Buffalo Sabres' captain Jack Eichel is frustrated about missing playoffs
(Photo Credit: NHL.com)

You have to date back 10 years ago to find the last time the Buffalo Sabres made an NHL playoff appearance. Since the 2010-11 postseason, the Sabres have failed to make the playoffs while simultaneously failing to finish anywhere close to the top of their division. Since Buffalo’s last playoff appearance, the team has had 10 top-15 picks, 13 first-round picks, eight top-ten picks, and three top-three selections. However, the Sabres continue to get nowhere near a playoff spot as they currently sit last in both the east division and the entire league.

Just recently the organization made a huge wave in the hockey world seemingly flipping their whole front office which included former GM Jason Botterill. This move was clearly made to make a statement about how things have been trending in Buffalo and how owner Terry Pegula wanted that to change. Since then, Buffalo has made some new hires; clearly, as well as an intriguing off-season move that included signing Taylor Hall. Obviously this move alone wasn’t going to get them back to contention, however, it sparked some optimism that the Sabres could improve from their bottom dwelling woes. Unfortunately, the move did roughly nothing for the Sabres as one could argue they have continued their steady digression. This now begs the question:

“What is next for the Buffalo Sabres?”

Quite frankly it’s such a hard question to answer. It wasn’t long ago that a second overall pick in Jack Eichel and first overall pick in Rasmus Dahlin thrusted bolts of excitement and hope into the organization. It’s been three years since drafting Dahlin and six since Eichel. Combine that with Jeff Skinner’s contract and a failed Hall experiment and your left with a fanbase that has been completely drained. This season especially there has been a significant rise in Jack Eichel trade rumors. Do you trade him if your Buffalo? A top talent center like Eichel rarely comes around. And if they do, what are the chances that you can sweep them up? On the other hand, if your Buffalo, how confident are you in your prospects (Quinn, Cozens, Johnson, Luukkonen, etc)? Are you willing to wait and see through to their development over the next few years?

Option 1: Put faith in prospects, wait it out, and look to make more roster changes

This route will likely entail a dismal finish to the season and what should be a relatively high draft pick. The caveat here is how long will it take and is Eichel willing to wait? Regardless, I think this play comes down to management unwilling to wait another 5+ years to be competitive as they already know fans are restless. Looking at their prospects, the Sabres have good talent in the pipeline. However, guys like Johnson, Quinn, and Luukkonen are probably anywhere from 2-3 years out. Furthermore, the impact of these players upon arrival is unknown.

With that said, the Sabres would have to make some significant moves to really form a competitive roster. It seems as though they will wait until Luukkonen takes over in goal, although I think bringing in a all-star caliber goalie will drastically improve things. Of course, the blueline and lack of secondary scoring needs to be addressed as well. With the right combination of youth and external talent there may be enough supporting cast for Eichel. Either way, this is a route the Sabres of course can and may take.

Option 2: Start from ground zero and rebuild again

Like we have seen with Laine and Dubois, players are demanding trades more than they have before. If the trend continues, it is very possible Eichel demands out of Buffalo. At this point, Buffalo’s negotiating power with other teams is much more limited. If Buffalo does trade Eichel, it has to be a home-run because that most likely means its back into a rebuild. Not to mention a player of Eichel’s caliber should demand an extraordinary return.

Next, how likely are Buffalo’s prospects to make them a contender. I like most of them and think Cozens will be an exceptional winger, yet is it enough? Moreover, when will they be able to make such a big impact at the NHL level. We have already seen guys like Mittelstadt and Dahlin struggle early to find their footing. Notably, Buffalo’s old division (assuming NHL realigns divisions again after COVID) has 5 teams with top-end talent that should continue to be competing for playoffs over the next few years (Tampa, Boston, Florida, Montreal, Toronto). That leaves Buffalo, Ottawa, and Detroit at the bottom. One could also argue if the prospects continue to develop for Ottawa they can and will even pass Buffalo. Then of course there is a stacked east/metropolitan division filled with young talent that will increase competition for wild card playoff spots.


Personally, I think Buffalo should take a look at starting from ground zero again and look to follow the Detroit and now, Ottawa model. Gain as much draft picks as possible and be patient with their development. If somehow Buffalo can land a Shane Wright, Brad Lambert, Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov one would think that would drastically accelerate their rebuilding process. On the other hand, ask the Red Wings and they will tell you landing a top-3 pick is no guarantee. Not to mention, how much longer do Sabres fans continue to show up and support their team if they have to go through yet again another rebuild; which would probably not see them competing until the latter half of the 2020s? Attendance has slowly been declining since 2017.

Where do you think Buffalo should go from here?

Side note: I think Hextall would have been a great fit in Buffalo especially if they were forced or decided to trade Eichel and restart.