A year ago, Anthony here at Die by the Blade wrote a piece called “Sabres Culture Remains Unchanged.” Upon revisiting that piece today, it’s honestly a little alarming how little has changed in a year. You can read bits of that piece today and they ring just as true as they did in March 2018.
Suffice to say... that’s not good.
“After an inauspicious start, the team has, at times, teased fans with flashes of perceived improvement, before ultimately falling back into their losing ways.”
The Sabres started off the season on an okay footing. That flash of perceived improvement - in this case - was that incredible 10-game winning streak. But just like in years past, the Sabres eventually fell back into their losing ways.
Now, we’re nearing the end of the season and the Sabres have officially been eliminated from playoff contention... for the eighth straight season.
How did the Sabres go from the bottom of the league, to the top, back to near the bottom again? Out of a playoff spot, eliminated from playoff contention, and struggling in so many areas. It’s hard to watch.
And don’t forget what could be one of the most painful stats of all: the Sabres haven’t strung together consecutive wins since mid-December, a span of nearly four and a half months. In fact, heading into Monday’s game against New Jersey, the Sabres have lost nine of their last 10 games.
Now, with eight games left in the season, how many of those games with the Sabres actually win? Unfortunately, at this point - it doesn’t matter much. Even if they managed to go on an incredible winning streak, their season will end in early April.
Part of the struggle this season has, quite frankly, been the head coach. Phil Housley has made some questionable roster decisions this season, the latest of which comes heading into Monday’s game - scratching Casey Mittelstadt in favor of Tage Thompson. Meanwhile, players who have really been struggling, like Johan Larsson, Zemgus Girgensons and Vladimir Sobotka, somehow remain in the lineup.
And yet - night after night, Housley remains behind the bench. At this point, would it make more sense for him to play out the rest of the season and then have Jason Botterill elect to move on with a new head coach beginning next season?
It would certainly be more of a statement if Botterill (or Pegula, if it comes to that) didn’t wait until the end of the season. Although fans are obviously already disappointed by the results of this season, it would make some fans at least a little happy if the management stepped up.
Words, of course, only count for so much. It’s about action. So while Jack Eichel, the captain, can say things like this:
Clearly frustrated by his 4th straight non-playoff season, Eichel on what's left over final 8 games: "There's a lot of pride on the line, there's a lot to play for. We represent our city, we represent each other and this organization. That should be enough right there." #Sabres— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 24, 2019
It only matters so much when a team has lost nine of its last ten games, hasn’t strung together back-to-back wins in months, and fell so far from the top of the league to out of a playoff spot.
Another action that could prove the Sabres’ management is focused and looking into the future would be re-signing Jeff Skinner. Reports indicate that the two sides are talking, but no deal has yet to surface.
I particularly thought this Twitter thread from WGR550’s Brayton Wilson also captured some important thoughts about the Sabres organization, its culture and development of young players:
Jason Botterill has preached development in his two seasons in Buffalo as the general manager. How can he defend Housley at this point, who has shown that he cannot properly develop the young players on his roster and bring them along throughout the season? #Sabres— Brayton J. Wilson (@BJWilsonWGR) March 24, 2019
It’s not just about this season and the next eight games. There’s more at stake here, particularly if things don't get shaken up - and soon. The Sabres have now missed the playoffs in eight straight seasons. Year after year, it’s disappointing, and season after season, it’s the same old story.
What Botterill, and to a higher degree, Pegula and his staff, do in the next month or so will play a huge part in determining how the Sabres organization works in the future. What coach will be behind the bench, or won’t be? Which players won’t return - and which will be the player’s decision, and which the management’s decision?
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. Something’s gotta give.
And hopefully, fingers crossed, we’re not saying the same thing a year from now.