Over the course over the next week or so, we’ll be chatting with a few different writers around the division to gauge how the team they cover has been performing since the end of the season.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES:
How would you grade the Sabres’ offseason?
I would give the Sabres a solid ‘B’ grade. Being able to add Dahlin is a franchise-changer, but there isn’t much change elsewhere with the defense. Dahlin will be great, but there’ll be the usual rookie growing pains for a defenseman. He’ll give them a lot.
Adding Conor Sheary and Jeff Skinner are major upgrades for their top-six forward group in adding speed and knowhow with Sheary and tremendous agility and scoring with Skinner. Losing Ryan O’Reilly is a downgrade but Casey Mittelstadt will be thrust into things which could be an immediate offensive bonus. Patrik Berglund will provide a little back-up should he struggle a little at times.
Carter Hutton could be real strong in net, but he won’t have as strong a defense in front of him. Linus Ullmark backing him up will get a fair look to see if he’s the future but it’ll be Hutton’s job.
How would you grade the Leafs’ offseason?
I’d give the Leafs a ‘B’ alone for just adding John Tavares, he’ll be outstanding and gives them one of the best center set-ups in the NHL and that’s huge. Losing JVR hurts because he’s been so good there, but ongoing improvement from Marner and Nylander as well as Tavares’ addition should make things OK. Finding some help on defense would’ve been ideal, but the FA class wasn’t good and trades are tricky. Leafs will be real good and fun.
When do you think the Sabres’ “window” is going to be open?
They should be a playoff threat in 2019-2020 which is about where the window opens. Jack Eichel is already great and Sam Reinhart is consistent. Give Mittelstadt and Dahlin a full year to learn the NHL and let some more of the youth catch up and they will be fun. I think we’ll see a lot of glimpses of that this season, but the window opens next season.
If these two teams come up against each other in the playoffs, what do you figure is the biggest deciding factor?
As they’re constructed now, the Leafs center and forward depth is a huge difference. Eichel and Auston Matthews bring the best out of each other, but after that the Leafs get the best of each matchup up the middle. Sabres don’t really matchup well on the wings. Things will probably be different by the time the Sabres and Leafs can threaten each other with a shot at a playoff matchup.
Is the Atlantic still a three horse race in your eyes?
Absolutely. Tampa, Toronto, and Boston are way ahead of everyone else. Florida is maybe No. 4 and then you have Buffalo, Montreal, Detroit, and Ottawa behind them. It’s a distinct drop off and Florida could be right there with them if Roberto Luongo can’t play a full season.
How would you grade Botterill’s performance so far?
I’d give him a B- right now. It’s clear Tim Murray and Botterill have different ideas how to do things and Botterill is doing a re-rebuild. Some of his moves and additions last season clearly didn’t work, but the team this year is even more his, especially with the players intended to lead the way, so his grade there is TBD.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I like where the Sabres are headed and their AHL team in Rochester should be indicative of that with guys like Victor Olofsson, Lawrence Pilut, Rasmus Asplund, and Andrew Oglevie coming in as new blood. Some of those guys might get a taste of the NHL this year if they keep trending up, but patience has been Botterill’s biggest thing and it’s what Sabres fans will need.