It’s almost fitting that the Buffalo Sabres 2019-20 season ended this way. With the pandemic blurring days together, with little difference between a Tuesday and a Friday, it feels like Groundhog’s Day. And once again, same day, different year, the Sabres have missed the playoffs.
Even with this season’s special 24-team playoff format, where more than three-quarters of the teams in the league make the postseason, the Sabres will once again conclude their season on the outside looking in. It’s the team’s ninth straight season failing to qualify for the playoffs, the longest active drought in the NHL.
A silver lining to the coronavirus was that it put a merciful end to yet another disappointing season for the Blue & Gold. Fan frustration–worse yet–apathy was creeping back in, even for diehards.
Botterill Will Be Back
Despite finishing 31st, 27th and 25th, general manager Jason Botterill will be returning for his fourth season. In a statement, Team President Kim Pegula said that the former Sabre forward will once again be leading the front office as soon as play resumes for the team.
“I realize, maybe it’s not popular with the fans, but we have to do the things that we feel are right,” she said. “We have a little bit more information than maybe a fan does, some inner workings that we see some positives in.”
“This isn’t how any of us envisioned our 50th season coming to a close,” the organization said in a statement. “Our promise to Sabres fans is that we will come back stronger as a team and as a community. We cannot thank you enough for your loyalty. We can’t wait to get back on the ice.”
Sabres fans have heard that song before. And they’re not falling for it again.
Record of Futility
Hired away from the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017, Botterill has revamped and overhauled nearly the entire roster. Among notables, he’s moved on from Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Robin Lehner. He’s brought in Jeff Skinner, Brandon Montour, Henri Jokiharju and Colin Miller. Not to mention Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka. Salt, meet wound.
The team has won 88 games out of a possible 233. During that three-year span, only the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators have lost more and won less than the Sabres.
After a hot start, the Sabres fell back to mediocrity and then some. They finished 2019-20 campaign with a record of 30-31-8 record and 68 points. Three points separated them from the Montreal Canadiens who were the last team from the Eastern Conference to qualify for the expanded 24-team dance. Looking back, they finished this season by losing six of their last seven games.
This summer will mark Botterill’s fourth draft with the Sabres. Once again in the lottery, the franchise will have a 6.5% chance to win the first overall pick. They do not have a third-round pick or a sixth-round pick, but have an extra seventh-rounder courtesy of the Dallas Stars.
Even after three years at the NHL Draft, only two of Botterill’s 18 total draft picks–2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin and 2017 eighth overall pick Casey Mittelstadt–have skated in the NHL.
The Sabres have fallen and can’t get up. For a franchise that had never missed the postseason more than three straight seasons, they’re now closing in on double digits. To make matters worse, their lineup is poorly constructed, their prospect pool isn’t exactly flush with prospects, and they’re tight to the salary cap.
The sting continues when considering the season captain Jack Eichel was having. He was eighth overall in goals and tenth in points and playing elite-level hockey. Linemate Victor Olofsson, a Calder Trophy candidate as the league’s top rookie, had already hit the 20-goal marker to go with 22 assists in 54 games.
“Believe me, I don’t think anyone knows the frustrations more than Terry and I do,” said Kim Pegula. “Coach and Jason know they’ve got to show not only us, but they’ve got to show it to the fans. And they know that. They understand that.”
Related: Sabres Sign Trio of Prospects
With no secondary scoring and abysmal special teams, the Sabres were going nowhere. Now, with businesses slowly opening up, at least they can hit the golf course.