Is the lack of having contracts to play for haunting the Buffalo Sabres?

The Buffalo Sabres have essentially the same team they did last season, and that team wasn’t necessarily a bad group. So why the sudden regression?

Dec 31, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres center Tage Thopson (72) and Ottawa Senators
Dec 31, 2023; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Buffalo Sabres center Tage Thopson (72) and Ottawa Senators / Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few days, we have outlined several possible reasons for the Buffalo Sabres regression. But one variable we haven’t discussed is the fact core players are no longer playing for contracts. Since the Summer of 2022, Tage Thompson, Mattias Samuelsson, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, and Owen Power all received lucrative extensions, and they have collectively taken a step back. 

Was there a sense of urgency from this group last season and, once they signed, did that put them in cruise control? The answer is this: We will never know for sure, but at most, such a possible claim that a lack of urgency has risen from the most effective players having no contract to play for is sketchy. 

While there has been regression all over the board, you can argue that Tage Thompson and Mattias Samuelsson had their best seasons last year after they signed their respective extensions. Tage enjoyed a 94-point outing, and the Sabres won roughly 65 percent of the time when the injury-prone Samuelsson was healthy. 

Lack of contracts to play for are not likely haunting the Buffalo Sabres

Dylan Cozens signed his seven-year extension this time last year, and his play didn’t suddenly drop off in the following months. Sure, Dahlin and Power could be playing better, though the latter seems to be taking the blame for just about every one of the Blue and Gold’s problems this season - some of which are on him, most of which aren't. But that doesn’t mean a lack of having something to play for is causing the regression. 

There is always something to play for and it’s called the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so the sudden regression hasn’t stemmed from the fact all of the above players got their respective extensions. In a piece from yesterday, I cited “growing pains,” and the Buffalo Sabres also aren’t the first young pro sports team to regress one season after, let’s admit it, overachieving. 

So if you see someone making such claims on social media or even in-person that with the core players no longer fighting for contract extensions, it’s something to scoff at. Not saying the Sabres haven’t shown a lack of urgency in games - they have - but citing contracts is just, as mentioned earlier, sketchy.