Buffalo Sabres: Kevyn Adams may be regretting recent signings

Nov 7, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Erik Johnson (6) looks on against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Erik Johnson (6) looks on against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports /

The Buffalo Sabres are a strange team once again, as those youngsters growing up within the system have excelled, unlike the newcomers.

Last week, I wrote a piece talking about how Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams should start looking to the outside for help since it seemed as though the team maxed out with its youth and core. Perhaps that take was premature on my part, as Scott Maxwell of Daily Faceoff’s most recent piece is making me rethink that, as he kindly reminded hockey fans (and myself) that those who have grown up in the system haven’t entirely been the problem this year.

And when you think about it, he’s right. Zach Benson has been remarkable for an 18-year-old. While his points total isn’t there, his nose for the puck and ability to make plays are on display nearly every night when healthy. Players his age shouldn’t be doing this, and yet he’s been outperforming some veterans on the team, an assessment many will agree with.

Players growing up through the Buffalo Sabres system have been impeccable

The Sabres have only allowed one goal this year when Ryan Johnson is on the ice, and zero at 5-on-5. That one goal allowed came at even strength, and it shows us just how impactful Johnson has been.

JJ Peterka has been the Sabres fastest riser, and he’s second on the team in goals next to Jeff Skinner, the only older veteran who has played well all season. And yes, this next part will be polarizing, but Owen Power has also made a positive impact.

You look at all of the above names, and they are all in their second season or less. Then you have guys like Isak Rosen getting a look along with Jiri Kulich, Brandon Biro, Lukas Rousek, and others. The common denominator: They have all been brought up through the system.

Perhaps Kevyn Adams was wrong about adding from outside

At this point, general manager Kevyn Adams is looking bad for bringing in Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton. To be fair, we didn’t know Henri Jokiharju would improve or that Ryan Johnson would catch on so quickly. But check out this quote from Maxwell, and you can clearly see that Adams’ latest additions from the outside have been outright awful when paired together:

"“Despite playing bottom-pair minutes, the Clifton-Johnson pairing has not only been the worst defense pairing on the Sabres to play at least 30 minutes, it’s the worst defense pairing in the league to play at least 100 minutes with a brutal 35.57% 5v5 expected goal share when they’re on the ice together. When they aren’t on the ice, the Sabres are working at much better rate of 50.38%.”"

Source: The kids are all right in Buffalo, but not the veterans by Scott Maxwell, Daily Faceoff

Think about that for a second, and you can see why this pair looks like they were ill-fated acquisitions. While Maxwell acknowledged that Clifton is a better player when he’s not paired with Erik Johnson, but the problem is, Erik has in many ways set the team back, and Clifton has been his sidekick far too often.

In the link to Maxwell’s article posted above, he shares several more facts and figures backing up just how badly Erik has played. But I won’t rehash them simply because the eye test alone can tell us all we need to know about Erik.

The solution? For one, refraining from the 11/7 deal and returning to the traditional 12/6 is a good start. Secondly, Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato needs to put Erik in the press box with Jacob Bryson, and roll with pairings comprising Dahlin/Samuelsson, Ryan Johnson/Owen Power, and Clifton/Jokiharju on most nights if everyone’s healthy.

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If Clifton is playing better without Erik pairing with him, then why keep this up? Do the right thing, put Erik on a pitch count, admit that it was a mistake bringing him in (sans his locker room presence), and start winning more hockey games. Perhaps Clifton isn’t such a mistake after all, but we won’t know for sure unless the Sabres stop pairing him with Johnson.

(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)