Heading into the 2015-16 season, the expectations were high among some in the hockey world for the Buffalo Sabres. They were a young team on the rise that were inserting three star forwards into their lineup in Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane. Prior to the season, the playoff debate even made its way into the conversation. The argument was being made for a massive rebound season by the Sabres by some people including myself.
However, through 39 games, Buffalo has 34 points and currently sits 29th in the standings. The season certainly hasn’t gone as expected in regards to putting “W’s” in the win column. The eye test and even the advanced stats show that the Sabres are certainly much improved over the last few seasons.
As we come up on the half way mark of the season, it’s important to remember where the Sabres are in the rebuilding process.
Breaking it Down and Bottoming Out
To quickly recap the rebuilding road map; step one is breaking down the roster. Buffalo went through this process from the end of 2012 to 2014. The Sabres traded off the core players that were unable to consistently win. Darcy Regier started the
process by trading players like Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy. After Regier was fired, current General Manager Tim Murray finished the job by trading Steve Ott and Ryan Miller. The goal of this step is to trade-off assets and acquire prospects, along with draft picks to re-stock the prospect cupboard.
The next step is what the Sabres have gone through over the last two seasons; bottoming out. They’ve been the worst team in the league over the past two seasons. It’s certainly been difficult to watch for Sabres fans, but they’ve been rewarded with two excellent prospects in Sam Reinhart and Eichel.
Learning to Win
This is the next stop on the rebuilding road map and where the Sabres sit now, learning to win. After being a losing club over the past 3 to 4 years, Buffalo is trying to change the culture in the room. Team leaders Brian Gionta, Josh Gorgers and O’Reilly are
setting the tone within the team that losing is no longer acceptable.
Throughout the season the Sabres have lost a lot of close games that they’re still trying to figure out how to win. It’s certainly an aggravating step in the process for both players and the fans. It may take two years to get through this process, but after you get through this stage, the fun times come next.
Buffalo has already made it through the first two stages of the rebuild and are now in the third stage. The organization will have its ups and downs. The young players on the roster are learning how to mold as a team and get through adversity. It’s important to understand that the process shouldn’t be rushed and the Sabres are on the right path. The rebuild is progressing in the right direction. Of course the standings don’t reflect that right now, but in the 2nd half or final quarter of the season, you may see the Sabres start to string wins together. My best advice to fans is to enjoy the ride and understand where they are in the process.