High Hopes for Low Places: The 2014 Buffalo Sabres

Connor McDavid could change the course of the NHL! - Photo from fulltilthockeynetwork.com

Connor McDavid could change the course of the NHL! – Photo from fulltilthockeynetwork.com

The Buffalo Sabres will open their season at the First Niagara Center on Thursday, October 9th against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The matchup is fitting in that Columbus is a team on the rise; after trading away talent and making room on their roster for hungry youth and veteran leadership, the Blue Jackets took their first round playoff series to six games last year. Buffalo, who evacuated their roster by the trade deadline last year, has added veteran leadership and acquired youthful talent that could carry them in the same direction.

DROP THE PUCK!

DROP THE PUCK!

If NHL media is to be believed, the best case scenario for the Sabres this season is a repeat of last – a total bottoming out, which lands us in the basement and gives us the best shot at our pick of two dynamic players – Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Buffalo nabbing McDavid is such a solid lock that even Google Results are reporting it. Go to Google and begin typing “Connor McDavid.” Hey, look! Buffalo’s famous! Banking on some possible backlash from fans for another poor season, Sabres management was able to procure the USA Hockey Prospects Game, showcasing the skills of Eichel, and later this month, McDavid’s Erie Otters will take the ice at the FNC. Once the residents of Hockey Heaven catch a glimpse of these two players, some of the sting of losing may fade.

Look, mom!  We're Google famous!

Look, mom! We’re Google famous!

So, here we are, on the precipice of such an important season, and I can’t help but think that it may not turn out the way it’s “supposed to.” The offseason roster moves seem to have addressed some of the team’s weaknesses – most notably, the acquisition of Gionta and Gorges: two men who led Montreal back to the playoffs last year. They served as captain and alternate captain for the Habs and will reprise these roles for us here. Their obvious chemistry means the growing pains with a new team will not be as severe. The blue line got stronger with the addition of Andre Benoit, who played a solid role on last year’s Avalanche team, and Andrej Meszaros, the Slovakian left-hander, who has spent quality time with Eastern Conference playoff perennials: the Senators, Flyers, & Bruins.

We’ve kept some youth on our team (for now), opting to send Mikhail Grigorenko down to Rochester to make room for 2nd overall pick Sam Reinhart, and while Jake McCabe sits on IR, we’ve kept defensive standout Rasmus Ristolainen. We will probably see Reinhart return to the minors after his nine-game allowance, and Rasmus may make his way down the I-90 once McCabe returns from injury. Goaltender Jhonas Enroth comes into the season earning a spot as full-time starter over veteran Michael Neuvirth. Enroth looked strong in the preseason, and while the quality of opponent wasn’t always NHL-level, he seems to have improved from last season.

This blogger has a completely different set of hopes in mind, and I am surprised this isn’t the prevailing conversation around the city: I hope that the New York Islanders continue their perpetual downward spiral. If you’ll recall, the NHL’s favorite Grumpy Cat Impersonator, Tim Murray, built-in a back-up plan for this season when he conned the Isles into giving us their first round-draft pick. Ultimately, we could take this train all the way to the Cup and STILL end up with McDavid or Eichel.

Garth Snow doesn't like me?  Good. - Photo from sabres.nhl.com

Garth Snow doesn’t like me? Good. – Photo from sabres.nhl.com

The truth is: we’re not going to make it to the Cup. We’ll probably miss the playoffs again this year, and that’s OK. We have a hefty swing at a generational player in next year’s draft, and we’re almost guaranteed to end up with two top-ten prospects and possibly even three in the top 25 (we also have St. Louis’ pick). The 2015 draft is one of the strongest in a very long time; it could serve to shake up a league that has developed a few “dynasty” teams. Murray has set us up to take advantage of this in the best possible way. Here’s to a successful year of developing our youth, cultivating chemistry, and preparing to follow in the footsteps of success stories like Chicago and Pittsburgh, who suffered similar dismal seasons before drafting well and finding their way to the Cup. The blueprint is in place, so grab a pint, don your jersey, and no matter what, be relentless in your cheers: “LET’S GO BUFF-A-LO!”

The Sabres and the Harbor Center, always with fans in mind, are hosting several events over the next few days. Thursday, the Party in the Plaza is back on, and Monday, a special Kid’s Day viewing of the afternoon game against Anaheim will be held at Canalside. Be sure to show your support at these FREE events!

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