The Buffalo sabers are 0-15-3 since February 25th. They hold the record for the longest winning streak of the shootout era (since 2005-06) and tied the 2003-04 Pittsburgh penguins for most consecutive losses – including overtime and shootouts – in the 21st century.
How did they get here and how worse could it get? And how do they get back on track – and could a Jack acorn Will trade come sometime on the street?
ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski discuss it all:
Wyshynski: Let’s start with a definition of terms. The NHL insists that the Sabers have an “winning streak” in 18 games rather than one “loss”. Namely: The ranking say their current streak is “an overtime loss” instead of “L18” because the NHL only considers it a loss if the loss occurs in regulation.
I know this is a really crazy concept, but a loss is a loss and the Sabers have 18 of them in a row. The confluence of confusing ranked format and a technique that undermines a sensational story is truly the culmination of the NHL. How do you see this show, Emily?
Chaplain: If you lose in overtime, it still means you have lost. I’ve never heard a hockey player treat an overtime point as a win. To be honest, I hate the semantics debate almost as much as I hate this series itself.
And when I say I hate it, I mean I hate the way it affects players. You can say that it is really gross about them. After the collapse of the third period on Monday (when the Sabers had a 3-0 lead in the third period), Brandon Montour used the words “embarrassing” and “brutal”. Rasmus Dahlin claimed the team was having a “panic attack”.
Interim coach Don Granato tries to get positive results, but these are deeply ingrained issues. Captain Jack Eichel (upper body injury) has been out of the line-up for 11 games and has no return schedule. One of the big offseason gets from General Manager Kevyn Adams, Eric Staal, have has already been traded. The other, Taylor Hallwill likely follow. And all I wonder is, how are they going to get out of this?
Wyshynski: Optimism and the Buffalo Sabers of 2021 go together like an artisanal candle and a pile of bad fish. But they had a heartbeat against them on Monday night Flyer before things went sideways they played two of their better periods in the last month.
“If we went online, would we talk about panic?” Asked Granato. “I would say we made some mistakes. I wouldn’t say we panicked. We got a little overwhelmed.”
The coach knows that he has taken over a team that is looking for a glimmer of hope. After six games on the job, he begins to find small moments, small stretches that he can build on in a film session. It’s elementary and embarrassing for a collection of NHL players, but it’s the only way out.
Buffalo has one more game with the Flyers and then four against them Rangers and devil, Teams the Sabers have won this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Buffalo could manage a 19th game without a win. I would be surprised if this series wasn’t over by the end of that series of games on April 8th. Emily, do you agree with the 1980-81? Winnipeg Jets‘Record of 30 winning games is safe?
Chaplain: I’m with you. The Sabers are not a good ice hockey team – and will get worse if the players are removed from the lineup before trading closes – but they are not entirely incompetent. Since the start of the series, the Sabers have an expected target for a percentage of 44% at 5 versus 5 per Natural Stat Trick. It’s not great by any means, but neither is it the worst in the league over this period of time. The Coyoteswho have won three games and are one point away from a playoff spot in the West Division have even lower odds. The Sabers’ Corsi for the 5v5 percentage during that time span is 26th in the league, with two surefire playoff teams (the Wild and the jets) behind them.
So there are signs of life. Buffalo goalie Linus Ullmark is back after a month-long absence and fights quietly hard. A big question is, when will the Sabers get their acorns back, if at all this season? The 24-year-old is the main player in the franchise and the emotional heartbeat of this team. It was pretty mama on the injury front. Eichel is still in rehab and, according to Granato, is feeling better. The team is “hopeful” that he can return this season.
But maybe the better question is: what is Eichel’s future in Buffalo after 2021? I couldn’t imagine this possibility a year ago, but do you think there is a legitimate chance the team will switch captain?
Wyshynski: There are actually two separate questions here. The first is whether acorn has reached its tipping point. Last summer he was frustrated. I’m not sure if the world’s most comprehensive thesaurus could conjure up the word to properly capture how Eichel felt after watching the Sabers drop to 0.221 while a trainer he admired was fired. If he wants to get out, the Sabers have to comply with this request.
If he wants to stay … will the Sabers trade him anyway? Acorn age, skill, and contract length centers rarely become available. There are teams like that Kings and the rangers who could restock the Buffalo closet fast in a trade for acorns. I tend to believe the Sabers are better off using Acorn as the foundation for their next build. But it might not be entirely up to them. Emily, what’s the best plan for the Sabers?
Chaplain: First, the immediate plan: acquire as many prospects and designs as you can in advance of the April 12th close of trading. Make emotionless decisions – which means you may part with recent top draft picks that have underperformed so far.
What we haven’t mentioned yet: This season is not an isolated event for the Sabers. You are in a nine-year post-season drought (soon to be 10), which is the longest in the league. The bandage corrections in the free agency did not help; You have to build from scratch. Exacerbation of this problem: Buffalo massively cut its scouting department during the pandemic and did not fill many of these positions. The Sabers have had no scouting presence in Russia in recent years. They don’t have a boy scout in Finland. They also don’t have a scout assigned to the WHL or OHL this season (although the OHL season stays in flux). They rely heavily on video scouting for the 2021 draft, which may not be ideal.
Organizationally, the Sabers have to support this area first, but this means even more financial commitment from team owners Terry and Kim Pegula. What the Sabers demand most is stability. You can’t continue cycling through coaches and GMs. They need a voice, a direction, because all those twists have got them nowhere. Greg, do you see reasons for optimism that this could be a quicker solution?
Wyshynski: I spoke to a leader on another team this week who said something that terrified me. “I don’t think the Sabers are that far away,” he said. “A new coach who can change the mindset of the team and is nowhere near as bad.”
You had the wrong trainer. They had interrupted a season of COVID-19. You are now in a historic defeat and you don’t know how to pull your nose off your tailspin.
I’ll admit that looking at the Sabers and thinking about their potential for 2021-22 is like stepping into a rundown haunted house and measuring an open kitchen / dining room, but … I like the floor and fixtures? Am I out of base here?
Chaplain: Well, sometimes I think you’re not based (like your insistence that Central Jersey is actually a real place) but not here.
The toughest thing in the NHL is having a # 1 center. The Sabers have one on their list who’s signed a long-term contract and is about to reach his athletic heyday. (Mandatory reminder that Eichel is only 24 years old).
Buffalo can use the rest of the season to evaluate whether Ullmark can be the answer in goal or whether they need to look elsewhere. Dahlin, the No. 1 Selection of the design for 2018was touted as a generation talent. Sure, it’s fun to say the Sabers “ruined” him, but he’s only 20 years old. Maybe they accelerated its development. More likely, you underestimated how a surrounding culture can negatively affect a young player. Get a better support system around him and There is still time for him to thrive.
But maybe I’m an optimist. Maybe this has to get worse before it can get better.