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Sabres' Bylsma primed to win Jack Adams Award

by Jon Lane

It's become a habit to dismiss the Buffalo Sabres and any iota of a chance they have of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They've averaged a shade over 21 wins the past three seasons, and in each of the previous two finished at or near the bottom of the NHL in most offensive and special-team categories.

But there are precedents of teams making quantum leaps in the NHL standings. The Montreal Canadiens ascended from the Eastern Conference basement to a first-place finish in the Northeast Division in 2013. A season later, the Colorado Avalanche rose from 29th in the League (39 points in 48 games) to 112 points and the Central Division title. An extreme example is the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, whose 58-point jump from the season before remains the biggest turnaround in League history.

A 58-point jump is asking too much, but there's no denying the excitement in Buffalo, where there are expectations for the Sabres to make noise in the East. The additions of Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly fortified a group of forwards that already included Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart, putting them in position to significantly increase their NHL-worst 153 goals from last season. Defenseman Cody Franson, who signed a two-year contract Sept. 10, should spark a power play that finished 30th at 13.4 percent.

"It's not the Buffalo Sabres from last year," coach Dan Bylsma said in video posted by the Sabres website. "So in building our team and going forward and building that, all of us are new and I think that's a pretty exciting thing."

Patrick Roy's work with the Avalanche in 2013-14 earned him the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. Bylsma brings clout to a Sabres team that lost 51 games in each of the past two seasons. He's the right man to lead them into a new generation and the preseason favorite to win the award this season.

Hired on May 28, Bylsma has experience with immediate turnarounds. He took over a Pittsburgh Penguins team 10th in the East with 25 games left in 2008-09 and led it to an 18-3-4 finish and its first Stanley Cup championship in 16 years. He also won the Jack Adams Award in 2011 after guiding the Penguins to 49 wins despite Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal missing a combined 119 games because of injuries. His .668 winning percentage (252-117-32) is the best of anyone in history with at least three full seasons coached.

Eichel and Reinhart are potential franchise centers. Kane and O'Reilly add scoring that's been lacking. Leading the charge will be Bylsma, who will have the Sabres ready to work and ready to surprise.

"In order to have success, we're going to have to be real detailed," O'Reilly told the Buffalo News. "It's not going to be easy to come from where we were last year. We've got to work together. We've got to find out quickly how to have success together."


Todd McLellan, Edmonton Oilers -- McLellan became the Oilers' seventh coach in eight seasons after winning three Pacific Division titles and reaching the playoffs six times in seven seasons with the Sharks. He's coaching a potential generational talent (Connor McDavid) and will impose the mental fortitude that's been missing in Edmonton for so long.

"Mentally strong teams have poor patches during the season," McLellan told the Canadian Press. "It's an automatic thing. But they come out of it quick, they come out of it confident. They go back to their foundation and basics. The weaker teams tend to stay in it a little bit longer. The pushback thing is a big thing for me, the mental strength to keep going. Get through the crap, if you will, when it's not going well.

"There's going to be some tough times. There will be some days where it's not going real well. And I'll be really interested to see the group during those moments."

Lindy Ruff, Dallas Stars -- Facing high expectations last season, the Stars disappointed with a sixth-place finish in the Central Division. However, they won seven of 10 to finish 31-18-5 in their final 54 games, a 102-point pace over 82 games.

Forward Patrick Sharp, defenseman Johnny Oduya and goaltender Antti Niemi provide Dallas a championship pedigree. Oduya's presence also provides optimism of improving a defense that allowed 3.13 goals per game.

After fortifying the roster, general manager Jim Nill called the Stars a complete team. The pick here is Ruff will get Dallas over the hump and compete for his second Jack Adams Trophy.

"I'm excited," Ruff said. "[It] was disappointing last year because I felt we were a better team than where we ended up. We faced some adversity. We got better in some areas. I think we need to get better again, but I think we're really going in the right direction."

ALSO IN THE MIX: Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings; Todd Richards, Columbus Blue Jackets; Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals


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