3 burning questions for the Buffalo Sabres in the second half of 2023-24

The Buffalo Sabres need an epic second half of 2023-24 if they plan on returning to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and they face several questions.

Dec 23, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1) makes a
Dec 23, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1) makes a / Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
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While the Buffalo Sabres still have about six games to go before they are officially “halfway” through the 2023-24 season, the three-day league-wide break is a good spot to mark the unofficially halfway point. Therefore, instead of weekly burning questions as is often the case, we’re instead asking questions pertaining to the entire second half of the year. 

So what questions must the Sabres answer from now until mid-April if they are looking to prove to the league they are better than what they have played so far? Below, you will find the three most pressing, from a potential contract extension to whether this team can just stay off of injured reserve. 

3 burning questions for the Buffalo Sabres in second half of season

1 - Will the Sabres simply stay healthy?

Perhaps the biggest question hedging into the second half of the season is whether the Sabres will avoid the injury bug. Some may claim you can get around injuries or whatever, and that is the case if it’s a player or two from different units. But for a time, it seemed like the second one player returned, another immediately went down. 

This negated chemistry, and it set the Blue and Gold back further than perhaps anything else, so another surge in injuries will continue to hamper this team. The good news, however, is that the Sabres, since 2021-22, have played fine hockey when their team is either completely or nearly completely healthy, and the case should be no different in 2023-24. 

Will they stay healthy? We don’t know, but we do know they will give us better hockey than what we were treated to between October 12th and December 23rd if they do. 

2 - Will anyone step up and start to take over games?

Someone on the Buffalo Sabres must step up and take over games if they plan on putting their pedestrian first half of the season behind them. Fortunately for the Blue and Gold, they are rediscovering that old, high-octane approach that seemed to have coincided with winger Jack Quinn’s return, so perhaps not one, but several players will take the mantle. 

Jeff Skinner and JJ Peterka are prime candidates, as they have 14 and 12 goals on the year, respectively, but don’t count out Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch, since both have come around following slow starts. Zach Benson is a dark horse here, as, even if he’s a rookie with just 13 points in 25 games, he positions himself so well in front of the net that the goals will organically start to follow. 

3 - Will Casey Mittelstadt get his contract extension?

It’s one of the more polarizing conversations, but one reason I’ve stressed from the get-go for Kevyn Adams to NOT make a major trade or signing is so he can extend most of his core. Over the past two seasons, we saw him do just that when most general managers would have succumbed to the temptation of building a surefire winner now, especially after last year. 

But Adams didn’t, rightfully sticking to his plan to keep highly-productive players locked in the City of Good Neighbors for nearly a decade. Now, we might end up saying the same for Casey Mittelstadt, who has 29 points, nine goals, 20 assists, a 16.4 shooting percentage, and 24 takeaways. 

Mittelstadt struggled with injuries early in his career, but he’s healthy now, and he looks like a long-term fixture as the third-line center. This top-nine Adams has built is an epic one, and if Adams feels Mittelstadt can lead it long-term, he might just be the next Buffalo Sabres player inking a long-term deal. 

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(Statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)