To say it’s been a tough season for the Sabres is a huge understatement. Injuries, bad luck, the 12 road game losing streak, Ville Leino. It feels like a nightmare us fans cannot awake from. This was was supposed to be the biggest season in years.
Money was thrown around and big names came to Buffalo. There was a shiny new locker room, TV’s AND cup holders in the bathroom, upgrades to the rink. Unfortunately all the promise and grandeur turned into disaster. It’s really a lot like the Titanic, the unsinkable ship has been sunk.
However, I’m gonna try to shine some light in this dark room of a season. Whether or not we want to admit it, there are some positives we as fans can draw from the season.
I think the first thing is the success of Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. It’s been talked about all season, with the Captain getting an All-Star nod. Pominville is in the top 20 in the league in scoring and is just a few points behind guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza. Maybe you’ve heard of them? Vanek has also shown his worth this season. For whatever reason, I’ve overheard fans at games call them lazy or useless, when they have become the team’s leaders (regardless of letters). They’ve at least proven they want to play and want to play well here in Buffalo
I think another thing this season has shown us is that Tyler Myers is pretty damn important to this team. He came out of the gate pretty slow, but after a brief stint in the press box as a healthy scratch, he entered beast mode. He hit, he defended, he created offense. He returned to form. An injury sidelined him for a little over a month, and his absence showed how much he really means to his team. When he came back, depsite losses piling up, he showed his worth by making a lot of great plays in his own zone. I know they may be little things, but I think he’s proved just how important he is and how good he is.
Speaking of defensemen, it seems this Robyn Regehr fellow is a good, solid defenseman. I know, I know, plus/minus rating blah blah blah. If anyone uses that as an argument, they have not watched the games. Besides the odd mistake here or there, Regher has been awesome. He delivers big hits, plays a solid stay-at-home style, and is a still a good veteran guy to have around the locker room. He’s everything Craig Rivet was supposed to be. Once again, the plays he makes may be small, but they really add up. This guy is a keeper.
Jordan Leopold is another positive light in this hellish season. He seems to be on his way to another 10-goal season. When you have a defenseman that can consistently score 10 goals, that’s invaluable. He’s shown he’s not too shabby in his own end either and has fantastic offensive instincts. Unless we can use him to get a good return, he’s a keeper as well.
This season has also shown that maybe a total rebuild isn’t necessary. The core in Rochester seems ready to step in at any time. Despite some signs of immaturity recently, Zack Kassian is ALMOST ready for the NHL. He’s only 22 and had 6 points in 13 NHL games plus he’s shown a willingness to fight. Maybe he won’t be the next Hall of Fame power forward, but the kid can play and will be a very good NHL player some time soon. He’s a got a few things to learn, but he’ll figure it all out. T.J. Brennan, Brayden McNabb, and Corey Tropp have all shown that they can one day be effective members of this team.
Maybe blowing it all up is not the answer. There are still a few players here who want to win and are trying their hardest to make it happen. There are a share of guys who need to go. However, it would be a bad idea to write this team off for the next few years, trade everyone, and start over. There are plenty of reasons to actually be optimistic for next year. I know I’m just as tired of hearing “next year” as the next guy, but with Terry Pegula as the owner, I’m optimistic. He hasn’t even owned the team a full year, and I believe he needs a chance. He tried one way, and it didn’t succeed. He’s a businessman and he’s smart enough to know that he’s going to have to change something to find success. He’s said himself several times, he’s here to win. I believe 100% that’s what he will do.
And you know what else? I think we will see Ryan Miller return to form. He’s struggled, sure, but before getting steamrolled by Lucic, he was the Miller we all know and love for the most part. He looked a lot like the old Miller in a recent wins over New Jersey, Montreal, the Islanders and had a hell of a game against the Rangers. As our own Michael Tracz wrote, two concussions in one calandar year probably affected his game a great deal.
So fans, before we go burn down the FN’C, before we send that nasty tweet to the Pegula daughters or Ryan Miller’s wife, and before we push Terry out of town after 11 months, let’s take pause. Let’s look around and realize there are some positives, that there is still time (unless the world does end), and that this team will win a Cup. It probably won’t be this year, but it’s going to happen. There are players here that can be a part of a winning team. Now, it’s just a matter of finding a few more pieces. I think we are that close. Really. We’ve seen what this team can do when fully healthy (12-5-0 to start the season). But imagine what Pominville and Vanek could do with a #1 center, or how much better our goalies could be with Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr together and completely healthy playing in front of them. Part of the problem is the core, but it’s not all of them. The core doesn’t need to be replaced, just updated, because there are good apples in there, we just have to get rid of the rotten ones.