Corey Abbott

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What Went Wrong: BUF, DET

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Our What Went Wrong series continues for teams that didn’t qualify for the postseason. We will examine clubs in groups of two and look at some players who underperformed or who the team will be looking for more from next year.

 

Feel free to view part one (Colorado and Vancouver) and part two (New Jersey and Arizona).

 

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Buffalo Sabres

 

Buffalo enjoyed a 27-point improvement under coach Dan Bylsma in 2015-16, but the team took a step backwards this past season. The Sabres finished with a record of 33-37-12, which ranked them 26th overall, and they missed the playoffs for a sixth straight year.  Buffalo was just one point out of the playoffs after defeating St. Louis on Feb. 18, but a 7-14-2 slide the rest of the way derailed their postseason aspirations.

 

The Sabres fired Bylsma and general manager Tim Murray in April. Murray was replaced by Jason Botterill, who is still searching for a new head coach. Whoever is placed in charge will inherit a talented group that is highlighted by forward Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

 

Ryan O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo had their struggles in 2016-17, but they all possess the skill to bounce back, especially if they can display some more consistency. Injuries to Eichel, Evander Kane and Dmitry Kulikov at the beginning of the year were not ideal, but Buffalo’s shortcomings on defense and offense cannot be blamed solely on those absences or other health issues.

 

Buffalo allowed the most shots against per game at 34.3 and finished with a minus-3.9 shot differential per contest. Only Vancouver and Arizona were worse than the Sabres in that category. This placed plenty of pressure on the goaltending of Robin Lehner, but that didn’t work out for them in the end. Lehner did play well though despite the struggles of his teammates in front of him. He posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against average in 59 appearances.

 

Buffalo also tried to rely on their power play because they had the worst even strength goal percentage (69.9 percent) in the league. The Sabres led the league with a power-play goals as a percentage of total goals at 28.6. Their power play ranked first overall with an efficiency rating of 24.5 percent.

 

The Sabres have some kinks to work through, but their rebuild is still moving in the right direction even though the people in charge are changing.

 

Ryan O'Reilly - O'Reilly has been a great pickup for the Sabres since he was acquired from Colorado. He generated 60 points in 71 games in 2015-16 and had 55 points in 72 contests in 2016-17. The 26-year-old center went through some dry patches in the goal department this past season, but he still managed to hit the 20-goal mark. O'Reilly will look for a more consistent effort next year and the Sabres need that from him to get to the next level.

 

Sam Reinhart - Reinhart also struggled to produce goals in 2016-17. He posted 17 markers and 47 points in 79 matches after he scored 23 times and recorded 42 points in 79 contests during his first full season in the NHL. Reinhart did not break out like many pundits expected him to, but that still could happen next year.

 

Evander Kane - Kane missed 11 games due to cracked ribs and got off to a slow start, but he heated up in December and concluded the campaign with a team-high 28 goals in 70 appearances. Despite his goal resurgence, the 25-year-old winger produced 43 points after he contributed just 15 assists and had a bumpy finish to the year. Kane came closer to duplicating the success he had in 2011-12 when he amassed 30 goals and 57 points, but that performance still looks more like an anomaly than something that can be reached again. The Sabres may decide to trade Kane while his value is higher because he has just one more season left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

 

Tyler Ennis - Ennis was hindered by injury and lengthy scoring droughts in 2016-17. He was limited to 51 appearances because of a troublesome groin problem and he accounted for only 13 points. Ennis was Buffalo’s best player before injuries held him back considerably for the last two seasons. If he can stay healthy and keep a spot in the Sabres’ top-six forward group then a bounce back effort is not completely out of the question.

 

Detroit Red Wings

 

Detroit’s incredible 25-year run of making the playoffs came to an end in 2016-17. They posted a 33-36-13 record to place 25th overall in the league. The Red Wings have made a top-10 selection in the NHL Entry Draft just nine times in the last 40 years, but they will have the ninth overall pick on June 23. It will be the team’s highest choice since 1990 if they don’t trade it.

 

The organization has had plenty of success getting talent late in drafts, but adding more offensive talent is integral to the team’s return to playoff contention. Detroit has some good building blocks with Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou up front as well as Petr Mrazek in the crease. Detroit needs more players like that to take pressure off of Henrik Zetterberg and help fill the void left by the departure of Pavel Datsyuk.

 

The Red Wings had several players perform below expectations in the first half of the season with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist leading the way. Both wingers were much better down the stretch, which should encourage the team if they aren’t traded during the off-season. Mrazek and Larkin were also disappointing for most of the year. Losing Jimmy Howard for 32 games because of a knee injury was costly as well, especially since he played very well in 2016-17.

 

Detroit had plenty of trouble scoring goals this past season. They ranked 26th overall with 2.41 goals for per game and posted a goal differential of minus-46 (26th overall). The Wings were blanked nine times, which was the fourth most in the league and the power play struggled mightily, finishing 27th overall with a 15.1 percentage. The Red Wings didn’t shine defensively either, while posting a team save percentage of .903. That mark ranked them 25th in the league.

 

Detroit is in unfamiliar territory after their playoff streak came to an end and could use some help at forward and defense to get back into the hunt. Trades or free agent signings will probably be the first course of action for GM Ken Holland because the team isn’t quite on the edge of needing a complete restructuring. As mentioned previously, they also have some good players to build around within the system. It probably won’t be long before they are back on track.

 

Petr Mrazek - Mrazek was outplayed by Jimmy Howard throughout the season, but got his job back as the team’s starting goaltender after Howard missed two-plus months with a knee injury. Still, he never managed to string together many successful outings and posted a mere 18 victories in 50 appearances, including 44 starts. Mrazek also recorded personal worsts with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. Still, he will probably be the goaltender that Detroit protects in the expansion draft because he is younger and less expensive than Howard. He will need to be much better if he is going to be the number one goalie of the present and the future of the Red Wings.

 

Dylan Larkin - Larkin struggled during his sophomore season. He dropped from 23 goals in his rookie campaign to 17 and he slipped from 45 points to 32 points. Larkin also had a minus-28 rating after he was a plus-11 in 2015-16. He looked much more confident at the World Hockey Championship after the regular season and generated 10 points in eight games with Team USA. Larkin will be counted on to bounce back next year and he should be able to as a top-six forward on the Red Wings.

 

Tomas Tatar - Tatar was having a rough season before he caught fire down the stretch. He racked up 11 goals and 18 points in the last 21 games to give him 46 points on the year. Tatar has surpassed the 20-goal plateau for three consecutive seasons and a return to the 50-point mark is within his reach if he can avoid the scoring slumps that plagued him in 2016-17.

 

Gustav Nyquist - Nyquist also benefited from a scoring surge in the second half with 19 points in the final 20 matches of the regular season. That allowed him to produce 48 points in 76 games, but he ended up netting only 12 goals. Nyquist has seen his goal production decrease each season since he scored 28 in 2013-14. In the last two years, he hasn’t been able to reach the 20-goal mark. Nyquist has been mentioned as a trade candidate, but if he returns to Detroit then he will have to be better.



Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
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