poor underlying metrics, even in terms of base stats, Dahlin should run away with this one.
Not only was he the top-point producer on the blue line last season, but he’s also now fully cemented as the lone defenseman on the top power-play unit. As a player who was billed as a generational talent in his draft year, fans are eager to see the next step from the 20-year-old cornerstone.
Total Team Points
55 (1 Vote) - Jason
56 (2 Votes) - Calvin, Ryan
57 (1 Vote) - Anthony
58 (1 Vote) - Austin
61 (2 Votes)- Chad, Melissa
63 (1 Vote) - Chris
65 (1 Vote) - Steve
We’ve got a pretty wide range of possible outcomes here, but the median lands a bit better than a .500 team. In a year where every squad will have to play the same set of seven opponents, the “predictably” of the final standings is probably less straight-forward than usual.
Will The Sabres Make the Playoffs?
No (9 Votes) - Everyone
This is tough. Like I said above, the prediction models are probably a lot less predictable and will ultimately prove less accurate than they typically are in a normal season.
Is there reason to believe the Sabres could make it? Of course. That being said, there are also conceivable scenarios where Buffalo finishes last. The East Division is widely considered the most talented in hockey, and features three teams that were on pace for 100+ point seasons before the 2019-20 campaign was cut short.
If you want some good news, there is no juggernaut team to worry about this year. The Tampa Bay Lightning are gone, and the Boston Bruins are battling injuries to a couple of their top guys to start the year. Anything is possible, but for now, it’s tough to project the Sabres in the top-half of the division.
Anthony - Taylor Hall re-signs with Buffalo after an excellent season flanking Eichel
Austin - Arttu Ruotsalainen scores more goals than Cody Eakin
Calvin - The Sabres power-play finishes top-three in the NHL
Chad - Linus Ullmark finishes top-10 in GSAx rate
Chris - Eric Staal scores more goals than Eichel
Jason - Dylan Cozens ends up on Eichel’s wing at some point
Melissa - Casey Mittelstadt will spend more than half the season with the Rochester Amerks
Ryan - Sabres miss the playoffs and Eichel demands a trade
Steve - Thompson outscores Skinner at even-strength
This section is always the most fun, because of the range of takes (some steamier than others). There are some wild ones here. I’ll save the commentary for this section and let you all be the judge(s).