The Sabres Observer
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.
Even with an improving and talented young team, the Sabres were the biggest longshot to win the 2017 Stanley Cup just a few weeks ago.
And while reasonable fans aren't expecting the team to be a serious contender for a championship this upcoming season, it's interesting that what Buffalo has done to its roster in recent weeks -- most noteworthy the signing of free agent Kyle Okposo and the acquisition of Dmitry Kulikov -- has vaulted them, for the first time in three years, out of the basement with Vegas bookmakers.
A big and shiny new hockey-themed complex attached to the arena. A remodeled locker room and training facilities. As good a selection of local restaurants as you'll find just about anywhere.
And on top of all of that, a hockey-crazed city with a young and promising team, led by a teenage phenom already drawing predictions that he'll eventually be considered the greatest player in franchise history.
Wooing a big fish like Steven Stamkos into this hockey utopia should be as easy as finding a tasty chicken wing downtown, right?
The day when the narrative of "but it's Buffalo" becomes an obsolete hot take could be here soon, but we're just not quite there. Not yet.
From Mike Schopp of WGR-550 radio,
Murray and the Sabres are going to court Steven Stamkos. The draft comes first on the calendar but that's your future; Stamkos is where the summer starts. Assuming Tampa doesn't sign him beforehand -- or trade him to another team that does so -- the Sabres on Saturday can approach Stamkos in an effort to find out what it would take to sign him.
If he wants to come here, or if he doesn't, that's that and you move on. If he's open to it, things can get tricky. The Sabres have other needs. Do they forsake another good free agent forward because signing Stamkos would render that player (Kyle Okposo?) unnecessary here, or unaffordable? Can they do what they want on defense with a $10M-plus player on the payroll, and might they need to trade Zach Bogosian to make room? A lot hinges on what Stamkos tells them, and at the risk of being naive I'm going to say that they don't know those answers yet.
Some various tidbits on the Sabres, KK's draft coverage and a contest for readers in Buffalo (or anyone visiting!):
Tim Murray stated the obvious yesterday on WGR-550 radio when discussing his need for a left-handed shooting defenseman. Let's take a look at the list of such players, in no particular order, who appear to be available either via trade or free agency:
We're looking at a decent crop of free agents and players on the trading block this offseason, and Buffalo is certainly one of those teams looking to be buyers.
With the Sabres rumored to be willing to plunk down $12M per season for Steven Stamkos (you can take that one or leave it, but it is from Darren Dreger), and with a glaring need to find a top-end defenseman to pair with Rasmus Ristolainen, this might be a good time to take a hard look at how much available credit is on the card.
This is the time of year when many Sabres fans miscalculate what their team is dealing with in regards to the cap. Who can forget those recent past seasons when there was unfounded panic in the streets of Buffalo that the team wouldn't be able to reach the floor?
But times have changed and the rebuild is over. And if Buffalo wants to sign a high end guy like Stamkos, it'll take a lot of work clearing out cap room to make it possible.
I get that Sabres fans love what they've seen from Jack Eichel this season -- count me in that group -- but some of the reaction over the phenom not getting serious consideration for the Calder Trophy has reached ridiculous levels.
It's been pretty clear for most of the season, at least since Connor McDavid's injury, that Artemi Panarin has been the frontrunner for top rookie. Against a tidal wave of scrutiny from a portion of Buffalonian twitter followers, I took the bold step on a few occasions of merely bringing this up. Many writers and broadcasters near the top of the media totem pole have felt the same way. And king of them all Bob McKenzie last night said he surveyed 21 NHL GM's and got 18 votes for Panarin, 2 for McDavid and 1 for Dylan Larkin.
Between that nugget and a twitter poll of hockey fans showing Eichel not listed in the top 4, you'd think from the response here that Buffalo is on the short end of the biggest conspiracy since No Goal.
Folks, it's OK to love Eichel AND be simultaneously and humbly appreciative that there are some other very, very good candidates out there as well. There's no law against that.
And, to be perfectly honest, most of those other rookies are more deserving.
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]