Over the past few years, the story of the Buffalo Sabres has been one of losing. They've lost star players to trades, they lost some long-time employees in Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier, they lost two consecutive draft lotteries despite having the best odds, and they lost their dream coach in Mike Babcock to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Oh, and did we mention the games? They lost a lot of those too.
But something funny happens when you do a lot of losing in sports. Eventually, over time, those losses start to turn into wins. Those wins are usually packed away in some junior hockey league, European pro league, or college team for a few seasons, but eventually those precious wins planted long ago begin to bloom, and grow to overtake the losses.
The Sabres losing out on Mike Babcock, surprising as it was thanks to the back-and-forth nature of the story, seems to me like one of the final losses in a rebuild that's starting to turn. The Sabres won't have Babcock behind the bench next year, but they will find a coach, and that coach will probably be pretty good compared to their last few.
They may not have the most expensive bench boss, but what they will have is a team that will be a heck of a lot better than anything we've seen in Buffalo over the past few years.
It starts with Jack Eichel, the crown jewel of the rebuild, who will be drafted #2 in the draft but who will quickly become #1 in your heart. They say a team's strength is built down the middle, and I can't think of two stronger prospects to go behind Eichel than the hyper-intelligent Sam Reinhart and the hardest working man in hockey, Zemgus Girgensons. Imagining what a trio those three could be a few years down the road just forced me to take a break from writing this article to calm myself down. Strength down the middle, indeed.
Joining them on the wing will be newcomer Evander Kane, whose combination of speed, power, finishing ability, and work ethic far exceed any winger we've had in Buffalo this decade.
Is that not exciting enough for you? How about another year of growth and maturation from future #1 stud defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and his pal Nikita Zadorov, and joining them in Buffalo will be the smooth-passing calmness of Mark Pysyk.
Still not enough? Because we don't need to just look inside the Sabres to find better players - the team has approximately a bajillion dollars to spend in free agency, and has enough ammo at the draft to do just about anything short of trading up to #1.
And we haven't even mentioned the thrill of watching just-around-the-corner prospects like Justin Bailey, Nick Baptisite, Mikhail Grigorenko, Jake McCabe, and Johan Larsson take the next step in Rochester and continue their impressive development next season.
Does the Sabres organization still have problems? Of course. They need to find a goalie (easy), another top-six winger (not easy) and another veteran presence or two to balance out all the youth coming in (two words: cap room). But Babcock or no, the Sabres are still going to be exciting and fun to watch next year.
After years of losing, just hearing those words is a big, big win.