In a strange twist of events these past five months, the last place Buffalo Sabres have made drastic changes to their lineup. The Sabres went from having no true first-line players to having now two in Kane and O’Reilly, with a third and fourth (Reinhart/Eichel) on the way. Add in swift sniper Matt Moulson and speedy work-horse Tyler Ennis to the list and the Sabres have a pretty impressive top six.
You can also include the Latvian bulldozer Zemgus Girgensons, to the mix. He has imposing size, defensive acumen and has a great set of hands. The tenacious two-way Girgensons likes to play a physical game; he can produce plenty of offense as well as overpower opponents. If he continues to work hard it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Girgensons playing a top six role come October.
That’s if of course the highly touted Reinhart doesn’t make the team out of training camp. But reports indicate it has been Reinhart and not Eichel stealing the show at the prospect camp.
Reinhart scored two goals and added an assist as his Team Blue defeated Jack Eichel's Team Gold 5-2 in the Buffalo Sabres annual prospect scrimmage.
"It took a while to hit the net. It's mid-July," Reinhart said. "But being able to put a few in, that was nice."
Since Tim Murray has taken over the helm, the Buffalo Sabres have definitely turned things around and could be considered serious contenders. The team looks good on paper but that doesn’t always relate to a hard work ethic.
There have been many general managers in the past that have overlooked the long and tenuous process of building from the ground up.
The most obvious team that attempted quick fixes and failed;
Take a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On November 29, 2008, The Toronto Maple Leafs hired Brian Burke as the president and general manager. During his tenure he made some questionable trades/signings and continuously cut corners. After a few seasons of wheeling and dealing, Burke and the Maple Leafs brass assembled quite the intriguing team.
Phil Kessel – Boston Bruins September 18, 2009 / Tyler Bozak – Denver Pioneers April 3rd 2009
Dion Phaneuf – Calgary Flames January 31st, 2010 / Joffrey Lupul - Anaheim Ducks February 9th 2011
Jake Gardiner – Anaheim Ducks February 9th, 2011 / James Van Riemsdyk – Philadelphia Flyers June 23rd, 2012
Burke brought life back to Leaf nation. The hockey world was in awe, questioning and wondering how Brian Burke managed to pull so many tricks out of his hat. The mystery lingered and the biggest question surrounding the Maple Leafs was if the young guns could mould and grow together.
The core group refused to buy into the coach’s play-style, which led to the departure of Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle. Both were considered to be highly sought after coaches in the league at one point in their careers. The Maple Leafs dragged their reputation through the mud and their names are now tarnished.
It is definitely too early to say if the Buffalo Sabres are headed down the same path the hopeless Leafs were once on, but I must say one of the most glaring concerns surrounding the Sabres heading into the season is leadership and goaltending.
Has Tim Murray brought in enough veterans to keep the young bloods in line?
Before The Winnipeg Jets traded Evander Kane to Buffalo, the media made it known that the young star had off ice issues and didn’t always get along with his team mates. There were reports Kane was staying up late, partying and missing curfew.
Dustin Byfuglien took exception took that and decided to take matters into his own hands.
That’s not where the off-ice concerns end for Sabres fans. The newly acquired Ryan O’Reilly was recently charged for impaired driving. Per Craig Needle of AM980 News in London Ontario, O'Reilly is also looking at charges of fleeing the scene after allegedly driving his truck into a local Tim Hortons.
One can assume general manager Tim Murray was once looking at O’Reilly to provide leadership and stability in the locker room, now it’s tough to say if the players will listen and trust O’Reilly to steer the Sabres ship to a playoff berth. Both players are very important pieces to the Buffalo Sabres puzzle, and I for one am really hoping they can come together and become a formidable duo.
The Sabres also acquired Swedish goaltender Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators. Murray is very familiar with what Lehner has to offer, from his days as Senators assistant general manager. Lehner was the starting goalie when the Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League in 2011.
Lehner is only 23 years of age and the fact he’s under contract for two more seasons, and will only be a RFA after that makes him a very hot commodity. Murray said he expects Lehner's performance to be better in an unquestioned No. 1 role, which is why he was fine giving up a first-round pick to acquire Lehners services not long ago.
Lehner was having a down year (9-12-3, .905 save percentage, 3.02 goals-against average) with the Senators before he was injured and missed the remaining two months of the season. That hasn’t stopped Murray from believing he can still blossom into a true number 1 goalie for years to come.
How do you think the 2015-16 season will play out for the Buffalo Sabres?
Will the newly assembled roster rise and soar or will they crash and burn?
Thank you for reading,
Your comments are appreciated.