Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-10-2016
The 2016-17 NHL season begins this week with the Buffalo Sabres kicking things off on Thursday by welcoming the Montreal Canadians to the newly christened KeyBank Center. Some have broken out their crystal balls while other have got their hard-drive humming while delving deeply into advanced stats in an effort to predict the unpredictable.
It's a fun game to play and here are a few experts and pundits having their say on the upcoming Buffalo Sabres season.
We'll start out the predictions parade with some analytics.
A first crack at predicting the 2016-17 NHL standings, Travis Yost, TSN
The analytics guru formerly of hockeybuzz starts out his "First crack at predicting the 2016-17 standings" by stating "The beauty of hockey, like many sports, is that the equation for how we define success is reasonably simple: We care about wins. The way to earn wins is by scoring more goals than the other team. Because of that, much of the focus on hockey analytics – regardless of complexity – is spent examining the things that drive goal differentials."
Yost uses a number of criteria to get and the base of his predictions which centers around goal differential as a better indicator of overall talent than wins and losses and comes up with a formula using 10 years of advanced stats to back his prediction. And the Sabres, according to his goal-differential data, will finish....
15th in the Eastern Conference behind Toronto, Columbus and Ottawa and ahead of only one team, the New Jersey Devils.
THN's 2016-17 NHL season preview: Buffalo Sabres,The Hockey News', Dominik Luszczyszyn
According to Luszczyszyn, Buffalo's top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, is actually hurting the team, a concept he bases totally on analytics from the prior three seasons. Here's some of what he wrote:
"The team’s number one D-man is Rasmus Ristolainen and while many are optimistic about his progress due to his point totals last seasons, his underlying numbers were atrocious. That’s been the case for his entire NHL career so far. Think about how bad Buffalo has been the past few years; they’re even worse with Ristolainen on the ice.
"Many believe that after last season’s big jump the Buffalo Sabres are ready to take the next step toward contention. This model disagrees. According to Game Score, the Sabres are poised to be the league’s worst team."
Luszczszyn is a little kinder to Buffalo as opposed to Game Scores contention that they are "poised to be the league's worst team" and predicts the Sabres will finish sixth in the Atlantic Division.
Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy, 9-16-2016 http://sports.yahoo.com/news/puck-daddys-2016-17-nhl-preview-buffalo-sabres-152920065.html
After delving into what he calls Buffalo's "impressive tank" of 2014-15 and, of course, touching upon the off ice problems of both Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, Wyshynski directs his attention to the up-coming season. He feels they did get better in the off season (Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov,) say's it will be "fascinating to see how much higher Ristolainen's ceiling is," says it's Robin Lehner's crease to lose," and comes right out and says the Sabres want to move Kane.
Generally Wyshynski likes the direction the Buffalo is headed and concludes:
"As much as we’re dying to see Jack Eichel play meaningful games and Tim Murray’s master plan show results, we just don’t think the Sabres are there yet. Although one can never be sure of anything in the wishy-washy Eastern Conference. OK, we can be sure that Cody Hodgson is enjoying cashing those buyout checks. But that’s it."
Eric Engels, Sportsnet.ca http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/buffalo-sabres-2016-17-nhl-season-preview/
Engels likes rookie Hudson Fasching, calling him "a power forward, who has an efficient skating stride and a knack for scoring big goals" and believes that rookie forward Justin Bailey will get an "extended look," both of which are excellent propositions for the team. He states that goaltending will be a key to their success while also stating, "if this team can’t muster a considerable increase from the 201 goals they managed last season, it doesn’t have a chance of making the post-season."
Todd Cordell, 8th in Atlantic-- Buffalo - "I think they have too much dead weight up front (Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, etc.), I don't think their blue line is good enough and I'm not sold on Robin Lehner. He misses a lot of time with injuries and their backup, Anders Nilsson, has posted a below league average save percentage every year in the league." Of note, Cordell also predicted Toronto would finish third in the Atlantic Division
Peter Tessier, Buffalo, 8th in the Atlantic--"Man it must be tough being a Sabres fan and it likely won't be that much fun being a Bruins fan (7th in division) either."
Kevin Allen, USA Today points projection: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nhl/columnist/allen/2016/10/04/nhl-2016-17-season-point-record-projections/91383592/
78 points, 7th in the division, 12th in the conference, "The Sabres are not quite where they need to be to qualify for the playoffs. They are headed in the right direction."
Of note, the Sabres finished with 81 points last season.
Joe McDonald, ESPN Season Preview, Buffalo Sabres: http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/17721004/2016-17-nhl-season-preview-buffalo-sabres
McDonald points to the additions of Okposo and Kulikov then delves into the unknowns: Will Jack Eichel have a sophomore jinx? (probably not, he states); Will Robin Lehner stay healthy and can he have a breakout season?; What's Evander Kane's status after an off season featuring criminal charges being filed against him?
Not too much more save for some props to Eichel, Sam Reinhart, O'Reilly and Okposo leading the offensive charge and in the end here's what McDonald writes: "The Sabres will contend for a playoff spot for the majority of the season but will fall just short in the end. Seventh in the Atlantic."
Ryan Wilson, Penguins Blogger, hockeybuzz.com, Atlantic Division predictions: http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog/Ryan-Wilson/Atlantic-Division-Preview/177/79712
Wilson has the Sabres finishing at the bottom of the division behind Ottawa (7th) and Toronto 6th. He writes, "Buffalo did the right thing in gutting their team and tanking for McEichel, but the hardest part was always going to be building this team back up again. They have a nice core of forwards with Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, and Kyle Okposo. Depth is where a lot of the work with this team remains."
He calls the defense "the real weakness on the team," then states about Buffalo's top defenseman, Rasmus Ristolainen, "is neither as good as Sabres fans think nor as bad as some of the analytics folks think. He is talented, but he has literally no help," then suggests the team trade a player like Tyler Ennis for Cam Fowler.
Wilson brings up goaltending question marks and the first-rounder the Sabres gave up for Robin Lehner and concludes that "The Sabres are getting better, it just isn't good enough yet."