Sabres’ fresh start features motivated Jack Eichel
LAST SEASON: 33-37-12, 78 points. Finished last in Atlantic Division and 15th in Eastern Conference, extending playoff drought to sixth consecutive season.
COACH: Phil Housley (first season, first NHL season).
ADDED: GM Jason Botterill, Ds Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Victor Antipin, RW Jason Pominville, LW Benoit Pouliot, G Chad Johnson.
LOST: RW Brian Gionta, LWs Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis and William Carrier, Ds Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov, G Anders Nilsson.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jack Eichel. The Sabres budding franchise player has plenty of motivation to produce entering his third season since being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL draft — one spot behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. The 20-year-old summed up his first two years as “mediocre,” and vows to be more of a leader on and off the ice. He led the Sabres with 57 points last season, but missed 21 games with a sprained left ankle. Eichel is also entering the final year of his rookie contract and willing to wait until next summer to sign a new deal. Both sides are open to an NHL-maximum eight-year deal, though they’re at odds on the contract’s value.
OUTLOOK: It’s all on how quickly Housley can instill structure, focus and accountability to a high-priced lineup that under-achieved last season and led to GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma being fired in April. Housley is a Hall of Famer, who opened his career in Buffalo, and credited for developing a talented and up-tempo group of Predators defensemen the past four seasons as an assistant in Nashville. A 10-point improvement over last year likely won’t lead Buffalo to the playoffs, but would be an encouraging step for a team that floundered for much of the last decade.
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