The Sabres had a mostly-successful debut campaign in BEARD Hockey, despite falling to Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.
It wasn't exactly how GM Thomas Gidlow drew it up. But the 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres can say it was a successful season on the whole in their first season in BEARD Hockey.
Though the Sabres slipped from the divisional race late, ending up in a wild-card position at 43-33-6 and 92 points on the year, there are plenty of positives to take into the offseason. Dylan Larkin emerged as the leader in Buffalo, compiling 37 goals with 55 assists for 92 points and was nominated by the club for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the league's best defensive forward.
Martin Necas gave fans a glimpse of probable future stardom with a 20-goal, 50-point campaign. Morgan Rielly solidified his position as the blueline leader with 10 goals and 38 points (plus 5 points in 6 playoff games). While he cooled off over the second half of the year, Cam Talbot was re-signed to a long-term deal and figures to be in the mix as the starter or in a possible platoon at worst.
Claude Giroux was brought in to put the Sabres over the top in their playoff run, but disappointed with 12 points in 23 games in Buffalo. He did notch 5 points in the 4-2 series loss to the Canadiens, so perhaps that can carry over into the 2021-22 season.
Veterans like Alexander Radulov (28-37-65), Joe Pavelski (22-43-65), Bryan Little (21-37-58), and Carl Soderberg (22-26-48) provided stability among the forward ranks and all are likely to return next season. Sam Reinhart cooled after a hot start but still managed 25 goals and 42 assists for 67 points on the year.
Defensively, things appeared to be rock solid until some mid-season deals shuffled the backend. Brady Skjei was a pure rental acquisition but disappointed, going 1-4-5 and -13 in 25 games with the Sabres. Mathew Dumba and Phillipe Myers both chipped in 23 points, while Chris Tanev and Marc Staal added some stability but not much else, contributing 23 points in 95 combined games with Buffalo.
Ville Heinola got a long look with the big club, adding 6 assists and was +11 in 47 games. He was demoted to Rochester after the Skjei trade, but figures to be a permanent fixture in the defensive top six moving forward.
Future wise, there could be as many as five faces from the farm on the 2021-22 opening night roster. With Ryan Miller's status in limbo, goaltender Erik Kallgren figures to compete for playing time. Nicolas Aube-Kubel appeared in 5 pro games last season, but was dominant in Rochester with 34 goals and 83 points in the AHL and should be ready for a regular role. Dylan Cozens also impressed with 4 goals in 16 games in Buffalo, along with 68 points in 56 games with Rochester. Mathieu Joseph (31-47-78) and Jeremy Lauzon (9-29-38 and a +33 rating) will also compete for permanent jobs.
Despite all of the moves made by Gidlow this past season, the offseason may end up being a quiet one in terms of deals. Buffalo did make a minor move already, acquiring a 7th round pick along with farmer Jeremy Gregoire for cash considerations last week. But the depth chart as it sits now shows what could be the (mostly) full roster for the 2021-22 season.
LW - C - RW
Radulov - Larkin (C) - Reinhart
Lebanc - Giroux - Necas
Soderberg (A) - Pavelski - Little
Carrier - Cozens - Aube-Kubel
Extras: Joseph, Raffl
LD - RD
Heinola - Rielly (A)
Dumba - ???
Myers - Lauzon
Starting Goalie: Cam Talbot
Backup Goalie: Ryan Miller / Erik Kallgren
Likely on the trade block: Marc Staal (D), Miles Wood (LW/RW), Johan Larsson (C/LW - pending UFA with in-season rights still active), Nikita Nesterov (D), Troy Terry (RW/C)
Expect an announcement coming soon as well about a new makeover for the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021-22 season...and beyond. ;)