Game On / Are we done with the suffering?
Sabres are due for a break
The Buffalo Sabres made defenseman Rasmus Dahlin the first player born in Sweden to be selected number 1 in the draft since Hall of Fame forward Mats Sundin in 1989.
Photo courtesy of Buffalo Sabres/Bill Wippert
On April 29, 2013, then Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier told fans that the organization was committed to winning a Stanley Cup, but that it was going to require some “suffering” on their part.
When I heard him say that, I was on board. He was talking about clearing the decks of players who hadn’t been able to make it past the first rounds of two playoffs—guys like Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, and Jason Pominville—who just couldn’t hack it after the departures of Danny Briere and Chris Drury. I was excited to bottom out for a year or two, build some depth, and watch a new generation of stars blossom in Rochester and then with the big club. When the team drafted Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel in back-to-back seasons, it seemed they had rocks upon which to build.
But it never happened.
The Sabres have missed the playoffs for eight straight seasons—worst in the NHL—and only made it into two out of the past twelve years. Kids in Buffalo high schools have never seen this team win in any meaningful fashion.
Over the two years following the “suffering” press conference, the Sabres added fourteen draft picks through trades. They added numerous other prospects as well. Those players should all be entering their primes right now on a team that is on the rise, but, instead, the Sabres dealt away those picks for players who didn’t pan out (Robin Lehner, Ryan O’Reilly) or, in most cases, management just whiffed on the selections in the draft.
This has left the organiozation bereft of talent in Rochester; the AHL squad hasn’t won a playoff series since 2005, either. The lack of kids coming through the pipeline has left little depth, a problem that persists today.
The free agent market has been ugly for the team as well, with big-money acquisitions like Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson blowing up in our faces. Moulson still has four years left at $6 million a year—this is a guy who has never topped twenty goals and was shifted to the fourth line most nights.
This mismanagement has left the team with an extremely uneven and expensive roster. The team has one of the highest payrolls in the league despite not being predicted to make the playoffs by any preseason prognostications.
There are bright lights like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Dahlin, and Jeff Skinner, but they are surrounded by too much dead weight, including players like Valdimir Sobotka, who was by some statistical measures one of the worst forwards in the league last season. Those selecting the roster on a game-to-game basis seem to show little interest or understanding of the newer advanced statistics that have brought about dramatic changes in the game.
It is still too early to gauge this team. At this point last season, the Sabres had just finished a ten-game winning streak and the arena was rocking night in and night out. We all know how the rest of the season went.
New GM Jason Botterill can’t be held responsible for most of the poor decisions that put the team in this position, but he hasn’t been making changes to get the team moving in the right direction. The Jeff Skinner trade was his signature acquisition, but he was unable to unload Rasmus Ristolainen in the offseason, and the Ryan O’Reilly trade doesn’t look great in hindsight.
It’s been one step forward and two steps back with this organization for a long time. For every good move it makes, there’s a matching critical blunder. It may seem like they’re building toward something, but they never seem to get anywhere. This dark period was supposed to be over years ago, but now I fear there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel—at least not this season.