Did they Make The Playoffs? – If you do a Google search for “Buffalo Sabres embarrassing”, you’ll get more than a few hits. So that should tell you right there whether or not they made the playoffs.
No, they did not make the playoffs and were, simply put, the worst team in the league by a mile and a half: the next closest team in the standings to Buffalo’s 52 points were the Florida Panthers, holders of the #1 overall pick in the 2014 Draft, with 66 points. Their 14 regulation + overtime wins were a whopping seven worse than Florida’s second-worst 21 and they were historically bad offensively until a minor flurry at the end of the season kept them out of the record books.
The Sabres were bad is what I’m getting at.
What Went Right – This may be the only “what went right” section that won’t have anything to do with what happened on the ice. No, the thing that went right happened in the front office: this team is doing a tremendous job rebuilding.
After moving a few pieces at the deadline last year, they continued the deconstruction of this team starting in October and continuing right up through the deadline. They moved Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, and Steve Ott, as well as Matt Moulson and Jaroslav Halak who were acquired in the Vanek and Miller deals. They also dealt bit parts/prospects Cody McCormick, Jonathan Parker and Brayden McNabb, along with a few picks, but ultimately netted a boatload of useful pieces: first round picks from the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues (the Islanders pick is looking like it will be deferred until 2015, giving the Sabres three firsts next year), three second round picks, a conditional third round pick, roster players in Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell and Michal Neuvirth, prospects William Carrier, Nicolas Deslauriers, and Hudson Fasching as well as cap-fodder in Rusty Klesla.
Basically, the Sabres swapped a whole lot of aging players with big salaries out for high picks, a few decent to good prospects and a couple of serviceable roster players they could move later for even more picks/prospects. Coupled with their horrid finish this year (and likely next) and the top-end prospects that come with drafting at the front of the draft, the rebuild effort is going swinningly.
What Went Wrong – Where do you start, really? They were offensively putrid, barely topping 150 goals as a team this season. They had to claw at the end of the year to muster two 20-goal scorers and had just four guys top 10 goals. Drew Stafford was one of their best offensive players and if that doesn’t tell you just how bad things were, then you obviously aren’t a Sabres fan.
They were okay defensively, getting pretty decent goaltending all things considered, but they would have to be elite to be able to even finish middle of the pack given the offense in front of them. It also didn’t help things at all that they were killed by injuries all year, having to substitute out players who were simply okay already for borderline NHL players (Matt D’Agostini and Cory Conacher saw top line minutes at various points this year). The tank effort was already in full force, but was only exacerbated by a myriad of injuries.
How To Improve In The Offseason – Honestly, as a Sabres fan, I’m not hoping for a huge improvement. Next year is going to be the year to be awful with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and a deep draft ahead, not to mention the fact that the Sabres (likely) hold three first-rounders in 2015.
Still, the team is likely to improve at least incrementally by being healthier and having a few of their bigger prospects like Rasmus Ristolainen and Johan Larsson around full-time. There will be growing pains and the team is going to be bad, but they’ll be young, energetic and hard-working.
The Sabres will also benefit from having a solid tandem in Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth in net. Neither is a legit #1 goalie, but both played well in a platoon effort last year. They’ll have to compete for starts again this year and will provide quality starts behind what should still be a horrid team.
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