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: 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.

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.

 

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