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What Will It Take?

The Sabres are on the outside looking in. They sit 10th in the East; 8 points out of 8th place. They have lost Derek Roy for the season.

Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller are having disappointing seasons and the veteran leadership has been deemed unfit to play. How can the Sabres possibly make the playoffs? There is a way, but it isn’t pretty.

A start with the look at the numbers in the Eastern Conference will paint a desperate picture. The Sabres are just past the halfway point with a total of 43 points in 44 games. That leaves them trending to a total of 85 points. The average point total of an 8th place playoff team the last several years is 97 points. Leaving the Sabres well off the mark.

Buffalo currently sits just under .500 with 19 wins and 20 losses. The team sitting in 9th is currently Carolina. They sport a .567 winning percentage in the same number of games. This is a considerable lead given the progress of the season so far.

In the past several seasons an average winning percentage of .555 or higher was required to make the playoffs. (for the purposes of these statistics OTL have been disregarded)

A quick glance at some teams they are chasing would reveal Carolina (3 GB), Montreal (4 GB), Atlanta (4 GB), NY Rangers (6 GB), Washington (6 GB) and Boston (6 GB). Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are even now probably too far out of reach. Buffalo does have three games in hand on Atlanta, Washington and NY and 1 on Montreal, but I find little comfort in that.

The Sabres have a combined total of 14 games head-to-head with the aforementioned teams. They also play the NY Islanders, Toronto and Ottawa a lot over the remainder of their schedule. Buffalo will need to average a .692 winning percentage over the final 38 games of the season to even think about taking a part in the playoffs come April.

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The Sabres have struggled to rise in the standings because they have struggled to string wins together. Never winning more than 2 games in a row is a difficult way to make the playoffs. Key injuries have been a part of it, but every team suffers injuries and the good ones overcome.

Buffalo needs more production out of certain players if they expect to be playing hockey in April. The obvious answer would be the mythical “top-6” who will ride down the mountain on their white horses and finally start to produce points. That won’t happen.

Buffalo needs some of it’s younger players to start putting the pieces together. Nathan Gerbe and Luke Adam have had their moments but they will need to play much bigger roles and start to break out if the Sabres expect to climb. Tyler Ennis too will need to elevate his play. Hopefully the All-Star break will give him a boost because he needs to go from pretty good rookie season to great rookie season. He needs to start becoming the dominant player he can be sooner rather than later.

The usual suspects need to the start scoring in a more complementary function. Thomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly need to step up their games but if the youngsters can take the pressure off of them they may be able to finally pick up some of the slack.

Drew Stafford, Cody McCormick and the Buffalo “D” will need to keep overachieving the the scoring area to keep the team afloat. The defense in general will need to keep up their recent consistency to keep the team in games. The current pairings have really started to work. Morrisonn and Weber have started to do well. Leopold and Montador have been solid and Myers and Sekera need to work out of their funks.

Ryan Miller needs to start doing his best Dominik Hasek impression. He needs to be the world beater he was last season. He needs to make people mention him in Venzina discussions again. If he can’t there is no way that this enimic offense can bail him out 28 times.

The old dogs need to learn some new tricks or they need to be put down. Craig Rivet needs to stay in the press box. Rob Niedermayer needs to get to know that area as well. Mike Grier needs some very reduced ice time. They haven’t been producing and they haven’t looked at all good. Give the youth a chance to show their stuff. If they can hack it the Sabres make the playoffs. If they can’t they know who the future won’t be. Either way playing the veterans that aren’t producing can’t help them now.

Some younger players need to come to Buffalo and play well. Colin Stuart, Mark Mancari or Paul Byron could be a catalyst for improvement. Stuart could fill some lower line minutes and add scoring in the line of a Gaustad or a McCormick. Mancari’s shot could help him score some goals and Byron’s creativity could benefit any of the Sabres lines that don’t include a player named Ennis.

They need to get lucky and avoid any other injuries. Getting Pat Kaleta back will be a boost, but losing anyone else who isn’t over the age of 34 or named Connolly could really hurt their chances. Keeping a consistent lineup with consistent lines will only help breed the consistency they will be needing.

Finally they will need to evaluate the team and decide what needs to be done to improve at the trade deadline. Losing Connolly is a given and should improve the team, but what else should be done. If they decide to be buyers they could look for a scorer in Rene Bourque. They may also get a solid play like Adam Pardy back in a dead like that. Calgary may be the ideal trading partner for Buffalo if they are buying.

They may also want to grab a top line center. There aren’t too many available and I will not give serious consideration to Brad Richards. It will be up to Darcy Regier to figure out exactly what needs to be done and take care of buisness if the Sabres are in the hunt come the Trade Deadline.

There you have it, that is a lot of criteria to be met. Even if the Sabres can do all of those things that doesn’t guarantee the numbers they’ll need to make the playoffs. And even if they get the numbers that doesn’t guarantee that those will be good enough to make it this year.

Are the Sabres out of it, no. Way crazier things have happened and frequently do in the NHL. Knowing Buffalo sports though, they will probably hang around and hang around and then miss in the  last couple weeks of the season. Fans have to be hoping of a playoff berth or a complete tank to make this season worth anything.

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