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How much better will the Sabres be in 2014-15?

On July 1, the Buffalo Sabres may have made things a little complicated.

General manager Tim Murray signed good players on Day 1 of free agency, inking Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. The moves improved the roster and the locker room.

Normally, it would be exciting to add a 30-goal scorer, a former Canadiens captain, a solid defenseman and some toughness. But this year, it is harder to say “hooray” over adding good players.  

Why? Just Google Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel – the two players expected to go No. 1 and 2 overall in next year’s draft. The words, “generational player” and “better than Crosby” come up.

And the Sabres were in the driver’s seat to land one or the other, projecting as the runaway worst team in the NHL for next season.
The question is: After signing these players, are they still there?

To answer, we have to first look at how bad they were last year.
  • Buffalo’s 52 standings points were 14 less than the next worst team
  • They posted 14 regulation or overtime wins, seven behind the next team
  • The Sabres potted 39 fewer goals than the next worst scoring team in the NHL
  • At even strength, they were out-scored 60 to 117
  • 116 players scored more points than the Sabres’ points leader Cody Hodgson
  • Buffalo was the NHL’s worst team in Corsi %
  • The Sabres were out-shot by 422
  • They were 19th in Even Strength Save %
  • The Sabres had the 29th ranked power play and 20th penalty kill
Those figures are mind-blowingly bad. The season included the trade of one of the NHL’s best goalies in Ryan Miller, trades of scorers Thomas Vanek and Matt Moulson and the firing of a coach and GM.

The Sabres also gave big roles to players who did not belong in the NHL, largely because they had no choice. We don’t need to name them, but we know who they are – and many of them are gone now.

They also played young players who were not close to being ready such as Rasmus Ristolainen, Mikhail Grigorenko, Nikita Zadorov etc.
Much of that is changed.

There is a coach who is going nowhere, GM who is going nowhere, veteran players who are competent and young players who will start in Rochester or juniors if they are not ready.

So how many goals and wins is all this worth?

Let’s assume that the fill-in guys like Jamie McBain, Matt D’Agostini, Zenon Kenopka, John Scott, Ville Leino, Henrik Tallinder were replacement level. They were worth zero goals above a replacement player. Meaning: The Sabres could plug in an AHL player instead of those guys and get the same production.
How much above replacement level are the new guys?

There is a stat for this called Goals Versus Threshold, which weighs how much better a player is than a replacement level forward, defenseman or goalie.
Here are the GVT’s of the Sabres’ adds”

Matt Moulson: 11.5
Brian Gionta: 8.0
Josh Gorges: 5.2
Cody McCormick: -0.2

Here are some of their significant losses:

Ryan Miller: 15.6
Christian Ehrhoff: 3.5
Steve Ott: -1.2
Now, Miller will not be worth 15.6 goals against over Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. Their combined GVT from last season was 5.4. So you could conservatively estimate Miller was worth about 10 goals more than Enroth and Neuvirth if they perform at last season’s rate.
There are three other players who could significantly impact Buffalo’s goals for and against: Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk.

Hockey analytics pioneer Gabe Desjardins developed a statistical model for projecting players who go from juniors to the NHL.


Plugged into the formula, Sam Reinhart came out with 15 goals, 28 assists. Take out a replacement player and add Reinhart in – assuming he is not a defensive force – and he will be worth another handful of goals, say, somewhere between three and seven.

Ristolainen and Pysyk could make things very complicated. There is no reliable way to project how many goals they will be worth, but each is a highly-rated, mature prospect who grew significantly last year in the minors. They could be huge difference makers over the likes of Jamie McBain.

There are a few other factors:

The East is weaker than the West.

Calgary did not get significantly better July 1, maybe even got worse.

There could still be trades. Tyler Myers? Drew Stafford? Chris Stewart?


How does it all shake out?

It is pretty clear the Sabres will be better. Whether they end up with the highest percentage in the lottery to land McDavid may come down to decision by Murray and goaltending.

