The Buffalo Sabres are no strangers to hot starts that fade quickly. Despite being among the league’s best well into November multiple times over the past few seasons, the franchise has still failed to make a playoff appearance since 2011.
2022-23 seems to have a different vibe for Buffalo, though. The team sits eighth in the Eastern Conference by points percentage at the end of January, with teams over halfway through their regular-season schedules. They’ve surged past an injury-laden Washington Capitals squad to sit in playoff positioning, and they’ve kept pace ahead of other up-and-coming Atlantic Division teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators.
With 33 games left to play in their season, though, can they keep up their play?
Buffalo hasn’t exactly been a model of consistency for defensive play, but that was never the expectation for such a young team. While they sit among the bottom third of teams in terms of goals against, their 185 goals scored rank third in the NHL at the time of writing.
Their patchwork goaltending tandem of 41-year-old Craig Anderson and career backup Eric Comrie raised many eyebrows at the beginning of the season. Now, it’s turned into a more capable trio, including the 23-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. He’s started 20 games in Buffalo this year, the most among all Sabres netminders and his .900 save percentage is in line with the league’s average. Anderson, while he hasn’t played often, has exceeded all expectations with a .918 mark in 16 games.
Buffalo already has four 20-goal scorers, with Tage Thompson (34), Alex Tuch (23), Victor Olofsson (23), and Jeff Skinner (20) leading the way. Thompson, Tuch, Skinner, and Rasmus Dahlin all produce over a point per game. 21-year-old Dylan Cozens is enjoying a true breakout campaign with 43 points in 48 games. 20-year-old Owen Power is near the top of the Calder Trophy conversation and is playing more than any other rookie defenseman this year, averaging 23:39 per game.
There are many reasons to be optimistic. But with such an inexperienced and young team, along with the franchise’s recent history of disappointment, there are obviously questions about sustainability.
However, many questions can also be raised about their competitors for Wild Card positioning in the Eastern Conference. Alarm bells are sounding in Pittsburgh, as the Penguins have won just three games in regulation since Christmas. Similar concerns can be had about the aging Capitals, who are cooling off after a December hot streak and continue to encounter injury news at an uncomfortable pace.
Both the Red Wings and Florida Panthers, their closest Atlantic Division threats, have dipped into negative goal differential territory and have hovered close to the .500 mark for most of the past couple of months. It still may be premature to discount the Panthers, considering their tantalizing scoring depth on paper, but they also haven’t been able to keep the puck out of their own net with any consistency this year. Unlike other teams in the conversation, Florida also has no salary cap flexibility to add at the trade deadline.
That’s one area where Buffalo shines. Despite being in playoff position, Buffalo has the most cap space of any NHL team. While some may argue it would be premature for general manager Kevyn Adams to ship out assets at this year’s March 3 trade deadline, a non-rental addition could help solidify Buffalo’s already impressive core for future seasons.
So, we ask you, PHR readers: can the Buffalo Sabres hang on and make their first playoff appearance in 12 seasons, ending the NHL’s longest active drought? Make your voice heard by voting in the poll below.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Sorry for having to poop on the old Sunday party, @Josh, but was there supposed to be a link to the poll question, or was this just meant for a Yes/No in the comments section? For the time being, I’m going with “Maybe Guy”, as I need to see a bit more improvement in the defensive game leading up to the trade deadline.
Hey Mac — are you trying to view the poll on mobile or computer?
@Josh – I’m using a computer, and I just created a disposable (for testing) browser profile, and the poll shows up fine, as well as your avatar, which I had never seen! I’ll try tweaking some settings on the production browsers to see if I can get things to be more predictable. Thanks!
Lol, no worries!
@Josh—And, just for the record, I *used* to have hair kind of like that! It’s now referred to as scrub brush… :)
I would like the Sabres to require a short term asset like a J. Edmonson in return as a cost of Buffalo “weaponizing” their cap space as a 3rd party team at the trade deadline.
I would like to see them go after Timo Meier.
Isak Rosen, Jost, Comrie and the Flyers’ 2nd for Meier, Vlassic(1/2 salary), and Reimer
This big salary dump would be beneficial to the Sharks future and Vlassic at $3.5M is still expensive for a depth defenseman, but the Sabers can handle it. And Reimer is an upgrade over Comrie and the Wharks can deal with his extra year.
Responding to J. Z:
If the Sharks would go for it I’m all in. But they’ll want more. (Something like Vlassic at full cap.). Jost has become very valuable as a Sabre; gotta try to keep him.
But, with Meier, BUF would add a core piece to what could be a 6-10 year window. Gotta go all in.
They’ll have Bishop and Hodgkin (‘member him?) coming off the books this July. The Sabres have the room to extend Meier and still have cap room to satisfy the youths percolating in.
Pass on Timo. Sabres already have a similar player in Victor Olofsson who can be resigned cheaper. No way should the Sabres help out another team with their long term cap issues. Bishop & Hodgkin are both off the books after the season. Sabres already have Samuelson & TNT’s extensions kicking in next season.
VO doesn’t really compare to TM.
The Sabres have Quinn & Peterka learning the ropes this season & they have 3 signed 2022 1st round forwards that are going to be on their roster in the near future. The highest paid Sabre will be Dahlin & no way will the Sabres have any other Forward make to much above TNT.
Any “salary dump” in any trade with the Sabres will cost the other team a sweetener (unless GMKA needs to get to the cap floor- see Bishop).
I suspect that if the Sabres do make the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins won’t.
It’s somewhat axiomatic, after all: Buffalo making it *depends* on Washington or Pittsburgh not doing so.
Id love to get a Tyler Bertuzzi or Dylan Larkin from the Red Wings. It might cost to much but do you think Detroit 1st and a young players like Miittelstadt , Isak Rosen ?
Larkin recently rejected $8mil per x 8 years contract offer from Detroit. Detroit spent money on a few FAs without even locking up Dylan Larkin first. How do you think that went over in the Detroit locker room? GMKA is banking on his 2021 (2 1sts all signed), 2022 (3 1sts all signed) & 2023 (1 1st & 3 2nds) drafts to have a strong deep & young roster to dominate for a few seasons. His available cap space will be used to lock up his young core. This is why the Buffalo Sabres are about the next 5 years (or more) & not just about this season.