2019-2020 marked another season where the Buffalo Sabres just couldn’t find their way to stable productivity throughout the entirety of a season. As on-lookers, we always realize that the potential is there in Buffalo. For whatever reason, however, the Sabres fall short. This year marks the ninth consecutive campaign without a playoff birth, currently the longest active stretch of all teams. Despite missing the mark, Buffalo’s potential to be better remains in place. Let’s look into the season that was and take a sneak peek at the future.
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Head Coach: Ralph Krueger
What Went Right
It’s crystal clear that Jack Eichel is the real deal after just five seasons. Eichel has expressed his frustrations with the direction the club is heading in on many occasions but the production on the ice has never been an issue. Eichel enjoyed his best campaign ever in terms of points per game, amassing 78 points in 68 games. He would have likely surpassed his career-best mark of 82 registered just a season prior if not for the pandemic.
What’s encouraging about the steady improvement to Eichel’s game is a new-found commitment at the defensive end. In a recent Players Tribune article, star Jets forward, Mark Scheifele gave Eichel high praise for how difficult Eichel is to play against at both ends of the ice. He would go on to say that Eichel’s great showing was Hart Trophy worthy. Now if only Eichel was surrounded by some running mates to follow suit…
First-year pro Victor Olofsson. Olofsson got a small taste of big-league play in 2018-2019 scoring two goals and two assists, it was evident already that he could keep up and produce. With chemistry already built up with linemates Eichel and winger Sam Reinhart, Olofsson was ready to be an impact player. He didn’t disappoint at all. In fact, the Calder Trophy(rookie of the year) was well within his reach. A cool 42 points in 54 games is nothing to sniff at. If it weren’t for a high ankle sprain in January, Olofsson would be a front runner right alongside defensemen’s Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
Although Buffalo fell short of the 24 team tournament, they still have a plethora of young talent blessed with high potential, all under the age of 25. If these guys can learn quickly, the Sabres will be a force soon. Amongst the highly touted are the following; (D)Rasmus Dahlin, (D)Henri Jokiharju, (F)Dominik Kahun, (F)Sam Reinhart, (D)Rasmus Ristolainen, and (F)Casey Mittelstaad.
What Went Wrong
We won’t go too far into the details of how the Sabres failed to live up to expectations. They fell into the trap that many teams face. Full-season commitment. Buffalo began the season on fire, refilling off wins with ease. They would be amongst NHL’s elite, winning eight of their first 10 games. The hot start cooled off. By the end of December, they would sit at a respectful 16-11-6. For the remainder of the season, the Sabres would mostly maintain a record worthy of a Wild card. They, unfortunately, would not be able to hold the fort and wound up fizzling in the 15 games that closed out the shortened season. A brutal 2-12-1 conclusion to the season would signify major changes.
Management heads and scouting personnel would be mostly gutted and refreshed. Even the AHL’s Rochester Americans would go under major reconstruction even though the coaching staff was able to guide them to a very good 33-20-4-5 record. All toll, 12 of the 21 scouting team members were let go. As far as the team’s general manager is concerned, owner’s Terry and Kim Pegula will now put their trust into former NHL journeyman, Kevyn Adams. He will replace the highly regarded Jason Botterill.
Buffalo has plenty of talent on the roster, there is absolutely no doubt. Ownership is clearly getting impatient of just having the notion to be able to compete rather than producing consistently. Next season will be a huge indicator if they can put it together and finally make the playoffs. In the grand scheme of things Buffalo can feel good about the future,(they will select eighth in the upcoming draft and forward Dylan Cozens may be ready to contribute in ’20-’21)but they also have to make sure that Eichel is happy and that he is surrounded by like-minded individuals that are committed to winning.
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Main Image Credit:Embed from Getty Images