As the Sabres collapsed at home against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but wonder if this team will ever get better.
Sure, the Sabres are only a few points out of 7th in the Eastern Conference but virtually every Sabres fan knows their 2-6-2 stretch over the last 10 games feels more real than being close to the playoffs. The team has yet again collapsed after a hot start, and management has been non-existent, to say the least. Another fine season by Jack Eichel seems to be going to waste as he again has very little help.
The summer promised roster surgery by GM Jason Botterill, yet exactly one trade was made (Nylander to Chicago for Jokiharju) and two new players were added (Johansson & Vesey). Colin Miller was a salary dump by Vegas, otherwise, this is the same lineup as last year. Fans at this point seeing a similar lineup and result are exasperated to the point of being numb. Comments by former Sabre Nathan Beaulieu only confirm the poor culture and rudderless nature of the team.
As for his time with Sabres …
“Mentally, it was so degrading. … You heard Ryan O’Reilly say it and I know (the Sabres) didn’t like what he said, but he couldn’t have put it better.” – Beaulieu
The two major issues the Sabres have are a lack of depth and the poor culture, which is visible to any observer. The depth side is somewhat fixable, but Botterill seems terrified to make a move ever since getting fleeced for Ryan O’Reilly despite having a boatload of defenseman available.
Trading for a player like Winnipeg’s Nik Ehlers would at least give some needed reinforcement to the top 9. But truthfully, Buffalo needs to trade for 3-4 Nik Ehlers, not just one. The lack of development in the Sabres prospect pool is a dagger to any hopes of moving forward quickly.
Other than Victor Olofsson, who has scored just once in the last 14 games, which young Sabres forward not named Eichel or Reinhart has developed into a true top 9 player? Casey Mittelstadt has gone from a promising youngster to another failed top pick. If you look at the top teams in the NHL they have good young players all over and farm systems that you can depend on to produce new reinforcements. Any excitement left from what was supposed to be a new era with Eichel’s arrival has been reduced to nothing.
Owner Terry Pegula needs to take a hard look at what his Sabres are. Their reputation across the league is awful, players confirm as much the moment they leave. The product on and off the ice drains anyone who watches it. For a team that has spent tons of money both player-wise and facility-wise, this is past rock bottom.
There is only one true way to fix things and that is to bring in a true hockey czar that has full command of everything. Terry Pegula cannot be involved. It needs to stop. They can decide if Botterill makes it long term or not and a host of necessary decisions. But the Sabres need someone to be the face of the organization to provide true direction, expectations, and an identity for the team.
Perhaps Buffalo can make amends with former Sabre Chris Drury, who the Rangers have groomed for a while in management for a role like this. Part of the Maple Leafs’ success in flipping their fortunes came from hiring respected hockey minds like Brendan Shanahan & Lou Lamoriello. The Sabres desperately need someone higher like that to come in and establish order.
Buffalo fans have had their expectations and excitement grounded to a nub. You have to revive that and the belief internally of being successful with real expectations. You have to see if this GM is broken from the past or still has a hand on the pulse of the team. The Sabres need to do something because this fanbase is dying from a decade of nothing.