Will Murray put Pysyk, Ristolainen and Reinhart in the NHL? Will he move assets at the trade deadline and call up replacement-level players? Will Jhonas Enroth take the next step and become a quality No. 1? Could Neuvirth steal the job and put up the type of season he was always thought capable of?

These things will not make the difference between making the playoffs or not. They are still short of being a contender. But putting top prospects in the NHL over Zenon Kenopka types could easily put Buffalo over Calgary or whoever else is at the bottom of the heap.

So we will see if Murray is trying to rig the deck or create a “winning culture.” The smart thing to do is to make the moves to assure they will take the generational player. To have one more rough season and then get moving on a turnaround.

07/07/2014 9:09AM
Please enter your comments below.
07/07/2014 9:12AM
Absurd to think...
In my opinion it's absurd to think that the Sabres should tank so they can get a high draft pick. After last season - much better to be competitive and at least in the hunt for playoffs to justify fans spending money on tickets, etc.
07/07/2014 9:14AM
How much better?
Good enough to get back in the playoffs.
07/07/2014 10:06AM
Chris Stewart as well
Chris Stewart can be a 20-goal scorer as well, we didn't really see him due to injury. We do get Kaleta back -- he kind of switches in for Ott, almost -- even worst in terms of points. We lose Porter. Likely lose Ellis. Gorges really really excites me -- he was 4th or 5th in the NHL for blocked shots. That scares me for this season. He also knows how to deal with an offensive-minded defenseman (Subban) and there's no doubt he's going to get paired with Tyler Myers. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tyler back to his Calder-form this season -- that's ridiculous to even say, but ...is it? He's 3 years away from his prime still -- and Gorges knows how to work with someone like him and stay-at-home while Myers runs the ice.
07/07/2014 10:15AM
stop complaining
about a GM doing his job. Maybe the Sabres would at least like to make it LOOK like they're not stealing people's money this season.
07/07/2014 10:23AM
Winning is losing.
People don't understand that if we lose this year and have another bad year we won't have to worry about winning again because with McDavid or Eichel we are getting a generational player. I guarantee a year after that draft we will be a playoffteam for YEARS! If we try to win now we will fail again. Just one more year. We can do it.
07/07/2014 10:23AM
Keep Reinhart in the minors.
Then bring him up when we have Eichel (I'm being realistic here) next season. That will help keep the team down and it won't hurt Reinhart's development.
07/07/2014 10:30AM
I don't think so...those who hope we are bad so we can get a high choice player are idiots. I pay good money not watch my team just go through the motions. I want them to win AND WIN NOW. I'm actually tired of this losing mentality.Besides lookwhat happened this year, we had the worst record and came out second and the NHL is making it worse.WIN NOW!
07/07/2014 10:48AM
The answer is.......the Sabres will be far worse for many years
Little talent in the pipeline, poor leadership, still no forwards anywhere near being productive.If Girgensons is your big hope, that is very sad.
07/07/2014 10:53AM
so what
Iam sure the sabres are in to win next year .Ive never heard of players tanking it because the team wants them to lose. if that was the case why didnt the team just feild the rochterers team with some juniors.Doyou think the fans would enjoy paying 100.00 dollars to see them lose.matthew and jeramy need to get another job because they are always talking about losing.They should be talking about winning.
07/07/2014 11:03AM
The Sabres won't be better . . .
For a loooooooooooong time.
07/07/2014 11:21AM
Don't agree with you guys
The mentality to "tank" next season with you guys at WGR is appalling. It's embarrassing for the local station that covers this team to continue to talk like that. It's even more embarrassing to have guys on like Ted Black, Nolan and Murray when they're trying to build a winner, and get a winning culture and mindset, and you morons would rather them play 20 guys off the street in order to be the worst. How did being the worst work out for us last year? #2 pick...not #1. In fact, even if we WERE the worst next year there's over an 80% -closer to 85% chance we wouldn't land the #1 pick either. So we'd settle for Eichel. Whoopty do. Who's to say Reinhardt won't end up better than both those guys? You and nobody else knows.
