Adams, Granato feel Sabres are on right path

Both wrapped up the year with their end-of-season press conferences on Wednesday

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato and general manager Kevyn Adams wrapped up the 2022-23 season on Wednesday when they both addressed the media.

Coming from Granato's end-of-season press conference, he feels the team has to move from "they think they can make the playoffs" to total conviction that they can, and he thinks they have.

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Granato feels the team is set up to build the stability that hasn’t been here for years.

“We need to keep getting better, and then the results will take care of themselves,” said Granato on Wednesday.

When speaking about rookie goalie Devon Levi, Granato says he showed off his intensity in his preparation and his recovery. He feels Levi is way beyond his years, when it comes to that.

Adams has begun meetings with the coaches and his staff on how to improve this team moving forward. He did say they need to get better defensively.

When it comes to 2019 first-round pick Ryan Johnson, Adams says they’ve had conversations and thinks Johnson is a good prospect, and has told him as such. He says, though, the ball is in Johnson’s court, and they’re waiting for an answer.

Getting back to the season, the Sabres missed the playoffs by two points. Adams says there was a huge disappointment from the entire organization.

"We felt it," said Adams on Wednesday. "You get close, you push so hard, and to not get in, it stings. It takes time to take a breath, process it, and turn attention to a lot of great things that happened."

With the season having a bow on it, I asked Adams where the team can improve.

"I’m in a lot of meetings now with individuals, coaches, staff meetings, scouts and just bringing everybody together to talk," Adams said.

"I think there’s areas where we could be better at defensively in front of our goaltenders, certain parts of our game, and special teams. Those will be areas we’ll work on."

When asked if Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen could be the goalie tandem next year, Adams discussed his excitement for where the team is at in the net.

"With 'UPL', if you look at where we were at a year ago, and I’ve told you over and over we believe in 'UPL'," he said. "He’s young, he’s learning, he’s growing and when 'Coms' [Eric Comrie] had his injury, he came up and he was inconsistent at times, but overall, he was really solid for us.

"He won 17 games and showed progress, and I think sometimes we weren’t great in front of him. If you’re just looking at the raw numbers, we look a little deeper at certain things when we track goaltenders, but you’d say 'I’d like to see this or see that a little better.' But in terms of confidence and belief, it was really good with 'UPL'."

One thing I don’t think you can overlook is in 25 of Luukkonen’s 33 games this season, he had three or more goals scored on him. In 14 of his 33 games, he had four or more goals scored on him. I definitely don’t think they should give up on him, because he’s only 24-years-old. However, he has spent four seasons in pro hockey developing.

When he got to Levi, Adams was even more enthusiastic of his young netminder.

"With Devon, if you go back over my press conferences, you could tell my excitement and just how I felt about him as a player, as a person," he said. "Bringing him in and having him do what he did was pretty special."

I’ve been critical of Mike Bales coaching the Sabres goalies recently, as have some other media members. Adams does not agree with us, and made a point to explain his reasoning.

"I also want to make sure that people realize how good that Mike Bales is," Adams said. "He is very good at what he does. He’s got a great relationship with our goaltenders, he cares, they trust him."

Adams was asked if this year was a lost opportunity since they didn’t make the playoffs. He got very angry with his response, saying he couldn't disagree with that assessment any more.

"It was phenomenal growth by individual players from the team perspective," Adams said. "The steps we took, just the way our fan base embraced this team, and you started feeling the energy in the building. Were we disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs? Absolutely. Did we fight hard and come up just short? Yeah. That’s tough to swallow. So that part’s disappointing, but I think there was an amazing gained opportunity about what our guys learned, and the pressure that they had to go through. The ups-and-downs, and feeling must-win games, and how to handle that being the youngest team in the league.

"We have a plan, we’re going to work it, we’re going to stick with it. So is our expectation that we’re just going to wake up and we’re going to be better? No. If anyone said that, you’re crazy. You’ve got to work for it, you’ve got to earn it. We’re going to keep with that mindset, so we’re not going to overreact and make decisions for the short-term."

I asked about adding a top-four defenseman this offseason, but Adams didn’t want to paint himself into a corner. However, it sounds like it’s something he’s open to and will explore.

Adams can sign defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power to contract extensions after July 1 this year. The general manager will have talks with their agents, and he doesn’t seem to be worried at all. He's confident both players will be here for years to come.

Adams realizes 2022 first-round pick Matt Savoie has had an excellent junior season, but would it really help him to go back to juniors for another season? Savoie had 38 goals and 57 assists for 95 points in 62 games with the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League. In seven playoff games, he has seven goals and seven assists for 14 points.

Savoie can’t be sent to Rochester for the upcoming season, so he either has to play in Buffalo or go back to Winnipeg.

In his first professional season, another first-round pick from 2022, Jiri Kulich, had 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points as an 18-year-old with the Rochester Americans. Kulich played in 62 games and is the Amerks' fifth-leading scorer.

Adams compared Kulich to JJ Peterka, who, in 70 games with Rochester last year, led the team in scoring with 28 goals and 40 assists for 68 points. Peterka was 19 and then 20-years-old in that season.

Talking to both men, Casey Mittelstadt has played himself into being a core piece for this team. Mittelstadt had never had more than 13 assists in a season, and the 2017 first-round pick had 44 assists and 59 points this year.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
Featured Image Photo Credit: Paul Hamilton (@pham1717)