This is the second part of a two-part series comparing the players on the 2014-2015 Sabres with the 2021-2022 Sabres to see how this year’s club measures up with the infamous tank team commanded by General Manager Tim Murray and coach Ted Nolan. That team seven years ago finished last and selected Jack Eichel after losing the draft lottery to the Edmonton Oilers, a moment that produced the famous image of Connor McDavid looking like some just told him that Santa Claus does not exist.
All of that is in the past now as there’s a new would-be savior for the last place team in the NHL this season and his name is Shane Wright. The 6’1” centerman from the great white north is easily the favorite to be selected first overall. Let’s hear a little bit about Shane Wright from Ben Kerr of lastwordonsports.com:
As a 15-year-old, Shane Wright played in the OHL as an exceptional player. Despite the 2019-20 season being shortened due to the pandemic, he put up numbers that rivalled previous exceptional players Connor McDavid and John Tavares. He put up 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games. Wright captained Team Canada to a gold medal at the IIHF Under-18s. He scored nine goals and 14 points in just five tournament games.
It’s easy to see why Wright is seen as a future franchise player. He can do it all on the ice. He is an outstanding skater with excellent speed, acceleration, agility and balance. Wright combines that skating with all of the offensive skills one would want. His stickhandling is top-notch and he can make plays while moving at top speed. His shot is deadly accurate, has a ton of power, and he gets it off with a very quick release. Wright also has excellent vision and the ability to pass the puck through tight passing lanes. His hockey sense is excellent, and he makes the right play without the puck.
Sabres fans should keep in mind that in all likelihood they will never see Wright wearing the blue and gold even if they do finish last as the chances of winning two draft lotteries in a row are ridiculously small. There are, however, some consolation prizes available to the runners up in the form of Brad Lambert, Ivan Miroshnichenko, Matthew Savoie and some others. Perhaps this is all premature, though. Let’s take a look at the defense and goaltending of that ’14-’15 team against the same components of this year’s team before talking about the prospects of the team finishing last.
We’re not going to be able to do the same format as last time because there were simply too many defensemen coming and going all season and very few actually played anything close to a full season. Tyler Myers played a tremendous number of minutes for the team but only participated in 47 contests, just like Zach Bogosian who logged over 26 minutes a game during his 21 games with the team after the Sabres and Jets swapped those defensemen. Rasmus Ristolainen played 78 games which led the team, and the next closest defenseman in terms of games played was Mike Weber at 64 games. Here is the list (via hockeyreference.com) of defensemen who suited up that season along with their games played:
Rasmus Ristolainen – 78 games played, 20 points, -32
Mike Weber – 64 games played, 7 points, -22
Nikita Zadorov – 60 games played, 15 points, -10
Andrej Meszaros – 60 games played, 14 points, -13
Tyler Myers – 47 games played, 13 points, -15
Tyson Strachan – 46 games played, 5 points, -30
Josh Gorges – 46 games played, 6 points, -28
Andre Benoit – See attached
Zach Bogosian - 21 games played, 7 points, -7
Mark Pysyk – 7 games played, 3 points, +4
Good ol’ Mark Pysyk getting the only plus rating of the bunch. A lot of people will say that points are not a good indication of a defenseman’s value, and it’s a fair argument to make. That said, having your leading scorer from the backend lead the pack with 20 points is pretty abysmal. Plenty of people will also say that plus/minus is also a pretty deceptive stat. Fine. Those numbers are also bad, though. I perused through all of the defensemen’s player cards from that season via evolving hockey and the offensive goals-against-replacement were truly terrible across the board with only Zadorov showing any positive value. Gorges and Weber did show some value on the defensive side of things but (and this will certainly shock you) Gorges and Weber did not generate any offense. This group of defensemen was really, really bad.
This year’s group includes Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, Will Butcher, Mark Pysyk (again),
Robert Hägg, Colin Miller with Mattias Samuelsson and Jacob Bryson waiting behind those six. I’ve detailed those players at length in the previous roster series and I feel confident saying this group will be significantly better in all facets of the game and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Dahlin lead the team in points this season.
Edge: 2021-2022 Sabres
Now let’s talk goaltending. That Sabres tank team of the previous decade got some truly impressive net tending from Michal Neuvirth who posted a nice save percentage of .918 with a 2.99 goals against average in 27 contests. Likewise, Anders Lindbäck had a .924 save percentage and a 2.76 goals-against-average in 16 games.
Now here’s the wild part.
In those 43 games, the Sabres won a mere 10, even with that stellar goaltending.
Jhonas Enroth played 37 more games and went 13-21-2 with a .903 save percentage and 3.27 GAA. Enroth’s performance could possibly be duplicated by veteran Craig Anderson but it’s very difficult to see Aaron Dell, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen or Dustin Tokarski emulating what Neuvirth and Lindbäck did. This looks to be far-and-away the biggest weakness of this year’s Sabres squad.
Edge: 2014-2015 Sabres
So what are the conclusions we can draw from the comparisons between the forwards, defensemen and goaltenders of the two squads? In short: The forwards and defensemen are better and deeper than the squad from back then which will mean way more scoring for the Sabres and even some better defense from the depth forwards and depth defensemen on the team. On the other hand, it looks like the goaltending could be much, much worse which means more goals against. Even so, it would not shock me at all to see coach Don Granato’s high-tempo system lead to more upset wins this season than many expect, although that’s not to say they’ll be good. If I had to bet on it, it looks not like a last place team, but a 30th place team with a chance to get as high as 25th if one of their goalies pulls out a Hamburglar-esque performance this season. If the goaltending is truly abysmal (as is possible) then they very well could be the first team in NHL history to finish 32nd.
It would be an impressive feat to top that 2014-2015 team in terms of ineptitude, though, and I can’t see it happening.