Crossroads: Sabres Need to Choose a Path

The Sabres are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now as winners of 10 of their last 14 games.  The hot streak has propelled the Sabres into the playoff discussion in the Eastern Conference.  After the loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday night, the Sabres find themselves at an interesting cross roads.  They currently sit in a place in the standings that I like to call no man’s land.  Buffalo sits six points out of the wild card and Florida, who currently holds the final playoff spot, has three games in hand on the Sabres.  If you assume the wins, the Sabres truly sit 12 points out of the wild card.  On the other hand the Sabres sit 9 points out of last place.  Remaining in this position in the standings, may be a worst case scenario for the 2014-15 season.

The Sabres fan base is divided into two groups that represent the crossroads, the Sabres find themselves at.  One half of the fan base believes the Sabres should continue to push for the playoffs and even make moves that helps them make the push.  The other side is in favor of the Sabres making a push for the top pick in next years draft.  Is either side wrong? No.  Do both sides have a valid argument? Yes.  However, at the end of the day the Sabres need to choose which path they wish to take.

How We Got Here

Let’s wind the clock back a few years.  The fan base in Buffalo was sick and tired of the mediocrity.  Fans were sick of the Sabres finishing the season in no man’s land.  Let me remind you how the Sabres finished over the last few years:

  • 2010-11: 15th place (playoffs)
  • 2011-12: 19th place
  • 2012-13: 23rd place
  • 2013-14: 30th place

Buffalo has been the team who has floated around the 7-12th seed in the Eastern Conference since the 2007-08 season.  The fan base was ready for the Sabres to get back to being a cup contender like in 05-06 and 06-07.  Fans settled with the plan of “suffering” that was rolled out by the former regime led by Darcy Regier.  Fans accepted the idea of losing to get great talent that would allow the Sabres to build around.

The Path of Losing

The plan was successful last season and the Sabres were rewarded with Sam Reinhart.  Going into this season two prizes sit waiting at the end of this road; Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.  McDavid and Eichel are being talked about as generational talents that will instantly become difference makers on any NHL franchise they join.  Having one of these kids on their roster, will allow a team to be in the discussion for a Stanley Cup almost year in and year out.  Sure, I’ll admit nothing is guaranteed, but these are two can’t miss prospects.  As close as it gets to guaranteed.

In direct reference to the Sabres, adding one of these kids to perhaps the number one prospect pool in the NHL could be the final piece to the puzzle.  With the success the Sabres are currently having now, add a player like McDavid, and Buffalo could easily be a playoff team.

Many people point to how Crosby has only brought one cup to the Penguins as a argument against losing for the draft pick.  My answer to that is where are the Penguins every season?  At the top of the NHL standings and perennial cup contenders.  Want more proof on how getting a high draft picks means winning?  Let’s take a look at the last few Stanley Cup winners:

  • 2014- LA Kings (Drew Doughty-2nd overall pick)
  • 2013- Chicago Blackhawks (Patrick Kane-1st overall pick)
  • 2012- LA Kings(see above)
  • 2011- Boston Bruins (Tyler Seguin-2nd overall pick)
  • 2010- Chicago Blackhawks (Jonathan Toews- 3rd overall pick)
  • 2009- Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby-1st overall pick)

I think we can see a trend here.  All of the players mentioned above were very important figures in their team winning a championship.

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Playoff Path

The recent winning has fans in Buffalo actually thinking about the playoffs.  Going into this season, the idea of the playoffs was laughable for the Sabres.  With the recent streak the Sabres found themselves within 4 points of the final playoff spot.  However with the games in hand teams hold on the Sabres, and loss to the Jets, the Sabres now seem to be way off from a wildcard spot.

This idea of the Sabres making the playoffs is an extreme long shot in my opinion.  When you look at the numbers, Buffalo is by far the worst possession team in the NHL.  Of course, every year a team seems to beat the numbers; Buffalo could be that team in 2015.  The Leafs manage to beat the numbers every season

(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

and the Avalanche beat the numbers last season.  However, this season the Avs have fallen back to earth.  Eventually a regression to the mean will happen.

The current path of the franchise doesn’t line up with the Sabres taking this path.  They have too many players on expiring contracts and the youth is not ready to contribute on a nightly basis at the NHL level.

As you can probably tell, I’m in favor of the Sabres staying the course and rebuilding.  The worst thing that could happen to the Sabres this season is remaining in the current spot they’re in.  Finishing in the middle of the pack and out of the playoffs does nothing for either side of the fan base.  Over the next month, the Sabres face a more difficult schedule as well as more games on the road.  With 50 games left a lot of the story for the 2014-15 season has yet to be written.



7 thoughts on “Crossroads: Sabres Need to Choose a Path”

  1. Adding McDavid or Eichel all but guarantees a cup within 5-6 years with the prospects Buffalo already has (not to mention 3 1st round picks this year). When you factor in the age of their prospects and the contract situations in which they’ll be in, it would be a herculean feet to not win one as they’ll have an immense amount of talent on entry level/RFA contracts, which allows them to bring in a number of vets to fill holes.

    Missing out on them? Buffalo will still have a pretty good team within a few years, but will not a real favorite. Are we going to win the cup this year? Certainly not. So, me being a fan that has watched this team come up short decade after decade…it would pain me greatly to see the team come up short of what this whole rebuild was about: The top of the 2015 draft, and fall back into the middle of the league that has plagued this team for far too long.

    Stay the course, its 50 more games to the finish line. Then we can (and will) win a lot more games in the coming years.

  2. What kind of fans are you? You don’t think it isn’t damaging to tell the young kids to loose because we have a much better prospect than you we can get. Play to win, with what you have.

  3. @Jimmy M., I find it funny you say that prospects can go belly up and that we have so much talent in the organization… Reinhart and Grigs you mentioned, who are, last time I checked, also prospects that could “go belly up.” It’s a numbers game. Let’s throw one more very high percentrage prospect in the mix and then see what happens next year

  4. Think of it this way. Does anyone honestly think adding Eichel or McDavid to the Oilers that it will make them a playoff team? Cause I sure dont. I would rather have the Sabres be somewhat successful and build around the huge talent pool that we have

  5. Keep Enroth. I think WHY put all your eggs in this one basket with someone that hasn’t proved themselves yet in the NHL? These kids are prospects. Prospects can go belly up. They have talent in this organization such as Reinhart and Grigs. Let them develop in Rochester where I watch them. They have learned to play as a team. The ‘play hockey’ switch went on. Winning builds character. They taste wins now. Let them prove to themselves they don’t need a ‘maybe player’ to take them to the next level. They just reached it. You see how they’re playing. They play hard with confidence. Let them go all out now. Rochesterians and Buffalonians want a winning team NOW. They need ONE play maker to round out. Another goal scorer to put them over. Our Rochester boy Gionta is the BEST move they made to teach. He’s an awesome player.
    I say, let them fight for that last spot. See what they’re made of.

  6. I agree entirely. Getting Eichel or McDavid will have greater benefit over the long term than playing decent in a year the Sabres stand no chance at winning anything even if they do make the playoffs. And that is the same for many of the bottom-dwelling teams.

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