07/07/2014 11:21AM
Part 2
And what good is this "generational" player going to be if the team you want to get him is here? Wayne Grezky in his prime wouldn't turn a 50 point team into a 100 point team. So I guess the plan is to "tank" next year, get one of those 2 guys, and then have an aweful team in place. So we'd THEN start rebuilding with inexperienced prospects and slowly bring in veteran players. Let's start the 3-5 year rebuild after we get the "generational" player. In which during those years we wouldn't make the playoffs, or be merely middling anyway. So I guess 5 years from now, when the team is finally looking good, our generational player's contract will be up and he'll either sign elsewhere, or we'll have to drop some good players to keep him. Forget the "magical fix" - it doesn't exist. Build a strong team with a winning culture and the contention will come. Your dreams of having the next Crosby, or Kane, or Gretzky are up there with you dreams of the Bills getting the "magical QB" like Manning, Rodgers or Jim Kelly. Stop dreaming and get off Fantasy Island. The Sabres brass have a job to do - and that's win games. How they do it is their job. One they're much more qualified to do then you hacks.
07/07/2014 11:23AM
Numbers and more Numbers
Statistics and Analytics can always be scued to a positive or a negative based on the wants of the manipulator. Most people do not put much into analytics because of this. You need to look at the chemistry of the players and the heart of each one. Just because a player can put up 30 plus goals or assists with one team he may not be able to with another if the chemistry is not there. A prime example was Leino no chemistry or heart.
07/07/2014 11:28AM
Curious what Bulldog thinks
I'd like to hear what Bulldog thinks of this after he gets done smoking a joint. He seems to have decent takes when he's high on marijuana.
07/07/2014 12:39PM
Islander Analytics
Could we take this same look at the Islanders? Even if we finish in the bottom 5 and NYI are there also we may be in position to trade into the top two slots with our three first round picks. Especially if two are in the top five.
07/07/2014 1:15PM
07/07/2014 1:19PM
07/07/2014 1:58PM
They still have a shot with the lottery
Even if they don't finish last they still have a shot at number one as evidence by Florida this year and Colorado next year. There is no guarantee that finishing last gets you the first pick although you would get no worse than the 2nd.
07/07/2014 2:58PM
Can't be any worse than they were last year
Really with as bad as this team was last season....it's almost impossible to imagine they could be worse. Then again how much better could they possibly be? How is Calgary possibly worse?? They drafted Sean Monanhan last year and Sam Bennett this year. I have a hard time believing that Calgary could be worse drafting players of that caliber.
07/07/2014 3:22PM
There Is An Out...
Decades ago, Sam Pollock the legendary Canadiens GM owned the first draft pick of the California Golden Seals -- a bad team, but down the stretch there was one even worse, the L.A. Kings who were heading for the No. 1 pick overall. So Pollock sent a good veteran center named Ralph Backstrom to the Kings to get them a few more wins; they did, and they overtook the Seals, who'd already traded away their first pick to the Habs. So with the Backstrom trade, Pollock made sure the Seals finished dead last, and with their No. 1 overall pick chose a kid coming out of Quebec junior: Guy Lafleur. The rest, as they say, is history... it is not impossible for the Sabres, if "contending" for last with a couple other teams, couldn't send helpful players to other franchises to manipulate the endgame tank job. Not that anybody admit to it, or even advise it, but...
07/07/2014 3:30PM
Dare to dream?
I haven't read everything out there, so I don't know if it has been discussed. But isn't there a slightly better than remote possibility, with poor seasons by the Islanders and Sabres, that the Sabres could end up with the first two picks, and draft Connor McDavid AND Jack Eichel? As unlikely as that may happen, I still like to think it could. Then one could be traded for immediate upgrades to dramatically speed up the rebuild. What's wrong with dreaming?
07/07/2014 3:34PM
I feel there will be trades
Both Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart will be impending UFA,s and if Myers stock doesn't rise this year he may also be a candidate or maybe if it does ya swing for the fences getting first round picks and move him and them.So many ways this season could play out it hurts my head thinking about it.I guess we will just have to see how it all goes before making any rash decisions on how it might turn out.Just cut out the tanking theories hockey players don't have that in their mindset.They will play to the best of their ability under Nolan or they won't play.If ya wanna refer to the organizations decisions as putting them in position to finish last so be it.Just don't hang that on the players.
07/07/2014 4:56PM
My two cents
When considering Moulson's GVT, isn't it important to note that he was on the Sabres' roster for 44 games? They were still pretty darn awful with him in the lineup (and Vanek in the 13 games that he was around). This is definitely a deeper team, and definitely a better one than last year. But, they still really lack first-line talent, bought out their best defenseman, and traded a goalie who was instrumental in keeping games within reach for a majority of the season. I think Calgary made improvement in adding Hiller, frankly.
07/07/2014 6:27PM
Tainted Article
This article lost all credibility with the following phrase: "The season included the trade of one of the NHL’s best goalies in Ryan Miller". I don't care how many times you people at WGR try and sell this guy as one of the best, peoplethat know hockey will not buy it, EVER. You will see next year when the Nucks are buying him out. He is the most overrated goalie ever to play in the NHL and articles like this are the reason why.
07/07/2014 7:58PM
Great,Cant win for losing!!!????Wow???"##!&&%%@@!!!!&&###!!!!
07/08/2014 8:32AM
There is a difference between "tanking" and "losing well."
The Sabres have assuredly been told by the NHL to NOT repeat the embarrassment of the first part of last year when they rolled out a pathetic Ron Rolston and a less than stellar cast of AHLers and a few disinterested veterens. Now, with Ted Nolan in place, we see the plan: the old "everybody plays hard but, in the end, we lose." At least it isn't so obvious, right?
07/08/2014 9:37AM
Draft Picks
So tired about all the talk about draft picks and draft order. It seems the draft is more important now than the actual season. You play games to WIN period. I can just hear the talk shows on GR when the Sabres go on a 5 game win streak. All they will talk about is how they are going to lose the first pick. Play hard and play to win and let the draft picks fall where they may.
07/08/2014 10:46AM
Winning is losing.
What an idiot!
07/08/2014 10:50AM
Here's a thought....
With Ted Nolan coaching these guys hard next year, and either Enroth or Neuvirth catch fire and play outstanding, maybe this team captures the 7th or 8th spot. Bad, you say? Nonsense nega-fans! No need to tank. Will Chicago sign both Kane and Toews for 12 mil each? They can't. The Sabres sign one of those "generational" players - say Kane coming back to Buffalo. Then, say the Islanders are horrible again next year, which is likely, and we STILL get one of the Top 2 picks. So you "tanker mentalities" can still get your "generational" player. PLUS an established one in a guy like Kane, along with all the young guns like Reinhardt, Ristolainen, etc and the veteran presences like Gionta, Gorges and Moulson. So do we NEED to tank WGR braintrust?? Not at all! Stop being so simple minded. I'd rather be good next year and root against the Islanders then assume the Islanders will be good and root against OUR TEAM. Wake up knuckleheads.
07/08/2014 10:58AM
Would the Kings have won the cup with Miller in goal
07/08/2014 12:02PM
Detroit interested in Myers??? (and other notes) from my Armchair
Not interested in anyone there. Anything on Ott yet??? Has Flynn and Ellis been dumped yet??? Good questions. I just hope the Sabres aren't done yet after that great start opening free agency. There's still work to get done yet. Ott wants to come back... Getter done Tim!!! Rumor Mill: Stafford and Ennis to Arizona e4. What would come back this way...Hmmmmmm. More to come...
