At this time a year ago the Sabres were firmly entrenched in a playoff spot and were fighting for the Presidents Trophy. Today we have to talk about the teams failure to make the playoffs. The only way to summarize the season would to term it a failure, no excuse in the world can change that. In just one short season we seen this team drop well below standards and the question is why.
I'm not going to tell you that the Sabres failure was a direct result of the bad decisions made by management, you'll get enough of that in other places. I'm not going to tell you there weren't enough good players on the team to earn a berth in the playoffs because I believe there were. I'm not going to tell you it was because of key injuries at key times, all teams deal with injuries but new people step up on good teams. I'm not going to tell you that it is because of poor goaltending, although I have been very critical at the huge amount of soft goals allowed. I won't even tell you it is because of fatigue from a team that has played in the Eastern Conference finals in two consecutive seasons.
I will tell you that it was a combination of all those things. This team had a distinct identity for two consecutive seasons and this year they needed to build one. I think even the coaching staff struggled with what the identity of the team should be. We seen many players have career years like Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Jochen Hecht and we seen some players struggle to get accustomed to their new role like Thomas Vanek. We also seen some players struggle unexpectedly like Toni Lydman, Max Afinogenov and Ryan Miller. I'll break down the roster later but the important part is that this core of young players had an opportunity to become a team.
It may seem to be a harsh reaction to the season to call it a failure but ultimately the end result was failure. It's how they handle this seasons failure that will set them apart. Some people are destined to be failures because they allow it to define them while others use it as motivation. In the next season or two we will see where this team ranks with other teams that have failed. There are many reasons that teams miss the playoffs and with the Sabres this season it wasn't because of a void in talent it was just trying to establish their identity.
It is not unprecedented to go from Presidents Trophy winners to missing the playoffs. The New York Rangers won the Presidents Trophy in 1991-1992 and missed the playoffs in 1992-1993. Anyone who is a hockey fan knows what happened in 1993-1994, the New York Rangers ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought. I don't know if the Sabres can win the Stanley Cup next season, they've never done it before so I'm not going to predict they will, but I will tell you that it gives me hope. As I've said many times before this is a talented team but they need to put it all together.