Fantasy football drafts are done, pictures of pumpkin spice lattes are all over Instagram and hockey is right around the corner. In less than one month the puck will drop and the NHL regular season will begin. Welcome to the best time of the year.
Pumpkin spice lattes are incredibly overrated, by the way.
Next week, the Buffalo Sabres will open training camp, followed by their first preseason game just a few days later. There are plenty of changes on the ice and behind the bench that has fans excited.
Storylines to watch at Sabres training camp:
There's a new sheriff in town:
Well actually, there are two new sheriffs in town and for both, this will be an entirely new experience. Both Phil Housley and Jason Botterill are entering their first training camp in their respective positions.
For Botterill, the heavy lifting is done and the Sabres roster has been molded by the first year GM, with most noticeably a blueline makeover. But for Housley, things are just getting started.
Next week the Sabres newest coach will get his first chance to run a practice with his new team. When Housley was hired in June he was asked how he would describe himself on the bench:
“Intense, patient, competitive, willing to win, respecting and credible. Those are some of the words that come to mind, but you learn from your experiences"
That all sounds great, so now it's time to walk the walk. In Nashville as an assistant coach, players gushed over Housley's temperament and leadership. Those traits would certainly be welcomed in Buffalo, especially after what appeared to be anything but a perfect relationship between the Sabres players and previous coaching staff.
The battle for the first line Left-Wing:
"First line" is, of course, relative when it comes to how to the lineup shakes out. In my original projections earlier in the summer I penciled in a second line featuring Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart.
Sure, you could argue that aforementioned trio will be the first line, but I'd bet that goes to Ryan O'Reilly at center and Kyle Okposo at right wing.
So who will be down their left side?
Benoit Pouliot, an offseason addition, is a possibility but he seems to be a better fit on the Sabres third line with players like Johan Larsson and Jason Pominville.
Justin Bailey spent time on the first line with Okposo and O'Reilly last year but failed to put up impressive numbers. To be fair, he's not a natural left-winger and was shuffled all over the place when he was in the lineup last year. Some time with the same two linemates could help Bailey greatly.
CJ Smith, who tallied an assist in his first NHL game late last season is an option, but he'll have an uphill battle. Smith is a hard player to evaluate because he only appeared in two games with the Sabres last year. At this point, he could be the wild card in the battle.
Alex Nylander would be the dream scenario for the Sabres [and fans] but will he be ready? If last years performance in the AHL is any indication, Nylander needs more time to develop. However, the Sabres 2016 first round draft pick looked like a different player at Sabres development camp earlier in the summer. To say he's gotten bigger would be an understatement.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) July 10, 2017
Whatever the Sabres do, it's important that they don't throw Nylander, or any prospect for that matter, into a role they aren't ready to take on. With Botterill at the helm that shouldn't be an issue.
Your guess who will win the job is certainly as good as mine. Hell, these projections will probably all be wrong in a month anyway, but I'll take Bailey as the super early and premature favorite to win the job.
Pieces to the puzzle:
With all the additions and new faces on the blueline, it'll be interesting to see who is paired with who. What will be even more interesting is who ends up being the odd man out.
Those are the seven players likely to compete for the six starting jobs on the Sabres blueline. While it's never fair to assume anything, the starting roles for Ristolainen, Scandella, and McCabe seem to be the safest.
Bogosian, who was once believed to be a top-pair defenseman, could benefit from a coach who specializes in maximizing potential out of defensemen.
That leaves Beaulieu, Antipin, and Gorges. Both Antipin and Beaulieu were acquired in the offseason, while Gorges is entering the last year of his deal. Gorges might not be the flashy play but over his career, he's proven at times to be a headache for opposing forwards. That said, his play was inconsistent last season as he was shuffled all over the Sabres lineup.
We won't really know how the pairs shape out until training camp starts. Even then, players who likely will spend the year in Rochester will be getting reps with guys who will make the Sabres opening night roster.
It's not fair to say the Sabres blueline has been fixed but it sure looks a lot better than what we saw for 82 games last season.