The Next Chapter.
The Sabres’ marketing department has been pushing these three words on blue and gold fans since the beginning of the season. It’s both an implicit acknowledgement of the past several seasons of ineptitude as well as a simple, implied message of hope looking forward. Let’s turn the page and start a new twist on the franchise.
While many fans, myself included, were looking forward to The Next Book for this team, it’s safe to say they have turned the page this season. We’ve successfully bridged the gap from terrible to mediocre.
This team has come a long way. And though it still has a long way to go, there’s a lot to build on and the future is definitely looking brighter.
In their last 38 games, the Sabres are 18-13-7, which projects out to 93 points over a full season. To put that in perspective, 93 points has been good enough to qualify for the playoff most years. They’ve climbed out of the abyss.
This year, the Sabres have played with an urgency that has been sorely missing from years past. This team doesn’t give up. Last season if they fell behind a couple of goals, it was over. This year, they’ve battled back time and time again. With talented players like Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane, they’re never really out of a game.
This team is 17-17-5 on the road this year with two road games left. They had 17 road wins in the last two years. Combined. Over the last two years, their road record was 17-59-6.
The days of letting hits go unanswered are over. This team sticks up for one another with a pack mentality. Be it the scrum after the horn in Arizona game when Zach Bogosian took exception to some shenanigans from the Coyotes and nearly clobbered three desert dogs or the now infamous death-stare of Robin Lehner that burnt holes in Columbus Bluejackets, they’ve got one another’s backs. That’s priceless stuff to build upon as this team wins together and loses together.
They’ve beat quality teams along the way. And that includes handing the hottest goalie in the league, Braden Holtby, a regulation loss in Washington. Holtby is 47-9-5 this year. He’s only lost three games at home.
Ristolainen is coming of age quickly. At just 21 years old, the Finn is already averaging a team-high 25:16 of ice time. Of his 40 points, 20 have come on the power play. He’s a top 2 D-man and power play point man this team has been craving.
The pipeline includes Hudson Fasching, Brendan Guhle, Casey Nelson, and Justin Bailey. Plus, GM Tim Murray holds a whopping twelve picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
“We’ve come a long way. I maybe underestimated the distance we had to travel to get to that mentality where we thought we could win games. We know where we’re at in the standings and the disappointment of not being in the playoff picture. But we’ve also shown we can beat good teams, win on the road, and win games this time of the year against playoff teams.” –Head Coach Dan Byslma
This will be the fifth consecutive season without Stanley Cup playoff hockey in the Nickel City. The suffering chapters have been finished. Next year, here’s to hoping the Sabres marketing department has a new slogan: “Playoffs, here we come.”