Published by hockeybuzz.com, 2-27-2017
To rehash the events of the last couple of weeks, the Sabres started out a three-game winning streak with a sweet 3-2 win at Ottawa with one game left to go before their bye week. At the time they were enjoying a productive month going 6-3-1 to that point and were two points behind the Florida Panthers for third place in the division and only two points out of the second wild-card spot as well.
Unfortunately the teams around them had games in hand that were mostly made up during the Sabres bye week . After getting shellacked 5-2 by the Chicago Blackhawks before their hockey hiatus Buffalo sat on the sidelines and watched as deficit swelled to six points in both races.
On tap for the Sabres was a back-to-back roadie beginning Saturday against the two worst teams in the league--the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes. Teams coming our of their bye weeks had struggled mightily combining for a meager 4-12-4 combined record and when Buffalo fell behind 3-0 in the first period against the last place Avalanche, it looked as if they were going down in flames as well. The Sabres did claw their way back in a game that most had them losing and made it interesting but couldn't overcome a number of factors, including some egregious non-calls very late in the game, and went on to lose.
For a follow up the Sabres travelled to Arizona to take on the 29th place Coyotes who just traded away top-six center Martin Hanzal. A displeased and somewhat disjointed Coyotes club entered the third period down 2-0 against the Sabres but proceeded to score three unanswered goals to come away with the win.
With that loss, and the three-game losing streak the Sabres are on right now, their playoff hopes are about as slim as can be as they're seven points out of the second wild card spot and eight points out of third place in the division. It would take a herculean winning streak for Buffalo to get into the playoffs and we're pretty sure they don't have the horses to get there as they're longest winning streak of the season is three games.
The post-mortem on the season may simply read that this just wasn't going to be their year. From the injury to Jack Eichel the day before opening night which to an injury to Evander Kane on opening night, to Ryan O'Reilly's back-spasms and Dmitry Kulikov's unlucky fall into an open bench door, the Sabres barely clung to their senses early in the season. With Jack back and Kane on a tear, the team rose from the ashes but could never put together a sustainable run to get them to the top of a clump of teams in the middle of the conference.
It was also a season that clearly exposed some glaring weaknesses on the team. We'll never know what could've been with Kulikov healthy to start the season and playing in the World Cup of Hockey didn't help his transition to Buffalo either, but we do know that he's one of four defensemen on Buffalo that have looked below average.
This season also exposed problems between coach and players. Last night's loss was yet another where the Sabres tried to protect a lead only to give it up. This is a fragile Sabres team at times and last night after Rasmus Ristolainen's turnover lead to Arizona's first goal, Buffalo went into a shell and from there it was all down hill.
GM Tim Murray has a couple of problems on his hands right now, most notably the defense-corps. With his team too far out of a playoff spot and very little defensive help to be had at the trade deadline, he's more apt to unload what free agent contracts he has on hand and be a seller at this year's trade deadline. Kulikov and Cody Franson are both rentals that could add defensive depth for playoff teams at a very reasonable rate. There's no need to keep them as they don't look to be part of the future for Buffalo. If Murray could land a third or fourth rounder for either player, he'll have done well.
Another player the Sabres might be interested in moving is backup goalie Anders Nilsson who's having the best season of his career. Nilsson is 9-8-4 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage. Perhaps he could fetch a fourth or fifth rounder.
The player that teams may want most is the one that doesn't want to be traded. Sabres captain Brian Gionta is a 38 yr. old veteran with a Stanley Cup to his resume. With 12 goals and 15 assists, Gionta is on pace to have his best season since signing in Buffalo back in 2014. He has publicly stated his desire to stay with the club and it's assumed that the Sabres would respect his wishes by not trading him.
Those were the pending UFA's but Kane's name keeps cropping up. Kane will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season and has been on a tear lately. There have been rumors linking him to the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild, the latter of which has a strong, deep defense pool from which to tap into.
Buffalo has one more game left before the trade deadline as they kick off a three-game home stand against the Nashville Predators tomorrow night. Between now and then we'll see just how fixated on the future Murray is.