Sabres take a step back

Sabres playoff chances went out the window in February

Howard Simon
April 10, 2017 - 12:30 pm

Photo: Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

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I feel like I'm supposed to be angry with the Buffalo Sabres. This season was a failure. Instead of taking a step forward, the 2016-2017 edition of the Sabres took a step back. I wasn't expecting a playoff spot but I was expecting the Sabres to be in the thick of the race for most if not all of the season. 

Sadly, I guess I've become accustomed to the Bills and Sabres losing so much that it doesn't phase me anymore. I used to be critical of fans who'd call the show and say both teams were doomed to fail and would never win in their lifetime and yet I'm worried I'm turning into that person.

I have absolutely nothing left in the hope tank for the Bills. That ship has sailed. Despite what I just witnessed, I still have something left in my Sabres tank. After all, their six year post season drought is nothing compared to 17 years, right?

Lets face it, the Sabres playoff chances went out the window when the team went into a tailspin coming out of the bye week in mid February.

Starting with those hideous losses in Colorado and Arizona, Buffalo recorded a 7-13-2 record after the bye. That means they gained just 16 points out of a possible 44.

The Sabres ended up last in the Atlantic Division, 15th in the 16 team Eastern conference and 26th in the 30 team NHL.

Even the return of Jack Eichel didn't help a team with numerous holes on its roster. Eichel ended up leading the team in scoring despite missing the first 21 games but the Sabres played at a 79 point pace from November 30th on.

This season was devoid of fun. Try and think about the best part or high point of the season other than the night Eichel returned to the lineup.

Was the "best" part of the season when they went 7-5-1 in January? That was the only winning month. 

The only other possibility would be the week leading up to the bye. The Sabres won in Toronto on a Saturday night and were still in the playoff race. They lost at home the very next night and Robin Lehner called out his teammates in post game comments. The team then went out and won their next three games including a nice victory over a good St. Louis club. The Sabres were 6-3-1 for the month of February and were just one point out of a playoff spot although the teams they were chasing had a game or games in hand.

The Sabres lost to Chicago in their final game before the bye and then everything blew up when they resumed playing. 

The focus is on Dan Bylsma right now because that is the first big decision general manager Tim Murray has to make. But for me, this off season is all about Murray. This is his mess. He created this roster and it isn't good enough. It has a group of defensemen in need of a makeover and a group of forwards that still isn't strong enough offensively.

On defense, you can keep Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. There's no one else I'd want on my roster going forward. Zach Bogosian was Winnipeg's Tyler Myers. A young defenseman, selected high in the draft, who never consistently plays at a high enough level. Josh Gorges is no better than a 5/6 guy whose minutes and role should be limited and Dmitry Kulikov was awful.

As far as offense, the Sabres scored just 125 goals in 5 on 5 situations, the third lowest total in the NHL. They leaned way too much on their power play which produced 55 goals and ended up being the league's best in terms of percentage. I feel like the Sabres should try and trade Evander Kane for a top four defenseman but Kane is their best scorer at even strength. He accounted for 20% of the Sabres even strength goals.

You're on notice Tim Murray. If it was up to me, this would be your last off season to fix this roster. The two best defensemen, Ristolainen and McCabe, were brought in by Darcy Regier. Two of the top three scorers, Eichel and Sam Reinhart, came in as a result of the tank.

If the Pegulas ever did give a playoffs or bust order, this would be the time.

 

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