Good Monday Morning, Sabre fans. I'm on my second cup of java. Most of my current projects are West Coast based, so I had some time this morning to review the season, having it end prematurely due to a number of things. I put together some thoughts and wanted to give everyone the opportunity to "sound off" on this (with apologies to Judith Viorst) Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Season. Perhaps I'm overstating it a bit but I feel like this was a wasted season. All the good will built up a few years ago seems to be gone. I'll recap the season by months below, with opinion to follow.
The season began on home ice against the Canadiens and a lost. We then went west and stumbled through the month. Lost both Eichel and Kane for a good portion of the early season, with the rest of the team looking lost themselves. Overall, I was okay with the end of the month results, given the circumstances of injuries and long road trip to the season's beginning.
Overall analysis: The injuries to Eichel and Kane proved how thin the Sabres actually are in depth. Losing not one but two of your most important players is tough for any team, however, I think it helps you to peel back the layers and see that this team's psyche isn't not where it needs to be. We also need to add talent. While hurtful to the team, we really need to learn to overcome injuries. My comparison injury is Steven Stamkos. While not making the playoffs, the Lightning were at least competitive having Stamkos out longer than Eichel. It speaks to their depth and overall health of the organization.
November: 5-6-3 Overall record 8-9-5
November brought some hope that the team could begin to gel and get us on track. I was hopeful that we could break the .500 barrier and head into December on a winning note, Lehner/Nilson were the monthly heros, IMO. A seven game home/away split had me thinking of a possible winning month. Never had a chance. Eichel rejoined the team November 29th against Ottawa.
Month Two, brought us a nasty six game slide. While very hurtful, we were still dealing with our injury situation. I called this month, "Lehner's Month". He, perhaps, had his best month of the season. I'm not saying he was Ben Bishop, but he performed very well in seven of the fourteen games, saving the month from being a total disaster. Kane returned earlier than anticipated, struggled a bit, but showed himself as a reliable presence. November showed we can hang around, but we lost to too many teams I thought we should have beaten at the time (Boston, New Jersey, etc). Kulikov played in only 5 games.
December: 5-6-3 Overall record 13-15-8
December gave us the exact same record as did November and an equally bad slide at the end of the year. We lost six of the last seven matches before New Years chimed in. Now relatively healthy, the team experienced the "ups and down's" that seem the make up of a young team. Still, that is not an excuse.
Overall analysis: The slide at the end of the month effectively negated all the good feelings about the team beginning to get healthy. It also points to the defense really beginning an awful slide. Kulikov played in 8 games but didn't look good in many of them. He was slow and seem disinterested at times (my opinion only).
January: 7-5-1 Overall record 20-20-9
January, and hope is rising! We avoided the dreaded slide of 4/5 game losing streaks and put together a nice little run. We opened up the New Year with a win against the Rangers, lost to the Blackhawks in OT, and just looked really good, having put aside the dreaded December blues, mentioned above.
Overall analysis:Thought we turned the corner and were really going to start to compete. We looked good this month and had some strong overall performances. Aside of Kulikov again (played in only 3 January games). Ennis did not play any December games and only a handful in January, our health looked better. If we were going to make a push, now was the time to do so.
February: 6-6-2 Overall record 26-26-11
February was going to have to be an extremely good month for us. There were too many teams bunched up for the final playoff spots and many of them were going to play each other, meaning that wins were necessary to leapfrog teams ahead of us. The month started out okay...but then....
...then the bottom fell out at the end of the month. All the effort and opportunity evaporated with a four game slide that included two horrifying losses to Arizona and Colorado proving that this team is just not ready to win consistently. There is no excuse to losing to the two bottom teams unless you are a bottom feeder yourself. As with the rest of the season, we got the "we have to look in the mirror" excuses from players and coaches. Simply put, the playoffs were there for the taking and we just gave it away.
March: 6-7-1 Overall record: 32-33-12
What can you honestly say about March and winnable games? We had our final West Coast swing, which start in typical Buffalo fashion (two losses). We salvaged a game in Anaheim. Highlight of the month? Smacking Toronto in our building, causing Leaf fans to drive home losers. Words cannot describe how pissed off I am that we allow the invasion of the locusts that are known as Leaf fans. I actually admire their build and their team. I've met a few decent Leaf fans in my day, but it's a shame that the overall perception of Leaf fans is as bad as it is.
Overall analysis: Oh the winds of March! Another brutal stretch of games in which we lost six of eight. We cannot call ourselves a decent team and continue to have such malaise. I believe our overall talent is such that we shouldn't have to endure stench like this, but I'm at a lost for words right now.
April: 1 - 4 Overall record 33-37-12
April is mercifully over as far as the season goes. There was nothing to play for
Overall analysis: At least we get to see playoff hockey. It seemed to me that the team banked in the last few games. Austin Matthews: playoffs Conner McDavid: playoffs. Jack Eichel: "what have I gotten into"??
Dan Bylsma: Will be back. I see no indication that he won't be back. No drama here. I have read all the comments concerning his style. Players seem to want to play for him. Will FAs come here to play for him?
Free Agents: Will have to overpay a bit to entice some to come. Question for many of you: Who should Murray target? We need D-men, and a second line winger, I believe. If you can list the qualifying free agents to be available, that would help.
Expansion Draft: Worse case scenario, LV selects Ullmark. Best case scenario; Moulson is selected.
Tim Murray: Priorities this off season. 3) Signing Peterson 2) Finding Defensive Help 1) Drafting strongly and preparing the team for 2018 draft by hording picks.
Pegulas: Having the backbone to be a great owner by drawing a line in the sand to management. I still trust Murray. Not sure about Bylsma. Need to get the balls to fire someone before they become Regiers/Whaleys (Fire Whaley!).
Please add your comments/thoughts as well. I hope this was entertaining to all of you. Looking forward to maintaining the rhetoric on this blog while we watch amazing playoff hockey.