During the 2017-18 season, it’s no secret that the Sabres finished in 31st place in the NHL, setting a new all-time low.
The one positive they got out of it is that they were rewarded by finally getting the first overall pick and selecting defensive phenom, Rasmus Dahlin.
There is a lot of hype and excitement that perhaps this is the year the Sabres finally turn the corner and start trending upwards.
Here is how some recent teams who finished last have done the following season since the lockout in 2005 and wanted to share it with our readers:
2005-06 St Louis Blues 57 pts Next Season: 81 pts 10th overall 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers 56 pts Next Season: 95 pts 6th overall making it to Eastern Conference Finals 2007-08 Tampa Bay Lightning 71 pts Next Season: 66 pts 14th overall 2008-09 New York Islanders 61 pts Next Season: 79 pts 13th overall 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers 62 pts Next Season: 62 pts 15th overall 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers 62 pts Next Season: 74 pts 15th overall 2011-12 Columbus Blue Jackets 65 pts Next Season: 55pts Tied for 8th overall *shortened season 2012-13 Florida Panthers 36 pts *shortened season Next Season: 66 pts 15th overall 2013-14 Buffalo Sabres 52 pts Next Season: 54 pts 16th overall 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres 54 pts Next Season: 81 pts 14th overall 2015-16 Toronto Maple Leafs 69 pts Next Season: 95 pts 8th overall making it to the 1st round of the playoffs 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche 48 pts Next Season: 95 pts 8th overall making it to the 1st round of the playoffs
The results are not very promising with only three of the twelve teams making the playoffs the next season. Columbus actually did tie for the last playoff spot in 2011-12, but were eliminated due to tiebreakers. The positive is nine of the twelve teams did see substantial point increases the next season over their previous year.
Going from worst to playoffs may be a daunting task given the historical data, but the Sabres do share some strong characteristics to the three teams that made jump to being playoff teams.
The Flyers and Leafs both were the recipients of major youth movements with free agents sprinkled in that added a lot of big pieces at once in the offseason. The Sabres similarly should be seeing Casey Mittlestadt and Rasmus Dahlin make major contributions along with Jeff Skinner and Conor Sheary adding some scoring up front.
The Avalanche made the postseason last year on the back of Nathan MacKinnon, who jumped from being a good all-star caliber forward to an all-world Hart Trophy finalist. Jack Eichel has that potential if he can stay healthy and finds the right chemistry with his new forward group.
THE PLAYERS HAVE SPOKEN: An anonymous poll of 33 #NHL players taken at the Player Media Tour by @frank_seravalli revealed the #Sabres and #Coyotes will duplicate last season’s incredible turnarounds of the #Devils and #Avalanche https://t.co/kGRFvfDquB #TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/aMzSGzBpId
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) September 17, 2018
That article also included some anonymous quotes from NHL players, who have been impressed with what Buffalo has done:
“I’m really intrigued by Buffalo to see how they turn it around,” one Atlantic Division rival said. “They took some really good steps. Jason Botterill, he did some good stuff this off-season – it was cool to see some of the moves they had. Tage Thompson, there’s a lot of guys. They got [Jeff] Skinner, they got [Rasmus] Dahlin, who I’m sure is going to blossom into a heck of a player. It’s exciting to see what they’re going to do.”
The real comparison for the Sabres in the end may be the Quebec Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) of the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. From 1989-91, the Nordiques finished dead last in the NHL for three consecutive seasons and ended up drafting Mats Sundin (1989), Owen Nolan (1990), and Eric Lindros (1991) 1st overall. Joe Sakic was already in the fold by this point, but the addition of Lindros and his subsequent trade that brought in Peter Forsberg resulted in a mass of talent quickly. Two years after the 1991 season, the Nordiques won their division and had a fearsome roster ready to win. This would be a best case scenario for the Sabres to not just make the playoffs, but take the division crown. The talent bubble in Buffalo has been expanding greatly over the last year or two, making one believe that the Sabres upswing could be faster then many of their fellow last place brethren.