The Buffalo Sabres were content with the progress of the club and the signs of significant growth last season from young prospects like Dylan Cozens, Jack Quinn, and Owen Power, but the failure to add at the trade deadline and end their 12-year playoff drought continues to frustrate the Sabres fanbase.
With the upgrade of the blueline with the addition of veterans Connor Clifton and Erik Johnson, and the further maturation of their young core group, expectations are high that the Sabres will make the postseason for the first time since 2011, but the mentality of the Sabres management has to be more desperate and less patient.
“You see the youth, this team is set up for year after year. The decisions that we’ve made are to build stability that wasn’t built here. It’s not playoffs or bust.” Sabres head coach Don Granato said defiantly said in April at the end of the regular season media availability. “We need to keep getting better and things will take care of itself. We need to compete and grow, and do I have confidence that the results will be playoffs….yeah.”
Patience is a virtue and under GM Kevyn Adams, the Sabres have taken a methodical approach to rebuilding, using talent recognition in the draft and player development. The club has benefited from that and locked up most of the club’s core group on long-term contracts. The addition of support players by trade (Jordan Greenway) and free agency (Johnson, Clifton) are meant to get the club over the hump, but there still appears to be a hesitancy to deviate even slightly from their internal path.
The Path Not Taken
Many believe that if the Sabres do not make the playoffs next season, it will be because their goaltending (21-year-old rookie Devon Levi and 24-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen) are not ready to handle the burden. The more well-travelled path would have been to bring in a veteran to pair with Levi and share the workload, but Adams has been steadfast in his belief in his young tandem.
There were rumors that Adams was exploring trades to bring in veterans like Brett Pesce or Noah Hanifin, which would have required moving one of their top prospects and signing either to a long-term extension. Instead, the Sabres went the more conservative route, signing the 35-year-old Johnson for one year, and Clifton for three.
In the end, the conservative approach may be the right way to go, but if the doubters are proven right, 2023-24 will be considered another missed opportunity and the blood pressure of an already annoyed fanbase will continue to rise.