The Sad State of the Sabres
By Patrick Hoffman
Going into this season, there was a ton of promise for the Buffalo Sabres.
The franchise had a new coach in Phil Housley, a new general manager in Jason Botterill, a healthy Jack Eichel, and a fresh start. Hockey pundits and fans alike expected them to be competitive enough this season to perhaps get a wild card spot and possibly make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Unfortunately, none of that happened for the Sabres. In fact, the team was downright dreadful this season and were not even remotely close to being a competitive hockey club this year.
This team was the worst team in the entire league this season with 62 points. Things were so bad that even a team like the Arizona Coyotes finished ahead of the Sabres by eight points.
What was alarming was the fact that this team did not improve one bit as the season went along. In his team's wrap up day, forward Ryan O'Reilly said as much to the Buffalo News:
"We're stuck in this mindset of just being OK with losing," O'Reilly said Monday. "I feel it, too. I think it's really crept into myself. Over the course of the year, I've lost myself a lot, where it's just kind of get through, just being OK with just not making a mistake. That's not winning hockey at all, and it's crept into all of our games."
That's pretty alarming for a professional hockey club. To be a team that accepts losing and not be passionate about playing winning hockey is completely unacceptable and something that the team's fans should consider when deciding to buy tickets for next season.
There were plenty of other problems with this team besides accepting being a losing hockey club. For starters, their offense was terrible.
The team was last in the league in goals scored with 198, which is obviously extremely meek. The most goals scored by anyone on this team was 25 (Eichel and Sam Reinhart).
What's more embarrassing is that only three players on this team cracked 50 points (Eichel, Reinhart, and O'Reilly). Clearly, no one on this team was producing consistently enough to help this team win.
The team's defense was not any better and certainly hurt the club more than they helped. The Sabres were the third worst team in goals against and allowed between three and four goals a game, which certainly will not help any team win in this league, let alone the worst one.
In goal, starter Robin Lehner did all he could considering how bad the tema in front of him was. He finished with a respectable .908 save percentage, but because of the rest of his team's play, it simply was not good enough.
I am honestly not sure how good this team is going to be next year either. A lot needs to change for this franchise.
The first thing that needs to change is the team's culture. Simply put, this franchise needs to stop accepting losses and instead, be absolutely furious that they have been embarrassing for the last few seasons and need to do something to change it.
Secondly, this team needs to figure out their goaltending situation. Is Lehner the man for now and the future or is it going to be Linus Ullmark? Whoever it is, this position needs to be shored up moving forward.
Lastly, the franchise needs to figure out a way to attract high offensive talent whether through free agency, trades, and even the draft. This club cannot continue to rely on the likes of Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Kyle Okposo, to produce on a nightly basis. Others need to step up and start contributing offense if they want this franchise to go in the right direction.
The Sabres are a franchise that is in a world of hurt right now. The challenge for them is to see if they can dig themselves out of this huge hole they dug themselves and get the club moving in the right direction.
Based on what has happened the last two seasons, I am not sure that will happen.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.