It is nearly impossible to judge a hockey team right out of the gate, particularly in a league like the NHL, and especially a team like the Buffalo Sabres who have seen massive organizational changes in each of the past five years. Currently sitting with a 5-4-2 record, and having won four of their last five games, the blue and gold seem to be finally be off to a good start, and are putting themselves in position to be competitive all season.
After years of slow October starts, things have already begun to change and it seems like there is a winning attitude surrounding the team this year. Three years of tanking (whether intentional or not) are paying off, and a changing mentality in the locker room is beginning to show itself.
It might still sound crazy to some, but the Sabres have a legitimate shot of snagging a wild card spot at the end of the season. In fact, should they win tonight against Boston, the Sabres will find themselves in a wild card playoff spot come tomorrow morning, knocking Toronto back to #9. And next season (barring any injuries or freak accidents) I could see them being a favorite to make the playoffs from the Atlantic conference.
Don’t believe me? Imagine this: three scoring lines featuring Reinhart, O’Reilly and a (healthy) Eichel, supported by Kulikov and Ristolainen, finished off with a smart and agile Robin Lehner in net. That lineup could potentially wreak havoc throughout the NHL. But, as we saw last season, it needs time for all the pieces to come together.
In the mean time, an hour down the road there are young players eager to take on a bigger role for the Amerks. Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey, and William Carrier will likely be bouncing back and fourth between Buffalo and Rochester this season, and they’ve all shown well at the NHL level when called up due to injury.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on Alex Nylander. Even though he might not play in that many games for Buffalo this year, his skill and speed is vital to the future of the organization.
This season is a clean slate and is poised to be a turning point for the Sabres. By no means are they the team that Tim Murray set out for them to be just yet, but they’re already showing signs of improvement.