4 Reasons Why the Sabres Are Winning at the Wrong Time
This Sabres' team is enigmatic, to say the least. The first half of the year was worst than the fans are accustomed to and the slump went well into 2012.
Now, the team has turned a corner and the Sabres have re-embodied their warrior spirit and are toiling powerfully towards the playoffs.
They currently sit at 11th place in the Eastern Conference just three points out of the playoffs.
For the average fan, all of this is good news and the team couldn't have kicked it into gear at a better time of the year. However, this can be more damaging for the team in the long run.
Teams like the Edmonton Oilers that make Cinderella runs for the Stanley Cup Finals, like the one in 2005-2006, usually end up pretty far down the standings less than a decade later.
The Sabres have been a fringe team for the better part of the last decade and the franchise hasn't reached the finals since the whole Brett Hull debacle.
To win now further delays the process of rebuilding that this franchise needs in order to crack the top echelon of the NHL, something that new owner Terry Pegula is adamant about.
Here are four reasons why the Sabres are winning at the wrong time.
1. Rebuilding Through the Draft
Winning teams rarely rebuild out of free agency, but instead they stock-pile draft picks in order to build a core that will last them five to eight years.
The Blackhawks acquired their two biggest stars using top-five picks in the draft. Jonathan Toews was the third-overall pick in the 2006 draft while Patrick Kane was first-overall the next year.
Except from the expansion draft in 1971, I can't remember when the Sabres picked first overall in the draft (Thomas Vanek was fifth overall). With that pick, they acquired Gilbert Perrault, the team's biggest star to date.
The following season they drafted Richard Martin fifth overall, which helps compose the French Connection.
The French Connection are the biggest stars in franchise history and two out of three players were drafted in the top five.
If the season were to finish today, the Sabres would have a miserable chance to win the lottery and pick Nail Yakupov. As of today, the Sabres might still pick anyone in the top 10, effectively allowing them to pick star center Alex Galchenyuk in the best possible scenario.
If the Sabres make the playoffs, the first-round draft pool becomes much more narrow for Darcy Regier & Co.
With two picks that might be in the 20s, the Sabres won't be able to draft that star, first line pivot that is Alex Galchenyuk.
The Sabres need a star center and the guys are one of the most rare commodities in the NHL and if they keep winning, this player will be almost impossible to acquire.
2. No Real Shake-Up
I'm a firm believer that accommodation is an organization's worst enemy. Unfortunately, the Sabres don't share the same philosophy.
Lindy Ruff has been behind the bench in Buffalo for an eternity and is the longest-tenured coach in professional sports.
Lindy has done an awesome job for during a good part of this run, but earlier this year the team seemed not to grasp his message. The Sabres' rebirth from the ashes started when Lindy missed some games due to broken ribs.
While this is most unfortunate for Ruff, it showed the team that they aren't dependent on him and that James Patrick, along with Teppo Numminen and Kevyn Adams, are capable of running this team.
In my opinion, it's a time for a shake-up that this organization is long overdue.
If the team keeps winning, the rebuilding process will be further postponed. Instead of having the same ill-fated journey that the Toronto Maple Leafs had, why not rebuild once and for all and have a better outcome?
3. Risk of Being the American Toronto Maple Leafs
The story of the Sabres and of the Maple Leafs seem eerily similar to me. Toronto's last Stanley Cup is going to be 50 years old in a short while.
Recent history shows that they were a good team that lost in the deeper rounds of the playoffs. However, they then became a fringe team until they hit this most recent dry spell of not making the cut since the lockout. Last year, the Leafs had two first-round picks in the 20s that haven't given any real benefit.
As for the Sabres, they still have to win their first cup since their inception. In the 1990s, the Sabres were also a good team laden with stars like Dominik Hasek and Alexander Mogilny. They made the playoffs for the majority of Lindy Ruff's tenure, even reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000 and losing in a referee miscall.
This year, the Sabres have two first-round draft picks. One (the Nashville pick) is bound to fall late in the first round and the other has potential to be a top-five.
Then the Sabres started winning.
The Sabres are a middle-aged adult by now and the franchise wants to win. I've said this time and time again. This franchise needs to embrace the rebuilding process because it's just not good enough.
The acquisition of Cody Hodgson is a step in that direction and, in my opinion, it was a steal orchestrated by Darcy Regier & Co. but, the Sabres need top prospects to give them a chance to win.
The Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins are examples of teams that used two early first-round picks that have changed their history around. I think it might be time for the Sabres to at least contemplate doing the same.
4. No Top-10 Players
Let's face it, the Sabres have no top-10 league players. Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are elite players, but they aren't the ones you rush to pick when making your fantasy hockey team.
Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff might develop into top-10 defense men and Ryan MIller is a top-five NHL goaltender when playing at his full level.
The Sabres are missing that top-10 forward that will be the center of the attention like Sidney Crosby (and in his absence, Evgeni Malkin) and Alexander Ovechkin.
In my mind, Jordan Staal suffers from the same problem that Cody Hodgson and will to pry him out of Pittsburgh will take more than a king's ransom, but he has the potential to be that first-line center—much like Joe Thornton—who carries the franchise on his back throughout his career.
Then, the Sabres started winning.
It wasn't long ago that Ville Leino was the cream of the crop in Philadelphia. Drew Stafford never developed into the top-six winger everyone thought he would. Our top North-American prospect, Zack Kassian, has already been traded.
These are all names that might be better off somewhere else than in upstate New York. These assets might be what teams require to give the Sabres better tools to win in the long-term.