Last season, the naysayers claimed the Buffalo Sabres were one of the most “hopeless” teams in the NHL. They quickly changed that narrative.
The 2022-23 season was supposed to be one of development, but the Buffalo Sabres shut down that narrative by late-January. They were legitimate playoff contenders, something that wasn’t supposed to happen until 2023-24 at the earliest.
While the Blue and Gold hit a massive bump across the first three weeks of March 2023 that ultimately sunk their playoff chances in April, it took until the 80th game of the season for that familiar ‘e’ to appear next to their name. Nobody saw such a push coming. And while just about every analyst and expert is now saying, “Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs,” they’re also collectively claiming something along the lines of, “Playoffs, but they won’t contend for the Cup.”
That tells me some didn’t learn from their previous mistake. To a degree, I get it – the Sabres are a young hockey team that was nowhere close to perfect in 2022-23. And this year, they are still one of the league’s youngest groups and unproven in the defensive rotation and at goaltender.
No, general manager Kevyn Adams chose not to make a big trade or a splash free agent signing for a goalie or a blueliner. He didn’t do this because he didn’t need to, given the positive returns the team had given him over the previous two seasons when they accumulated 75 points in 2021-22, and 91 points last year.
Buffalo Sabres can be legitimate Cup contenders in 2023-24
Had Adams made those two major transactions, you would have experts and analysts everywhere claiming the Sabres could win the Atlantic and perhaps even end up in the Conference Finals. Why? Because that’s just what you do if you’re an NHL GM, right?
If your team finished close to making the playoffs, you’re supposed to mortgage half of your future to win now. Even if it means potentially stagnating for a year or so afterward because you traded for a possible rental at goaltender and/or acquired a blueliner who may or may not be a good fit for a premium price.
Just like how Adams was “supposed” to add more talent in 2022 because he had the cap space. Well guess what – Adams practically proved to us last season you could break a few unwritten rules and deviate from what you’re “supposed” to do as a general manager, and he turned a few naysayers into believers for at least regarding the playoffs.
So the Buffalo Sabres can’t contend for the Cup because Adams made minimal signings for the second straight year in a row? I beg to differ, given the way his method has dramatically improved this team over the past two seasons without making a single blockbuster trade or free agent signing.
If Buffalo enjoys even an eight-point improvement this season, half of what they improved by from 2021-22 to 2022-23, they’re sitting at 99 points. That should be enough for at least a wild card berth, and we all know what their division rival did last season with that wild card.