On Sunday, I like most Buffalo fans, was sitting watching the NFL as the Bills weren’t on thanks to the Titans COVID issues.
Looking at Twitter, I was suddenly stunned as the news broke that the Sabres signed free agent winger Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8M deal.
Hart Memorial Trophy winner. NHL All-Star. First overall pick.
Taylor Hall is coming to Buffalo! ????
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 11, 2020
The start of free agency wasn’t encouraging as the Sabres signed some fringe players and Cody Eakin, who is okay as a 3rd-line player and penalty killer, but not the type of player who is a game-changer. The tweets kept coming and it really was true that the Sabres were getting Taylor Hall.
The Sabres offseason has felt like forever due to the altered season. It reminded me of when GM Jason Botterill was said to be staying only to be fired a week later. Then, new GM Kevyn Adams took the job and while he said the right thing, he lacked experience. The Sabres were reported to have an internal salary cap and to make Buffalo fans cringe, even more, rumors flew that Jack Eichel wanted out.
At least the team had finally switched back to the right shade of blue and the jerseys looked great.
But GM Kevyn Adams deserves credit given the work he has done to improve a roster that had some sizable holes on the roster. Adams made a thrifty trade to bring in Eric Staal, who is a good No. 2 center, something Botterill ignored forever after trading away Ryan O’Reilly.
The draft went pretty well even with the Sabres selection of Jack Quinn, which drew split reviews. The Hall signing gives Buffalo a top 6 you can legitimately say is in the top half, if not top 10, in the NHL.
The addition of Hall is the type of move that can really jolt the Sabres to win more games than they otherwise should. In New Jersey, Hall won the Hart trophy for single-handily carrying an average Devils team to the playoffs.
"People seemed surprised when it came out Sunday that I had signed with the Sabres. I don't think they should be."
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 12, 2020
It would be unreasonable to expect an MVP type year, but he has Eichel to help shoulder the load and his production should help improve a Sabres attack that has been lifeless outside of Eichel a few others like Reinhart, Skinner, and Oloffson.
On his conference call this week, Hall spoke praises of coach Ralph Krueger for his leadership and coaching style, something which will help keep the locker room focused this year. Hall credited the Buffalo fanbase and ownership for being a favorite by players and a place people want to see do well. It was a major positive injection of life and pride into a Sabres organization that has desperately needed it in the worst way.
Ever since Murray was fired, the Sabres have felt like a rudderless organization that lacked an identity. Botterill said the right things but his actions showed otherwise and the failed O’Reilly trade haunted the team for the rest of his tenor.
Sabres fans have hit a point of exasperated frustration during this time where it has been really hard to be positive about anything. Hall’s addition is a legitimate reason to be excited and feel good about the team’s direction for the first time in a bit.
Despite all of the mistakes and negative feelings the Sabres have generated, they landed the best free agent on the market. Much of that credit goes to Eichel, a player who is getting recognition across the league as one it’s best players who guys want to play with, but give credit to coach Ralph Krueger for his status as coach by players and Adams, who finally is saying and doing what fans have wanted forever.
Make no mistake, the Sabres are effectively going for broke at this point and they have to. Eichel has been incredibly patient with the Sabres as good players have left and the team has never put much support around him.
It is important to build through the draft, but Eichel has needed support so this team finally can be at least a playoff team.
The pressure is mounting that if the team doesn’t show significant improvement, Eichel will eventually want out and truthfully understandably so if that ever comes to pass.
The Sabres still would benefit from a goalie addition like Joonas Korpisalo from Columbus and another winger like Erik Haula. So there is work to be done, but there is a legitimate reason for hope and optimism. Adams has Hall’ed in some needed reinforcements, hopefully, a few more can help finish swinging the tide.