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Skinner’s arrival brings new expectations

Sabres could roll out one of the fastest lines in hockey

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Thursday night I was down at Riverworks when news broke that Jason Botterill traded for Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, leaving me as stunned as everyone else.

Nervously, I kept refreshing my Twitter feed to see what we had to give up, thinking a 1st-rounder had to be in there plus a boatload of prospects. 

Yet the Sabres somehow managed to give just a few mid-to-lower round picks and only one good prospect in Cliff Pu.

After giving it a few days to digest the trade there are a few angles to it.

For better or worse the Skinner trade has fundamentally changed expectations for the Sabres this upcoming season. Pre Jeff Skinner, Buffalo had been praised for building it’s prospect pool back up, but was viewed as a team that would need to grow and take a few more lumps with a younger roster. The idea of the Sabres fighting for a playoff spot just seemed too tough given the fact the team lacked a true scoring winger. Then Buffalo got one on Thursday night.

Now the deck has been reshuffled. Buffalo will open with a top 6 resembling something like this:

Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt, Conor Sheary, Skinner, Sam Reinhart, and Kyle Okposo.

That is a pretty strong group to roll out and Patrik Berglund is a fine No.3 center who certainly can fill in at No. 2 if Mittelstadt needs some time to find his way early on. If you were to put Eichel, Mittelstadt, and Skinner together, Buffalo could be icing the fastest line in hockey with their speed.

It really lends hope to the Sabres icing a strong forward crop while allowing players in the bottom six to truly have to fight for their roster spots rather than just being handed them because the Sabres are weak up front. Additionally that’s a top six, which on paper, should have the legs to be a playoff-caliber group.

Expectations bring pressure and that is a bit of a task for a team that just finished dead last in the NHL for the third time in five seasons.

The defense is a work in progress and even with Rasmus Dahlin addition, he will need time to find his way. Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark should be an upgrade over the goaltending the team has had the previous few years, but it is still a bit of an unknown given neither has started full season.

Additionally, while adding Skinner helps the Sabres even up with the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins in the Atlantic division, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning still stand above them by a bit. Just because the Sabres roster now possesses enough players to be competing truly for the playoffs is not a guarantee it happens.

The most important thing for Buffalo this season is a good start. After years of flaming out early in and essentially killing any chance of being competitive come March and April, the Sabres need to find a way to start much stronger.

Sheary, Skinner, and Berglund all are more seasoned players who should help take the pressure off some of the younger forwards the Sabres want to see grow like Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey, Evan Rodrigues, Tage Thompson, and Victor Olofsson.

At this point, the expectation for the Sabres should no longer be bottom five, but rather in the middle at the playoff line…for better or worse.

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