Doesn’t this offseason feel different for the Buffalo Sabres?

The Buffalo Sabres have failed to put a winning team together for the past nine years, but this offseason feels different — and for good reason.

Over the past 9 years, the Buffalo Sabres have struggled to find their identity in this league. Several coaches have tried, and several general managers have tried, but the Sabres have always been left with the same results.

When the offseason began, it seemed like this season was going to be no different. It was just another year of this playoff drought, another year with a new GM, and another year of extreme angst among fans and players alike.

Many fans were ready to embrace (not that we wanted to) what’s become ‘the norm’ in Buffalo. Trading away future draft picks for players that don’t pan out.

Signing players to long-term commitments before they’ve proven worthy. Throwing prospects into the wrong role, utilizing them the wrong way, trying to rush their development, and mishandling their contracts.

The decisions the Buffalo Sabres have made the past nine years are questionable, idiotic, rushed, and frustrating. It says a lot about how far away this team is from being a consistent winner, but it also shows how faithful Sabres’ fans are — because we all know we aren’t going anywhere.

More: Dear Pegulas, the Buffalo Sabres are not an afterthought

At its onset, the offseason was doomed for the same level of ‘idiocracy’ that we’ve grown accustomed to. Thanks to Kevyn Adams’ approach this offseason, Sabres’ fans were gifted something much more promising, much more motivating, and much more exciting.

It’s safe to say this offseason has been much different than the past nine, but why do I say that?

Well, let’s take a look at the three points I listed above and see what’s different about them this year.

  • The Sabres trade away future draft picks for players that don’t pan out.

When looking at the Buffalo Sabres’ roster — more specifically their prospect pool — many fans are unhappy with the depth and talent present. There are definitely some gems in there, but it’s not what it should or could be. Why is that?

In recent years, the Buffalo Sabres have made it a habit of throwing away draft picks for players that simply don’t pan out. At the time the trades are announced, some of them make sense and some of them don’t. Either way, they’ve definitely missed out on a lot of potential prospects in recent history.

Just looking at the past four years, it’s quite sickening to look at the amount of draft picks we’ve given away for players that didn’t return the favor. For example, take a look at this list of draft picks:

2016 3rd round draft pick

2017 3rd round draft pick, 4th round draft pick

2019 1st round draft pick, 4th round draft pick, 5th round draft pick, 

2020 4th round draft pick

2021 2nd round draft pick, 3rd round draft pick, 5th round draft pick

2022 5th round draft pick

Do you want to know what those draft picks represent? Those are the draft picks the Sabres have traded away over the past four years. I know what you’re thinking, it’s a lot of 3rd-5th rounders, but those are important draft picks.

If you’re going to trade them, either make it worth it or trade them by trading up in the draft. Don’t throw them away by trading for players that aren’t difference makers, especially when you’re a team trying to rebuild for the future

Do you want to know who the Sabres got in return for those draft picks?

Jimmy Vesey (twice), Colin Miller, Wayne Simmonds, Michael Frolik, Nathan Beaulieu, Anders Nilsson, Scott Wilson, Connor Sheary, Matt Hunwick, and Brandon Montour.

Something about that doesn’t sit right with me. Again, some of the trades made sense at the time, but if you’re going to dish away future draft picks like that, you need to make sure the return pans out.

Trading for Vesey twice (for a 3rd round draft pick each time) was laughable. Simmonds, Frolik, Wilson, and Hunwick all left in free agency this offseason. We traded a 3rd rounder for Beaulieu in 2017, just to trade him away in 2019 for a 6th rounder.

Sure, we had excess picks from the Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Taylor Fedun, and Marco Scandella trades, but we also gave up a 2nd round in 2019, as well as a 3rd and 6th rounder in 2020 for Skinner.

More: Can Jeff Skinner find comfort on a line with Eric Staal?

It’s disappointing that we gave up all those draft picks for players that aren’t on the team anymore or aren’t who we thought they’d be.

Only two of those players we got in return are still on the team. Two. Colin Miller and Brandon Montour. We gave up 11 draft picks. For what? Several more years of a playoff drought and a prospect pool in 2021 that’s dwindling.

That’s what I call throwing away prospects. Or in other words — giving up a lot of s**t for players that don’t give you s**t.

  • The Sabres rush the development and mishandle their prospects.

You’ve already got me started on the amount of prospects we’ve missed out on, so we may as well touch base on the ones we’ve mishandled, rushed the development of, or utilized in the wrong role.

Talk about a double-whammy, because here’s another list that makes me sick:

Nikita Zadorov (16th), Cal Peterson (129th), Brendan Lemieux (31st), Eric Cornel (44th), Brendan Guhle (51st), Cliff Pu (69th), and Alex Nylander (8th).

Do you want to know what those players represent? Those are players the Buffalo Sabres drafted (with high picks, might I add) that they couldn’t develop properly — or were traded before they even got the chance.

