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By Chris Chilelli
Buffalo Sabres Writer
The Buffalo Sabres came into the summer of 2016 knowing that they had to swing for the fences to improve their team. Last season the Sabres made a 27-point jump in the standings finishing with 81 points, but this week, Head Coach Dan Bylsma came out and said the team should be around the 95-point mark pushing for the playoffs. Buffalo was in on free agent to be Steven Stamkos, but were never able to offer him a contract as he re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning before free agency began.
The Sabres then went into free agency and did in fact land their big fish, Kyle Okposo. According to a lot of insiders, the Sabres landed the number two free agent, number one considering that Stamkos, who was number one, never made it to market. Okposo, 28, inked a 7-year $42 million deal with the team. This was a move that Buffalo isn’t known for as the Sabres have never really splurged on top talent in free agency. But this year was different because Tim Murray had the backing from Terry Pegula to get this team into the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Okposo will bring a lot of firepower to the Buffalo Sabres top six playing alongside either Jack Eichel or Ryan O’Reilly. Okposo would have been the highest scoring player on Buffalo last season with his 64 points for the Islanders last season. Buffalo is counting on him to bring that production with him to Western New York. Ever since Okposo signed with the club, there have been some people claiming that his production came form playing with John Tavares, but that isn’t accurate as he had another great year last year playing mostly with Frans Nielsen as his center. Another argument that could be made in the defense of Okposo and his new deal with Buffalo is the team has a center that is arguably as talented as Tavares in Eichel. Last year Eichel finished with 56 points for Buffalo, and in Tavares’ rookie season he had just 52 points. This obviously isn’t a huge difference but it shows just how special a talent that Jack Eichel really is. Okposo did say in his press conference with his new team that the primary factor in choosing the Sabres was the ability to play either Eichel or O’Reilly.
Another big part of the Sabres offseason plans is last year’s Hobey Baker winner, Jimmy Vesey. Vesey was originally drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round in the 2012 entry draft. Once he finished his senior season, he informed the Predators that he would not sign with the team and wanted to test free agency. He has become a player of interest for several teams including the Sabres. The Sabres traded one of their four third round picks to Nashville to acquire his negotiating rights. Those rights end on August 15th, and it seems that the plan for Vesey is to test free agency, although many believe Buffalo is his best landing spot. Buffalo feels they have a great shot to land him because of his friendship with Eichel. There is still no guarantee that he will choose Buffalo at all, but he said that his meeting with the team went very well last week and they are still on his list of short teams in the running. Buffalo has said over and over that Vesey would be in their top six, and he has said that he would love to be in the locker room with Eichel and it would be special to play in the NHL with his friend. We will have to wait until August 15th to see if the Sabres can get the deal done and sign their man.
The Sabres have had an eventful, and some would say successful offseason, but none of that means anything until they put it together next year. Not to mention they still have to re-sign Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons, but the future is bright for Buffalo, and there is still nowhere to go but up for this team.