Vancouver Canucks 2017-18 season preview: Buffalo Sabres edition

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 04: Rasmus Ristolainen
BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 04: Rasmus Ristolainen /

New Vancouver Canucks netminder Anders Nilsson comes from the Buffalo Sabres, who are looking to end their rebuild that is getting long in the tooth.

The Vancouver Canucks and the Buffalo Sabres share a unique part of their history together as fellow 1970 expansion clubs. And maybe that’s why there always seem to be things in common between these two clubs despite being in separate conferences and only playing twice a year.

Anders Nilsson becomes the second consecutive former Sabre netminder to come to Vancouver after veteran Ryan Miller. The Canucks’ newest signing, winger Thomas Vanek, also comes to Vancouver after enjoying a long tenure in Buffalo.

The two organizations have much more in common than that, though. Both have yet to win a Stanley Cup, although Vancouver has had more success overall as a hockey organization.

The Sabres and the Canucks are now headed down similar roads as both seek to rebuild. The Sabres may have been rebuilding for quite a bit now, but they have a star in Jack Eichel who should be the cornerstone of Buffalo hockey for many years to come. Does Vancouver have a young star of similar calibre who will end the rebuild in due time?

Without further ado, let’s look at what the Sabres did to spark their rebuild this offseason.

Offseason Changes

The Sabres have not made the playoffs in the last handful of years and they are looking to change that with a big offseason full of changes. There are a lot of new faces coming in at every single position of the organization, from the front office, the bench and to the ice, to make sure this rebuild that has gone on for so long will finally end with the maturation of Jack Eichel.

Buffalo Sabres (33-37-12, Last in Atlantic Division)

2016-17 vs. Vancouver
  • (2-1) Vancouver, Oct. 20 @Vancouver
  • (4-2) Vancouver, Feb. 12 @Buffalo

2017-18 vs. Vancouver

  • Oct. 20 @Buffalo
  • Jan. 25 @Vancouver

3 Storylines to Watch in 2017-18

  1. Anders Nilsson proves himself

Anders Nilsson signed a two-year deal with the Canucks on July 1st for a total of $5 million after playing for the Buffalo Sabres last year. Nilsson was almost as good as Robin Lehner, the Sabres starter, last year and there are no reasons to believe that Nilsson won’t challenge for Markstrom’s job as a number one in Vancouver.

More from The Canuck Way

I would love to see Nilsson play against his former club that let him go after such a stellar season and shut them out. The Sabres were the worst team in the entire league last year in shot suppression, averaging 34.3 shots against per game.

Despite that, Nilsson had his best season as an NHL goalie. Over the past three seasons as a backup in NYI, EDM and BUF, Nilsson’s save percentage has steadily increased (.896 – .901 – .923).

His goals against average also dipped in 2016-17, setting a new career best at 2.67GAA after a couple of seasons above 3.10GAA.

In fact, considering that the Canucks are playing in Buffalo the night after playing in Boston, there’s a good chance that Nilsson plays.

2. Bo vs. Jack: The Cornerstones of the Rebuilds

The beginning of the Jack Eichel saga in Buffalo has not been all too good. The coaching staff’s inability to cope with the man picked right after Connor McDavid has cost head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murry their jobs.

Eichel is that important to the Sabres organization because he is a foundational player for the rebuild as the top pivot in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.

Bo Horvat, though not picked as high as Eichel was, is a similar piece for the Canucks. These two centres, each representing hope and the spearhead of these two clubs’ respective rebuilds, will be matched up against each other.

Though Horvat is evolving into a much better offensive player than the Canucks originally project him to be, he will likely be the top defensive centreman for Vancouver this year. He will have to shut Eichel down when these two play.

Related Story: A Buffalo Connection - Is Thomas Vanek worth the Risk?

3. Special teams game

Though the Sabres were one of the league’s weaker teams last year, they were the league’s best on the man advantage. The Canucks have to make sure that they don’t get frustrated against the big-bodied Sabres squad and stay out of the sin bin.

On the other hand, the Canucks had a lot of success last year against the Sabres on the power play. If new assistant coach Newell Brown can revive the 27th-ranked Vancouver power play, the Canucks may find ways to continue their success against the Sabres.

On top of Brown, if the former Sabre Thomas Vanek comes as advertised, he will make the Canucks man advantage that much more powerful.

Next: 30-in-30 Boston Bruins Edition

There are other things to watch for aside from the product on the ice between these two clubs.

While the Canucks opted to pick Elias Pettersson with the fifth overall selection in this year’s entry draft, there was much speculation that they were interested in WHL forward Cody Glass and NCAA centre Casey Mittlestadt. Mittlestadt has since found himself a team in the Sabres.

Though the two won’t be in the NHL anytime soon, it will be interesting to see how the Pettersson-Horvat duo stack up against the all-American duo of Eichel-Mittlestadt.

Lastly, will Evander Kane ever find his way to Vancouver and play in the blue-and-green?