Friday night’s game against the New York Islanders marks the finale of another playoff-less season for the Buffalo Sabres. Even though the Sabres chances at the playoffs weren’t dashed until late last week, it was always clear they didn’t have what it would take to make a deep playoff run. In a season that has seen the firing of Lindy Ruff, the biggest change the franchise has seen in more than a decade, the games against the Islanders could also mark the final game for many long-time Sabres players.
Throughout the entirety of the season, Ryan Miller’s name was constantly involved in trade rumors. He has one year left on his contract after tonight and is still capable of being a top-5 goalie in the NHL, despite his fairly inconsistent play this past season. The Sabres style of play often requires incredibly strong goaltending, so losing Miller could be much more of a blow than fans think. His performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night showed just how good and important Miller is to the team as he stopped 40 shots in the win.
The offseason could also see the Sabres’ best offensive player in Thomas Vanek traded. After the Sabres traded fan favorite and Sabre for life Jason Pominville at the deadline, it has been clear that the Sabres were not only entering a rebuilding phase but also that no one player is safe. While Vanek is in the midst of his prime at 29 years old he does represent the failed expectation of this Sabres team.
Since the Edmonton Oilers forced the Sabres’ hand by signing Vanek to a huge offer sheet, which the Sabres were forced to match, Vanek has always seemed overpaid for his production. Even though Vanek has been the best offensive player the Sabres have had in quite some time, he has only scored 40 goals twice in the past seven seasons. In fact, had Vanek not been injured off and on throughout the season, he may have already been traded.
Still, Vanek and Miller deserved to be celebrated tonight in the First Niagara Center. Even though no one knows what their futures hold both players have been lifetime Sabres and deserve the fans’ utmost appreciation in the final game of the season and perhaps their Sabres tenure. So enjoy the seemingly meaningless season finale for the Sabres tonight because the next time you see them they may not be your Sabres anymore.