Buffalo has fired both Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray
The Buffalo Sabres cleaned house on Thursday by firing both General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma. This came after six years of non-playoff hockey from the franchise, the last three under the stewardship of Murray, and two under the guidance of Bylsma.
At the outset, it’s not hard to imagine why this move was made. A year where the team finished last in the Atlantic Division and second-last in the Eastern Conference is not what ownership had envisioned. It’s also not hard to imagine how much different the team might look had they ended up with Connor McDavid, but what-ifs and could-have-beens aren’t enough to save jobs.
There will be a lot of speculation over who can and will replace them, but that’s all it is for now, speculation. I’d rather look at what needs to change moving forward, regardless of who has the job.
At the top of the list is completely overhauling the blue line. There is enough talent at the top of Buffalo’s forward group, with all their key pieces under contract for at least the next two years. In 2016-17, the team gave up the fifth-most adjusted shot attempts in the league, and the ninth-most the year before. Giving up a lot of shots isn’t a death-knell for a team in and of itself, but when the team can’t generate anywhere close to as much in return, it is a death-knell for the team. At five-on-five this year, Buffalo had the sixth-highest save percentage as a team, but was in the bottom-half of the league in goals against. They need more than just one big name, they need depth, and it has to start this summer if they want to compete for a playoff spot next year.
This is the one area that concerns me. The Sabres didn’t excel at much this past campaign, but they did have an elite power play, generating the eight-most shots, and the most goals per minute. I would think part of the reason is they loaded up their top power-play unit with four forwards and Rasmus Ristolainen for the bulk of the season. Depending on injuries or slumps, some forwards like Matt Moulson or Evander Kane were subbed into the top quintet, but there was a clear delineation between their top forwards and the rest of the team.
It is concerning that this might change. Over the last two years, 46 out of 86 of Ristolainen’s points came with the man advantage. Maybe he’s still on the top unit, but if the new coach spreads out the forward talent, it could negatively impact him despite still getting those prime minutes. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but it’s something to keep in mind for early next season.
The other side of the special teams coin is the penalty kill. While the team’s PK was excellent two years ago, it was among the worst in the league last season. Sometimes it can be a function of luck, but they also gave up by far the most shots per minute while short-handed. This is an area that, if fixed, could help Robin Lehner in net in a massive way.
Of all the immediately fantasy-relevant players the one with the most to gain is Lehner. Despite having a save percentage 15 points higher than Cam Ward (.920 to .905) than Cam Ward, the two goalies had near identical goals against averages (2.68 for Lehner and 2.69 for Ward). That is simply due to the difference in shots allowed both at even strength and on the penalty kill. A marked improvement to team defence at all strengths could push Lehner to being a top-15 goalie in standard fantasy leagues. But that would require a marked improvement, and they need the personnel to do it.
The top of the forward roster for Buffalo should be fine so long as the power play remains intact. That remains to be seen if it will be the case.
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