Peyton Krebs faces pivotal offseason as he tries to find his place with Sabres


Staff member

Peyton Krebs could have made excuses.

His role changed throughout the season. Krebs was given only five weeks to show management that he can thrive in a scoring role. Former Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato didn’t give Krebs much of an opportunity to contribute on the power play. A center with Krebs’ playmaking ability and tenacity could have helped the club unlock more offense, yet his average ice time per game dropped 80 seconds.

Sabres center Peyton Krebs said that he alone should be held accountable for the struggles that caused him to produce only four goals and 17 points in 80 games. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News
Krebs, however, made it clear to reporters during the Sabres’ locker cleanout in April that he alone is responsible for the struggles that caused him to produce only four goals and 17 points in 80 games.

“For me, I definitely didn’t have the year I wanted, offensively and just overall,” the 2019 first-round draft choice acknowledged. “I know I need to be better. I’m the one going in every day, giving 110 percent and I know it’s gonna come eventually if I do that.”

General Manager Kevyn Adams’ decision to trade pending restricted free agent Casey Mittelstadt to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Bowen Byram in early March left the Sabres thin at center for the first time since they parted ways with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in less than three months in 2021.

They have the option to use their draft picks, prospects and salary-cap space this summer to fill the void created by Mittelstadt’s departure. New coach Lindy Ruff needs someone reliable to lead the Sabres’ third line, and Adams must decide if Krebs can handle the assignment at this stage of his career.

The final weeks of the season were merely a snapshot of what Krebs can do in that role. He made some exceptional passes and won important faceoffs, but neither the production nor the underlying numbers were enough to guarantee him the third-line center job at the start of training camp.

Krebs had one goal and five points with a minus-3 rating while averaging only 12:12 of ice time across 20 games after the Sabres made the pre-deadline blockbuster trade. He had the second-highest offensive-zone faceoff percentage on the team, trailing only Jeff Skinner, yet Krebs had the fourth-worst on-ice shot-attempt differential and shot-quality share at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Context is important, though. Krebs’ most common linemates during that span, Skinner and Jordan Greenway, were struggling offensively late in the season. It’s fair to wonder if their skill sets complement Krebs. Perhaps he’s better suited to skate with different linemates, such as Jack Quinn, Zach Benson or an offseason addition.

Those quiet performances overshadowed all that Krebs did well before the trade. He had the best on-ice shot-attempt differential on the team during his 60 games to start the season, despite Granato giving Krebs the most defensive-zone starts among the team’s centers. The Sabres outscored their opponents, 24-21, when Krebs was on the ice at 5-on-5 during that span. It’s also important to remember that he, Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons formed one of the best defensive lines in the NHL in 2022-23.

Krebs has shown that he can be a reliable fourth-line center, which is an important job on any team with playoff expectations. He’s improved in the faceoff dot in each of the past two seasons – his winning percentage in 2023-24 was 11 percentage points higher than his first year in Buffalo – and he’s the type of bottom-six forward that should win over Ruff.

“I think I tried to go with the same mindset throughout the whole year, just being that player that is a pain to play against,” said Krebs. “And each and every moment I had to do that, every time I was on the ice I was trying to, there’s no doubt about that. So, I think with the different roles I was in and different opportunities I had just tried to make the most of it and keep working.”

Sabres center Peyton Krebs is a relentless worker and possesses leadership qualities. Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News
This is a pivotal offseason for Krebs. He acknowledged as much following his exit meeting with Adams in April. The Sabres need Krebs to get stronger. He’s shown the past two seasons that he can be a physical nuisance to play against. His impact on the forecheck has included some painful-looking body checks that draw the ire of opponents. This season, he fought Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Ivan Barbashev.

There are also areas of Krebs’ game that must improve. Of the 136 NHL forwards to appear in at least 80 games this season, only three had fewer shots on goal than Krebs’ 74. He can force cross-ice passes when a simple approach is needed. His defending wasn’t as sharp when he skated on the third line, though at times the assignment meant more difficult matchups.

The Sabres love Krebs’ intangibles. He’s a relentless worker and possesses leadership qualities. It’s no secret how much Okposo and Girgensons grew to respect Krebs during their time skating together. There have been enough flashes of tantalizing skill that Buffalo shouldn’t consider giving up on Krebs. He’s played in only 35 games in the American Hockey League, and developing in the NHL can lead to more growing pains than an organization would like.

There’s still a realistic scenario in which Krebs becomes the middle-six center the Sabres envisioned when Adams insisted the Golden Knights include the top prospect in the trade that sent Eichel to Vegas. The challenge, though, will be to give him the opportunity in that role when Buffalo must mitigate risk in its roster-building strategy this offseason.

AFP Analytics, a Rochester-based consulting firm, projects Krebs to receive a two-year contract with a $1.78 average annual value as a restricted free agent this summer. The Sabres can retain his rights by simply extending Krebs a qualifying offer, which, according to CapFriendly, would be only $874,125, and he’s not eligible to file for a salary-arbitration hearing.

The Sabres’ offseason plan may bump Krebs down to a fourth-line role at the start of the season, but he should have the opportunity to prove to Ruff that he’s capable of more.

“I love coming to the rink every day,” said Krebs. “I love Buffalo, the city, I’m gonna have my first kid here and everything like that. Buffalo is home and it’s exciting. We’re gonna win a Stanley Cup, I know it. And once we do, the fans are gonna be fired up, so it’ll be great.”


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