Photo: Kevin Hoffman - USA TODAY Sports

Two years later, more Sabres changes still needed

The key for me come Opening Night will be how different the lineup looks

Mike Schopp
June 20, 2017 - 9:52 am

The Buffalo Sabres had just come off of two of the worst seasons any pro sports team had ever had.

In 2013-14, they finished an amazing 14 points behind the NHL's second-worst team. There was more "competition" the following year, but by most analysis the 2014-15 Sabres were worse, and for the second straight season they locked down last place in the league.

And the following summer I Could. Not. Wait. for their season to start.

It arrived October 8 and for being a 2-1 loss to Ottawa the game will long have a place in my memory.

Yes, the offside challenge showed up and dumped acid rain on the customers. Yes, the guy sitting behind me watching Jack Eichel's first NHL game saw him fail to roof a backhand from two feet in front of the net and rued, "There are only so many Gilbert Perreaults". (Eichel scored the Sabres' only goal and is, of course, awesome.)

I'll remember it for Eichel and all the other new people.

I said all the time on the air that summer how much I was looking forward to introductions, and I got paid off: Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane (right!), Sam Reinhart (oh yeah!), Robin Lehner (of course!). The Sabres lost and they've lost 72 more times since in two seasons, but that night for me was special.

Fast forward two years. How do you think you will feel this year on Opening Night?

Well there's no new version of Eichel, so there's no way this season's opener will be like that one. But I need it to be the same in another way:

I need the Sabres to look different.

While two years ago all the new players stood out to me, I fear that what might stand out this yeat is how many players are the same. If I see any three or four of Josh Gorges, Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Nicolas Deslauriers and Zach Bogosian on the ice Night One, I'm going to cringe.

That's not to say new general manager Jason Botterill has an easy job turning those players into new ones -- Gionta, the UFA, notwithstanding -- but in an off-season, because of tomorrow's Expansion Draft, widely billed as one of heavy player movement, I'd like to think it's possible.

I'd also like to think that Botterill also feels the Sabres majorly need new blood. I'm like this most of the time though with new Bills and Sabres management; I go in hoping that they'll see the team the way I do, and only start to lose faith when bad-looking moves get made (Pysyk for Kulikov, for example).

Two summers ago it was a given that the Sabres lineup would look very different than it had. Right now it is less of one, and the best chance to make those changes is right now. The Expansion Draft is Wednesday, then the Entry Draft, and then free agency next week.

Botterill did well Saturday, trading an almost worthless third-round pick for Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (above). I think that's a good sign on several fronts, including that he's not married to his picks and that he knows the defense needs changes. 

But now what? Can he turn Evander Kane into assets that don't make his team weaker in the short-term? Is he willing to buy out Gorges? Can he avoid the Leadership/Good In The Room virus and move on from Gionta who, by the way, was the captain of a team that appeared to be really messed up in the room.

I hope so.

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