BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo Sabres open the 2022-23 season on Thursday night with optimism that their young core can turn the franchise into a perennial contender once again.
How much longer will fans have to wait for the team to make the playoffs? Could this year be the year the Sabres end their playoff drought, or will their league record streak extend to 12 seasons?
News 4 staffers shared their outlook for the Sabres season, answering four big questions below. Topics included whether or not the Sabres will make the playoffs, who will be the team MVP, the biggest attraction on this year’s schedule, and their pick to win the Stanley Cup.
Will the Sabres make the playoffs this season and end their 11-year drought?
Josh Reed, Sports Director: I think the Sabres on the cusp of being a 90-point team but I don’t think they will make the playoffs and the streak will hit an even dozen. Making a jump from 75 points to 90 and giving the fans meaningful hockey to watch in the final month of the season would be a huge step in the right direction. When I look at the teams that finished ahead of them in the playoff standings last season I don’t think they have done enough to jump over them and take a postseason spot.
Heather Prusak, Sports Reporter/Anchor: I like the direction this team is heading under Kevyn Adams and Don Granato but I think there will still be some growing pains this season given how young they are. There’s loads of talent and potential in this lineup but I don’t think this is the year they’ll break the playoff drought. I think the inexperience of some of their younger guys and given how tough the Eastern Conference is will have them on the outside looking in, but not by much. I think they’ll surprise people with some wins over powerhouse teams from time to time but the goaltending situation also has me with questions, relying on 41-year-old Craig Anderson and Eric Comrie until Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is ready.
Louie Del Rio, Sports Reporter: I really love the growth of this young team and the stability the franchise seems to finally have. And if the Sabres weren’t in the Atlantic Division, the toughest in the NHL, I’d actually really like their chance at grabbing a wild-card spot. But I don’t think they’re there just yet to consistently keep up with the top tier of the division (Lightning, Canes, Panthers, etc.). I also don’t think they’re dead last. One more season for this core, one more season for Owen Power, and this team ends the drought next year.
Jonah Bronstein, Digital Sports Reporter: The sweet sensation of playoff hockey could return to Buffalo if the good vibrations from last spring keep on happening. The Sabres went 16-9-3 over the final months, a full third of the season pacing for a playoff-caliber 103 points. They averaged 3.2 goals and converted on 25% of power plays in those games. The NHL’s most youthful roster will continue to blossom, with high draft choices age 26 or younger making up half of the opening lineup. A weaker defensive team had a .580 point percentage in ‘21-’22 with Anderson in the net. If Comrie can play as well as he did in Winnipeg (.920 save %, 2.58 GAA), and 22-year-old UPL makes a leap in his development, this will be Buffalo’s best goaltender situation since Ryan Miller was traded. Should bad fortune falls upon a few of the aging contenders in the East, the Sabres are primed to be postseason benefactors.
Nick Veronica, Digital Executive Producer: Things are trending up, but I don’t see this year’s Sabres team earning a playoff spot. For years, it has felt like the Sabres effectively had three third lines. Now, maybe it’s more like having multiple second lines. That’s a huge improvement, and I like a lot of the young talent they’ve acquired, but the lack of true top-end talent and the question marks in net are still holding them back. Betting markets set their over/under for standings points at 78.5, which isn’t close to a playoff spot. I’d be surprised if they don’t hit that — getting in the 85-90 point range would be a good season for them, in my opinion. That would put them well short of the eight seed, but if things break their way and they’re buyers at the deadline, an exciting March and April isn’t out of the question.
Who will be the Sabres’ MVP?
Reed: Alex Tuch
Prusak: Tage Thompson
Del Rio: Rasmus Dahlin. No doubt in my mind. There’s a reason he has an ‘A’ on his jersey. And he’ll be the C for the next decade. He’s a game changer on both ends and a security blanket in the back end against these high-powered offenses in the Atlantic. Dahlin and Power are going to be so much fun to watch.
Bronstein: Dahlin might be the better player at this point, but Power’s emergence over a full season will have a more profound impact on the playoff trajectory.
Veronica: Rasmus Dahlin. If you can believe it, the former No. 1 pick is already entering his fifth season. If the Sabres take the next step forward, it will be because Dahlin went from good to great.
What game are you most looking forward to this season?
Reed: Nov. 10, circle it, home vs Jack Eichel and Vegas.
Prusak: Dec. 1 — at home against Colorado. Let’s see how this young team stacks up against the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Del Rio: I’m excited to see the legendary “Goat Head” jerseys back on the ice. Nov. 23 they’re back against the Blues. One of my favorite jerseys as a kid, so should be nostalgic. KeyBank will be awesome for that.
Bronstein: The season finale April 13 against Ottawa, the same Atlantic foe the Sabres open against Thursday. It could determine the last wild card spot, becoming the de facto first playoff game in Buffalo in 4,372 days. But who’s counting?
Veronica: Ryan Miller Night — Jan. 19 against the Islanders. Miller is the winningest American goaltender of all time, and one of the last connections fans have to a time when this team was good.
What’s your Stanley Cup prediction?
Reed: Oilers beat Hurricanes.
Prusak: Colorado over NYR.
Del Rio: Canes beat the Avs in 7. OFFENSE, OFFENSE, OFFENSE. If not Canes, I think the EC is represented by a team in the Atlantic. Panthers, Lightning, Leafs all going to be extremely strong this season.
Bronstein: Oilers over Rangers.
Veronica: Avalanche over Maple Leafs. Why not.
* * *
Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find more of his work here.