Eight is enough

Pouring out some Sabres thoughts eight years after their last home playoff appearance...

Jeremy White
April 21, 2019 - 4:26 pm

Photo: Rick Stewart - Getty Images

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It was eight Easter Sundays ago that the Buffalo Sabres hosted their last playoff game. Eight years, huh. Do you remember where you watched it? Who you were with? Did you ever think it’d be the last playoff game in Buffalo for… well… we haven’t figured out just when the next one will be? Would you have thought, that day, that the Sabres would soon enough own the NHL's longest playoff drought?

I find myself thinking of the Sabres a lot these days. My wife and I have a running joke where she’ll ask me, “whatcha thinking about?” I’ll give her a look, and she’ll answer, “right… the Sabres.”

It’s true though. I'll be sitting in a window seat of a transcontinental flight thinking about trades they can make to get draft picks to offset the price of four first rounders that they'd give up with a $12 million offer sheet. My mind sits with this hockey team all the time. I think about tanking, offer sheets, coaching moves, players that could come in or go out. I think about arena improvements. I think about how much the organization needs to reconnect with the fans in the worst way. The tank wasn’t this bad… heck, only half (or whatever) the fans were mad.

So… to celebrate, or bury, the fact that it’s now been eight years… here are eight thoughts that are top-of-mind for me, on our hopeless Buffalo Sabres.

 

8.) Highway robbery

It’s not the Sabres' fault that Robin Lehner is having a good season. Lehner has been named as a Vezina finalist, but I’m putting the “should have known” factor on this at about the same level as “Darcy Regier should have had more defensive depth in the 2005-06 playoffs” take. Botterill signed Lehner to a one-year prove it deal that ended with Lehner holding restricted free agent status. He played poorly, on a poor team, and the team ended up not offering him a tender, making Lehner an unrestricted free agent.  

Lehner’s Goals Saved Above Replacement was a negative-6. His save percentage was sub .910. He was on the books for $4 million per-season. Would he have returned here for $1.5 million? Would the Sabres have wanted him too? There wasn't much of an indication that this season was coming from Lehner, and there were things going on behind the scenes that were further stressing the situation. The New York Islanders swooped in on July 3 and signed him for… $1.5 million. That’s a pretty good indicator that they didn’t expect him to be all that good either. Good for Lehner and his career re-birth, but there’s no shame in letting him walk. And no, it’s not proof that he was worth a first round pick… it’s another reason never to do it. If Lehner had cost the Islanders a first round pick, they don’t sign him. The lesson here? Be the Islanders and take a flyer on a guy that's had a bad run. Don't be the Sabres and bid big on an unproven commodity.

 

7.) Singing the Blues

It is the Sabres' fault that Ryan O’Reilly plays for another team. O’Reilly is a finalist for the Selke trophy which is… really not that surprising. O’Reilly came to Buffalo and pitched in on a level that was fair to expect. He “lost his love” for the game or whatever, as many of us did, during some terrible years for the team. A popular thing to do these days is to say the Sabres traded him because of those comments… but he was available via trade well before he made them.

The Sabres identified O’Reilly as… too slow? Not good in the room? Whatever they decided, it was that they needed him gone. While the Lehner bounce-back should be seen as a big surprise, there’s not much about O’Reilly’s resurgence that should surprise Botterill. The return in the trade? Woof. It’s going to be darn near impossible for it to swing back toward the Sabres there. Right now, it’s right up there with the trade for Lehner. Disaster.

 

6.) Ville-ain.

How about that the last goal scored in a professional sports playoff game in Buffalo, was scored by Ville Leino. It’s a cruel joke. Want to know something you forgot about?

Leino designed a shirt where he said playing here was like Jail.

He scored zero goals in his last season in Buffalo. 

 

5.) #CoachWatch

I wonder if the Sabres thought they’d have a coach by now. Nice to see that Todd McLellan had some nice things to say about the Sabres' job after he decided to take another one. I’m told that McLellan was never offered a contract, or the position, and that’s believable.

That said, there is one thing that seems to happen more and more with these teams. They reportedly express interest in something, and when that something clearly isn’t coming … there are then reports that the team didn’t want it to happen anyway. Coincidence, I suppose.

Maybe that’s why things have quieted down on the Coach Watch. Hearing any reports about who they’re interested in?  

Wonder if Roger Rönnberg is next.

 

4.) I am Jack's raging bile duct 

Ok, it’s a Fight Club reference, but I needed something for Jack here. I think back to the pre-tank Sabres, and what the whole idea was. We had watched the Sabres have decent teams, but rarely one that featured a player like him. I think to the team that lost to the Philadelphia Flyers eight years ago… a decent team that finished seventh in the Eastern Conference. For me, pre-tank Sabres teams were missing players in the #elite category, and it’d be worth it to go get one of those. The Sabres did. I guess I (we, whoever here) overestimated how long it would take the Sabres to get back to just having a bunch of guys that were woefully flawed, but good enough to finish… seventh. It’s taken approximately four years longer than it should have, and it’s mind-numbingly frustrating.

Colorado had 48 points two years ago. Google “Colorado Avalanche Culture Change,” and you’ll find it all there. Stories that they needed better leaders, that the organization needed to treat players better. The Avalanche missed the playoffs for three straight years, cratering at 48 points in the 2016-17 season. They went to the playoffs the very next year. They’re on to the second round this year.

I think about that last playoff team the Sabres had and ask myself, "what if you plopped Jack Eichel and/or Rasmus Dahlin on that team?"  

Isn't that all we're asking for at this point?

 

3.) Price points

At the end of last year, Sabres owner Terry Pegula wrote a letter to season ticket holders telling them he wouldn’t be raising ticket prices. He said the standard of the Buffalo Sabres had to change. Then, this year happened. Is there a letter coming? Is there a price increase coming? Should we be preparing for an exodus in the arena? The offseason of “roster surgery” is also very much in need of an intervention with fans. The upcoming 50th anniversary season really should be Fan Appreciation Season.

Jason Botterill has some heavy lifting to do with the team, and every other part of the organization has just as big a task.

 

2.) Goals

Change the goal song. It’s time.

 

1.) Hang in there, Dahlin

This from Sean Tierney… is good.

Things are rough, but at least there's this.

 

I think about the hockey team pretty much every single day. I think about every angle. I endlessly try to figure how they can get back to where they were eight Easters ago, and that's not even that good.

So yeah... It’s not all bad, it’s just all I think about.

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