The Sabres Observer
Robin Lehner's 50th game as a Buffalo Sabre couldn't have gone much worse.
His teammates last night were hanging with the offense-laden Toronto Maple Leafs pretty tough, but a weak-as-they-come goal by Matt Martin, of all people, forced open the floodgates.
It would be comforting to say this was close to a first as far as Lehner meltdowns go, but it would also be a lie. An adventure earlier this season in Calgary where he handed the Flames two points and blamed the officials afterwards immediately comes to mind. There have been others.
He has his defenders, and it's not like they don't have an argument. His .920 save percentage seems respectable enough, and there have been frustrating nights where Buffalo's offense, which is admittedly more of a concern for this team than goaltending, left him on an island.
But if you peel back the onion a bit, it's safe to conclude that Lehner has been average at best. And trades where you give up first-round draft picks for average goaltending are what we call bad trades.
After seeing a tweet from hockey social media favorite Sean McIndoe (@DownGoesBrown) yesterday regarding the comedy that is the NHL standings format, it seemed like a good time to take a peek at how they really should look.
So, let's unveil the mask right here. Overtime losses are treated as losses, shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, and goals for and against are adjusted accordingly.
Ladies and gentlemen, "The Real NHL Standings":
Everything was supposed to be fine when Jack Eichel came back.
It isn't, and many Sabres fans are starting to get angry. Last night's 4-2 loss to Boston was a new low for this team. Seems hard to believe after a game in which they played their best first period of the season, but that fact is what makes it hurt more.
And, as expected, your humble Sabres correspondent received his usual daily dose of Fire Dan Bylsma tweets and emails. On top of that, in an unscientific twitter poll of nearly 450 fans last week, the coach was given the blame for Buffalo's struggles.
Funny thing is, when you ask them why Bylsma should be fired, the most common response is his system. But when you ask what's wrong with the system, most don't have a clear answer. They just say things like "he's stifling his players" but aren't able to get more specific. It kind of makes you wonder how many of those fans actually even know what Bylsma's system is.
Truth be told, and obvious to many, this coach has not been given a very good hand to play. But Tim Murray, Buffalo's lovable short-spoken everyman, has made it clear that the ascension to greatness is a process, and patience is needed.
Sabres fans for the most part are completely on board. When seeking a scapegoat for Buffalo's position at rock bottom of the standings, the GM is off the hook.
At least for now.
It's strange to talk about reaching a low point before the hockey season even starts, but that's where it seems we're at in Buffalo.
The Sabres were only minutes away from ending practice yesterday when Jack Eichel got tangled up with Zemgus Girgensons during a drill in front of the net, and then there was screaming as Buffalo's franchise player fell to the ice.
While fellow young phenoms Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid were turning opening night on its ear with dazzling performances, Eichel -- well, I don't know what he was doing but I'm going to assume it didn't involve walking.
Watching those two great young players last night brought about a somber tone. I felt like the little kid watching the others play with their beautiful, bright shiny toys while mine was broken in pieces on the floor.
It's hard to imagine a hockey nightmare in Buffalo that's much worse. And it makes it even tougher when contemplating the joy felt by fans of the Leafs witnessing Matthews break a debut record with four goals, and thinking of the fun had by Oilers fans enjoying the extraordinary display of hockey from McDavid, whom I'm ready to declare right now is already the best player in the NHL.
Things are getting a bit dicey on the Buffalo blue line, as the lack of a new contract for RFA and number one defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen means we could see Zach Bogosian getting the most minutes in Thursday's opener against Montreal.
For a team usually more than willing to open up the wallet to pay its best players, why the hard stance against Ristolainen?
Three points to be made here. First, the Sabres have about $8.5M in free cap space and will obviously be much tighter to the ceiling after signing their star defenseman. Tim Murray wants to leave himself the option of being a buyer at the trade deadline, and overpaying in this situation certainly won't help.
My predictions for where they'll finish in 2016-17:
Tampa Bay - 112 points
Montreal - 97
Boston - 95
Florida - 94
Detroit - 89
Buffalo - 88
Ottawa - 80
Toronto - 76
It's tough to tell a Sabres fan right now that the playoffs likely aren't in the cards for this season, considering the wealth of young talent and offseason acquisitions. Trust me -- you won't get a pleasant response.
The perceived lack of respect from prognosticators -- well, let's just say it hasn't been taken very well from a large number of diehards who expect Buffalo to leap into the postseason this coming April.
In an unscientific twitter poll I ran yesterday, 69% of 313 voters picked the Sabres to finish in the top four of the Atlantic Division.
Hey, I love the optimism and I hope they're right. But a 27-point jump from being one of the worst teams in the history of the NHL is one thing, and a 15-point improvement into the mid-nineties with some of the big boys is another.
I say the latter is tougher to accomplish, and the Sabres don't quite have the complete team that can do it. Not just yet.
Sure, Sabres fans and media have good reason to talk about the strong performances in last night's 3-2 preseason win over Ottawa by Derek Grant (1 goal, 2 assists) and Nicholas Baptiste (1 goal, 1 assist), but the best news of the evening involves goaltender Robin Lehner.
Based on the latest Bovada moneyline (winnings per $100 bet for a team to win its division) odds, here's where teams are expected to finish in 2016-17:
NY Rangers +600
NY Islanders +700
New Jersey +1600
It's not what many Sabres fans will want to hear, given Evander Kane's less than repentant attitude while speaking to the Buffalo media yesterday regarding his countersuit against the woman who accused him of assaulting her at the HarborCenter Marriott in December, but Tim Murray will probably need to grit his teeth and wait for this unwelcome soap opera to play out.
About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]