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Where Do We Go From Here?

What is the next step in Buffalo’s rebuild?

Three straight losses.

Three straight losses with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. The Sabres put in less effort and work than their opponents, all of whom were already out of the playoff race.

Three straight losses to the 19th, 20th, and 28th ranked teams in the NHL.

We’re past the point of panic and denial and right back to acceptance. This team is as rancid right now as they were at this point last year, and much of the team looks like they’re just going through the motions.

So where do we go at this point?

This is worse than the tank days when the Sabres were playing for the chance at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel because you knew that was the payoff and the goal was to be building a strong young team.

Eichel may not be a generational player the way McDavid is and that is okay. Eichel might end up having only one or two seasons the way McDavid does yearly, but he certainly is the franchise cornerstone to build around at center.

The Sabres were gifted with Rasmus Dahlin, who could be a generational defenseman, and he has played well throughout the season’s first 50+ games. On paper, those are two building blocks that every team in the NHL would be fighting to have because it should make building the rest of your team that much easier. Yet why does it feel like the Sabres, despite having those two players have no true path or trajectory at this point?

Perhaps it is as easy as replacing the coach, but wasn’t that suppose to be the solution when the Sabres let go of Dan Bylsma? The same criticisms of the team then being soft, fragile mentally, and having constant breakdowns in their own end now have transferred to Phil Housley.

Young players like Casey Mittelstadt, Lawrence Pilut, and Jake McCabe have all been trending in the wrong direction this season. Outside of Tage Thompson and Dahlin, not many Sabres players have improved as the season has gone on.

So if it is not the coach, maybe the Sabres need more depth for scoring, which makes sense. Perhaps Botterill can add more scoring… except they traded Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane, both of whom have been superb for their new teams.

To bring in any scoring help Buffalo will likely have to move picks and prospects, something that Botterill seems hesitant to do.

With the recent implosion, the biggest focus shouldn’t be on how to add more scoring, but rather keep their highest goal scorer. Jeff Skinner has a realistic shot at a 50-goal season and he should be the team’s No. 1 priority. 

Adding scoring depth is not an easy fix by any means and requires strong player evaluation for both incoming and outgoing players.

Whatever solution is seen as the fix at this point will be met with skepticism outside of maybe getting a coach like Joel Quenneville.

Other than Eichel and Dahlin, every player on the roster should be up for evaluation and trade. Sam Reinhart might be the only other player worth keeping as he has evolved into a strong playmaker, but he also has been a part of the last four seasons worth of disaster and his trade value has never been higher.

By the same token, the Sabres traded O’Reilly for the same reason last year and that has not turned out very well. There is a culture of losing that just seems to be floating around the locker room and whoever is brought in needs to hate losing to the point it drives everyone mad.

Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Ted Nolan are revered by the Sabres fanbase because they only accepted winning, nothing else. I do believe Eichel has that spirit, but he needs help from a new coach and players for that. Remember it was Drury who told Darcy Regier to trade Miroslav Satan because of his attitude despite being one of the Sabres best scorers in the early 2000s.

Botterill won’t admit it now, but it probably will be another summer with a new coach, new players, and a new culture that hopefully finally breeds some new results next season.

I feel awful for Sabres fans who are looking for a sign of true progress. Everyone misses the days of worrying about playoff lineups, hating your rivals city, and complaining about some arbitrary thing in the playoff series that may alter the outcome.

This last decade has been a constant of false starts and false hope only to see the floor drop many times. Success is not often instantaneous in sports, but it would be nice to have some payoff and direction finally.

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NHL Standings

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Atlantic Division Leaders:
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7445-20-999
7444-25-593
Metropolitan Division Leaders:
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7540-24-1191
Wild Card leaders:
7340-26-787
7439-28-785
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7440-30-484
7436-30-880
7433-29-1278
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7328-32-1369
7527-39-963
7426-38-1062
7425-43-656
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Central Division Leaders:
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7542-27-690
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Pacific Division Leaders:
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Wild Card leaders:
7438-30-682
7433-29-1278
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7436-32-678
7434-31-977
7332-31-1074
7432-32-1074
7433-34-773
7530-36-969
7326-39-860