As we inch closer to opening night, let’s take a look at what the hockey experts are predicting for the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018-19 NHL season.
We asked the question after the Jeff Skinner trade this summer, are the Buffalo Sabres a playoff team now? The question garnered quite a few sarcastic answers, memes, and gifs which based on the Sabres performance over the past few seasons were well deserved.
The Sabres have finished last in the division 4 times in the last 5 years however for the first time in years, things are finally looking up in Western New York. The addition of Jeff Skinner from a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, Carter Hutton from the St. Louis Blues, plus Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick in the NHL draft have Sabres fan excited again. On top of that, even if this year goes sideways the Sabres have 3 first round picks in the 2019 draft.
Heading into the season, the prognosticators cannot seem to come to a consensus on how the Sabres will perform this season. The same questions remain that endured for most of the offseason: can Carter Hutton be a number one goaltender, can Jeff Skinner put up 30 goals again, and can Rasmus Dahlin live up to this potential in his first season? Let’s take a look at what everyone is saying.
The traditional prognosticators
ESPN: Last year ESPN made a stronger commitment to their online hockey coverage by handing the reins over to Greg Wyshynski. ESPN did not put together a top to bottom preview but they ranked all aspects of the team. The forwards, defense, and goaltending were all ranked in the bottom 10 in the league. That being said, thy did hedge their bets by putting together a piece explaining why the Sabres are a potential sleeper this season.
USA Today: The prediction was a little more favorable from USA Today. The periodical put the Sabres with 78 points which leaves them at 5th in the division and just under a .500 winning percentage. USA Today also has the wild cards in the East making the playoffs with 98 points which is a fair assessment as the Eastern Conference is very top heavy.
NHL.com: The official website of the National Hockey League used a group of 18 panelists to predict the 16 playoff teams, conference champions, Stanley Cup champion, and Conn Smythe winner. 3 of the panelists predicted that the Sabres will be the second wild card team. For what it’s worth, the San Jose Sharks were the site’s most popular pick to win the Cup.
The Sporting News: The crew over at The Sporting News predict that the Sabres will have an almost 20 point turnaround leaving them with around 82 points and a fifth place finish in the Atlantic Division. Their pick is in line with most of the predictions out there: a little bullish but nobody willing to go out on a limb and say they think the Sabres can make the playoffs.
The Hockey News: These predictions use the projections from gambling site Bodog. The site has the Sabres at 79.5 points, a 17 point improvement from last year’s disastrous season. The Hockey News has the Sabres under this point total, using the cop-out that they will wait until the Sabres prove it on the ice. If they are waiting to see what the Sabres will do, what is the point of making a prediction?
The Analytic Models
HockeyViz: Micah Blake McCurdy uses the Magnus Prediction Model to estimate the amount of points for each team. The model takes into account rosters as of September 29, past playing time, injuries, suspension, and data from the last 2 seasons. This predictive model is by far the most kind to the Buffalo Sabres with a prediction of 90.9 points that would be good for 4th in the Eastern Conference and 2nd in the Atlantic Division. This prediction is driven by the what the model sees as a vast improvement in goal for the Sabres, which I agree with. The combination of Hutton and Linus Ullmark and Scott Wedgewood in Rochester is much better than the Robin Lehner/Chad Johnson tandem from last year.
Corsica Hockey: On the opposite side of model predictions is Corsica Hockey. The invaluable statistics site gives the Sabres a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs. The model is particularly harsh on Casey Mittelstadt and the departure of Ryan O’Reilly.
Sabres fans don’t see their team finishing last because they added Skinner, Mittelstadt, Dahlin, etc. Another way to look at it is: they were the worst team in the league last year and lost their best player in the offseason.
— spooky manny (@manny_hockey) August 24, 2018
The Athletic: The projections in The Athletic are by far the most thorough review of the upcoming season from any non-Buffalo based website. Put together by Dom Luszczyszyn, he gives the Sabres a 73% chance to miss the playoffs. As thorough as this review is, the article was published in the beginning of September therefore doesn’t take into account Tage Thompson’s strong training camp (or Casey Mittelstadt’s poor training camp for that matter).
These predictions are probably better that what Sabres fans would have expected when last season ended. The team has improved in almost every department, the organization is loaded with prospects, and there are 3 first round picks for next June’s draft. Regardless of how this season goes (I think they will finish 6 points out of the wild card) the future is very bright for the Buffalo Sabres.
What do you think of these predictions? Let us know in the comment section below.