BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres are so close to ending their postseason drought they can taste it. Finishing one win out of the Stanley Cup playoffs with the NHL’s youngest roster, Buffalo expects to cross the threshold into contention next year.
Instead of lamenting a lost opportunity to break the longest skid of non-playoff seasons in NHL history, the Sabres are scouting the postseason, envisioning their arrival in due time.
“A lot of times it’s very challenging to watch the playoffs when you’re not in it,” coach Don Granato said Wednesday at his postseason press conference. “This year … you watch it with the intent you’re there. You’ll be there 12 months from now.”
A year ago, the Sabres began to believe in themselves after winning a majority of their games over the final third of the season. That carried over into the first winning record of the 12-season playoff drought. And finishing 9-2-1 to keep their playoff hopes alive into the final week of the 2022-23 season has strengthened Buffalo’s belief that better days are ahead.
“I thought that winning the last two games was a huge thing for me as a coach,” Granato said. “Because I needed and we wanted these guys to see how close they are and were, and through their effort and work so that belief would become conviction.”
“They know that they have enough, that they should have that as the target to make playoffs and to be successful in that,” Granato said. “I’m not going to sit here and make predictions. That’s not how this works. That’s for somebody else. We have to keep our nose to the grindstone and work and stay in the moment. Because when we get out of the moment and we got too far ahead of ourselves this year, that was some of the worst stretches. So I think there’s an absolute conviction by that group.”
General manager Kevyn Adams bristled at the suggestion that missing the playoffs by two points in the standings amounted to “a lost season.”
“Lost opportunity? No, I think there was an amazing gained opportunity,” Adams said. “I would say the exact opposite, of what our guys learned and the pressure that they had to go through, the ups and downs and feeling must-win games and how to handle that, being the youngest team in the league.”
Adams, a Clarence native who won a Stanley Cup during his NHL playing career, is committed to building sustainable success in Sabreland. In his third season as general manager, he has remained patient in allowing young players to develop and playoff expectations to grow organically, rather than coming from outside influences.
“I think it’s exciting to see our players raise expectations internally,” Adams said. “I mean, there was a huge disappointment at the end of the year from all of us. You felt you get close, you push so hard. The players felt that, the coaches, the staff, everybody. To not get in, it stings and it takes a little bit of time to kind of take a breath, process it, and then turn attention to a lot of the great things that happened.”
“Absolutely, we want our players having high expectations and believing that that’s what you get up everyday working towards,” Adams added. “So, look, nothing external, whether it’s from media, fans, will ever be more than what we internally expect from ourselves and the challenges that we put on each other to raise our standards and to be better. And that’s the way it should be.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.