5 Reasons The Buffalo Sabres Are No Longer “Lowly”

Sports writers need to find a new word to describe the team out of the 716.

Buffalo Sabres fans, you had to know this was coming.

Saturday evening, the Sabres jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the New York Rangers in the hostile confines of Madison Square Garden, and hung on for a 4-3 win.  Instead of giving the Sabres pretty much any credit at all, every major sports outlet made it abundantly clear that the only reason the Rangers lost to the “lowly” Sabres was because the Rangers played poorly, thank you, the end.

Ah, the “lowly” Buffalo Sabres.  So sayeth Dave Caldwell over at The New York Times, and AP writer Tom Canavan.   “Lowly” has sort of become the go-to way to describe the Buffalo Sabres the past few seasons, and if this was last season, I would take my lumps and deal with it because hey, if the shoe fits!

However, calling the Sabres “lowly” this season reeks of laziness.  I understand that sports writers cannot devote an equal amount of time to covering each of the 30 teams that currently make up the NHL – but for goodness sakes, if you get paid to write about professional hockey, you should be able to back up the insults you sling around.

Time to set the record straight with five reasons why writers need to break this lowly habit.

The Sabres are not going to be a bottom-five team this season.

The Buffalo Sabres currently have 77 points and hold the 24th spot in the NHL, and are practically assured of finishing no worse than this.  That’s because the two teams below the Sabres in the standings, the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets, have 72 points with only three games remaining, meaning that both of those teams would have to win out AND have the Sabres earn only one point over three games.

Possible?  Of course.  Likely?  Not with the Flames still having to face the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild, and the Jets ending their season with the dreaded road-trip featuring the Kings, the Anaheim Ducks, and the San Jose Sharks.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver Canucks, who have 71 points heading into tonight’s game against the Kings, could pass the Sabres if they win their remaining four games, and they do face the Edmonton Oilers twice more before their season ends.  But again, it would take not just one but two of the teams below the Sabres to push Buffalo into the league’s bottom five, a scenario which just is not likely, meaning the Sabres will close the 2015-16 season at least six spots better than where they finished 2014-15.

The Sabres have vastly improved their goal differential.

Last season, the lowly Buffalo Sabres finished dead last in the NHL in many categories, the most significant ones being points (54) and goal differential (-113).   As much as Buffalo’s 77 points and improved position in the standings demonstrates that progress has been made, the most telling statistic this season?  Buffalo’s -21 goal differential, which puts the Sabres at 21st in the league.  Theoretically, Buffalo could crack the top 20 by the end of the season, but even if they do not, this humongous turn-around is reason enough to put any adjectives that were used to describe last year’s team to rest.

The Sabres have played 56 games without Tyler Ennis

Speaking of making strides in improving that goal differential: Buffalo has only gotten Tyler Ennis on the ice 23 times this season.  Not that Ennis is an All-Star or anything, but losing a 20-goal scorer hurts ANY team.  Of course, if you are good team missing injured players, you are “banged up.”  If you are the Sabres, you are “lowly.”  Please.  Had Ennis been able to stay healthy, we are not having this conversation, not just because of Ennis, but because this team might have held on to someone like Jamie McGinn had the playoffs been within striking distance.  Do I expect anyone outside of Buffalo to understand this?  Maybe not – but it doesn’t make it any less true.

The Sabres have the fourth-most overtime losses in the NHL

Buffalo’s 11 OT losses ranks behind only Vancouver (13), Philadelphia (13), Nashville (14) and Carolina (16), and has the Sabres tied with both Detroit and Minnesota.  Considering that Detroit, Minnesota and Philadelphia are fighting for a playoff spot, and that Nashville has already clinched a spot, and that is not bad company to be in.  Any team that can play so many teams even for 60 minutes has to be competitive – especially when six of those losses came via shootout, the worst way to lose in all of hockey.

The Sabres are not the Oilers.

I mean, come on.  You want to start slinging around a word such as “lowly” to describe a team?  Yeah, Buffalo spent a few years at the absolute bottom of the league, but what Edmonton has managed to do is astounding.  Starting in 2010, the Oilers have managed to secure the first pick in the NHL draft four times – and STILL are about to finish in last place this season.  Compare that to the Sabres, who could have started tanking once they lost Ryan O’Reilly for a few weeks.  Instead, this team decided to continue battling, resulting in the month of March being the one in which the Buffalo Sabres most closely resembled a .500 hockey club, as the team went 7-4-4 and captured 16 out 30 possible points.

I can come down pretty hard on the Sabres, but I also give credit where credit is due.  No one should be patting the Buffalo Sabres on the back right now – but you can’t keep denying them credit when they win games, either.  Time for hockey writers to grab a dictionary to find another sports cliche to describe this team.