Friday, August 17, 2018

A look back at the 2017-18 Buffalo Sabres season--February

Published by, 8-15-2018

For the short time he was in Buffalo, left winger Evander Kane created a lot of controversy, and he was the center of the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline for the Sabres. Kane came over to Buffalo in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on February11, 2015 and even the circumstances surrounding the timing of his trade to the Sabres was circumspect.

Kane was embroiled in controversy in Winnipeg before the trade. Incidents showing a deep locker room division put him on the block and it was an opportunity for then GM Tim Murray to get a player that fit what he wanted to do in Buffalo's rebuild. Bonus points came when Kane elected to have surgery and would be out for the remainder of the 2014-15 season and it would further Buffalo's drive to the bottom of the league to land one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel at the 2015 NHL Draft.

The Sabres did finish in last place that season and because of the lottery ended up selecting Eichel with the second-overall pick.

As for Kane his subsequent return to the ice in 2015-16 was greeted with optimism, but his off-ice antics made life extremely different for Buffalo's front office. An accusation of sexual misconduct in December, 2015 and oversleeping after hanging with NBA All-Stars in Toronto got him in hot water but it was nothing compared to the black eye he gave the organization as the city of Buffalo was hosting the 2016 draft. He faced charges after a late-night incident in a bar and although the charges were dismissed, he had to keep his nose clean for six months.

With that adjudication, Kane was forced to behave himself outside the rink, or at least remain free and clear of potential situations, and he began putting up impressive numbers more indicative of the talent he had. However, the damage had been done to the organization and he would be on his way out at the 2018 trade deadline.

Kane was in the final year of his contract in 2018 and despite playing his best hockey in Buffalo for more than a calendar year it was the worst kept secret that he was on the block. Even he knew it was only a matter of time as shown in his stats. Kane had a first-half stat-line of 15 goals and 34 points through 38 games through the 2017 portion of the schedule but when the calendar year turned to 2018, his numbers plummeted to only five goals and one assist before being traded to the San Jose Sharks on February 26 trade deadline.

He would finish the season with nine goals and 14 points in 17 games for the Sharks.

The return GM Jason Botterill got for Kane in the trade was suspect amongst the Buffalo faithful but it was all the market would bear for talented player with a troubled past. In hindsight, Botterill did well as the conditions were met for the Sharks to give up their 2019 first-round pick (lottery protected) with Buffalo also receiving a conditional 2020 fourth rounder and forward prospect Danny O'Regan. The Sharks were the only team to come in with a serious offer for Kane at the deadline.

No other Buffalo Sabres player was moved that day, which isn't surprising considering none of their lower-half players on expiring contracts were that desirable. Which wasn't that surprising. Buffalo was in last place with 51 points on a 20-33-11 record. As of March 1 they were last in the league in goals-for (2.39,) 26th in goals-against (3.22,) and were dead lasts in five-on-five goals scored. The other teams were not interested in what Buffalo had to offer at the trade deadline.

Surprisingly, however, the Sabres had their best month of the season in February and played some of their best hockey against some of the best teams in their division. Buffalo went 6-6-2 for the month with two wins against the conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and two wins against the Boston Bruins who were second in the conference as of March 1. The Sabres not only outscored them by a 15-7 margin in taking all four meetings, but the looked great in the process.

Yet the Sabres still had their dog games, most notably at home against the LA Kings in a matinee. "What we saw on display Saturday afternoon is unacceptable," I wrote the following day. "It was a piss-poor performance on any normal game day much less during a promotion called Kid's Day, where the future fans of the Blue and Gold come together to watch their hometown heroes. What those in attendance on Saturday witnessed was the Sabres going through the motions for 40 minutes against the Los Angeles Kings, what they heard was a reported "loud thud" coming from where GM Jason Botterill sits during games and they responded with a chorus of boos as the Sabres left the ice down 4-0 after the second period."

It was something they'd been doing all season. "It was the fourth such Kid's Day promotion and the third clunker this group delivered. Buffalo is 0-4-0 during those games and have been outscored by a combined 20-7. In four losses during Kid's Day (out of 42 total losses when you add in OT/SO,) that minus-13 makes up nearly 25% of their league-worst minus-54 goal differential."

This is not how you cultivate future fans and rest assured it's something that stuck in Botterill's craw the remainder of the season.

It also should be noted that Eichel went down with a high-ankle sprain on February 10, the second time he's missed a chunk of a season with an ankle injury. He would return to the ice March 17. Buffalo's record with him in the lineup was 6-7-2.

For Buffalo's February team stats click here, and for their individual stats leaders for the month click here.

For my February archive click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment