The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been relevant beyond the regular season–or even during–in quite some time. Since the 2010-11 NHL season, the last playoff appearance for Buffalo, the franchise has finished at the bottom of their division six of the last 10 seasons. They’ve also finished .500 or above just twice. Though their season will be tough yet again, they still have the ability to play spoiler during their rivals’ respective playoff pushes.
Sabres Could Still Play Spoiler Late in Season
This season is dedicated to developing the youth of the franchise. As the hockey world continues to be on “Jack Eichel Watch 2021,” the organization was impressed with the talent their prospects showcased during the Prospect Challenge. Head coach Don Granato should be excited at a fresh opportunity to build a team out of a rebuild. If he’s able to solidify the lines and get his players to mesh, they could be a tough matchup for teams later in the season.
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April has not been kind to the Sabres over the course of the last decade, but what month has? The franchise has an overall record of 26-36-3 over 65 games. Strangely enough, Buffalo has actually had a better win percentage during April than the season as a whole five out of nine times (2019-20 featured no games in April due to the pandemic).
|Season||April Record||April Win %||Season Win %|
The good thing is they play 16 games in April this season, which gives the team plenty of opportunities to make their mark and develop their youth. Unfortunately, the Atlantic Division is loaded. Both Stanley Cup representatives from a season ago, Tampa Bay and Montreal, are ready to make another run, Boston, Florida, and Toronto were all three-seeds or higher last playoff, and Detroit seems to be on the rise. Ottawa is, well, Ottawa. To make matters worse, four division rivals are in the top 10 for the best odds to win the Stanley Cup.
No reason to fret; established teams jostling for playoff position really can’t stand trap games against skaters they have little tape on. Time to have fun at others’ expense.
Apr. 3 & April 8: Florida Panthers
These two early April games may not be too significant of losses for the Florida Panthers because they will have enough time to bounce back. Unless, of course, their momentum is halted and redirected into a decline.
Thank you for seven great seasons, Sam!— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) July 24, 2021
Best of luck in Florida. pic.twitter.com/n6UROhTNVS
The matchups also have the Sam Reinhart storyline to consider. The forward could play with a “see-what-you-gave-up” approach or the Sabres may be showing off his replacements, validating the move.
Apr. 10: Tampa Bay Lightning
The last month of the season will be important for the Lightning as they gear up for a three-peat. Nothing will destroy their confidence more than a loss to the Sabres. Yet, Tampa Bay is so seasoned before the season even begins, and they have the experience to overcome any obstacle during the playoff, which they have proven the last two years. On the other hand, let’s remember that things are different this year (e.g. fans in stadiums all season long)—and hopefully stay that way (knock on wood).
Apr. 12, 2022: Toronto Maple Leafs
Imagine this: the Toronto Maple Leafs are jostling for the division crown and potential Eastern Conference top-seed, and then the Sabres come in and absolutely demolish the Leafs’ on the road after beating the Lightning in Tampa just two days before.
Let’s not get crazy here. Playing spoiler is twofold; it humbles the confidence of a rival, but it also builds poise within an organization hoping to be on the rise. These back-to-back games are a good opportunity for Buffalo to gain said poise.
Apr. 26, 2022: Montreal Canadians
The Montreal Canadiens are not going to make the Stanley Cup Final again. They may not even make the playoff. However, they could be in wild-card contention toward the end of the season, and a late blow against Buffalo could knock them right out of the playoff picture with only two games remaining after.
Apr. 28, 2022: Boston Bruins
Two nights later, Buffalo can do the same thing to the Boston Bruins. The Bruins will likely be safely heading to the postseason, but seeding is very important. If the Bruins were to lose to the Sabres, they may lose home ice in a series against Florida, Tampa Bay, or Toronto. Or, even worse, they could drop into the wild card spot and have to face the New York Islanders or Carolina Hurricanes in very hostile environments. How delightful for Sabres fans.
Buffalo Sabres Have Hope
There is reason to be excited in Buffalo. After the Rasmus Dahlin extension, management is showing some commitment to ending this decade-long transition back to competitive relevance.
It will be interesting to see now if they become more or less aggressive in moving Eichel. General manager Kevyn Adams needs to decide if the star young center is still part of the plan or if his annual $10 million against the cap for the next five seasons is worth it. Eichel’s herniated disk, recent failed physical, and being stripped of his captaincy doesn’t help his cause—or his trade value for that matter.
Yes, the Sabres haven’t been great of late. This year has the potential to be different from a developmental aspect, however. They’re building a core and young talent will be fighting for roster spots to claim on 2022-23’s opening night. If Granato gets his players in a groove, Buffalo’s division rivals shouldn’t overlook these late-season matchups that could affect their playoff positioning. Just because they’re projected to be bottom dwellers again, doesn’t mean they can’t mess with the teams on top.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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