With the NHL Trade Deadline come and gone, the focus for the Buffalo Sabres now shifts to the final 15 games of the 2020-21 regular season.
This season for the Sabres has certainly not gone as originally hoped for, as the team currently sits with a 10-25-6 record and 26 points. Buffalo still remains in last place in the overall NHL standings, six points behind the Ottawa Senators, and the team's points percentage of .317 is also good for last place behind Ottawa at .372.
However, the Sabres have played relatively well since Don Granato took over head coaching duties on an interim basis from Ralph Krueger. In his 13 games in charge behind the bench, Buffalo has gone 4-7-2. That may not be entirely impressive, but the way the team has responded with its play on the ice is a drastic improvement from the first 28 games of the season.
Buffalo is recently coming off an impressive come-from-behind victory on Sunday afternoon over the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. With the team down 3-2 in the final four minutes of regulation, the Sabres managed to score two goals in 25 seconds to take a 4-3 lead, before Casey Mittelstadt's empty-net goal sealed the 5-3 win with just 24 seconds remaining.
However, the roster and team make up will look a bit different come Tuesday's game against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
Early Monday morning, the Sabres announced the trade of forwards Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to the Bruins in exchange for forward Anders Bjork and a second round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. This move came after defenseman Brandon Montour was traded to the Florida Panthers on Saturday for a third round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
As for Bjork, he will make his Sabres debut on Tuesday against the team that drafted him in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. So far in 138 games in the NHL, the 24-year-old has scored 16 goals and registered 23 assists for 39 points.
This season had been a bit of a struggle for Bjork to find production in the Bruins lineup with just two goals and three assists for five points in 30 games. His role should be elevated just a bit on a younger Sabres lineup, as he's expected to skate on a line with Dylan Cozens and Arttu Ruotsalainen on Tuesday night.
Bjork is still under contract for another year after this one with an average annual salary of $1.6 million.
Granato never coached Bjork in his career, but is familiar of him during his time spent at the U.S. National Team Development Program. He joined Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Tuesday and spoke about his the new Sabres winger, and much more during his visit.
Here is some of what he had to say:
Granato on the impact of the younger players on the team right now:
"They really are a big key to us and our franchise. There's always a lot of speak about the 'future of the franchise.' Well, I don't like talking about the future. How about immediately right now making them 'key in the franchise?' All of our guys are key in the franchise. That doesn't mean Sam Reinhart is any less key, but why would they not be just as key? They're playing crucial minutes in a game. I believe they feel a greater sense of ownership with an outcome, with a result, within the team, and they've taken that. I've challenged them with that, and I've pushed them hard. Results matter, and [I've said], 'The puck is on your stick as much as anyone else's. You can do this.'"
Granato on wanting the most from your young players on a nightly basis:
"It's a little bit of encouragement and a lot of push. You have to be demanding, but you also have to be encouraging. They have to sense that you believe in them, and there's no reason not to believe in them. When you look at mistakes in the NHL, when a young guy makes a mistake, automatically the analysts talk about how young and inexperienced he is. If you look in the same game, the older guys made the same mistakes and they don't say anything about it. A lot of times, we hold the young guys even more accountable and we just say it's because they're young. That's a bunch of bologna. Don't worry about being young. I don't want them to feel young, I don't want them to feel like rookies. You're an NHL player just like everybody else. That's the attitude I believe you see, the confidence you see, because you usually rookies come in and they wait for the next guy. We can't afford to have that happen."
Granato on learning how to win in a rebuild:
"I'm not a rebuild guy. You go into tonight's game and we can be undermanned, but in my mind, you find a way to win. When you learn to find a way to win, you will win. That's the mindset you need and have to have, whether your organization is in a 'rebuild' or not. What we're trying to do with our team right now is find the ways to win, and all that other stuff is just outside noise. It's not for us."
Granato on the type of person and player Bjork is:
"He is a fun guy to be around. A very conducive team personality, walks into a room and people light up and love to be around him. On the ice, he will add a lot of speed and some more dynamic qualities to our group. Over the next few games, you'll start to see those as he settles in. It will take him a little bit to settle in, as with anybody, but you'll see some dynamic skating qualities - agility, quickness, those things."
Granato on expectations for Bjork coming in to Buffalo:
"You'd like to get a player like that comfortable so he can be himself. I know him well enough, and if we can get him to breathe, be himself, find his way, which will take a couple of games or a few days; we want to get the best out of all these guys. We're working, as we've mentioned many times, towards their ceiling, and you're not going to get that unless they're in an environment that they feel comfortable, feel safe (for lack of a better word), and they just be themselves. They just play hard, bring some personality, bring some of their skill set. That was my message to him, as it would be to any guy."
Granato on the recent play of Rasmus Asplund:
"His game and his success in his game relies an awful lot on determination. He doesn't have the grace and speed that some other guys have, your typical goal scorers or high-end play-making skill guys, he gets his job done finding a way to impact a situation. But it's based on his determination. It's based on his second effort, third effort, resilience, and his confidence. If he's going to be at his peak, he needs to be extremely confident in what he's doing. That's what's happening right now."
Granato on the possibility of becoming a full-time head coach in the NHL:
"It's always been a goal of mine, but it's never been something I've been too concerned with. You have to immerse in the day, which I feel I have with every coaching position I've had, and that makes this job much, easier is probably not the best word, but I have much less anxiety and just complete comfort in the position I'm in, because it's all the same. ... I'm excited that I have this opportunity, but it's still easy to be immersed in the day."
You can listen to the entire interview below: