Second off are the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve run through some captains in recent years, not being able to name a longer-term captain due to being in the early stages of a rebuild before a real core could take shape. Left winger Thomas Vanek and centre Steve Ott were named co-captains for the 2013/14. Wearing the “C” for home games only, Vanek scored one goal and six points in seven home games before being traded to the Islanders less than one month into the season, adding three goals and four points in six games he didn’t wear the “C,” for a total of four goals and ten points in 13 games before he was traded. Ott initially wore the “C” for road games, but became the sole captain after Vanek was traded. Wearing the “C,” Ott scored nine goals and 18 points in 52 games, as well zero goals and two points in seven home games he didn’t wear the “C” in, before being traded to St. Louis towards the deadline. For 2014/15, right winger Brian Gionta joined the team, being named captain in continuance of the role he had for four years with the Canadiens. Late in his career by this point, Gionta scored 40 goals and 103 points in 230 games across three years with the “C”.
The biggest argument against the Sabres naming a new captain is that they suck. While they’re getting better, they still don’t have a lot of great experienced players. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2011, and aren’t exactly likely to this season, so why bother?
While his point totals at first glance seem to be rising slowly, Eichel has seen his offence increase despite injuries limiting him to fewer than 70 games in each of the past two seasons. After scoring nearly a point-per-game and a 32-goal pace, Eichel simply needs to stay healthy in order to have what everyone will recognize as a star season. With that mind, it would be reasonable to expect him to follow his first overall counterpart Connor McDavid in being named team captain. It’s just a matter of time really. Once the Sabres have a more solidified and talented core, Eichel makes the most sense as the one to lead that group.
Jason Pominville is an interesting option for team, having already had two separate stints as team captain. The first time, the Sabres rotated their captaincy during the 2007/08 season, rotating it to Pominville in March through the end of the season, before giving it to him permanently in 2011/12 until he was traded the following season to Minnesota. It’s not quite as cut and dried as giving him back the captaincy now that he’s back with the team. He scored 30 goals and 73 points and was named an All-Star in his only full season as captain, and at 30 years of age was still a few years away from declining. Contrast that with his performance in his first season since being traded back to Buffalo, finishing the season as a 35-year-old with 16 goals and 34 points. His experience as captain is now the main thing in favour of Pominville as captain, as he won’t be put in a central top-six role with the team.
This is one of the situations I was alluding to when I explained I’d have at least one forward and one blueliner regardless of how much better or worse a particular option is than the others. It is very well known by now that Ristolainen, even if he’s improving in that respect, has poor underlying numbers, reflecting poor play. Ristolainen’s case rests on him being the Sabres’ longest-tenured defenceman, their TOI leader last season, and a three-times-straight 40-point scorer. Ristolainen only makes the most sense here as there are no better options on defence.
My pick for captain would be Eichel. He’s their best forward and it’s not all that close. Like I mentioned, with his first-overall counterpart Connor McDavid being named captain of the Oilers years ago, Eichel should be named captain as he occupies the same role on his team as McDavid does on his team.