Mid-season report card

ennis

This year’s edition of the Buffalo Sabres has three more points at this juncture than last year’s intentional tank. There are a lot of extreme opinions about this year’s squad in the land of the Blue and Gold; optimism and disappointment. The midterm report card that follows is an honest accounting of where the team stands 40 games into its’ rebuilding project.

Two grades are awarded for each group and each player. “Play Grade” summarizes the actual play on ice versus potential. Each player is measured against the best version of himself. “GM Grade” characterizes play measured against the best players in the league in the same position. It also takes into consideration the amount of the player’s cap hit.

FORWARDS

Play Grade: C+/B-, GM Grade: C-

The group whose primary responsibility to put the puck in the net isn’t doing it. Ryan O’Reilly is an all-star. Jack Eichel is a true talent and is getting better and gaining confidence. Jamie McGinn has been a pleasant surprise. And Sam Reinhart has taken a step towards progressing into a quality playmaker.

Realistically, only two of these 13 could crack the top two lines on a Stanley Cup contender. Only four might crack the top three lines. Head coach Dan Bylsma has to find a way to get the most out of what GM Tim Murray has provided him. A quality playoff team has at least one game-changer; a player who can take control of the game. The good news for the future is that the Sabres have two such players.

 

Deslauriers, Nicolas, LW, 24
Stat Line: 38GP, 3G, 4A, 7P, -8, 9:30 TOI, $.637mil , RFA in ‘17
Current Status: Injured
Highlight/Lowlight: Pummeled by Dallas’ Jamie Oleksiak
Comments: “Energy” player who usually plays with effort. Probably playing to potential.
Play Grade: B, GM Grade: C

 

Eichel, Jack, C, 19
Stat Line: 40GP, 13G, 13A, 26P, -8, 19:00 TOI, 42% FOW, $.925mil , RFA in ‘18
Current Status:  Four Game Points Streak
Highlight: 4P game in BOS
Comments: Brings crowd to their feet with talent. Sometimes tries to do too much. Probably because hasn’t any linemates who are near his level. Getting better as the season progresses.
Play Grade: A-, GM Grade: A-

 

Ennis, Tyler, C, 26
Stat Line: 23GP, 3G, 8A, 11P, -9, 18:00 TOI, 100% FOW, $4.6mil, UFA in ‘19
Current Status: Injured
Highlight: None
Comments: Hasn’t found his game this year. Hasn’t appeared confident with the puck.
Play Grade: D, GM Grade: D

 

Foligno, Marcus, LW, 24
Stat Line: 34GP, 2G, 5A, 7P, -5, 11:00 TOI, $1.875mil, UFA in ‘16
Current Status: Invisible
Highlight: None
Comments: Expected to fill-in for Deslauriers’ toughness. Occasionally checks well. Where is Kaleta?
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: C-

 

Gionta, Brian, RW, 36
Stat Line: 37GP, 4G, 8A, 12P, -7, 18:00 TOI, $4.25mil, UFA in ‘17
Current Status: Trying to find a way to justify his ice time
Highlight: Has played with Jack Eichel
Comments: This man is a captain of a professional hockey team? One of the smallest men in the NHL, and somehow plays smaller than his size.
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: D

 

Girgensons, Zemgus, C, 22
Stat Line: 36GP, 3G, 5A, 8P, -2, 15:30 TOI, 45% FOW, $.894mil, RFA in ‘16
Current Status: Playing better when teamed up with Eichel
Highlight: Hoping it will come in the second half
Comments: Bylsma doesn’t seem to know his role, he doesn’t either.
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: C

 

Kane, Evander, LW, 24
Stat Line: 30GP, 8G, 5A, 13P, -9, 21:00 TOI, $5.25mil, UFA in ‘18
Current Status: Sound and fury, signifying nothing
Highlight/Lowlight: May be in trouble with the law
Comments: Makes no plays, makes no passes, shoots from everywhere, defines “underperforming.” We were hoping for 30, even 40 goals; now 20 seems unlikely.
Play Grade: D, GM Grade: F

Larsson, Johan, LW, 23
Stat Line: 37GP, 1G, 3A, 4P, -8, 13:30 TOI, $.800, RFA in ‘16
Current Status: Checking well
Highlight: Still waiting
Comments: Always seems as though there is more talent there than the fans see.
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: C-

 

Legwand, David, C, 35
Stat Line: 37GP, 2G, 6A, 8P, -2, 9:00 TOI, 46% FOW, $3mil, UFA in ‘16
Current Status: Ice time diminishing
Highlight: He’s still playing professional hockey
Comments: Gives what he has, seems to recognize the privilege it is to be playing.
Play Grade: B, GM Grade: C-

 

McGinn, Jamie, LW, 27
Stat Line: 40GP, 8G, A10, 18P, -3, 13:00 TOI, $2.95mil, UFA in ‘16
Current Status: Seems to have found a home in the top 6
Highlight: Getting time on first line
Comments: Expensive throw-in playing beyond expectations.
Play Grade: A, GM Grade: B+

 

Moulson, Matt, LW, 32
Stat Line: 39GP, 4G, 8A, 12P, -1, 14:00 TOI, $5mil, UFA in ‘19
Current Status: Hoping Jack stays with his family so that it’s a little harder for the team to move him
Highlight: Houses Jack Eichel
Comments: Scoring about 1/5 as often as his prime–which was six years ago.
Play Grade: D, GM Grade: F

 

O’Reilly, Ryan, C, 24
Stat Line: 40GP, 16G, 18A, 34P, -6, 22:00 TOI, 58% FOW, $6mil, UFA in ‘23
Current Status: Mr. Everything
Highlight: Stands out nightly
Comments: Has a huge contract and is earning every penny.
Play Grade: A, GM Grade: A

 

Reinhart, Sam, C, 20
Stat Line: 40GP, 9G, 7A, 16P, -2, 16:00 TOI, 42% FOW, $.900mil, RFA in ‘18
Current Status: Becoming more confident with the puck
Highlight: Has some chemistry with ROR
Comments: Off-season work on skating has helped, needs to continue progress.
Play Grade: B, GM Grade: B

 

DEFENSEMEN
Play Grade: C+, GM Grade: C-
The Sabres are 20th in goals against. Last year they were kept out of 30th only by the Edmonton Oilers.  The cause for improvement is mostly wearing number 55 from Turku, Finland; Rasmus Ristolainen has been outstanding. Zach Bogosian and Cody Franson are not the players they seemed when acquired by the Sabres.

The rest of the group is aging and/or inconsistent. Maybe two could play inside of the top five spots on a Cup contender. A quality playoff team needs to get at least 150 points from its blueline, the Sabres are on pace to fall considerably short of that mark.
Bogosian, Zach, D, 25
Stat Line: 37GP, 1G, 3A, 4P, -8, 21:30 TOI, $5.1mil, UFA in ‘20
Current Status: Trying to find his game
Highlight: Finally getting into the lineup
Comments: Not contributing to offense and not steady on defense.
Play Grade: C+, GM Grade: C+

 

Colaiacovo, Carlo, D, 32
Stat Line: 20GP, 0G, 4A, 4P, -6, 15:30 TOI, $.900mil, UFA in ‘16
Current Status: Dressing for 50% of games
Highlight: Not dressing for 50% of games
Comments: Lacks speed, has trouble clearing the zone.
Play Grade: B, GM Grade: F

 

Franson, Cody, D, 28
Stat Line: 40GP, 3G, 10A, 13P, -3, 18:00 TOI, $3.325mil, UFA in ‘17
Current Status: Struggling in all three zones
Highlight/Lowlight: Demoted to second PP unit
Comments: Too slow on back end, no production in offensive zone.
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: D

 

Gorges, Josh, D, 31
Stat Line: 40GP, 1G, 5A, 6P, -7, 22:30 TOI, $3.9mil, UFA in ‘18
Current Status: Perhaps the most steady defensive defender
Highlight: Helping Risto blossom
Comments: Probably a #4 or #5 on a playoff-team, performing as a #3 or even #2 with the Sabres.
Play Grade: B, GM Grade: B-

 

McCabe, Jake, D, 22
Stat Line: 37GP, 3G, 4A, 7P, -5, 18:30 TOI, $.925, RFA in ‘16
Current Status: Slowly maturing
Highlight: Consistent in his inconsistency
Comments: Has to step up to be in the league as more than a #5 or #6 for a few years.
Play Grade: C+, GM Grade: C+

 

Pysyk, Mark, D, 23
Stat Line: 18GP, 0G, 1A, 1P, -1, 16:30 TOI, $1.1mil, RFA in ‘17
Current Status: Injured
Highlight: Hoping to be healthy in second half
Comments: It’s now or never for a guy the Sabres would like to lean on, long-term.
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: C

 

Ristolainen, Rasmus, D, 21
Stat Line: 40GP, 7G, 19A, 26P, -9, 25:00 TOI, $.925mil, RFA in ‘16
Current Status: Clear #1 D
Highlight: Hat Trick in Calgary
Comments: Becoming a star, heading toward Norris trophy consideration.
Play Grade: A, GM Grade: A+

 

Weber, Mike, D, 28
Stat Line: 22GP, 0G, 2A, 2P, +2, 15:30 TOI, $1.67mil, UFA in ‘16
Current Status: Clinging to a #6 slot, playing half the games
Highlight: Phenomenal beard-growth
Comments: Slow, ineffective and somehow plays worse than his stats.
Play Grade: C, GM Grade: C

 

GOALIES

Play Grade: B+, GM Grade: B+

Both Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark have played admirably. The team save percentage is about .909, which is almost exactly what it was for last season when the Sabres started a number of different goalies. There is no reason that if Chad Johnson can stay focused without giving up the occasional soft goal, he can’t be a true No. 1. There is also no reason that if Ullmark can play a relaxed, controlled game, he can’t also be a true No. 1.

Robin Lehner, who came at a huge price, costs more than Johnson and Ullmark combined. He will have a shot at regaining the starting spot and a chance to prove why Tim Murray brought him to Buffalo.

 

Johnson, Chad, G, 29
Stat Line: 25GP, 10W-11L-2OT, .914 S%, 2.48 GAA, $1.3mil, UFA in ‘16
Current Status: Earned #1 spot for now
Highlight: SO vs Anaheim
Comments: Playing very well, sometimes loses focus.
Play Grade: B+, GM Grade: B+

 

Ullmark, Linus, G, 22
Stat Line: 17GP, 5W-10L-2OT, .910 S%, 2.66 GAA, $.775mil, RFA in ‘17
Current Status: Refining game
Highlight: 2-1 W over NYI with 29 Saves
Comments: Solid play from this unexpected call-up. Sabres scored only 12 goals in total in his 10 losses.
Play Grade: B+, GM Grade: B+

 

SUMMARY

Overall, the team gets a Play Grade of C and a GM Grade of C-. While these represent an improvement from the hideous results of last season, they indicate that the rebuilding project is at least a couple more seasons in the making. There are shining spots on the roster that bode well for the future. For the present, take another look at the grades; the Play Grade is for Coach Bylsma, the GM Grade represents Tim Murray’s work. It’s up to these two to continue the roster turnover and get the most out of the players that we have and will have. Fans will have to be patient as our current roster features more than 12 players who would be fourth-line forwards or third-pair defensemen at best on a Cup contender.

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Steve Seide
Lifelong Sabres Fan

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