In 2006, around the time the Buffalo Sabres were a regular playoff contending team, a Chicago Cubs documentary came out called Wait ‘Til Next Year. The movie chronicled the saga of a perennial losing Major League Baseball franchise. Every opening day each season, the team’s long-suffering loyal fans dutifully trooped out to Wrigley Field, said to themselves “this could be the year” and were inevitably disappointed.
Eventually, however, the team turned things around. The Cubs finally won a World Series in 2016, which ended a 71-year National League pennant drought and an 108-year World Series drought, the longest in MLB history.
Of course, the Sabres have never won a Stanley Cup. Buffalo has also endured the longest playoff drought in NHL history. I’m not saying that this is the year the franchise will finally end that streak. If I could accurately predict the future, I’d be in another line of work. But there are hopeful signs that maybe 2022-23 will be different from seasons past. Here are some of those:
1) The Sabres are Building a Strong Depth
The Sabres have been in a rebuilding mode for what seems like eternity. In recent years, the team’s front office has been making more smart moves as opposed to dumb decisions. The Eichel trade for Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs turned out to be a better deal for Buffalo, something that many fans and pundits at first thought was advantage Vegas.
Drafting solid talents such as Owen Power and finally getting production out of versatile players like Rasmus Dahlin, is starting to have an impact. Even deals that looked lopsided in other teams’ favors, especially trading Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis for Tage Thompson, haven’t seemed so foolish in hindsight.
2) One Buffalo Connection is Influencing the Hockey Team
It’s rare for any professional sports owners to own two franchises in one city. Many fans have had issues with how Terry and Kim Pegula operate both the Sabres and the Buffalo Bills. Critics feel the power couple shouldn’t control Western New York’s pro sports landscape. Despite this, the two teams experience a lot of crossover.
Bills players go to Sabres games and Sabres players follow the Bills. The two major sports teams’ collaboration isn’t limited to the guys in the jerseys. Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams even developed close ties with Bills GM Brandon Beane.
“Brandon and I have become good friends” Adams told David De Cristofaro of USA Today back in February. “We talk a lot. We bounce ideas off each other…it’s an incredible resource to have someone that’s had so much success in a lot of different ways in the things that he’s done and just pick his brain.”
Taking advice from a GM who helped end a 17-year playoff drought, is bound to influence the way Adams makes decisions. Under Beane’s watch, the Bills went from an NFL laughingstock to Super Bowl contenders. It’s only matter of time before the Sabres turn their losing ways around, too.
3) Sabres Players are Excited to Be Back on the Ice
For a long time, many Sabres players just skated across the rink during games, going through the motions and letting their opponents dictate plays. Now the team is filled with players who want to compete, want to win and want to play here. Recently, Alex Tuch gave an interview to Buffalo News reporter Lance Lysowski.
After talking about how his summer was, Tuch described what happened when he called fellow Sabres forward Tage Thompson. Tuch pointed out good things that happened for Thompson, most notably his son’s birth and Buffalo giving him a new $50 million contract. “But after I was done congratulating him, he was like, ‘I’m so excited to be back.’ And you could see the smile on his face and the excitement. Everyone’s excited to get started.”
With that kind of attitude, in marked contrast to players’ muted feelings in past seasons, maybe the guys on the roster will translate that enthusiasm into wins. After all, it’s a lot easier to win when you want to play than when you don’t.
4) New Prospects are Promising
The Sabres’ new prospects showed off their skills at the annual Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter recently. Tyson Kozak, Matt Savoie, Linus Weissbach and Filip Cedarqvist all strutted their stuff against the Montreal Canadiens’ prospects on the ice. Over several days and during three games, the young Buffalo players outscored the Habs’ budding talents 17-10 and won all three contests. Jiri Kulich and Mats Lindgren were two other new talents that shined during the Challenge.
All of the players mentioned and others that competed are potential future Buffalo Sabres. Not all of them will commit to Buffalo and some may not have a guaranteed NHL career. Many of these guys will, though and they can only add to the team’s depth and skill going forward.
The Buffalo Sabres have made some positive changes in recent years. From better trades and drafts, to improved player morale, managers learning from other sports successes and potential talent in the pipeline, this season looks more hopeful than it has in a while. Nothing’s guaranteed, but this might be the year fans can finally look forward to and not one they’ll prefer to forget once April comes around.