Just over a quarter of the way into the NHL season, we’re starting to see contenders separate themselves from the field and struggling teams define themselves as more than just slow starters.
Looking through each division, it’s clear that some clubs at the bottom of their divisions are already turning to the future and others are looking for measures that will get them back in the race. Both will require smart short- and long-term decisions to be contenders again, sooner or later.
How should these teams handle their situations in the present, the near future and into the next offseason and 2018-19? Let’s have a look at a one-week, one-month and one-year fix for eight of the NHL’s early strugglers:
New head coach Phil Housley has essentially refused to play the two former No. 2 overall picks together, as they have spent just 83 minutes on ice at the same time this season. Last season, Eichel played more minutes with Reinhart than any other forward (522) and his Corsi for percentage dropped by 6.2 percent when away from his playmaking partner. The Sabres have to decide if they are going to sign on with Reinhart long-term. Considering the pair’s complementary skill sets — Eichel is a terrific shooter, Reinhart a savvy passer — the Sabres may have a Nicklas Backstrom–Alex Ovechkin type connection that they are ignoring. Now is the time to find out.
One month: Trade everything that isn’t nailed down
The fire sale can start any time, starting with the goalies. There are a number of teams desperate for a netminder, and the Sabres would be wise to cut bait on Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson in favor of prospects/picks and giving time to prospect goalie Linus Ullmark. As the trade deadline approaches, they can find a suitor for upcoming free agents Evander Kane and Benoit Pouliot.
One year: Stick to the prospect system, be patient
General manager Jason Botterill made a point when he was hired to emphasize the system and rebuilding the AHL club. The Sabres’ AHL team is playing well, and the system is stocked with top talent like Alexander Nylander and Casey Mittelstadt, along with players who could have a bottom-six role. They shouldn’t take any more big swings in free agency like the Kyle Okposo deal. Of course, Sabres fans want quicker results than that, but it will take some time to undo the bad moves of the past.