After enduring the worst season in franchise history a year ago, the joy of some early season success in October and November quickly turned to anguish and frustration as the Sabres went from a first place team, to once again being in position for the first overall pick in upcoming draft.
Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner each had career years and Rasmus Dahlin provided plenty of excitement on the blueline in his rookie season. But, the season will be remembered and talked about long after the final buzzer on April 6 for one reason and one reason only: Their epic collapse.
The fan base has grown impatient and understandably so.
It’s been nearly a decade since owner Terry Pegula famously stated, “Starting today the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup.”
Since then, his team has missed the postseason eight straight years.
It’s the longest active postseason drought in the league. The Carolina Hurricanes owned that dubious honor before snapping a nine year drought this season.
Now, Buffalo is only two years away from matching the longest playoff drought, 10 years, which was set by the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers.
It’s unfortunately once again time to jumble up those lottery balls and settle in for a long offseason — which will feel even longer and even more of a failure if General Manager Jason Botterill doesn’t sign Skinner.
While Buffalo finished with more points than they did a year ago, it’s hard to measure progress for a team that:
– Still struggles to play a complete 60 minutes
– Openly admits to not sticking with the game plan
– Continues to make inexcusable mistakes
– Repeatedly has defensive breakdowns
“He was a good player, he’s a young coach and he can grow,” Pegula said at the NFL owners meetings when asked to justify bringing Housley back for a third season.
Ahead of their finale in Detroit, Housley said he expected to be back for a third season.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to reflect back on a season that began with so much promise and ended with more questions than answers.
10-Game Winning Streak
Even before their winning streak, Buffalo’s strong start to the year didn’t seem like a fluke. They were 6-4-0 after wins over Los Angles, Anaheim and Montreal and 7-6-2 before their epic run in November.
Even Marco Scandell was grinning ear to ear explaining how things were better than they were a year ago.
“You just can’t explain it, it just feels different,” Scandella said back on October 8. “That’s all I can say. It’s a different feeling in here. Everyone is excited. A lot of young guys coming in with excitement. It’s just different energy in here and it feels great.”
The 10-game winning streak can be looked at as the best and the worst thing to happen to the team. Yes, they had some puck luck and yes they had to rally most nights.
But, “Good teams find ways to wins,” was the common phrases coming from the locker room during that stretch.
The winning gave fans a belief that, after jumping out a 17-6-2 start, there was a real possibility their seven year postseason drought would end.
The 10-game winning streak also provided unrealistic expectations (myself included), which makes their collapse over the final 57 game even tougher to stomach.
Had those 10-wins been spread out throughout the season, maybe the year isn’t viewed as negatively or as being much as a failure as it is.
It’s also telling owner Terry Pegula admitted the Sabres weren’t as great as their start or 10-game winning streak indicated.
After winning back-to-back games on the road against Arizona and Los Angeles in mid-December, the Sabres wouldn’t secure back-to-back victories until they defeated Ottawa and Detroit in the final two games of the year.
That’s a span of 48 games.
Maybe even more troubling of a stat is the fact their consecutive wins over the Senators and Red Wings in regulation to end the year, were their first back-to-back regulation victories since the first month of the season.
Road Winless Streak
The road troubles for the Sabres started in December and stretched through the first week of April.
The team won just 12 games on the road this season. They won eight through October and November but managed to win four the rest of the way.
Since their road victory over Columbus on January 29, the Blue & Gold endured a 14-game road winless streak to end the year, which ended with a 7-1 win over the Red Wings in Detroit.
Rasmus Dahlin was billed as a can’t miss prospect Sabres management and fans couldn’t wait to see wearing a Sabres crest.
After watching his jaw-dropping highlights during his time in the Swedish Hockey League for an entire year, it was a breath of fresh air to see and know a cornerstone piece was in place for the franchise — and he didn’t disappoint.
Dahlin finished second all-time among 18-year-old NHL defenseman with 44 total points. Only Hockey Hall of Farmer and current Sabres head coach Phil Housley had more with 66 points when he scored 19 goals and added 47 assists during the 1982-1983 season. Bobby Orr and Aaron Ekblad are third and fourth on that list, respectively.
The Swedish phenom also became the first rookie defenseman to play in all 82 games.
Jeff Skinner got hot and it didn’t look like he would slow down one bit when it came to lighting the lamp this season. There was talk of the 26-year-old winger potentially reaching 50 goals this year.
He finished with 40 as his production tailed off, which is still a new career high and still impressive.
Jason Botterill took a big swing, trading for Skinner before the season started. Now, after a career yearand with free agency on the horizon, will the Sabres back up the Brinks truck or let Skinner walk off and sign with a new team?
Whether he stays or go, he’ll get a massive pay day. The only question is if the eventual price is too rich for the Sabres.
So, what’s next for the Sabres? The team will have Sunday off before clearing out their lockers on Monday.
Players will meet with the media around 9 a.m. Head Coach Phil Housley will wrap the season up with his season ending press conference around 2:30 p.m. General Manager Jason Botterill will address the meida after that around 3 p.m.