Connect with us

Buffalo Sabres

Sabres’ Chances at the Playoffs Coming Out of the Break

Published

on

Buffalo Sabres playoffs

With the first 49 games of the season not exactly going as expected, the Buffalo Sabres have an uphill battle ahead of them if they want to push for the playoffs. As things currently stand, the Sabres are 10 points out of a postseason spot with 48 points. The Detroit Red Wings inhabit the final Wild Card bid at the moment, with 58 points in 50 games.

What’s gone wrong for the Sabres is well documented, but here let’s focus on what they need to go right. The reality is there’s still an outside chance at the playoffs, with the sportsbooks implying about a 7% chance they’re able to leapfrog the five teams in their way.

Should you place that +1300 bet? Let’s breakdown the path it would take.

Current Standings

Here’s how the current Eastern Conference standings sit, to give you an idea of the playoff picture:

Atlantic

  1. Boston Bruins [71]
  2. Florida Panthers [66]
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning [59]

Metropolitan

  1. New York Rangers [63]
  2. Carolina Hurricanes [61]
  3. Philadelphia Flyers [56]

Wild Card

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs [58]
  2. Detroit Red Wings [58]

Remaining

  1. New York Islanders [52]
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins [51]
  3. New Jersey Devils [51]
  4. Washington Capitals [51]
  5. Buffalo Sabres [48]
  6. Montreal Canadiens [48]
  7. Ottawa Senators [42]
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets [42]

Of course, some teams have played more games than others. Points percentage is the better way of sorting out the current standings, and in this case there would be two changes. The Maple Leafs have a better percentage (.617) than the Lightning (.590) so those two would swap spots. Also, the Islanders have a worse percentage (.531) than the Penguins (.554), Devils (.543), and Capitals (.543) and would fall to just ahead of the Sabres.

Projected Standings

The PuckLuck model is my baby, so if you wonder why I reference it so much in my work it’s because I’ve put years of refining it in order to produce the most accurate projections in the public sphere. The statistical work feeding into the model is broken down to the player level, so the losses of Mattias Samuelsson and Jack Quinn are recognized in the latest projections.

Latest News: Samuelsson Done For Season

Same goes for key contributors on other teams, as New Jersey’s Jack Hughes, Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev, and the New York Rangers’ Filip Chytil are all accounted for.

It’s important to be able to recognize teams for who they really are going forward, not just how they’ve been performing. The Sabres have picked up their point pace considerably in the new year, improving to about a 104-point pace in January as opposed to the approximately 73-point pace they were on to begin the season.

So who are the Sabres really? Let’s take a look at how the Eastern Conference projects over the remaining games of the season, per PuckLuck:

Projected Points Through Remaining Games

  1. Carolina Hurricanes [43]
  2. Boston Bruins [43]
  3. New Jersey Devils [43]
  4. Ottawa Senators [42]
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins [42]
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs [41]
  7. New York Rangers [41]
  8. Washington Capitals [39]
  9. Florida Panthers [39]
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning [38]
  11. Buffalo Sabres [37]
  12. Detroit Red Wings [36]
  13. New York Islanders [35]
  14. Philadelphia Flyers [31]
  15. Montreal Canadiens [28]
  16. Columbus Blue Jackets [27]

The good news is the Sabres are projected for more points than the Red Wings. However, it’s not nearly enough of a difference to expect Buffalo to surpass Detroit. On top of that, the Devils, Penguins, and Capitals all project better as teams currently ahead of the Sabres in the standings.

37 points in 33 games is a .561 point percentage, which is a dip from the .636 performance from January. The drop makes sense given Buffalo’s recent injury news. They’ll have to either overperform or find adequate replacements in order to maintain the 2024 pace they’re on.

Final Standings Projections

Adding in the projected outcomes of the remaining games, here’s how the Eastern Conference playoff picture looks:

Atlantic

  1. Boston Bruins [114]
  2. Florida Panthers [105]
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs [99]

Metropolitan

  1. New York Rangers [104]
  2. Carolina Hurricanes [104]
  3. New Jersey Devils [94]

Wild Card

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning [97]
  2. Detroit Red Wings [94]

Remaining

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins [93]
  2. Washington Capitals [90]
  3. New York Islanders [87]
  4. Philadelphia Flyers [87]
  5. Buffalo Sabres [85]
  6. Ottawa Senators [84]
  7. Montreal Canadiens [76]
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets [67]

Last season, 92 points was the magic number to get into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. This season, that number is looking to be a little higher.

The Red Wings project for 94 points, which means the Sabres will need a little extra “oomph” in order to pull off a miracle run down the stretch. They finished last season with 91 points, and project to finish six points worse this season.

It also doesn’t help that more teams are in the mix this season, with six teams comfortably finishing behind Buffalo in 2022-2023. While the Flyers and Islanders project to slide a bit, the Devils, Penguins, and Capitals are in a much better position than the Sabres to add at the trade deadline in order to earn a playoff berth.

Deadline Deal

The Sabres may be a longshot, but there is still a chance. The St. Louis Blues went on a crazy run in 2019 and ended up winning the Stanley Cup. They believed in the pieces they had, and everything just happened to click at the right time.

Buffalo’s may need more than things just to “click”, but there are some options to replace Jack Quinn’s scoring if they really want to make a run. Their pending unrestricted free agents can be moved and replaced internally, and then the only question comes down to what to do with Casey Mittelstadt.

Must read: Sabres Options to Replace Jack Quinn After Injury

If the Sabres show signs of life in February, it’s possible they hold on to their leading scorer. If not, trading Mittelstadt by the trade deadline is an option they may explore, with the demand on centers currently very high across the NHL.

Mittelstadt’s return would probably be significant, considering his production this season. A move could help better set up the Sabres as they start to turn their attention towards fixing things for next season.

Final Outlook

46 more points puts Buffalo right at the 94-mark, which is about where the Wild Card cutoff line should be. That’s a .697 point percentage over the last 33 games, which is something like a 20-7-6 record. Essentially, they’d have to be the league’s best team down the stretch.

It’s not only a huge ask, but also likely unattainable. Finishing nine points over projected will require the goaltending to remain hot, and the Sabres to rediscover their scoring touch from last season to overcome any mistakes. Goals will have to come from more than whoever is playing with JJ Peterka or Mittelstadt up front, as they have really carried the offense as of late.

The players and coaching staff will reiterate taking everything game-by-game, but there’s no doubt the Sabres will have to take their game to a new level if they’re going to break the 13-year playoff drought.