When you trade all your draft picks away and then mishandle the picks you’re left with, it’s not going to bode well moving forward.

Related Story: Sabres have a flurry of prospects playing well overseas

Cliff Pu was involved in the Jeff Skinner trade. Brendan Guhle was involved in the Brandon Montour trade. Nikita Zadarov in the trade that brought O’Reilly to Buffalo. Brendan Lemieux in the trade that brought Kane and Bogosian to town.

If O’Reilly, Kane, and Bogosian brought us more success than they did, it might’ve been worth it. Looking back on what we’ve had to suffer through as fans, it wasn’t worth it.

We can also throw Rasmus Ristolainen (8th), Casey Mittelstadt (8th), and Marcus Davidsson (37th) into the mix of prospects that have been mishandled here. Ristolainen has been a disappointment and is on thin ice with Buffalo. Mittelstadt was rushed into a role he wasn’t ready for and will likely return to Rochester for more development.

Davidsson took a major step back recently and is on the verge of being another 2nd round draft pick that doesn’t make it for Buffalo (Eric Cornel). Cornel was the 44th pick in the 2014 draft. Davidsson was the 37th pick in the 2017 draft.

I guess you can also throw Lawrence Pilut and Dominik Kahun in the mix, although they weren’t drafted by the Sabres.

  • The Sabres sign long-term commitments before the player has earned it.

Prospects are one thing, draft picks are another, but what about the so-called ‘proven’ players we’ve signed over the years. How have those turned out?

Ville Leino signed a 6-year, $27 million in July 2011, which followed the 10-year, $40 million contract signed by Christian Ehrhoff a month prior. Both players were bought out several years later and both go down as two of the worst contracts throughout NHL history.

September of 2013 saw the 6-year, $25.5 million Cody Hodgson re-signing, which didn’t last long before he was released back to free agency in 2015. Let’s not forget about Matt Moulson’s 5-year, $25 million contract signed in July 2014. He eventually ended up in the AHL.

Also: Does Taylor Hall make the Sabres a playoff team?

Currently on the roster, the Buffalo Sabres have three players that were signed to long-term commitments prematurely. Kyle Okposo isn’t a bad player and I don’t mind him being on the roster, but his 7-year, $42 million contract signed in July 2016 is currently eating up $6 million per year. He’s on the 4th line.

Rasmus Ristolainen signed a 6-year, $32.4 million October 2016, but has failed to live up to that contract. With the amount of times he’s been considered trade bait, you wonder what would’ve happened if he was signed to a lower-term contract.

And then you have Jeff Skinner. Again, not a bad player, but rushing him to an 8-year, $72 million contract in June 2019 isn’t going to bode well for the salary cap moving forward — especially when you’re paying Jack Eichel $1 million more.

Now, I’m not saying the players above didn’t deserve a contract and I’m not even mad at the amount of money they received in most cases (per year). My main issue is giving them long-term commitments before they’ve proven to be consistent for the Buffalo Sabres.

  • Final thoughts…

Between the amount of draft picks we’ve given up in recent years, the amount of prospects we’ve mishandled, and the amount of long-term commitments we’ve handed out prematurely, it’s no wonder the Buffalo Sabres found themselves in such a big hole heading into this offseason.

Of course, it’s also a tip-of-the-hat to Kevyn Adams and what he’s been able to do this offseason — compared to what we’ve seen in the past.

  1. He has only made one trade thus far — Marcus Johansson for Eric Staal. He did trade a draft pick on draft night, but it was to move up for a player they wanted — I can dig that.
  2. He built the roster in a way that gives Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, and other prospects a chance to develop the right way.
  3. He hasn’t signed anyone to a long-term commitment — not even Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, or Taylor Hall. Even more impressive, he kept the door open for a long-term commitment in the future, if they pan out. He also added a variety of veteran depth to one-year minimums.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure what else Sabres’ fans could ask for from Adams. He’s setting this team up for success this season, he’s setting them up for sustained success, he’s rebuilding the prospect pool, and he’s rebuilding the cap situation.

He’s bringing in culture guys, those that improve the locker room and overall sense of motivation with players. He’s bringing in players that improve situational hockey. He’s bringing in veterans with something to prove.

Kevyn Adams is being smart and it’s something we haven’t seen in Buffalo in a very long time. You almost wish he was given a better opportunity with the draft picks we’ve thrown away, cap situations, and limited prospect pool. At the same time, you have to applaud him for what he’s done thus far.

This offseason feels different for the Buffalo Sabres. And it should because we finally have a competent GM and the right coach to lead this team to success.

Next: Can Jeff Skinner find comfort on a line with Eric Staal?

We really hope you enjoyed this blog about our beloved Buffalo Sabres. We look forward to continuing the conversation with the best fans in the world down below in the comments section.