Another Year Has Passed: A Sabres Retrospective

What a crazy year, eh, Sabres fans? From the depths of the hell that was the tank, to the joy that the team has become to watch - though it was predictable, in a way (I mean, isn’t this what the tank was for?) it comes naturally as a Buffalo fan to just expect the worst. Yet, here we are, playing real, actual hockey. Even tonight’s game, a 2-0 loss to the league’s hottest team, a tie didn’t seem unobtainable until Holtby robbed Kane on the goal line with just seconds remaining. A lot can happen in a year. Here are some of the best (worst) things that did.

5.) The month of December, 2014. As the year ended, Sabres fans breathed a sigh of relief. The team had actually played well in November, and beginning December with a record of 8-14-2 - 27th in the league, and inching toward .500! We weren’t expecting mediocrity, we wanted terrible! Awful! Treacherous! Instead, they were busy defeating teams like Montreal and Tampa Bay - top teams that should have easily dismissed the pitiful Sabres. As the month progressed, though, the Sabres returned to form. Winning only six games in the month, the team had fallen to 28th and the fall was seemingly unstoppable.

4.) The month of January, 2015. Thank god for small miracles, right? Or giant ones, even? I mean, if Buffalo were going to make a move toward the bottom, they had to do something drastic. And surely, they did, failing to win a single game in the month of January. Not one.  The  team went to overtime a couple of times, though right? Nope. Not once. 12 games. 24 points up for grabs, and the Sabres snagged...none. Perfectly imperfect, the team did exactly what it was supposed to do. And it never looked back. Up? Never looked up? I don’t know. They were the worst, and they ended up the worst. That’s really the point, isn’t it?

3.) The Lehner injury. Before everyone gets all ‘headline happy’ and reacts to the first three words of anything without reading the whole thing, may I offer some advice: READ THE WHOLE DAMNED THING. Am I happy Lehner was injured? No. I want to see this team playing with the goalie that cost the team a lot – not in money, necessarily. That pick, though…but I digress. We learned a lot from the Lehner injury. We learned that Chad Johnson is a worthy backup goalie, and that Linus Ullmark is going to be a very good goaltender in a couple of years. At the outset of the season, Johnson was considered by many to be all but useless, and most fans that Andrey Makarov would be the next goalie out of Rochester, but was sent back down after one game in exchange for Ullmark. The Swedish youngster has a lot to work on, but he has proven that he’s NHL-ready sooner than expected, especially after double hip surgery earlier in the year.

2.) Ryan O’Reilly. I don’t even know where to begin. When Murray pulled the trigger on this trade, Buffalo was excited, but I don’t think the city understood exactly what they were getting. In Colorado. O’Reilly was overshadowed by flashier names like Duchene and Landeskog. His leadership ability was perhaps muted, and so when he came to Buffalo and instantly became a leader, the true genius of Tim Murray was on full display. Murray locked him in for an extended contract, and O’Reilly was off and running. Currently, he’s 21st in the league in goals and 20th in points – not bad for a team that is 26th in goals-for. We were very lucky to get him and his acquisition is a highlight of 2015, without a doubt.

1.) Risto’s Hatty. You thought I would say Eichel, didn’t you? Maybe I should have. Feel free to craft your own list of highlights. I am excited for Eichel – both the player that he is at 19 and the player he’ll be at 24, but the story of the season so far HAS to be Ristolainen’s climb to the upper echelon of defensemen in the league. 10th in the league in points. 13th in power play points. 13th in time on ice.  And the first Buffalo defenseman to score a hat trick in nearly 30 years. The last man to do it? Phil Housley, who is the most recent Sabre to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Quite a feat for the 21-year old.

As we hit the end of 2015, I just want to take the time to thank everyone that reads and comments on these. It’s been a fun year, Buffalo, but the best is yet to come. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Erik Wollschlager