The Buffalo Sabres finished fifth in the Atlantic twice in as many seasons, but they are in better position than anyone else to rule the division.
It is no secret that the Buffalo Sabres have the best prospects pool in the Atlantic Division, and we can thank general manager Kevyn Adams for what will be four seasons of effort in transforming the pipeline. Buffalo already had an excellent pool heading into the summer, before Adams drafted a player who some consider to be the top prospect in the system with Zach Benson.
The prospect pipeline is just one reason you will see Buffalo taking command in the Atlantic Division within the next three seasons, and their rise will likely continue in 2023-24. Corey Pronman of The Athletic recently ranked their Bottom 8 pipelines in hockey, and when three teams jumped out at me it served as the inspiration for his miniseries.
- Boston (32nd)
- Tampa (31st)
- Toronto (27th)
While each of the aforementioned teams ended up ruling the Atlantic, and in some cases, the Eastern Conference, without putting an incredible amount of stock into their respective prospects pools, both appear to be heading toward rebuilds that will become more prevalent in the coming seasons. For the Sabres, this shouldn’t be an issue.
Buffalo Sabres will continually reload through their prospects pool
And before I go any further, I know, I know, the “conventional method” is that you go “all-in” when you think you have a chance at winning a Cup, trade a few high-end prospects or draft picks for veterans, and have at it. This isn’t to say that Adams won’t do that – he most definitely will at some point.
However, you can also expect him to make such moves with his prospects and number of draft picks in mind, much like the restraint and discipline he showed us last year when he basically implied he wouldn’t give up someone like Matt Savoie and Jiri Kulich for Jakob Chychrun. Many general managers and executives wouldn’t have blinked at the notion, but Adams wasn’t having it.
Kings of the Atlantic
Here is why the Buffalo Sabres will end up ruling the Atlantic not only as the 2020s progress, but perhaps into the far future – 2030s and perhaps even into the 2040s – this isn’t to say they will make annual playoff appearances, it’s impossible. But it is saying that the system Adams is implementing right now could enable the Blue and Gold to become the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Atlanta Braves of the NHL – teams that almost always find themselves in contention in their respective sports.
Why is that? Pittsburgh always drafts well and Atlanta often has one of the best farm systems, whether it’s the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, or even into the current decade. If the Sabres can translate such blueprints to hockey, they may be on to something.
It all comes down to identifying your inner core, which Buffalo has already seen to. At which point, they either add bargain players, re-sign their own, and continue to develop their own. Once players like Kyle Okposo, for example, age out, boom, a prospect takes over. Once a mid-tier player’s contract expires, boom, a prospect takes over.
And if the prospect isn’t ready, then just sign a stopgap, as they did this year with Erik Johnson. Suppose guys like Ryan Johnson aren’t ready to move up next season, then they’ll sign another stopgap, and so on.
Good drafting is key, but Adams has already proven over the past four years that he can draft. Now, once he maintains the pool, decades of success could very well follow.
Source: NHL Pipeline Rankings 2023: Breakdown of all 32 teams from Corey Pronman, The Athletic