When the 2013-14 season started, the Buffalo Sabres had the same goals as every NHL team. The Sabres wanted to play well, make the playoffs and make a charge towards a championship. Realistically, the Sabres did not have the talent to challenge for the Stanley Cup, but there was a lot to be said for the optimistic feeling that this team could go out and grab one of the two new wild card spots and maybe make some noise in the playoffs.
After only a few games, it became painfully obvious that the team was broken and it wasn’t going to get repaired any time soon.
Most fans in Buffalo would correctly observe that bringing in president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and interim head coach Ted Nolan in November 2013, after the firings of former GM Darcy Regier and former head coach Ron Rolston, was a move done at least six months too late. Some fans think that the firing of Regier came about three years too late. But with LaFontaine and Nolan in place, the prospects for an improved team seemed to be on the rise.
While the team has looked a little better under Nolan, it has become painfully obvious that the Buffalo roster needs a complete overhaul. The team will play well at some points, and then get crushed in a game that will start a losing streak which could go on for three or four games at a time. It is the old scenario of taking one step forward and then three steps back.
Will the Olympic break help the team to gather itself and make a run towards the playoffs? As of today, the Sabres are 22 points out of the second and final wild card spot. It would take nothing short of a miracle for the Sabres to come even close to a playoff berth.
In 2010, Jacques Lemaire was brought back as head coach of the New Jersey Devils to help the team pull out of a horrible nose dive, and Lemaire used the same roster that started the season to fall just short of the playoffs. Unfortunately for Buffalo fans, a run that falls short of the playoffs is about the best that the Sabres can hope for at this point.
When LaFontaine and Nolan first took their jobs in November, the plan was to evaluate talent and prepare to help the new GM put together a winning team. It would have been nice to see the team surge towards the playoffs, but it was not a necessary part of the process. Now that GM Tim Murray is in place, the organization can start putting together the roster it wants to make that playoff run next season.
As for this season, it is safe to say that Sabres fans will be more interested in the trade deadline than a potential playoff run. It is all part of the growing process and, as Regeir pointed out during the summer of 2013, it is going to be painful.