Disastarous weekend leaves Sabres reeling
By Andrew Kulyk and Peter Farrell
That being said, it was an exasperating exercise watching the Sabres put together a bit of a run, including a thrilling Saturday matinee win at home against St. Louis before a full throated, playoff atmosphere raucous crowd, only to turn in a tired and lackluster performance against Chicago one night later.
Fans leaving the arena following the St. Louis game and checking the standings saw their team one, just ONE, point behind 8th place and an entry ticket into the promised land.
But from there the pain just intensified. The team went on their first annual “bye week”, and everyone could only watch helplessly as teams in the tightly competitive bottom of the eastern conference standings piled up the points, leapfrogging over the vacationing Sabres. And the dire predictions, of how teams coming out of their “bye” don’t usually perform well upon their return, became prophetic, as the Sabres lost twice to the two league’s worst teams this past weekend, effectively ending their playoff chances. If nothing else, the lost weekend cemented the seller mindset which General Manager Tim Murray must have embraced as the league went into this week’s trade deadline.
Irrespective of the team’s occasional runs and head fakes, Murray most likely pulled the trigger weeks ago on the overall plan to not bolster the team’s flagging hopes with rental players or bold moves.
Earlier this month, Murray gave a lengthy interview on WGR sports radio. His comments were illustrative as to where the team stands right now. “We’re still somewhere in that rebuild. We’re certainly not at the bottom of it, but we’re not close to the top.” He went on to say, “We’re trying to be better and have been in certain areas. But when you get to the bottom, you can’t snap your fingers and lean how to win. This is a process and we’re sticking with it.”
What is less clear is to what extent Murray is feeling the heat from team ownership and executive management following the team’s deliberate attempt at failure to secure the rights to draft Connor McDavid. That didn’t happen. Two marquee trades have turned out to be disasters… the multi player trade to Winnipeg has brought us Evander Kane, who may have at last shaken off his off ice troubles. It also gave us Zack Bogosian for Tyler Myers. Anyone want to take that one back?
Talented defenseman and former first round draft pick Mark Pysyk was swapped to Florida for Dimitri Kulikov. Pysyk is thriving as a Panther, with 2 goals and 11 points and a plus 2 rating in all 60 games he has played this year. As for Kulikov? Anyone want to take that one back?
With all the chaos happening at One Bills Drive these past two months, Murray may be able to quietly slide through this season, and then deliver on the team’s most urgent needs – upgrades at defense and need for more scoring at the top of that list. Besides, the crowds at KeyBank Center are as full and robust as they have ever been. Tickets are selling, the fan base is on board, the team has, ahem, improved from the dark reaches of two seasons ago.
For those still hanging on to faint hopes that the Sabres can still make this season happen, consider this… 96 to 98 points has been the threshold for teams to snag that last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. As of this past weekend, the Sabres had 62 points with 21 games left on the schedule. So that would mean that the team would have to get 35 points, or 17 wins in their remaining games to get to postseason play. On the March calendar is a home and home series against the powerful Columbus Blue Jackets, another west coast swing mid month when the NCAA basketball tournament comes to town, and two home games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team the Sabres have owned forever. Until this year.
Circle late April for the annual draft lottery. Right now the Sabres have a 6% chance of winning the lottery based on their current position in the standings. The new expansion team Las Vegas is also part of the mix.
A hearty congratulations from Taro to DEREK BOYKO, the new head of communications and public relations for the Buffalo Bills. Boyko is a Kenmore native and comes to the Bills from the Philadelphia Eagles, where he worked in a similar capacity. Boyko replaces the long tenured Scott Berchtold, whose abrasive and condescending personality did not sit well with many media members. Recently, Berchtold’s office provided the Bills organization two black eyes from which the team has yet to receiver from. In 2016 the team unveiled a new media policy which was so ridiculous that it was mocked around the league. Then in January a postseason press conference featuring GM Doug Whaley was a disaster. Best wishes and welcome to Boyko on his new assignment.