Sabres 2021 season preview, predictions: Will they make the playoffs?

Henri Jokiharju #10, Sam Reinhart #23, Carter Hutton #40, Jack Eichel #9 and Jake McCabe #19 of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Henri Jokiharju #10, Sam Reinhart #23, Carter Hutton #40, Jack Eichel #9 and Jake McCabe #19 of the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

Can the Buffalo Sabres turn things around and make the playoffs in 2021?

Is this finally the year? That remains the biggest question for the Buffalo Sabres as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

The pressure on the organization to make changes with captain Jack Eichel voicing his frustration with the team’s performance. If the team fails to make pressure, could it mean the Eichel asks to be moved and Buffalo taking a serious step back, although they’ve struggled to take steps forward.

Additions: Taylor Hall, Eric Staal and Cody Eakin.

Subtractions: Dominik Kahun, Johan Larsson, Marcus Johansson, Michael Frolik and Wayne Simmonds.

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Getting Hall was a significant development this offseason because now Eichel is paired with a former Hart Trophy winner who is motivated to not only find his own playoff success but also a long-term contract extension. Adding Staal to mix on top of that should hopefully, provide some consistency down the middle.

When you consider that Jeff Skinner has been demoted from the top line, and some question marks on who will score in the bottom half of the lineup, it’s going to be tough for this team to be competitive in the East Division. The realignment didn’t really do Buffalo any favours considering they already had a tough challenge in the Atlantic Division.

At the same time, the Sabres didn’t really address the blue line or goaltending in a way that gives us confidence unless Rasmus Dahlin takes a big step forward. Rasmus Ristolainen has been on the decline over the years and there has been rumours that the team was looking to shop him.

On top of the team’s defensive concerns, the goaltending tandem hasn’t proven that it can get the job done. Unless they tighten things up defensively and the goaltending improves, the sabres are going to need their offense to pick up the slack.

One way the team’s goaltending can improve is if Jonas Johansson can earn his way into starting more games. Considering how Carer Hutton has performed since his arrival in Buffalo, the leash should be rather short.

A wild card could be Dylan Cozens who had a strong camp for Canada at the world juniors who might start on the wing considering how demanding it is to play as a centre. It’s something he has done throughout as his size makes it easier for him to go back and forth.

"“I’m very comfortable on the wing,” Cozens told the Buffalo Herald. “Throughout my junior career, I’ve played center and wing. I kind of eased into the WHL as a winger.”"

Something to take into consideration is that Cozens and 2020 first-round pick Jack Quinn can’t go down to the AHL so it’s either they stay in the NHL, the taxi squad or go back to juniors. Cozens should see some NHL action this season as a result.

Looking at the East Division, the Sabres are certainly better than the New Jersey Devils but can they find a way to at least contend with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders and Rangers? That will be a tough challenge especially when you consider that the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers should take the top three spots in the division.

Considering how much they need to happen in order to make the playoffs, it’s going to be tough to say they will. However, the Sabres do have the players who can surprise but that might be too much to ask for.

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What are your thoughts on the Sabres this season? Do you expect them to make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.