Breathe Sabres fans, breathe
The tank/rebuild is not an utter failure
If I had any hair left, I’d be pulling it out. The tough times for Buffalo sports fans feel like they will never end. The Sabres were supposed to help but now they’re just adding to the misery. The Blue and Gold are about to miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season and the 11th time in the last 15 years. This will mark 10 years since the Sabres last won a playoff series.
The rebuild has gone from drive last season to neutral this season. Buffalo is on pace to finish with 80 points after ending with 81 last season.
But there’s no need to freak out and proclaim the tank and rebuild has been a massive failure. I understand why you might since Buffalo sports fans tend to have a doom and gloom approach and for good reason. While the Sabres have been sub par for most of the last 10 years, the Bills post season drought is at an unfathomable 17 seasons.
I wasn’t expecting a playoff berth from the Sabres this season but I was expecting them to be in serious contention down the stretch and yet here they are playing out the string. I was thinking at least 85 points and another step in the right direction.
Instead, the Sabres are playing their worst hockey of the season. They have the look of a team trying to get their coach fired. General Manager Tim Murray has taken a patient approach to this campaign, at times waiting for his roster to be healthy so he could get a true evaluation of what he had assembled. Clearly(I hope) Murray can see he still has work to do this spring/summer, with the heavy lifting coming on defense.
There’s a difference between this team needs to get better and waving the white flag while declaring the Sabres plan has been a complete waste of time. As Aaron Rodgers would say “relax”.
There are some pieces in place on offense including 20 year old Jack Eichel who is on a point per game pace in his second year and is ranked in the top 10 in the NHL in points per game.
21 year old Sam Reinhart( 43 points in 68 games) has already topped his point total from last season(42 in 79 games). Kyle Okposo was brought in to help the offense and he has with 19 goals(3rd on the team) and 43 points(tied for 3rd most).
Evander Kane is doing what Murray hoped Kane would do when the GM made that big trade with Winnipeg. Kane has been the Sabres best goal scorer at even strength, where the team still struggles to score enough goals. Ryan O’Reilly has had another good, across the board season but of late it sure looks like he’s been worn down by too much usage. O’Reilly leads all NHL forwards in ice time.
There are some positive signs from young guys who could provide help next season like Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues. Perhaps other youngsters like Nick Baptiste, William Carrier and Alex Nylander will contribute on a full time basis.
As I said, the biggest problem is back on the blue line. There are two players worth keeping going forward in Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. Murray needs to overhaul the rest of the group although I’m not expecting it since I’m not sure who would take Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges off their hands.
There were very encouraging signs from Brendan Guhle during the pre-season and a brief three game emergency call up back in December. Hopefully he wins a job in the top six coming out camp but its not out of the question the Sabres will want him to get some seasoning in the AHL.
I don’t know anything about Viktor Antipin but if he is signed, I’d hope/expect a 25 year old defenseman who has spent five seasons playing in the KHL would be here in the regular rotation.
I’d expect Murray to venture into the trade market in hopes of landing a top four defenseman. It might cost the Sabres Evander Kane but I’m not sure how they’d be able to fit a long term, big money extension for Kane along with other deals that will have to be made down the road.
I know it hasn’t been fun and the suffering has taken longer than some of you anticipated. Toronto zooming past the Sabres this season has only made matters worse and ratcheted up the heat on Murray and Bylsma, assuming the latter is back as head coach next season.
But sometimes you need to take a breath and not let the emotional baggage of being a Buffalo sports fan make you believe all hope is lost.