OPINION: Thank you, Sabres

Buffalo's drought may have hit 12 seasons, but the future remains bright

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – It has, undeniably, been a grind for Buffalo Sabres fans. 12 seasons now with no playoff appearances to speak of.

However, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of this playoff drought to even find a spring resembling what we just experienced these last few weeks. Any hope of a playoff appearance in past years has been regularly extinguished by Christmas, if not sooner.

That’s an awful lot of utterly meaningless hockey, and the wounds can be deep.

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I’ve written in the past about stretches in seasons where I found myself choosing to watch weeknight practices for 16-year-olds than watch the Sabres. Having always prided myself on finding something worth watching, even when playing out the string, that one still stings for me.

Well hopefully - for me, for you, for many of us - a corner was turned this season.

Yes, the Sabres ultimately fell short of reaching the playoffs, again. If you’re going to be a tough sell on buying in, I can’t say I blame you. Running the playoff drought to a dozen seasons can have that effect.

I’ll admit I was quite skeptical about the organization's repeated declarations of seeking players that "want to be here." The more general manager Kevyn Adams said it, the more I worried.

It can be a tough thing to achieve in pro sports. There are so many variables. Geography, teammates, money, opportunity to make more money and, of course, winning.

Well hats off to Adams and his management team, and to head coach Don Granato and his staff. They appear to have pulled it off.

They’ve developed a roster full of high-end talent, and have already gotten long-term contracts done with a number of their core group. All the while seeming to keep the vibe they were seeking intact.

It’s entirely believable, to me, the guys already here want to be a part of things moving forward.

Yes, there are still some holes to fill and upgrades to seek. This will be a huge offseason for Adams.

Another defenseman to compliment their big-three of Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power and Mattias Samuelsson is needed. I’m not looking to dump Henri Jokiharju, but bumping him down to pair with Ilya Lyubushkin seems like a pretty decent idea.

Captain Kyle Okposo and alternate captain Zemgus Girgensons are both slated to be unrestricted free agents this summer. I have appreciated Okposo as a player and a leader, but it may be time to move on. I’d do the exact same deal Girgensons is reaching the end of - three years, $6.6 million - again, but an addition to the forward ranks, in the form of Jiri Kulich, Matthew Savoie, or someone from the outside is warranted.

Then there is goaltending.

Devon Levi absolutely looks the part of someone who could skip the AHL and start on opening night next season. Beyond that, there isn’t much to get excited about.

Yes, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is still only 24-years-old, so I’m not done with him at this point. However, Levi has passed him on the organizational depth chart. His emergence lessons the need for a big time No. 1 at the position, like, say, a John Gibson or Thatcher Demko.

But an older, former No. 1 is certainly in order. Any combination of Eric Comrie or U.P.L., paired with Levi, is not enough.

It’s fantastic Levi looks as ready for 50-plus games in the NHL as he does, but some quality insurance is called for in case Levi encounters turbulence. I’ve floated the idea of Jonathan Quick to pair with Levi. Semyon Varlamov, Joonas Korpisalo or Cam Talbot might be decent enough ideas, as well.

The bottom line is there’s an awful lot to like about the Sabres moving forward, and they definitely have the attention of many of us. This summer is the time to make the right additions, and have us all talking and thinking about playoff seeding come next springtime, not just a playoff race.

Photo credit Losi and Gangi
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