Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Look Back At The Sabres' Next Chapter

The Buffalo Sabres ended the season in much the same way they played the second half of the 2015-16 campaign, by beating another playoff-bound team. The Islanders might have been guilty of looking past the Sabres to the playoffs, but the Sabres made absolutely no mistakes when it came to ending the season on a high note.

As usual, there was the contingency of misinformed Buffalo sports fans who did nothing but complain all season long about a team that had just been put together in October 2015, and that went on to show huge leaps in progress towards becoming a Stanley Cup contender. It is easy to laugh at the idea of the Sabres being a contender when the team is only one season removed from a bottom place finish and missed the playoffs again this year, but as the ignorant laugh, the people who know what is going on look forward to the future.

This was another tryout year for many young Sabres players, but the difference between this year and last year is that the team has put together a solid core this year that can bring the young guys up. Even 18-year-old Jack Eichel has shown a maturity well beyond his years and acts as a leader by example on the ice. For leaders off the ice, the team is stacked. Ryan O'Reilly, Brian Gionta, and David Legwand all pitched in to help guys like Hudson Fasching and Linus Ullmark to find their ways.

As for future leadership for a team that every Buffalo fan would like to see become competitive next season, we have Ryan O'Reilly, Matt Moulson, and even Robin Lehner. The team will build with what it has, and Tim Murray will keep bringing in pieces to fit into what should be a Stanley Cup contending puzzle.

What did we learn about the Sabres this season? We learned that Tim Murray has an unbelievable eye for talent as Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel, and Hudson Fasching all look like stars of the future. We learned that our goaltending situation may be a bit unstable for another year or two as the guys that were brought in to be the backstops of the future continue to develop. In the meantime, the duo of Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson give the team a chance to win every night. If Lehner cannot stay healthy, then Johnson and Ullmark can hold down the fort until the future of the team in net can be decided.

On defense, Rasmus Ristolainen showed all season long that he is our future on the blue line. Guys like Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian didn't get their names mentioned a lot by RJ, but that just means that they were doing their jobs. With youngsters like Casey Nelson and Mark Pysyk ready to play in the NHL, it looks like our defense is prepared to develop into a solid group.

The Sabres finished this season with a 35-36-11 record, compared to 23-51-8 last season. That is a significant improvement. Last season, the goal differential for the Sabres was -113. This season, the team finished with a goal differential of -21. Another sign of improvement. The Sabres had a 19-17-5 record on the road, and Chad Johnson had a record of 22-16-4. A winning record on the road and a goalie that finished with a winning record for the season. If you guys cannot see it coming, then I feel bad for you when it runs you over.

George N Root III is a Lockport resident and rabid Buffalo Sabres fan. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3 or send him a message at