The Sabres have just 20 games remaining in the 2014-2015 regular season. Buffalo has 43 points with a 19-38-5 record. The club is in last place and are the current front-runners in the McEichel sweepstakes but the gap between themselves and other bottom dwelling clubs is narrowing. The Edmonton Oilers currently are three points ahead of the Sabres in the standings while four points separate Buffalo and the Arizona Coyotes.
Buffalo has struggled in many areas of their game this season. According to NHL.com, the Sabres are currently in 30th place in power play efficiency, total goals scored, and are tied for 30th in goals allowed. The rebuild continues in Buffalo and the organization is in a prime position with an opportunity to add elite-level talent to the club during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Sabres turnaround is inevitable. The reason I am obsessed with McEichel idea is I want something I've almost never had – The superstar.
— Jeremy White (@JeremyWGR) February 25, 2015
The Sabres’ struggles have positioned them at the bottom of the standings and at or near the bottom of the NHL in many statistical categories. Nevertheless, there still are some positives that can be drawn from this season. Putting the difficulties of the 2014-2015 season aside, here are three silver linings to consider about the Buffalo Sabres.
A Deep Group of Young Prospects Are Already Part of the Franchise
The first silver lining for the Sabres is that the club already has a deep group of young talent within the organization. Last summer, Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated suggested that the Buffalo Sabres had the strongest system of young talent in the NHL. This sentiment has been echoed by other NHL analysts and some have suggested that this still is the case even after Buffalo’s recent trade. Eventually this group of talented young players will emerge into the NHL.
Two young prospects showing a lot of promise include forwards Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste. Bailey is a native of Buffalo and he was drafted by the Sabres in the 2nd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. According to Eliteprospects.com, last season Bailey scored 24 goals and 43 points in 54 games with the Kitchener Rangers. This season with Kitchener and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Bailey has eclipsed his totals from last year with 34 goals and 67 points in 55 games.
Nicholas Baptiste was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 3rd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. As a member of the Sudbury Wolves, according to Eliteprospects.com, Baptiste scored 45 goals and 89 points in 65 games last season. He scored 11 points with the Wolves this season before being traded to the Erie Otters. In 30 games with the Otters, Baptiste has 17 goals and 35 points.
Bailey and Baptiste are just two young prospects in the Sabres’ system. Other names include forwards J.T. Compher, Hudson Fasching, Eric Cornel, and of course Sam Reinhart to name a few. Defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov as well as forward Zemgus Girgensons have already earned their way to the NHL establishing roles with the Sabres.
Compher expends max energy on every shift. Constantly buzzing, bumping into bodies chasing pucks, blocking shots, backchecking. Driven.
— Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) February 23, 2015
Buffalo’s prospects not only make the future look bright but they also are a silver lining to the present. With such a deep young talent pool, the youngsters keep trade possibilities open for the Sabres in the present as some of these prospects could be packaged as part of a larger deal. Meanwhile, the prospects are also getting people excited about the future and this is a silver lining that is hard for Sabres’ fans to ignore.
Sabres Fans Remain Very Loyal to Their Club
This season is a testament to the bond of loyalty that Sabres fans have with their hockey team and it is another silver lining. Despite circling the bottom of the standings for most of the year, Sabres fans have stood by their team. Many fans have criticized the club’s play while others have proclaimed that they are ’embracing the tank’ but fans generally have remained engaged despite the team’s poor performance.
The best measure of fan support is the average attendance numbers. ESPN has calculated the average attendance for the Sabres’ home games. Through 33 games, they rank Buffalo with the 13th highest average attendance in the NHL with an average of 18,462 fans per game. This attendance figure stands at 96.8% of the seating capacity at the First Niagara Center. This is pretty remarkable given their lowly position in the NHL standings. You can see ESPN’s full average attendance report for the rest of the NHL by clicking here.
A major reason for this high attendance is the Sabres season ticket holders. John Vogl of The Buffalo News reported that the Sabres had an approximate 93% season ticket renewal rate at the start of this season. This is impressive considering their poor play last season along with a ticket price increase. Sabres fans have endured a great deal during the past two seasons but they have continued to support their team. This silver lining is a great one and fans will be rewarded for the loyalty in the coming years as the Sabres emerge from the rebuild.
Free Agents and Draft Assets Make Additional Trades Possible
Finally, another silver lining is that the Sabres have an impressive array of impending unrestricted free agents and draft assets. GM Tim Murray has stated numerous times that he does not want to let free agents leave without something in return. This sets the table for what could be an interesting time leading up to next week’s NHL Trade Deadline.
Chances Tim Murray doesn't move his pursued UFA guys? Slim I'd say. Neuvirth only one of the bunch that might get a contract.
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) February 24, 2015
Earlier this month, Tim Murray pulled off one of the biggest blockbuster trades of the season. The Sabres GM sent defenseman Tyler Myers, impending UFA forward Drew Stafford, prospects Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia and a 1st round draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets. In exchange the Sabres received forward Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian, and goaltender Jason Kasdorf. With other free agents and assets in the fold, Murray has an opportunity to bring additional changes to the Sabres.
According to spotrac.com, the Sabres impending unrestricted free agent list includes forwards Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell, and Patrick Kaleta, defensemen Andrej Meszaros, Andre Benoit, Tyson Strachen, as well as goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and the recently acquired Anders Lindback. The Sabres also have four picks in the first two rounds of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
The Sabres clearly won’t trade away their top pick in the 1st round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. However, they could use one of their other picks to sweeten a deal. The possibility of more trades and new players coming to the organization is another silver lining that will get fans excited heading towards the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW