Looking toward the Sabres’ uncertain future

nolan 2015

Entering Tuesday night’s tilt against the Montreal Canadiens, the Buffalo Sabres were mired in the worst slump in franchise history. Having not won since a 4-3 shootout decision against the New York Islanders, and enduring 18 losses in their past 19 games, the team is a clear-cut favorite to land one of the top two draft picks in the upcoming draft.

So where should the Sabres go from here? Smart advice would be – stay right where they are, but make a couple of minor changes.

Step One – General Manager Tim Murray needs to lower his asking prices for the players on his roster. Multiple outlets, including The Hockey News, Sportsnet, Yahoo! and ESPN, have reported that Murray has set the bar so high on players like Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart (Myers was rumored to be dangled to Detroit for players like Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar) that interest has cooled and teams have stopped heavily inquiring about said players.

“(Trade talks) have been quiet, to be frank,” Murray recently said to WGR 550. “It’s been very, very quiet. We’re fairly close to the deadline and I didn’t expect it. I don’t expect every team to be active, but there usually are a small amount of teams that don’t wait for the deadline that like to get it done before.”

If Murray doesn’t set the bar a little bit lower, he risks losing valuable unrestricted free agents for nothing, overvaluing the talent on a roster and stubbornly hold on to the notion that those players are better than they actually are. This potentially could scare most teams away from doing business with Buffalo.

However, this may be a case of Murray being (essentially) a rookie General Manager. As time goes by, he should learn that not all hockey players will be able to garner returns like the one he got from St. Louis in exchange for Ryan Miller.

Step two – Ted Nolan should be relieved of his duties as head coach, following the season.

Yes, the Sabres lack talent, and a coach is only as good as the roster he’s given to work with. Let’s face it: if the team is relying on Zemgus Girgensons as their top center, then it appears the Sabres are a number of years away from returning to playoff contention.

But it’s widely known that Nolan isn’t the type of coach who dabbles in X’s and O’s. Nolan, more or less, leaves those duties to assistant coaches Bryan Trottier, Danny Flynn, Tom Coolen and Arturs Irbe. Nolan’s specialty is motivation. His ability to get more out of his players was a key factor in the 1996-97 Sabres team capturing a division title and becoming known as the “hardest working team in hockey.” Same goes for the job Nolan did leading the New York Islanders to a playoff berth in 2006-07 (where they, ironically, lost to Buffalo in the first round.)

It’s clear to most observers that whatever message Nolan is trying to get through to his players, it isn’t working. When a team doesn’t have enough talent, they should at least be trying to out-work the opposition every night. Too many times, one can notice games where not only the Sabres are being outplayed, but outworked badly. If a guy like Nolan can’t get his squad to put in the effort, than perhaps it’s time for a different voice at the top.

Step three – Murray should take on players whose contracts won’t fit under other team’s salary caps, whether it be via trade or during free agency this summer. A guy like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel can’t be the end-all, be-all for the Sabres’ future. A top pick will need a good supporting cast around him, and while Buffalo will have many talented prospects coming through the pipeline, they’ll need some veterans around to show the young guys how to compete and win. Murray already started that process last summer by bringing in Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges, and should continue to do so in the future.

The present may look bleak now, but with a high draft pick to be almost guaranteed by the season’s conclusion and with some astute moves by Murray, the light at the of the tunnel could be closer than one might think for the Sabres.

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