Another March rolls around where the Buffalo Sabres find themselves playing out the string of remaining games with little to play for.
We have seen this same story play out for the last five seasons and counting.
It gets harder and harder with each passing season to find those silver linings. Those glimmers of hope that will get the hair on the back of your neck to stand up when training camp rolls around in the late summer.
Negativity comes natural in these areas. Another example reared its ugly head with the Buffalo Bills’ reportedly failed trade for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
From the outside looking in, no one likes Buffalo. No one wants to come to Buffalo. No one wants to play in or for Buffalo.
The Athletic reported it just a few weeks ago – Buffalo received 15-percent of the anonymous player vote that asked which road city was the worst to play in. Only Winnipeg (38%) received more of the player vote.
Despite the Sabres’ mediocre 30-28-9 record, coupled with an inability to win back-to-back games (last happened in December of 2018) and their inability to win on the road (losers of eight straight away from KeyBank Center), this season is a step in the right direction for this organization.
We start from the top with budding superstar Jack Eichel.
When Eichel was anointed the captain this past offseason, many said it was time for him to grab the bull by the horns and take the next step in his development.
How has he responded?
Eichel has a career-high 72 points (25 goals, 47 assists) in 64 games.
His leadership abilities have been lauded throughout the season as well. Eichel still has room to grow and mature as a leader, but it most certainly seems like Buffalo made the right choice when selecting Eichel to lead this franchise.
Moving over to Jeff Skinner – what a steal that has been for Jason Botterill.
Despite being stuck in the worst personal goal-scoring slump of the season, Skinner has amassed a team-high 36 goals in 67 games.
When coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes, you would be hard pressed to think Skinner would have this much success alongside Jack Eichel, but the proof is in the pudding here.
The next big step clearly is to get Skinner under contract long-term, but with “positive” talks taking place throughout the season, two-thirds of the Sabres’ top line might be figured out for almost the next decade.
Another budding offensive force has been Sam Reinhart.
We saw his incredible second-half run last season and thought – if only he could spread this over an entire season.
Well, Reinhart has done just that this season.
In 67 games, Reinhart has tallied 58 points (18 goals, 40 assists).
As time has gone on, it seems as if Buffalo is more likely to set Reinhart on the second line. That would have caused a scare for most in the past, but Reinhart has become one of the more consistent players on this roster and he has shown the continued ability to not only lead a line but drive the pace of play as well.
Defensively, it starts with Rasmus Dahlin.
My oh my, what a talent this kid is.
While 37 points in 67 games might seem like a little bit of a disappointment for any other player, Dahlin is doing this while in his first NHL season as an 18-year-old.
Perspective is always nice. Right now, Dahlin ranks fourth all-time in scoring for defenseman at the age of 18 behind Phil Housley (66 points), Bobby Orr (41 points) and Aaron Ekblad (39 points).
The next 10-plus years of Dahlin will be delicious, to say the least.
Even the newest acquisition Brandon Montour is beginning to turn heads on the blue line.
Die By The Blade’s managing editor Chad DeDominicis tweeted out a chart that highlights the quick impact Montour has had in his short time with the team.
Good news tweet...Brandon Montour at the top of charts. pic.twitter.com/DlptcOiXtO— Chad DeDominicis (@CMDeDominicis) March 8, 2019
The point here is that not everything is terrible with this organization.
Are there question marks all over the place? Absolutely.
Who is going to be the second line center? Where is depth scoring? Why does Housley have such an infatuation with Vladimir Sobotka? Is Housley up for the job of continuing this team’s rebuild? Will Botterill swing another big deal this offseason to jumpstart the offense?
Those questions, and many more, exist.
The thought here is that positivity breeds positivity – an age old adage. Negativity is exhausting and, frankly, not as fun.
Buffalo will be fine – whether it is next season or a few seasons from now. Everything will turn out OK for the Sabres organization.