Let’s shoot straight here: this season’s Buffalo Sabres are a big disappointment. After forcing their fans to watch two of the worst seasons of hockey in the last twenty years in order to tank for the best draft picks possible, the Sabres were supposed to take a step forwards this season. Instead, the Sabres are the second worst team in the league. They are the second worst team at scoring goals, and the fourth worst at preventing them.
After all that, how can the Sabres afford to be patient? The simple answer is that they have no other option. They can’t make big moves of any kind because they have no assets other team want. Their current roster is filled mostly with minor leaguers or overpaid pros, outside of the few bright spots.
Their prospect pool is not good for a team that forced itself to tank for two seasons. TheHockeyWriters.com ranked the Sabres 20 of 31 teams in the league when it came to prospects. This team needs more time to build a better system of prospects and better free agent signings in order to change the path that they are heading on.
Right now the Sabres are surrounded by a losing culture. Ever since the infamous incident where Milan Lucic ran through Ryan Miller, the Sabres have felt defeatist in nature. The two years of blatant tanking did not help that. If the team can’t right the ship in the next few seasons, they will be stuck in a rotating system of failure for much longer.
On the bright side, Buffalo is sitting on a few promising prospects. Recent draft pick Casey Mittelstadt is a freshman center for the University of Minnesota, currently with 12 points in 13 games. Others, such as goalie Linus Ullmark, winger Nicholas Baptiste, and defenseman Brendan Guhle have shown growth in their game. But some of the most promising have yet to show anything of note. The eighth overall selection in 2016, Alexander Nylander, showed ability to dominate scoring in the OHL and in Sweden, but has struggled in adapting to the North American professional level in the AHL. The same could be said of winger Hudson Fasching who stood out in the NCAA, but has yet to do the same in the AHL.
The few Sabres who have performed well consists of forwards Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Jason Pominville, and Evander Kane (a free agent at the end of this season) as well as defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Both goalies Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson are struggling despite only facing the league average amount of shots on goal. However, the defense is giving up the eighth highest percentage of high danger shots in the league according to Natural Stat Trick, so the blame can’t escape either group.
There is nothing this team will be able to do now that will change the result of this season. The Sabres need to be patient, and wait out this season to try again next year. It is a tough pill for fans to swallow considering fellow tanking team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, already made the playoffs while the Sabres wait in the Eastern Conference basement. Unfortunately, the Buffalo Sabres have no other choice.