The Buffalo Sabres' 2020-21 season has completely spiraled out of control since the team's return from their COVID-19 pause nearly a month ago.
In the team's 14 games since Feb. 15, Buffalo has gone 2-10-2, which includes an eight-game losing streak that has been ongoing since Feb. 25. In that time frame, the Sabres' power play has gone quiet, the overall team play remains consistently inconsistent, while the team has been outscored 32-15.
The Sabres currently sit with a 6-14-4 overall record through 24 games this season, and currently sit dead last in the National Hockey League standings with 15 points. Buffalo also sits tied for second-last in the NHL with a points percentage of .333, only better than the Ottawa Senators' points percentage of .328.
In addition to the Sabres' recent losing ways, the team has also been stricken with injury to a number of key players on the roster. Players like Zemgus Girgensons (hamstring) and Jake McCabe (knee) will not be seeing the ice for the rest of the season, while others like Will Borgen (arm) and Linus Ullmark (lower-body injury) are still likely to miss some extended time.
However, Buffalo could suffer their most significant blow yet, as captain Jack Eichel is going to miss, at least, the next several games with an upper-body injury suffered this past Sunday against the New York Islanders.
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger confirmed on Thursday that Eichel went to get a second opinion on his upper-body injury, and the team hopes to have a complete assessment of his ailment in the coming days. In the meantime, Eichel will be out a minimum of 7-10 days.
With the season, essentially, lost at this point, the focus now starts to shift towards the NHL Trade Deadline on April 12 and what the team could possibly get for some assets that are not seen as part of the long-term solution. The focus also starts to be geared towards the long-term picture and how the Sabres can turn things around to get back to being a playoff contender.
Sportsnet hockey insider Elliotte Friedman joined Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Martin Biron on The Instigators, as part of his weekly Thursday visit on WGR. Friedman gave his thoughts on the Sabres' future ahead, while also talking about some potential trade options down the road, his view of Eichel's injury and more.
Here is some of what he had to say:
Friedman on what the Sabres' long-term plans are going forward:
"I think the Buffalo Sabres are trying to determine, ok, what's our future here? First of all, they're trying to determine... here's all of our players, what's they're value? What's Eichel's value? What's Eric Staal's value? What's Taylor Hall's value? What's Sam Reinhart's value? What's Rasmus Ristolainen's value? Everybody, top-to-bottom, what's their value? Then I think once you get that, you say, 'Ok, here's what we can do.' ... I think what [general manager] Kevyn Adams and the Sabres are doing is mapping out where they can go from here? What are the options, and where can we go depending on what we decide to do?"
Friedman on the potential trade value for Staal:
"I think Eric Staal is a good player. I think Eric Staal can play multiple positions. I think Eric Staal will be motivated to go somewhere and play. I think those are all good things for him, so... I think they can get a second [round pick] for him, but it's going to be a buyer's market, and that's going to add to the challenges of everything."
Friedman on potential trade interest for Reinhart:
"I think there's interest in Reinhart. He's leading [the Sabres] in scoring, he competes pretty hard. The biggest question is... for argument's sake, let's say Eichel is moved somewhere down the road, do the Sabres see Reinhart as a big part of that future? Even if Eichel's here, do the Sabres see Reinhart as a big part of their future? There's no question in my mind that Buffalo thinks they have to change this group. It just hasn't worked. I think there is interest in him. ... I don't know if that move is easier to make now or at the [NHL Draft], but I have heard there is interest in him."
"Trading this year is going to be very complicated. I think if Buffalo does move him, it's because they get something that I've got to think it's something that all the fans are going to look at and say, 'Ok, I understand it.' I saw some of the reaction online when I mentioned Reinhart's name. I get the sense the fans really like him too. The Sabres have to be keenly aware of that. It's not a trade you can 'lose'.
Friedman on Eichel's injury status:
"The Sabres were really quiet, and his representatives were really quiet. I understand why because at the time, they didn't really know, but somebody else I called just said, 'The news could be bad.' There were rumors [on Monday] that he could be out for the rest of the season. I think now we have a clearer picture in the sense that they're trying to figure it out, and I think this is the right thing to do. I think the Sabres, the agent and Jack Eichel are going about it the right way. Let's get a second opinion. ... I think that's exactly what he did. I think they're all trying to get a handle on what exactly this is. Obviously it's proven true that it was more serious than a one day thing, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's as bad as someone initially feared."
Friedman on Adams' interactions with teams in the trade market:
"I think what's happening is that yes, I think people are calling [the Sabres], but I also think Kevyn Adams is calling other people and saying 'Hey Calgary (just picking one team), what do you think of our guys? If we made this guy available or we made that guy available, what would the interest be?' I think he's going around the league calling everybody and trying to be as thorough as he can to see what his players' market value is. This is a big shopping expedition by the Buffalo Sabres."
Friedman on the Sabres potentially "starting over" with the roster:
"I don't know if I would say 'starting over'. I'm not sure that's the right word to use, but I think it's fair to say that this direction is not working. So where do you go from here? I think it's sort of like, 'Who do we build with? Which of these players are keepers that we build with? And which of these players do we have that we can get something that we can say that's worth a lot to us, so that's what we're going to do?' I don't want to use the phrase 'tear down' or 'total rebuild', because I don't know if that's necessarily true. I think it's more like, 'This path isn't working. Where do we veer from here?'"
Friedman on Bruce Boudreau possibly coaching the Sabres:
"I know Bruce really wants to coach. I know he does. He's a coach at heart, it's in his blood. I think his dream is [the Toronto Maple Leafs], because he's from there and he played there, but I know he'd love Buffalo if it every became available."
You can listen to the entire interview below: