Buffalo Sabres 2023-24 Player Report Cards: Bowen Byram – The Hockey Writers – Buffalo Sabres


It is never an easy time being traded to a new team, and it is even less easy being moved from a championship-caliber roster, to a playoff bubble team. On March 6, 2024, the Buffalo Sabres made a pure hockey trade and swapped Casey Mittelstadt for Bowen Byram with the Colorado Avalanche, and they finally weaponized some of their forward depth to address their defensive depth. With Mittelstadt being one of their leading scorers for the regular season, the timing was ripe for general manager Kevyn Adams to score himself a solid young, two-way defender with some fantastic potential, and Byram was easily the best trade deadline acquisition for the Sabres. Once Byram was on the roster, the sample size was small, but the results ended up being mixed by the time the season ended.

Byram Had Early Success, Until Granato Broke Him

He was an absolute dynamo from the moment he stepped on the ice for his first shift. He looked like a breath of fresh air on the back end; skating hard, making plays, stepping up into plays, shooting pucks, and really making his presence known regardless of where he was. In his first game alone, he scored a goal and an assist, and in his first four games, he had three goals and five points. All of his good habits from Colorado were still there, and he looked like a completely different player compared to the rest of the Sabres’ defense. His movements were crisp, his creativity was evident, his defense was sharp, and every good habit he had from his Stanley Cup-winning days were on full display. Then, after around six or seven games, the Sabres and now-former head coach Don Granato’s broken system seemed to sink its teeth into him.

Bowen Byram Buffalo Sabres
Bowen Byram, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Ben Ludeman/NHLI via Getty Images)

After watching all his good habits, I remember watching him hoping that Granato and the Sabres’ defense would take some cues from him and really learn something. To my dismay, the opposite happened, and Byram was the one who was stifled by the suffocating defensive system that Granato used all season long. He went from stepping up and taking smart chances and playing a good transition game to sitting back and forcing chances along the perimeter and turning the puck over on a regular basis. His scoring production completely dropped off as he scored zero goals after his two-goal game on March 12, and he only mustered four more assists after his aforementioned hot start. This had him finish with nine points in 18 games, which is not a bad number by any means, but mildly disappointing when he had the capacity for so much more.

Grading Byram

Byram is a two-way defender who leans into the offensive side of the game. His ability to put the puck in the back of the net and set up plays for his teammates are rivaled only really by Rasmus Dahlin, and if he is given more of an opportunity to use his talents, he will have a better season in 2024-25. As for how he played, his grade will reflect only on his time spent with the Buffalo Sabres, as it would be unfair to judge his performance based on any production with the Avalanche.

  • Scoring – B
  • Defense – B-minus
  • Leadership – B-minus
  • Playmaking – B-plus
  • Teamwork – B

These grades are a good reflection of how he was still a solid player despite being held back by a mediocre system. Should he have been allowed to flourish, there would have been a number of “A” grades for him in his short tenure with the Sabres. The goal scoring is there, the defense needed some work, but overall there were a lot of positives. He has a lot more to give, and being only 22, his time with the Sabres is just beginning.

Where Does Byram Fit Long Term?

Byram’s contract will expire at the end of the 2024-25 season and he will be a restricted free agent. His current contract carries a modest $3.85-million cap hit, but he will likely be due for a decent pay increase if he produces the way he is expected to under new head coach Lindy Ruff. He is easily one of the Sabres’ best defenders, and is part of what many consider the “core four” amongst Dahlin, Owen Power, himself, and Mattias Samuelsson. Between them, the Sabres’ defense, long term, can be very dangerous in all aspects of the game.

Related – Sabres 2023-24 Player Report Card: Zach Benson

The only real question is which defensive partner he plays with the most. He spent most of his time with Dahlin down the stretch, but he has not yet had the chance to play with Samuelsson due to his injury sustained last season. Samuelsson is a more defensive-oriented player, so he may be a better match for Byram and allow him to get more creative and offence-focused. Regardless of where Ruff fits him into his defensive scheme, he has the versatility to succeed. Byram had a good end to the season, so now he needs to just stay healthy and carry that momentum into 2024-25.

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