Monday, August 3, 2015

Bylsma as coach gives Sabres reason for optimism

As the Buffalo Sabres head into the 2015-2016 season, there's a different feeling around the organization.
The past two seasons, the worst in Sabres history, marked an especially low point. But Buffalo selectedJack Eichel with the No. 2 pick at the 2015 NHL Draft and acquired center Ryan O'Reilly from theColorado Avalanche and goalie Robin Lehner from the Ottawa Senators during the offseason.
The Sabres hope the days of rebuilding are over and they can focus of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011.
"There's a lot of great players in this organization right now," Eichel said in early July. "I think that's why everyone in Buffalo is excited about the future of this team. [The Sabres have] a lot of good pieces, and I think now we all have to just put it together and start having success. I think that's what people want to see and that's what everyone wants. The organization has done a really good job of acquiring good players and developing young guys. It's a really bright future in this city."
The offense is better: Buffalo scored 153 non-shootout goals last season but will add Eichel, O'Reilly, and Evander Kane to the lineup.Here are four reasons Sabres fans should be optimistic about this season:
Eichel had 71 points in 40 games at Boston University last season and won the Hobey Baker Award. Kane scored 30 goals in 2011-12 and is looking for a fresh start with the Sabres after his time with the Winnipeg Jets. O'Reilly is coming off a season with the Colorado Avalanche when he scored 17 goals and 55 points. In 2013-14, O'Reilly scored 28 goals and 64 points.
Adding them to a lineup that includes Tyler EnnisMatt Moulson, and Brian Gionta should give the Sabres a more robust offense.
Dan Bylsma's track record: After the Sabres fired coach Ted Nolan in April, the search led them first to Mike Babcock, who joined theToronto Maple Leafs, then landed on formerPittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma.
During Bylsma's time in Pittsburgh, the Penguins made the playoffs every season. In five-and a half seasons, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 and two division titles. Twice he coached the Penguins to a 51-win season, and he guided Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin through the early part of their careers.
With that sort of experience, Bylsma seems like the perfect fit for a team with a lot of young talent and two potential star centers (Eichel and Sam Reinhart). Sabres general manager Tim Murray wanted to get a coach with a winning pedigree and found one.
Youth talent coming up: Much of the talk around the Sabres the past few seasons has been about their prospects in junior hockey and the American Hockey League. Now it's time for those players to show what they can do in the NHL.
The Sabres will be one of the youngest teams in the League, and though that means some growing pains, putting Eichel (18), Reinhart (19) and Zemgus Girgensons (20) up front, with defensemenRasmus Ristolainen (20), Mark Pysyk (23), and Jake McCabe (21), will show that waiting for players to mature is the hardest part of a rebuild.
The worst is over: After back-to-back last-place seasons when the Sabres earned 52 and 54 points, Murray has improved the roster enough that, barring catastrophic bad luck, Buffalo won't be that bad again.
There are questions surrounding the defense, but the addition of Lehner should help settle a position that saw a lot of change the past two seasons. The Sabres had five goalies play last season and three, including former goalie coach Arturs Irbe, dressed as backups.
The additions on offense and finding a potential No. 1 goalie should help turn around their NHL-worst minus-113 goal differential of last season. More goals for and fewer against should produce additional wins.

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