You know you’ve been making incomprehensible mistakes for a long time when you’re seen as an example of why teams in any sport shouldn’t build again. That’s always the call when a GM threatens to tear it down from paranoid fans as well as the media. “Look at the Buffalo Sabers! They have been rebuilding in a decade! “They’re close to your house where there’s simply nothing going in and if anything happens it’ll last a few months before closing while you’re sure it’s a front for something. there.
Buffalo Sabers aren’t fronts for anything, other than maybe ennui. It’s been 11 years now and counting since they appeared in the knockout stages, it’s like going back to the Mesozoic era in the NHL years. A playoff spot will only come your way a year after age 10, especially given the arrival of the shortened seasons the league has seen in that time. Unless of course you’re Coyotes. But if you’re going to match Coyotes’ success record over the course of 10 years, you need guidance on how to get out of that as quickly as possible.
The playoff drought may not be over this spring, but it looks like something is finally bubbling up on Lake Erie that has nothing to do with Josh Allen.
Sabers instigated a colleague (or wanted to celebrate) in Detroit on the night of March 8. Top center Tage Thompson has five points. Rasmus Dahlin had his sixth goal of the year. Deadly eyed sniper Dylan Cozens almost got Alex Nedeljkovic’s ear for his aim. New hotness Jack Quinn has scored the first goal of the year. The Saber… are there weapons everywhere? What is this?
It was Sabers’ fifth win in seven games. They hit a Western swing, including beating the Flames and Oilers repeatedly to the tune of a 10-5 aggregate. They are the second highest scoring team in the tournament. They play fast and lively. They are also large. They can score from three different lines. They have dynamic passers like JJ Peterka. They are really spicy. Damn, for the first time, Jeff Skinner was able to actually score important goals.
The metrics back up what the Sabres have been doing for the most part, being above 50 percent in both attempts-share and expected goals share. Yeah, they’re shooting nearly 10 percent, which is probably a little high for where they’ll eventually settle, but they also have a plethora of talented if unestablished scorers, which might keep their shooting percentage up. They’ve even gotten plus goaltending from old man Craig Anderson. He’s only the backup, but has steadied the ship while starter Eric Comrie figures it out.
It’s obviously been a long time in the wilderness for the Sabres, which they now look to be coming out of. The first dive to the bottom netted Jack Eichel, but that all fell apart with other mismanagement, and the fact that Eichel just maybe not that guy, which means the whole project never flourishes. The Sabers now seem to be trying to re-emerge through a collective effort rather than focusing on the support of what a generation star hopes to become.
The big revealer so far this year has been Thompson, who was at the heart of the Ryan O’Reilly commercial. Thompson is a 6 foot-6 house but has great hands, and such players are always a little longer to find a balance between their size and skill and how to balance it. . They have the ability to outmaneuver anyone at a junior or college age, while easily overpowering opponents isn’t all that far ahead of puberty without much effort. But then they play against the pros, and they can’t always bounce with whatever they’ve got and the players can play against them. Some never found it. Thompson showed what is possible last year with 68 points from 78 games, and so far this season he has been unplayable with 12 points in nine games. His defensive game could still use some work, but he’s weathered it so far with his scoring ability.
But he’s hardly alone on the list. Victor Olofsson had six goals. Cozens teamed up with Peterka and Alex Tuch (part of a comeback for Eichel) to form a nifty two-way street. Tuch in particular always seems to make those precise passes at the right time, while doing it all with a rather annoying growl (which isn’t a bad thing if he’s on your team) . While it took a month for Quinn to score, he has shown an ability to find weaknesses in the attacking area and his dangerous finish will soon score plenty of goals.
The real root of Sabers excitement lies in the blue line, with Dahlin and Owen Power. Dahlin is playing at the Norris Trophy level so far this season, with 12 points. But his stats are off the charts, with 54+ Corsi and xG percentage points while only starting 40% of his cases in the strike zone. Power anchors the second pair, and he’s also a 6-foot-6 monster but skates like a ballet dancer. The points haven’t quite come yet, but they will show his determination and vision. He was only 19 years old and had only 17 games out of the game at the University of Michigan. He has all the runways left. Both allow Sabers to play up the line, unafraid to stop the opponent from rushing in the red line, confident in their healing speed, or keep the match alive in the blue attack line while being skilled to make a dash out of their zone or laser a breakout pass that initiates an odd dash.
Is it enough to make it to the knockout round? It’s still some tall trees. In the Atlantic, the automatic spots are a closed club where even all of Tampa, Boston, Toronto and Florida cannot be guaranteed entry. Which leaves only one wildcard point in the East, and that’s a scramble. Comrie couldn’t afford to survive that, as he had only one successful season as a substitute in Winnipeg. And Anderson will not carry the team shortly before receiving the AARP card.
However, Sabers fans will be more than pleased to be entertained every night, and Sabers will score more goals. They’ll also be more satisfied, after all this time, when it feels like they’re all headed to a place with much better lighting. Buffalo and excited, it still hasn’t completely rolled off the tongue, but that’s the deal for now.