Before the 2021-22 NHL regular season began, the bar for the Buffalo Sabers was set as low as possible.
Plagued by poor trades and gains by free agents, the Sabers were expected to spend most of the year, if not all, at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Division. But that’s not how the season started for Buffalo; the Sabers won their first three games of the year, and five of their first seven, to register a 5-1-1 record.
Would this be a surprise, a Cinderella-esque season for Buffalo? It might have been tempting to believe that, but the Sabers’ more recent run of games – they’ve gone 2-8-1 in their last 10 games – has made their reality grim and not very optimistic in the short term. And it’s not just that they lose, it’s how Buffalo loses that things look so bleak right now.
In their current slump, the Sabers have conceded at least five goals in one game on eight of those eleven occasions. Buffalo’s attack hasn’t been much better. In their 11 most recent defeats, the Sabers have scored just 25 goals – for while conceding 44 – against. In their most recent four defeats, Buffalo were defeated 22-12. Sabers head coach Don Granato has failed to repeat the Sabers’ strong start, and it’s hard to blame him. It doesn’t matter if it’s been Craig Anderson, Aaron Dell or Dustin Tokarski in the net – although Anderson’s numbers are remarkably the best of the three – the Sabers find ways to lose.
That will likely remain the case for the next month, when Buffalo will face the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Seattle Kraken, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. And then the Sabers will take on the Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins. That equates to two dozen games that have a good chance of losing to Buffalo.
And if it does keep falling apart for the Sabers, they could almost be officially out of the post season this early on Christmas. This is now a familiar scenario for Buffalo, playing the string while everyone on board knows that even a miraculous turnaround can’t help them beat the string of teams ahead of them in the Atlantic standings and secure a playoff berth. With former captain Jack Eichel now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, the Sabers no longer have a generation player to build around – they’re also without the one perennial all-star candidate Eichel has been.
That’s not to say that one of the young forwards Sabers has brought GM Kevyn Adams on board, whether through the NHL boarding pass or the trade market, can’t seize the opportunity and solidify himself as a legitimate top-six talent at the highest level. of hockey. It just isn’t fair to expect all of Buffalo’s young, skilled players to evolve into top form in the same season. Improvement is not always linear. Sometimes steps have to be taken back before they can move forward again. That is what will most likely be the trajectory of the Sabers in the coming weeks and months.
In a way it was brutal the way Buffalo started the season. It probably gave Sabers fans a false hope that the rebuilding process would yield immediate positive results. Had they started the year 2-8-1, Buffalo would not have disappointed their fans, and a modest run of five wins in seven games would have offset the bitter feelings of Sabers fans.
However, you cannot change what has already happened. The Sabers could be the Atlantic’s worst franchise in a short time, positioning themselves for best odds with another top-3 roster in the 2022 NHL entry. They’re not as terrible as the Arizona Coyotes, so Buffalo will may not win the lottery. But the Sabers design and development program has never been more closely scrutinized. If Adams and his management team are missing even more young talents, Sabers fans can finally and openly riot.
We knew there was going to be pain for Buffalo this season. It has not come as quickly as in previous seasons, but in a team so young, so inexperienced, so terrible, it had to happen. Now the trick for the Sabers is not to let all this loss affect them and to usher in a new, joyful era in Buffalo.
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