The 2021-22 NHL regular season is over, and the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs have officially begun. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Sabres, they are once again on the outside looking in, having missed the playoffs for the 11th straight season, setting the NHL record for longest playoff drought in doing so. But aside from what sounds like a negative occurrence and another disappointing season, Sabres players, coaches, and management alike are not thankful that their season is over, are not dreading the coming of this October, and are not praying they wake up a member of another NHL team – no, things feel different this time – their smiling faces and positive attitudes in recent days show as much.
The Sabres on Tuesday made general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams and head coach Don Granato available for end-of-season media availability, a day after the players spoke to the media on locker room clean-out day. The big takeaway from nearly an hour of Q&A with the both of them? It’s good vibes all around.
Adams Talks State of the Rebuild & Expectations
Adams’ end-of-season thoughts shed some light on where he sees this Sabres team in terms of the full-on rebuild that began as long ago as last season’s trade deadline – although Adams himself would never call it that. “Your word. Never mine. … You’re building. We want really good players and really good people that love being here,” he said in his presser, livestreamed earlier today on Twitter.
Such an attitude is one that Adams has assumed since day one as Sabres GM, and is one that prioritizes building a winning culture that’s inviting to young players before securing the tools for a Stanley Cup-winning roster. It’s also one that shows evidence of its’ success in games that “matter” perhaps more-so than others, such as the Sabres’ win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2022 Heritage Classic, or their win over the Vegas Golden Knights in former captain Jack Eichel’s return to KeyBank Center in Buffalo. “That’s what happens in the playoffs. The lights are a little brighter. There’s more reporters around,” said Adams.
It’s not just big opportunities that the Sabres capitalized on and came together over this season, however. It was also the chances to remember and channel the rich history of this franchise, and one of its living legends: broadcaster Rick Jeanneret. “We all got a history lesson this year,” Adams said. Jeanneret spent 51 seasons as the Sabres’ play-by-play commentator, and was celebrated this season by having his banner raised to the rafters of the arena, as well highlighted on many other occasions. It served as a reminder to current players that wearing the Sabres sweater and crest once meant something, and it can and will again.
Adams also took time to give praise to the players who stepped up and stepped in for the team this season, giving credit to veterans and newcomers alike. “Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs are unbelievable people,” he said about the two roster players who were acquired in last November’s Eichel trade. They care, they love the game, [and] they love being a Buffalo Sabre.” Perhaps no higher praise was given than to veteran Kyle Okposo, who Adams mentioned when asked a question about the Sabres’ next captain: “I can’t highlight enough Kyle Okposo and what he means to this group.”
Granato Proves He Was the Right Choice
When Adams and the Sabres chose Granato as the team’s new full-time head coach last summer, there were many onlookers who were disappointed, calling the hire “safe” and “uninspired.” I will not try to shy away from my stance back then: I was one of those people. However, if there was any doubt that this career assistant and interim head coach was not the right man for the job, that doubt has since been extinguished. There might be some stragglers out there, but I think it’s safe to say that Granato has worked his way into the hearts of most Sabres fans now.
“We are all on a mission to make you proud,” Granato said during his end-of-season availability on Tuesday. “I’m not a greedy guy, but if there’s one thing I’ll ever be greedy about it’s winning. You can’t win enough.” Spoken like someone who truly knows what it takes to win and will give everything he has to get there, he struck a chord in the fans of the Sabres and the people of Buffalo when he said that. Based on the way the Sabres ended the season, too, he’s not just blowing hot air – he has the results to back it up, and it’s given fans a reason to be hopeful for the future.
“You’re really excited you have something you can build on,” Granato said of this season’s successes. However, even in the midst of his pride and confidence, he isn’t focused too far down the road, say, at the playoffs (whenever it is that the Sabres make their triumphant return to the postseason). No, he’s focused on the next game. “I have to stay focused on just keep getting better and winning the game in front of you. We do that and I know good things will come.”
Good things will come, too. That’s what you expect when you think you’ve found the right person for the job, anyway. Adams certainly thinks he has. “He’s a good person,” Adams said when asked about Granato on Tuesday. “He also understands people and the players trust him because he’s honest.”
Sabres Have Plenty To Look Forward To
The Sabres have plenty to look forward to this summer, next season, and beyond. With a loaded prospect pool and three first-round picks in the 2022 entry draft, the amount of things to be excited about will only get bigger. “I would expect we make our three picks,” Adams said of the first round of the draft. With three more elite prospects shuffled into the system, the Sabres could be competitive at all levels.
It remains to be seen who the Sabres draft with their picks this summer, but they already have some highly-talented players to keep an eye on right now, and next season. Goalie prospect Devon Levi, acquired in the trade that sent Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers, decided to return to Northeastern to play another season of NCAA college hockey, this time as the reigning top goalie in college hockey. He says he wants to learn how to work through having that level of pressure on him. Ryan Johnson is also leaning toward returning to the NCAA at the University of Minnesota, where he could play his senior season.
While the Stanley Cup Playoffs progress without the Sabres in it once again, fans will be at no loss of exciting new developments when it comes to this team, and should look forward to all the exciting events this summer that will shape the future of this franchise.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15