07/08/2014 12:28PM
How much better? Try the Playoffs – (yes, playoffs)
Don’t underestimate what Ted Nolan can do with a young team –If you remember this movie you know we can be in the finals in two years (Regardless of where we draft next year). Nothing like some veteran leadership mixed in with young talent and solidgoaltending. I like the way this roster is shaping up and I know Ted will get the most out of these guys.
07/08/2014 12:57PM
re: There Is An Out...
oh YESSSS..., RRRIGHT!. And "KIM PEGULA" has just been put in place at the WALMART "brain table" to engineer a move like that! SILLY EHUPHORIC, comparing an epic NHL franchise like Pollock's Canadiens to a crappe, ALLTIME LOoser like WALMART!!! Don't you know that WALMART= "THEEEEEEE BIGGEST NICKLE AND DIME LoOSER FRANCHISE THAT'S $30 MILLION DOLLARS "BELOW" THE SALARY CAP IN THE HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS", yet!!??? $30 million dollars "below" THE SALARY CAP!!!??? YEEEUP! Oh and... EEEEEEEELITE MY AZZZo!!! SAY MY NAME!
07/08/2014 1:00PM
re: My two cents
07/08/2014 2:18PM
Re: Don't agree with you guys
I do agree with you 100%. I have stopped listening to the wgr talk shows about a month into the nhl season last year. All because of the "tanking" talk from all the on-air personalities, with their fearless leader jw leading the way. That person went so far as to say the front office of the Sabres openly talked about tanking for two whole seasons just to get the draft picks jw wanted them to get. As a fan of the team, that kind of talk made me wish jw and some others would just go away forever.
07/08/2014 2:43PM
The tank must be fulfilled
Generational players are the real difference makers in the NHL. To pass up the opportunity to land McDavid or Eichel is foolish.
07/08/2014 5:23PM
Tank Talk is for amateurs (and radio fools)
Hockey isn't basketball, where the same five guys can play most or even all the game and a Lebron or a Jordan can dominate -- McDavid or Eichel would play one shift of three or four, forty seconds to a minute on average, and power plays -- that leaves all the other shifts and all the other players, for better and for worse. One player does not make a hockey team, not even close, 'generational' or not. The Pens haven't had a real sniff at the Cup for the last few years even with Crosby, and the Oilers didn't win them all even with Gretzky. WGR has been overtaken by the younger generation of sports guys, the dull geeks who'd rather read stats on their laptops than watch real games (and the gullible trendies like Schopp who should be old enough to know better). They seem to think they're sports 'intellectuals' but they're just making fools of themselves.
07/08/2014 8:35PM
Hypes the Sabres up so much its getting ridiculous. This station sweats everything they do and Matthew Coller is just another one of the not qualified people that talk sports on this show. I wish this station had real competition cause its god awful.
07/08/2014 9:11PM
Re: Dare to dream?
Keep dreaming about McDavid and Eichel. The Sabres will be back in the playoffs sir.
07/09/2014 8:38AM
could easily put Buffalo over Calgary or whomever* else is at the bottom of the heap.
07/09/2014 1:57PM
And One More Thing!
Nate Silver, the great STATS guru himself crunched the numbers and picked Brazil not just to beat Germany but to win the World Cup -- why don't those true-believer ANALYTICS geeks at 'GR chew on that one for a while (they don't want to know).
07/09/2014 2:06PM
Tanking annoyance
Chicago was allowed to tank for Toews and Kane, and Pittsburgh was allowed to tank for Malkin and Crosby. So why is the NHL now punishing Buffalo for tanking for Reinhart and McDavid? That's how you build winners, and that puts people in the stadiumseats.
07/09/2014 6:58PM
Rebuilding doesn't have to be Bad
Sometimes you can learn alot about your team if you are not focused on the 2 points game in and game out. Back in 1996, the team came together after a year of this and sometimes it is more entertaining to watch.
07/10/2014 9:35PM
Re: Tanking annoyance
The Sabres are not tanking. Let's talk playoffs and besides, you are annoying... IDIOT!!!
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