The Buffalo Sabres: Fight and Die, or Live to See Next Year?

Mar 29, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Steve Ott (9) and Washington Capitals center Matt Hendricks (26) fight for position during the first period at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers lost in regulation to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, which means one thing for the Buffalo Sabres: win, and you control your own destiny.

Almost.

With only nine games left on their regular season schedule, the Buffalo Sabres woke up Monday 4 points behind the 7th place Rangers.  Today, they will wake up in the exact same position, and a quick glance at the Sabres’ remaining slate of game will show you that the boys in blue and gold should start filling out “Thank You” cards to the Maple Leafs now.

With the exception of the New Jersey Devils, who currently sit 2 points above the Sabres in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres will play at least one more game against all of the teams that have a realistic chance of laying claim to the 7th and 8th playoff spots, which are currently held by the New York Rangers and Islanders, respectively.

Should they come out on the winning end of the majority of these head-to-head match-ups, the Sabres could shock the NHL by stealing a playoff spot at the very last minute.

Cue the groaning of Sabres’ fans everywhere, who are cringing as they read this article.

“Why bother?” many fans are asking themselves.  ”Why bother trying to win these games?  We all have seen this before.  Most likely, the Sabres will be the best team to not make the playoffs, and they’ll just screw themselves out of getting a good pick in the draft.”

I have heard those sentiments expressed many times in the past few weeks, and I was actually asked the question, “Do you think the Sabres should just tank the rest of the season?”

My response to that question: “Hell no.”

Look: the Sabres’ organization has problems.  No doubt about that.  Perhaps the biggest problem is that the Buffalo Sabres have not created a culture of winning.  They have talked the talk, but have failed to . . . ah, you know.   You have to admit, though – this year, the Sabres did some of the things that we, the fans, asked them to do.  Get rid of Lindy Ruff.  Start shedding some players that we don’t believe have what it takes to win a cup.  Grab some picks for the next few drafts.  Done, done and done, with more changes to come in the offseason.  We, the fans, asked for those things to be put on the To-Do list, and they were.

Now comes the “Develop a culture of winning” bullet on the To-Do list – and you think tanking the regular season is going to foster that mentality?

Puh-lease.

I want to see Steve Ott battling out there the next nine games, doing WHATEVER it takes to will this team into the playoffs.

I want to see Cody Hodgson continue to lead all NHL sophomores in scoring as he tries to fill the hole left in the offense by the trade of Jason Pominville.

I want to see Kevin Porter, Brian Flynn, and any other kid brought up from the AHL fight tooth-and-nail against teams that are fighting for their own playoff lives.

Dammit, I want to see this team learn how to win, NOW.

March 5, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson (19) tries to get past the Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) with the puck during the 3rd period at the PNC center. The Hurricanes defeated the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres are currently the youngest team in the NHL.  Years of frustration might tell you, “Forget this; the season is done.  Throw in the towel and get a nice high pick in the upcoming draft.”  You’d be wrong to think it.  The Sabres have young talent that is going to get better – but better skills mean nothing without a winning mentality.  A killer mindset.  You know – the sort of thing that losing will not give them?

Whether they make the playoffs or not, the Sabres have helped themselves by picking up some draft picks, as well as some potentially game-changing acquisitions in Matt Hackett and Johan Larsson.   Those pick-ups will never amount to anything, though  - they’ll be the hockey equivalent of 90% of the American Idol winners -unless the players on the Sabres’ roster learn what it means to want to win, to NEED to win, now.

So let the young pups go out there the next nine games, and let them think the playoffs are up for grabs.  Make them hungry, and let that hunger burn inside their bellies all throughout the offseason.  Start making them starve for winning today; it’s the only way the Buffalo Sabres will be able to feed them for years to come.

 

Topics: Buffalo Sabres

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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.best Jack Best

    I tottally agree with your article, we got so many young prospects that with the right coaching, some can become 1st and 2nd liners eventually. Ruff sucked with prospects and the younger guys because he was still coaching hockey like it was the 90s!! The GAME has changed and I beleive that the Sabres will suprise sone people next year. With focusing on developing our young guys and keeping a few veterans around, like Ott to be the captain and lead the team, this team could actaully do something. The scrappy hockey there playing right know is only working because we have a great goalie in Net. So i beleive we should sign miller to a 2 year extension and let Hacket and Enroth battle it out for the backup. Hacket will eventually be ready to take over in a couple years.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.best Jack Best

      Over the offseason Darcy needs to draft not so much for the future but the immediate future. We need an actual first line center and some good defensman. Also i think they need to add one or two vets that will come in and make a difference in the lockeroom and on the ice. They dont have to be stars, but guys (Ott) that will come in and bring a winning attitude to the lockeroom and help bring Lord Stanley home to Buffalo!!

      • Kevin

        I agree with everything you said Jack, except for the first line center. Let me explain. I hear so many fans say we need a 1st line center, but what IS a 1st line center? Because at 23 I think Cody Hodgson is learning to be that guy better all the time. He is way ahead of where he was when we got him and most of all a draft pick as you say would be. I’m not so ready to give up on the guy so quickly. He has some areas to work on, but what player doesn’t at a young 23 playing against the other teams best players night in and night out.

        • Richard Spalding

          I know I was banging the drum for the Sabres to go out and get an ESTABLISHED first line center this season, because I realized it would help their team now. The Sabres either did not realize that they were deficient in this area, or they didn’t care. Now, should the Sabres go out and try to get an established first line center in the off-season? Couldn’t hurt – they need more than one reliable line. As a matter of fact, they need three-four reliable lines. But, I agree with your assessment of Hodgson: he is growing quickly, and is a guy to build around, so I’m not sure that is an area the Sabres absolutely have to address during the off-season.

          • Kevin

            Good point. What we need is a good sized 3rd and 4th line centers since we have Ennis on the 2nd line. Now if they keep Adam up for good he can fill one of these spots.

          • Justin Tosczak

            But we have multiple centres to choose from in our prospects yet.. I really like this article and agree totally, I really like the way Otter put the team on his back and is proving they can win, I like the way the guys are buying in like Hodgson, Ennis, Foligno, etc.. And I like how the guys getting called up are playing their heart out trying to earn their ice time, and prove they should be there.. What is the point in expecting to draft an immediate change when we have all our last few years top picks playing in the positions right now?

    • Richard Spalding

      Thanks for the read! I can tell you this: I’d be amazed if Miller was back next year. I think the Sabres understand that, which is why they landed Hackett. I’m not too worried about the goaltending for next year; I’m worried about the young talent developing (like you said, under Ruff they were not) and I want to start seeing this team learn to win, and to expect to win, like so many of the established hockey power-houses do!

  • http://twitter.com/Hockeylife30 Caitlin Campbell

    Great post. Read your piece and immediately checked the standings and realized the Sabres may not be out of it quite yet. Here’s to the playoff push!

    • Richard Spalding

      It will be an interesting few games coming up, for sure!

  • [email protected]

    I like that we have the youngest team in the NHL. I think the way the game is played is still evolving and if these guys come up together they will have a good handle on how to exploit that. We just need to instill the “culture of winning” into the organization. It seems odd saying that, I naturally think the idea behind playing a game is to WIN!

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