You don't need me to tell you what a generally horrible season 2013-14 was for the Buffalo Sabres. From the historically bad offense, to the 21-wins-in-82-games, to the fact that most of the team's good players were shipped out of town halfway through the year, this season was one for the books.
But it wasn't all bad, right? There had to have been some good things to come out of this quagmire, some silver linings to this storm cloud? Today, we're here to take a look at some of the positives from one of the most negative seasons ever.
The emergence of Girgensons and the young defensmen
When you're looking at strengths of the Sabres organization, it starts with the team's loaded pipeline, especially among defensemen. Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Mark Pysyk, and Jake McCabe all played in Buffalo for a bit, and while they all performed decently-to-good in the NHL, they all excelled in the minor leagues, which is where they still truly belong. The future is very bright along the blue line, even though we may not see most of these players in Buffalo for another year or two.
However, the real diamond in the rough this season was Zemgus Girgensons. The 20-year old forward was a revelation of hard work married to offensive skill. He played both center and wing, and while he functions better at the pivot, provided the Sabres with some much-needed versatility. His work ethic, penalty killing, and heart are unrivaled among current Sabres players, and his future on this team is as bright as any.
If you need something to restore your faith this summer, just remember how hard this kid works and then watch this GIF for about two weeks straight.
Game production and the promotion of Corsi
While it still has a loooooooong ways to go, the team's in-arena game production was improved from last season, partly due to a bigger lights/technology budget that resulted in the now-standard full-ice projector and a sometimes-appropriate dance club feel with swirling lights, but also due to excellent video production, from the team's still-excellent Beyond Blue and Gold series to their improving pre-game intros. For a team that often needs help creating excitement inside their home arena, any improvement in this area is desperately welcome. Now just fix the music side of things and we'll be on the right track.
The promotion of Corsi numbers on every broadcast this season was also a welcome sight, and an encouraging one for a sport that has been notoriously fickle about embracing advanced stats.
The House is finally in order
Although we came in to this season expecting a rebuild, there were still many questions to be answered. What would the fates of Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier be throughout this process? Just how bad would the team really be? What will happen with the last vestiges of the old guard in the locker room?
A few months later, we have Ted Nolan and Tim Murray entrenched in their respective positions, and generally well-regarded trades have seen the last of the old core shipped out, and a bevy of new picks and prospects brought in. Nolan has earned himself another shot in the NHL, and Murray has earned good reviews during his first few months on the job thanks to his hockey smarts and no-nonsense attitude. Now the organization and fans have a much more concrete idea of the structure behind this rebuilding process.
While there were certainly other good things that happened this season, these three stood out to me as most important. Let us know what we missed, or what you think are the important positive changes you've seen from the Sabres organization this year in the comments.