32 Teams In 32 Days: Buffalo Sabres
Can a strong start build momentum over to the next season?
In today’s look around the NHL we focus on the Buffalo Sabres and whether or not a strong finish can be a momentum builder for a young team.
The 2021-22 NHL season was nothing but more misery for Buffalo Sabres fans.
They not only missed the playoffs for the 11th year in a row, they also watched as the Jack Eichel soap opera finally came to and with his trade to the Vegas Golden Knights. Even the relationship between team and player was beyond repair, it still had to be bitter for Sabres fans to watch Eichel go given how anticipated his arrival was and what it was supposed to mean for the team’s long-term outlook.
It was eight years ago that the Sabres were actively ripping their team apart to finish low enough in the standings that it would secure a top-two pick that would net them either Connor McDavid or Eichel. While McDavid was the ultimate prize, Eichel was a pretty damn enticing fallback option. He was supposed to be the player that would help usher in better days and bring the team back to relevance.
It was not for a lack of effort early on (the Sabres also added Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner, and a Stanley Cup winning coach in Dan Bylsma), but nothing worked out as planned. The Sabres never played in a playoff game with Eichel and are now at a point where they needed a rebuild from their rebuild.
The positive in all of this: The return for Eichel (Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs) looks somewhat promising. At least as promising as a trade can be when you are sending away your franchise player.
Beyond that, the Sabres also got bounce back seasons from Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo, got an unexpected breakout year from Tage Thompson (38 goals!), and have two young standout defensemen to build around in No. 1 overall picks Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power.
They also finished the season playing some really exciting hockey over the final month-and-a-half, going 16-9-3 from March 1 until the end of the season. That would have been a 102-point pace over an 82-game schedule. That is an easy playoff pace.
Whenever a team like this has that sort of run to close out a season you will hear all of the same talking points about how it is a momentum builder for next season, and how you hope it carries over, and maybe it is the start of turning things around and leading to a bounce back.
But how often does it actually work out that way?
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