So What Now?

January 10, 2020 - 11:09 am

So, what now?

What in the world are the Buffalo Sabres going to do to be good? EVER. I need something to hold on to. I need something to believe in. The Sabres have a few pieces that generate good feelings, right? Eichel, Dahlin, Skinner, Olofsson, and a few others. Two of those pieces are out of the lineup right now, making sledding even tougher these days... but I need to believe that the future is bright and I just struggle with that right now. At least the tank brought with it visions of an elite player that you could watch every night. And drama, of course. It delivered.

So from here is the plan to just clear the cap? It's a start, and they'll do a lot of that at the end of this year... with more than 30 million coming off the books. The Sabres are carrying about 86 million dollars on the roster. How much of that belongs to Jason Botterill? Most of it. Here is a list of players that Jason Botterill inherited, and had no contract decision on:

Kyle Okposo 6 million

Rasmus Ristolainen 5.5 million

Zach Bogosian 5 million

Three players totaling 16.5 million dollars. And that's to say nothing about the idea of trading away either Risto or Bogosian at ANY point in the last three years.

Botterill's inaction is still mind-boggling. He's slow-played this roster into salary cap trouble, and will likely use this offseason to unload a problem that he has partially created. Occasionally I'll hear someone make a case that this was the plan all along, that the Sabres were going to follow the Bills plan of dumping off the bad stuff and loading up to go forward. Not only would that have been a tough sell when the GM was hired, but there's no reason that couldn't have happened this year.

If it was about cap clearance, you dump Risto and Bogo for whatever. Maybe this is one last kick at the can to drive up any trade value and get whatever blood you can from that stone. Bogosian has to be gone next year. Ristolainen? Are we sure they're going to let him walk? Another year with #55 would feel like another in this seemingly endless cycle of... bleh. If it's about cap clearance, it could have been happening. If it's about cap clearance you're just throwing Jack Eichel's prime years into a dust bin.

There are good signs mixed in. The Sabres are better at 5 on 5 this year. They're just about average in having the puck, shooting it, and shooting it from good spots. MOST of that belongs to Jack Eichel though. The thing that's killed them for nearly a decade is something they're doing relatively well right now. No, not last night. But goaltending and special teams is sinking them into a familiar spot in the standings where 85 points seems like a big mountain to climb.

Trade... the middle parts? A trade finally came about last week with Marco Scandella going to Montreal for a fourth round draft pick. The Sabres then spun that fourth round draft pick to get a forward. This trade seems like it should take all the effort of sending a mail-in rebate. Was Montreal reluctant to part with that 4th round pick that had belonged to San Jose? Maybe the other GMs didn't want to move on it or an injury delayed it or who knows... but we know it's not the "roster surgery" we've talked about so often. We're all waiting for more.

There have been good moves mixed in. Think we're generally happy with the Montour and Jokiharju trades. The Skinner trade was magnificent, but that was for one year of service and now you're paying him top dollar to play on a line that takes a lot of the shine off that. The coach puts a nice tone on what they're trying to do. But expecting anything different from this roster is pretty tough.

Will they aim to add a goaltender? The Sabres are not giving up a ton of chances... they're playing a slow, safe defensive game. But when they give up the High Danger chances, they're going in. They're 29th in the NHL in HDSV%. So another goaltender to take Hutton's minutes and give Ullmark a day or two off here or there? Problem is... your salary cap of course.

The team frequently has the wrong players in the lineup, or even on the roster. Curtis Lazar and Lawrence Pilut should have been here as soon as they were available. They could have about the same team, but with 10 million more in cap space if they just decided that anyone wasn't good enough to play for them. Move along from Girgensons, waive Rodrigues, buy out Sobotka, scuttle Bogosian or Ristolainen or McCabe, and let young guys come up in those spots. You might find someone and also have space to make a supplemental move.

When will they get good? My best is to hope to win another lottery, or wait for Dylan Cozens to arrive.

The cupboard isn't as bare as it has been, I get that. But it seems that the conversation always moves forward to a year sometime off in the distance. The organization will restock, the players will grow together, the depth gets solid, the goaltending is good, the coach pulls the right strings, and THEN the Sabres will be good.

So when will then, be now?

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