The Buffalo Sabres were close to snapping their 12-year playoff drought, falling one point short in the race for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot to the Florida Panthers.
With the window opening for the Sabres young group, team captain Kyle Okposo signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal on Thursday in hopes of completing some unfinished business.
“I’ve been through a lot here as everybody on this call knows, and I just think we’re scratching the surface and that it’s pretty evident by what’s happened in the playoffs this year that we’re not very far from reaching the top of the mountain,” Okposo said in a media availability on Thursday. “I did not know how much work was going to have to go into it, but I think that we’re extremely close.”
Okposo had 28 points last season with Buffalo in the final year of a seven-year, $42 million deal. After struggling with multiple concussion issues early in his stint with the Sabres, the 35-year-old winger settled into a veteran leadership role the last two seasons and was named team captain last summer.
The entire Okposo family is back for another year 💙
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) May 25, 2023
The Sabres captain recognized that the club had shown significant progress last season and that they will be expected to be better next season, but a big part of that improvement will be dealing with the expectations of the Buffalo fanbase and the media.
“Last year there were no expectations, and everybody’s writing rosy articles and this group is becoming a good team and that’s great, but how do you (deal) with expectations?” Okposo said. “There are guys that are starting to get bigger contracts. There’s guys that are starting to get noticed nationally. There are going to be lofty expectations next year and I think that we can’t run from that. You have to set your goal. Should our goal be to make the playoffs? Should our goal be to be two points better than we were this year? ‘No.’ That’s expected now. And so you set the goal of winning the Stanley Cup and then you don’t touch that, you don’t run and you don’t let that weigh you down at all.”
Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel are close to realizing that goal, as Okposo’s former teammates appear on a collision course towards meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. Reinhart’s Panthers completed a four-game sweep of Carolina on Wednesday and Eichel could punch his ticket on Thursday with a win over the Dallas Stars.
“Jack and Sam are both good people. They’re good friends of mine. I’m happy for both of them in the success that they’ve had individually and as a team.”