NHL.com is investigating where each team stands in preparation for the regular season 2021-22, which begins Oct. 12. Today, the Buffalo Sabers face five questions:
1. How will Jack Eichel the situation is resolved?
Eichel said there has been an “interruption” with the Sabers regarding treatment of herniated disc in the neck. The center has said he believes surgery is the best course of action; The Sabers have remained opponents.
Given that and the strife from each side, it has emerged that Eichel would be traded in the offseason, but he remains with the Sabers.
There has been no news on Eichel’s status since agents Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli released a statement on July 30 stating: “The process is not working. As previously mentioned, we fully expected a deal at the start of the NHL-free agent period (July 28). “
Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams has said they would be confident with Eichel on the squad this season. Since the training camp is less than two weeks away, the Sabers must either swap Eichel or find a way to get on with him.
2. How will Don Granato fare in his first full season as head coach?
Granato, who replaced Ralph Krueger as coach on March 17, will be tasked with building on the young core and pushing them past the tough times they will almost inevitably go through. Buffalo finished with the fewest points in the NHL last season (37) and subsequently traded defender Rasmus Ristolainen and forward Sam Reinhart, and lost goalkeeper Linus Ullmark in free agency.
“The demand for the challenge is what excites me,” Granato said. “I fully believe we have a huge opportunity right in front of us.”
3. Who wants to be in the net?
Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell each signed a one-year contract with the Sabers on July 28th. None of the goalkeepers played very much in the NHL last season, with Dell playing seven games (1-5-0, 4.14 goals to average, .857 save percentage) for the New Jersey Devils and Anderson playing four games (2-1 -0, 2.13, .915) for Washington Capitals.
Buffalo also have Dustin Tokarski, who played 13 games (10 starts) for them last season (2-8-2, 3.54, .904) and 22-year-old prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1-3-0, 3.88, .906 in four matches).
Is Luukkonen ready to start full time? Can Anderson make about half of the starts at the age of 40? Sabers have decisions to make and questions to answer.
4. Who plays center on the top line?
If Eichel is swapped or unable to play, the top picks for the first-line center are 20-year-olds Dylan Cozens or 22-year-old Casey Mittelstadt. While it is possible the Sabers could get a center back in any possible trade for Eichel, there is also a chance they will go with one of their young building blocks.
Cozens scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 41 games last season, and Mittelstadt scored 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 41 games. Playing center on the front line would be a big ask for both, but the Sabers may have no choice but a shot for players they hope will be a big part of their future.
5. Can the young players make progress?
Sabers look to the future this season with plans to build around a core that includes Cozens, Mittelstadt, Luukkonen and defender Rasmus Dahlin.
That was part of the reason the Sabers kept Granato, who seemed to fit in well with the new players at the end of last season. That’s also why they signed veterans Anderson, the defender Mark Pysyk and forward Vinnie Hinostroza to guide them.
But now the responsibility shifts to these players. They get minutes and situations to make progress, and the question is whether they want to run with it.
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