OPINION: Sabres enter key offseason with playoff drought at nine years

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals in March, shortly before the league shutdown play due to the coronavirus. Eichel is the cornerstone of a young Sabres nucleus, but the front office’s job is far from done if the team is to snap a nine-year playoff drought.

I feel like I’ve traveled down this road many times before. It’s probably because I have.

As a Buffalo Sabres fan, things haven’t been too fun over the past decade. And once again the Sabres are on the outside of the playoffs, even with eight extra teams this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This time however it feels a bit different. There’s more desperation as the playoff drought enters its ninth straight year, one more and the Sabres will tie Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers for the NHL record for playoff futility. The team is at a crossroads with new management taking over and star players entering their prime.

The latest switch at the top of the organization was the firing of general manager Jason Botterill and the promotion of Kevyn Adams. Management turnover is nothing new in Buffalo. The time has hired and fired four general managers and six different head coaches in the last 10 years.

Yet there’s something even more unnerving with the recent move. Not that Botterill was fired because his track record wasn’t great as a GM, but that there was no real process for hiring Adams. He simply was promoted from within an organization with no hockey success recently.

Not exactly something for the fans to be excited about.

What started out as a model of stability with 16 years of Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier has become a turnstile of ineptitude and Adams is now tasked with fixing all the problems of the last decade with little patience given from the fan base.

It’s a tough task for anyone, but even tougher with no GM experience. And now the Sabres have to begin working for next year with a skeleton staff in the hockey department after a slew of firings earlier this month.

It’s not all bad, though, as the Sabres may have had success focusing more on an analytical approach. Jeremiah Crowe was named Director of Scouting and analytics specialist Jason Nightengale also received a promotion to Assistant Director of Scouting. The Sabres appear to be looking to the future with a more streamlined and progressive scouting department.

On the ice there’s plenty to be excited about too, in spite of the record. The top five returning scorers are all 25 years old or younger, anchored by a star first line center in Jack Eichel, who scored 78 points in 68 games, as well as a budding star in Rasmus Dahlin on the blue line. Dahlin tallied 40 points in 59 games. Sam Reinhart scored 50 points and is just 24, while Victor Olofsson scored 20 goals in 54 games in his rookie campaign.

Henri Jokiharju also proved to be a great addition after being acquired from Chicago for Alex Nylander in a trade last offseason.

However, there’s still plenty to work on. Secondary scoring, special teams, defensive composure in their own end and consistent goaltending all proved to be problems for the young Sabres.

It’s an important — and especially long — offseason for the Sabres, who are now once again at a pivot point in the franchise’s history.

The clock is ticking.

Rebuild time is over.


Jordan Hansgen can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at jhansgen@meadvilletribune.com

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