2019-20 Sabres hit now or never scenario

It’s time to dig deep. Not only for the players, but for coaches and management. Does this team want to answer the same questions at the end of the season? Granted this is Krueger’s first year, but he’ll hear the same as everyone else.

What went wrong? Where does this team go from here? What needs to change? How frustrating is this?

They’re sick of hearing it, reporters are sick of asking it and fans are sick of the entire process. Only having hope from September/October to December year after year wears on your fanbase.

16 teams make the playoffs and there are 31 teams in the NHL. Over half the teams in the NHL make the playoffs. Missing them this year will extend Buffalo’s drought to to nine years, half the time the team wasn’t even remotely close, to put it mildly.

It’s safe to say the Sabres could use a run. I’m sorry, let me rephrase that. The Sabres need to go on a run or else they’re wasting another year of Jack Eichel’s prime years. He may be getting better every year, but he’s also one year closer to packing his bags and saying sayonara or requesting a trade. He signed long term and has held up his end of the bargain, it’s time for the Sabres to do the same.

Buffalo is two games into the most crucial stretch of games in the season. Over the next 14 games (16 games starting this past Saturday), the Sabres will play 11 home games and 12 games against teams outside of the playoffs. This is it. Here’s the stretch that will decide the season:

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Starting off with a stumble against Vancouver on Saturday, which was technically a 10 AM start for the Canucks, the Sabres burned an opportunity to win a game at home and against a non-playoff team. A quick turn around in Detroit saw all three players that have requested a trade (that we know about) score: Evan Rodrigues (twice), Zach Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen en route to a 5-1 victory.

The most important stretch is the five game home stand from 1/28 to 2/6. The Sabres will be coming off their mandatory bye week (which includes the All-Star break) and with Colorado coming back to near full health, they are the toughest team of that home stand. Besides the Avalanche, the other four games are not only winnable, but games don’t get much more must win than that.

With that much time off, coming out flat and dropping a game or two would be utterly unacceptable like they did against St. Louis last week. Now factor in two more games against the worst team in the NHL (Detroit) and two against a team tied for second worst (Ottawa). There are no excuses.

I know injuries have depleted the Sabres lackluster forward group behind Eichel and Reinhart, but injuries happen every year to every team, it’s part of the game. And look, I get it, I’m not saying run the table and go 15-1-0, every team will drop games to lesser opponents, that’s just the nature of hockey. The difference is good teams don’t let it happen often or repeatedly in a stretch of games.

Buffalo needed to beat Vancouver, they didn’t so how do they make up for that? They can start by taking it to Vegas team tonight looking to stay in the playoff race out west. These next 14 games will determine not only the outcome of the Sabres season and not only who the Sabres will want to resign or let walk this summer, but who will be traded at the deadline, if anyone, by the trade deadline on 2/24.

Players like Zach Bogosian have played their way out of getting traded with his monster AAV in comparison to his output on the ice. His goal against Detroit is what we call a blind squirrel finding a nut, even though he thinks he’s shown that skill for years.

Evan Rodrigues hasn’t really been used correctly, but he hasn’t done himself any favors with his play this season either. According to Elliotte Freidman, teams aren’t comfortable with his $2 million contract.

Those two could really benefit from a productive stretch to hopefully increase their trade value slightly, but NHL GM’s know what they are at this point.

I can only think that a player like Jake McCabe, signed through the end of next season, could be on the radar of teams trying to bolster their bottom two pairings. Maybe Colin Miller for something like this too, but I think it’s time to give him a fair shake here in Buffalo, McCabe has been here for a while and I’d rather move on from him.

A month from now we’re going to pretty much know where the Sabres are. Will they surge and push themselves back into playoff contention or will they go lukewarm and fizzle out yet again? Let’s find out, but the pessimist in me says don’t count on it.

  1. […] month, I identified a now or never stretch over 16 games that would ultimately determine the fate of the Sabres season. Let’s take a […]

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