Buffalo, New York. A city that is known for its signature-style wings, close proximity to the Canadian border and passionate sports fans. Whether “Buffalonians” are making the trek down to Orchard Park to see their beloved Bills, or visiting the downtown core at the Keybank Center to catch a Sabres game, their passion for sports runs high in the 716. Sadly, on the hockey side of things, the Buffalo Sabres have gone nine years without an appearance in the NHL playoffs. In this article, we take a look at the Buffalo Sabres issues.
Buffalo Sabres Issues
You have to go all the way back to the 2010/11 campaign for the Sabres to even get a sniff of postseason play. Since then, the team has gone through five different coaches and have made two changes at the general manager position. Despite the changes in personnel, two common denominators remain. That being subpar play and overall dysfunction.
The question begs, what are the Buffalo Sabres issues that are underlying and facing this franchise? Do they stem from the players on the ice? Or are they manifested in poor decisions from upper management? Let’s dive in and take a more comprehensive look at three Buffalo Sabres issues.
Diminished Level of Talent
The Sabres have chosen in the top-10 in every single NHL Entry Draft since 2013. From promising junior players to blue-chip prospects, to elite game-changers, the Sabres have seen them all. Even with all these draft choices, there are still many question marks surrounding the composition, player choices, line combinations, and superstar talent on this roster. Like any pro sports league, the NHL is top-heavy and contains their fair share of superstars. Some of these stars play on the Sabres with the likes of defenseman, Rasmus Dahlin, and centerman, Jack Eichel. Sadly, the level of talent on the Buffalo Sabres thins out real fast after the likes of Eichel, Dahlin, and rookie sensation Victor Olofsson.
At the forward position, in particular, is where the Sabres have struggled mightily under current general manager, Jason Botterill. For starters, their forward group includes Wayne Simmonds, Michael Frolik, Johan Larsson, Curtis Lazar, and Kyle Okposo. These players don’t exactly scream consistently, flair, or game-breaking talent. Okposo alone, despite a $6 million cap hit has seen his fair share of struggles in a Sabres uniform. In 52 games this season, Okposo tallied just nine goals and 19 points. You may want to read those stats a second time. When you factor in his on-ice production and cap hit, few would argue that Okposo’s time in Buffalo has been mired in disappointment.
Wayne Simmonds was brought in at the trade deadline with hopes of adding some added jam, physicality and scoring to the Sabres roster. However, in seven games, Simmonds has all but a single assist to show for it. It’s become evident that many of the Sabres forwards have seen their most productive seasons pass them by. This has, unfortunately, become all too familiar with the Sabres of late and certainly the case with Simmonds. When you put it all together, it spells a real lack of hope from die-hard Sabres fans across Western New York within their top-12 forward group.
Lack of Support for Jack Eichel
The Buffalo Sabres issues do not include what most struggling NHL teams have, not being able to find a superstar, more specifically, a franchise centreman. The Sabres have a bonafide, number one centerman. That player is North Chelmsford, Massachusetts native, and captain, Jack Eichel. He’s big strong, skilled, and the prototypical NHL superstar. Fresh off an 8-year/$80 million contract extension that he signed back in October 2017, it is clear that the former second-overall pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has been brought in to be the saviour of a floundering franchise. What they truly lack are goal-scoring wingers with the ability to bring it each and every night.
This season alone has seen Eichel transform into one of the most dominating and electrifying centres in the NHL. His smooth skating ability, long, lanky strides, and propensity to make plays have seen Eichel post a phenomenal season. Before the NHL hit the pause button due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Eichel was having the single-best statistical year of his career. He had 36 goals and 42 assists for 78 points. Eichel’s play has reached a new level this season. His efforts, however, have been in vain.
For starters, the Sabres thought they solved that problem with Jeff Skinner. Fresh off an 8-year/$72 million contract extension, Skinner has been a monumental disappointment this season in the Queen City. From a statistical standpoint, Skinner has 14 goals and nine assists for 23 points in 59 games played. One season into his massive extension and Skinner is looking more like the problem rather than the solution in Buffalo.
Sam Reinhart aside, who is a serviceable NHL winger, the Sabres truly lack that coveted 1-2 punch. Reinhart has been a good solider for the Sabres, and a fan-favourite in the 716. A high draft choice himself, “Rhino” is a nice player in Buffalo. As a team, however, 19 players have scored under 10 goals in 2019/20. Quite the headache to say the least for Sabres fans.
Jason Botterill and the Front Office
Our final problem appears in the form of a third-year general manager, Jason Botterill. Fresh off a vote of confidence from Sabres ownership, Botterill will retain his post as GM for 2020/21. Things have been anything but roses in Buffalo since Botterill took over. There are plenty of reasons for this. For one, Botterill’s accumulation of talent has been scarce at best. The recent acquisitions of Colin Miller, Wayne Simmonds, and Brandon Montour, certainly won’t see the Sabres get over the top as a team. Eichel recently publically voiced his displeasure with the Sabres. In addition to their sub-par performance as a team, he claims that he’s “sick of losing” and rightfully so.
Last week, Commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the NHL’s Return to Play Plan. This effectively ended the 2019/20 season for the Sabres. While 24 other teams will be vying to drink from Lord Stanley’s illustrious mug, Jason Botterill, Ralph Krueger, and the rest of the Sabres brass will have their eyes firmly set on the NHL Draft lottery and a subsequent draft… once again.
To add further salt to the would, the Sabres are just the fifth team in NHL history to miss the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons. No one truly knows what next season will bring (or when it will even begin/conclude). What we do know in that Jason Botterill and his staff have their work cut out for them to bring the Sabres back to hockey prominence.