Two weeks ago the Sabres looked to be in a comfortable spot in the race to the bottom of the NHL standings. On Valentines Day, Buffalo had a six point lead on 29th place Edmonton and a 12 point lead on then 27th place Arizona. Fast forward to present day and the Sabres now only hold a 3 point lead on 29th place Edmonton and a 4 point lead on 28th place Arizona. All three teams have 20 games remaining entering Saturday. Buffalo has come this far and needs to finish the job of finishing in last place. Blowing the opportunity to guarantee a chance at McDavid or Eichel could have very harsh consequences.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory for the Sabres. In the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, the Sabres entered play on March 11th in 29th place, only one point ahead of Florida. Both teams had 22 games remaining in the season. The Sabres were staring the
opportunity of drafting an elite player right in the face. However, over the final 22 games the Sabres finished 12-7-3 earning 27 points under new coach Ron Rolston. Fans saw this a building block for the 2013-14 season. The 29th place Colorado Avalanche would end up winning the lottery and draft 2014 rookie of the year and star forward Nathan MacKinnon. The Sabres would end up drafting 8th and selecting Rasmus Ristolainen, who has turned out as a good player for Buffalo. Even though Ristolainen has turned out to be a good prospect, we can all agree he still isn’t the caliber of MacKinnon.
As for the strong ending being a building block towards the next season, well not so much. The Sabres started 4-15-1 and Rolston was fired on November 13th, 2013. Colorado would go on to finish 3rd in the NHL with 112 points and a playoff berth last season. This season the Avs have dropped back to earth, but still only sit six points out of a wild card spot this season. It’s unlikely Colorado will make the playoffs this year, but they still have the superior talent of MacKinnon on their roster for years to come.
Finishing the Job
The Sabres seemed to be a lock for 30th a few weeks ago coming off 14 straight defeats and a large lead in the standings. A recent stretch of 3-1-2 and points in 5 of their last six games has allowed Edmonton and Arizona to close the gap. The recent streak as been led by players who likely won’t be part of the team in a few days or month. Players like Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell, and
Michal Neuvirth have led the Sabres to this hot stretch. Losing out on the opportunity of earning a lottery ticket to draft McDavid or Eichel, because of players that have no future with organization will be the ultimate kick in the gut.
Another strong finish for pride could have bigger consequences than 2013. Losing out on the guarantee or all together opportunity of picking either McDavid or Eichel will haunt the franchise for years. The Sabres have come this far and losing out this chance will be the ultimate suffering for fans. The two superstars at the top of the draft, are two players that will allow the Sabres to be perennial contenders like Pittsburgh and Chicago. Gaining a player on your roster that can change the outcome of a game night in and night out on their own, is a rare opportunity.
Of course, the Sabres could still get a great player outside of the top two like Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome, or Mitch Marner. Those three will still not give you the same impact you’ll get from a generational talent. For fans, not finishing the job will be absolutely heart breaking. Most fans have fully committed to the plan and morale will be very low heading into next season with failing to finish last. Of course this sounds like a terrible way to root for your team, but with only 20 games left until the big prize at the end, it’s all hands on deck, no turning back now.