There are seven games left in what has been an awful season for the Buffalo Sabres. We’ve seen no signs of improvement or something positive to take into the offseason from this roster. In fact, the games are just getting worse as we head into the final two weeks of the season.
I won’t accuse a team of professional athletes of quitting in any sport. I’m not in the room on a daily basis or on the ice or at practices to say that they’re quitting on the season. Having said that, the way these last few games have gone, it’s not hard for an outside observer to draw that conclusion.
It’s simply not working with this roster as it’s currently constructed. I know, thank you captain obvious.
Struggling with Success
Phil Housley said something after the loss to the Arizona Coyotes last Wednesday that has stuck with me.
He said his team didn’t know how to handle and build on success. “That’s just where we are as a group, we can’t handle any success.”
On the surface, it’s hard to find where the last place team in the NHL has had any success this season. You have to break down the season into small pockets to find that success.
Let me give you a few examples.
The Sabres play very well against the Nashville Predators last Monday. One of the better if not the best team in the league. They lose 4-0 after two late third period goals, but overall a good game. They follow that up with a very lackluster game against the Arizona Coyotes.
They outshoot the New York Rangers on Saturday night 21-10 in the opening period but are down 2-0 after 20 minutes. Things didn’t go their way on the scoreboard even though they played a good period of hockey. In the second they fall apart and find themselves down 5-0 after 40 minutes.
Remember when they won three in a row on that Western Canada trip before the All-Star break? They followed that up losing the next four games on home ice.
You could go all the way back to the opening week of the season. We got some foreshadowing on the season. The Sabres played very well against the Montreal Canadiens, but lost in a shootout on opening night. They followed that up with a 6-3 loss in Brooklyn to the New York Islanders and an embarrassing 6-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Time for a Change
Inability to handle success is just one example of the fragility of the team. For three years now the roster has been flawed in talent and mental makeup.
Too many nights we’ve seen them fold under pressure. Too many nights we’ve seen them not execute a game plan. Too many nights we’ve seen them not put in the effort or execute on a consistent basis.
It’s time for a change. It hasn’t been one or even two years for that matter. For three years the core makeup of the roster has not been able to get it together.
Of course, the lack of talent on the roster carries a chunk of the blame for the failures. That falls primarily on the back of former General Manager Tim Murray. Going beyond that, however, there’s no denying the foundation of the roster doesn’t work as currently constructed.
We’re on our second coach that cannot get the players to buy in or show up on a consistent basis. A second General Manager has tried to add some of his pieces to the roster and its the same result.
The core of the roster has not seen a massive shakeup in the three years it has been in place. The first move was moving Evander Kane at the trade deadline. This offseason Botterill needs to keep the momentum going and remove one or two more pieces of the established players of this roster to change the trajectory of the franchise.
The core players I’m referring to are Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Kyle Okposo and Ryan O’Reilly. The Sabres General Manager can take out two birds with one stone in moving one of these players. He’ll shake up the foundation and get decent to good value in return depending on the player/s that are moved.
We know Eichel isn’t going anywhere so we can take him off the list. Reinhart has been the player we’ve expected to see all season since January. Botterill may be inclined to hang onto the second overall pick in 2014. Okposo will probably get the least value in return. His contract will not have other GM’s blowing up Botterill’s phone. It’s important to remember on Okposo his full no-movement clause goes away July 1st. It becomes a modified no-trade clause.
That leaves O’Reilly and Ristolainen. They’ll get the best return outside of Reinhart and Eichel. O’Reilly’s contract may be a little difficult in terms of working out a trade, but not impossible.
If the Sabres by some chance win the draft lottery and select Rasmus Dahlin, it makes Ristolainen even more expendable. The Finnish defender is still only 23-years-old and would garner a lot of interest around the league if he was made available.
Realistically the only one of the aforementioned players that don’t have a chance of being moved is Eichel. Botterill has the opportunity to make his mark on this roster this summer. Last offseason he tried to supplement it with other complimentary players. This time around it’s time to make a major move or two.