Season Record: 30-31-8, 68 points
Points Percentage: .493, Ranked 25th in the NHL
The Buffalo Sabres’ season came to an end early this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the 2020 NHL playoffs expanded to include 24 teams, the Sabres still missed the cut by a 0.007 PTS% margin, just behind the Montreal Canadiens (.500 PTS%) who will be taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.
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It’s yet another tough pill for Sabres fans to swallow, but there were certainly some bright spots, including Jack Eichel finishing the year ranked 10th in the NHL with 78 points in 68 games, Rasmus Dahlin recording his second 40-point season in a row, and Victor Olofsson tying for fourth among NHL rookies with 42 points in 54 games.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the Sabres’ ninth-straight season of missing the playoffs and look closer at their on and off-ice performance to see if this team is headed in the right direction or destined to tie the NHL’s record for longest playoff drought (10 seasons) in 2020-21.
Eichel Sets New Personal Records Despite Shortened Season
Eichel set his new personal record of 36 goals, with 16 of them coming on his incredible 17-game point streak earlier in the season. In addition, he recorded 42 assists, good for his second-highest output in the category. Overall, he put up 78 points in 68 games with an average of 1.15 points per game, also a new personal best. Eichel managed to reach all these feats well before the season would have concluded in a regular 82-game campaign.
He led the team in almost every statistical category this season and scored nine of the Sabres’ game-winning goals in 22 regulation wins. The future looks very bright for the Sabres’ captain and superstar centre. Expect big things from the 23-year-old in 2020-21 as he enters his sixth season in the NHL on a mission to bring playoff hockey back to Buffalo for the first time since 2011.
Dahlin Continues His Stellar Development
This season, Dahlin tallied 40 points (four goals, 36 assists) in 59 games, tying him for 18th among NHL defensemen. In just his second year in the league, he has now managed to hit the 40-point mark twice before the age of 19. This is especially significant as Dahlin’s 2018-19 season, his first in the NHL, saw him put up 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists) to become the third-ever 18-year-old defenseman in league history to reach the 40-point mark.
Dahlin managed to set a new personal record of 36 assists and would have easily surpassed his previous career-high of 44 points if a regular 82-game schedule had been played. 2020-21 will be an exciting season to watch as he enters the final year of his entry-level contract and will look to prove himself worthy of a larger contract with the Sabres.
Late-Bloomer Olofsson Was a Rookie Sensation
At 24 years old, Olofsson tied for fourth among NHL rookies with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 54 games this season. The right-winger was previously drafted 181st overall by the Sabres in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft. This year, he made a name for himself in the NHL as one of the league’s top candidates for the Calder Trophy.
Olofsson finished the season ranked third in points on the Sabres, only behind Eichel and Reinhart. He also tied with Eichel for most power-play goals on the team with 11, and ranked second in game-winning goals with four. As a restricted free agent, Olofsson will look to sign a new deal with Buffalo this offseason in hopes of becoming one of the team’s star players for years to come. Good news for Sabres fans, it appears the rookie sensation may have plans to stay with the team long-term as he is now joined by his older brother Jesper Olofsson, who signed with the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, in May.
The Decision to Clean House
Last month, the Sabres announced that 22 members of their organization had been fired, including former general manager Jason Botterill. Frank Seravalli described the Sabres’ house cleaning as “a bloodletting that may be unprecedented in NHL history.” The move that made headlines around the league came after Buffalo missed the playoffs for a ninth-straight season.
Throughout what is now tied for the second-longest postseason drought in NHL history, the Sabres have been through a total of four team presidents, three general managers, and six head coaches. With all things considered, it is easy to see why team owners Terry and Kim Pegula pulled the plug.
The Sabres have a talented roster with an abundance of potential, yet they still can’t seem to string wins together. Something isn’t working, and the Pegulas decided that rebuilding their management and scouting staff from the ground up would be the best way to make a statement to their players and fans that they are fed up with losing and want to eliminate any underlying factors that may be contributing to the team’s long-term lack of success. All eyes will be on the Sabres next season to see how this extremely bold move works out for them in the midst of historic adversity.
Tom Pepper is a daily Seattle Kraken/NHL columnist at The Hockey Writers. He joined THW in June 2020 and has been writing about the Kraken since June 2021. He studies at the Ryerson School of Journalism and covers the Ryerson Rams men’s and women’s hockey teams for the Eyeopener student newspaper. Twitter: @TomPepper