With the Buffalo Sabres in full rebuild mode, the upcoming season looks like it could be a bit rough. But there are varying degrees of success when a team is rebuilding and perhaps the best way to go into this season is to set the bar at a realistic level. The definition of success is in the eye of the beholder and there are several different goals to choose from.
For the players, the only measure of success is whether the team makes the playoffs or not. The last complete 82-game season in the NHL was 2018-2019 and the bottom playoff team in the Eastern Conference that season was the Columbus Blue Jackets with a total of 98 points. A 98-point season should absolutely be the goal for every member of the team, Don Granato, and Kevyn Adams.
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As fans, however, we might be better off tempering those expectations a bit to avoid being too terribly disappointed. There are several different ways fans can define success this season and choosing one of these lesser, more realistic goals might make for a more pleasant hockey-watching experience.
One possible benchmark for success might be for the team to try and exceed their point total from the last full season. In 2018-2019 the Sabres collected 76 points, with 20 of those points coming during a 10-game winning streak in November of 2018. Those 76 points were good for sixth place in the Atlantic Division that season. 76 points this coming season certainly won’t get the Sabres into the playoffs. But perhaps that might be something to hope for while the younger players that constitute the new core of the team, such as Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, and Rasmus Dahlin, grow into their roles.
Perhaps the more optimistic fans among us will use the point-per-game threshold as the definition of success. Once again, 82 points doesn’t get the team anywhere near the playoffs, but it is a good starting point for a team trying to regain respectability.
Other fans might be thinking that a point total in the 60 to 70 range is a more appropriate goal, considering how the last attempted rebuild started. It was several years ago, but the memories of the back-to-back seasons of 52 and 54 points are still pretty fresh.
For other fans, the point total might be completely irrelevant compared to the team’s placement in the standings. Since the Sabres finished sixth in the last 82-game season, perhaps this year’s definition of success will be to finish fifth or better in the Atlantic Division. It might be hard to do that depending on what other teams in the division look like, but if division placement is your benchmark, then you might have some fun seeing the out-of-town scoreboard in March and April as the season reaches its final stanza.
Regardless of what your definition of success is for the Sabres this season, the hope is that at this time next year we will be talking about a different set of criteria.