Buffalo Sabres: Predictions for the Second Half of the 2013-14 Season
To say that the Sabres have struggled lately is potentially the understatement of the year. As it stands right now, the Sabres are on pace for 52 points, which would be the lowest total for a full season since the overtime loss point was added after the 2004-05 lockout.
The Sabres may have safely eclipsed the 1974-75 Washington Capitals' record for fewest points (21), but they certainly have a chance at futility in the goals scored department. The 1953-54 Chicago Blackhawks own that record right now, having scored only 133 goals. The Sabres are on pace to score 142 right now, so that record isn't too far out of the question.
The funny thing about the 1953-54 Blackhawks? They only played 70 games.
So with quite possibly the worst season in franchise history half finished, what will the rest of the season bring for the Sabres?
1. Jim Benning Will Be Named the Next General Manager
According to multiple reports, including Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, Jim Benning, the assistant general manager for the Boston Bruins, will be named the next general manager of the Sabres very soon.
While certainly not the only good choice available, Benning would be an excellent fit for this Sabres organization.
He has been a part of the Sabres in the past, holding the title of scout and Director of Amateur Scouting during his 10-plus-year tenure. He also has been a part of turning an organization around as the Bruins were not very good when he started there in 2006.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli gets a lot of the credit, as he should, but Benning was a big part of the turnaround in Boston. He also has helped the Bruins hit on a good percentage of their draft picks, something that is especially important for the Sabres with their treasure trove of picks the next two drafts.
Simply, Benning has the pedigree to turn the franchise around.
2. Ted Nolan's Future Will Be Up in the Air Well into the Offseason
There have been many "sagas" this year for the Buffalo Sabres.
Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier have all had intense scrutiny at times this season, mostly for when they would be leaving town, and now Ted Nolan can join the club.
Nolan has done an admirable job with these Sabres since he took over about two months ago, but the reality is the team is still struggling. They have played better, but they are 0-6-4 on the road and have looked just as hapless as they did under Rolston at times.
But Nolan has turned them into a better team and there is at least some hope now. That in and of itself should probably get Nolan at least heavy consideration to captain the ship moving forward (as we've discussed recently).
But there are some other considerations to think about as well, including the blunt fact that Nolan isn't your typical GM's dream coach. He wants to play and win gritty, and any GM coming into town will not want to see John Scott outpacing their first-round picks for ice time.
There are some rumors floating around that the GM is not in place because Sabres Vice President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine has made keeping Nolan essentially a requirement. No matter what your views are of Nolan, hopefully that is not true because it would be a mistake. A GM will want the ability to make their own decision, and handcuffing them is a bad first impression, even if they would have kept Nolan anyway.
Regardless, it seems that the city's love for Nolan, and his relative success, have made him an asset the organization wants to hold onto in some fashion. The only question is whether the incoming GM agrees.
3. The Trade Deadline Will Be the End to More Than One Sabres' Career
While not a surprise to any Sabres fan, the trade deadline will likely leave this team looking very, very different.
The Sabres are squarely in the "sellers" column and will be in the position to take back as many picks and prospects as they can get their hands on to better their already enviable position this offseason.
Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson are the obvious targets for contenders looking to add the final pieces, but Steve Ott, Drew Stafford and Henrik Tallinder will get some looks as well.
Given the ridiculous market that is the trade deadline—see Paul Gaustad for a first-rounder—the Sabres could likely sell high on Miller and/or Moulson, or just sell in the case of Stafford, and get an excellent return.
The only question will be the aforementioned players' willingness to stay long-term. Miller's situation is much more murky than it was even two months ago, and Moulson seems at least willing to discuss his long-term prospects. Ott has emphatically stated he wants to be back.
By March 5, we will know for sure.
4. The Sabres Will Not Set Goal-Scoring Record (Technically)
With 71 goals in 41 games, the Sabres aren't scaring anyone offensively.
With a pace of 142 goals for the season, the Sabres would avoid setting the record for fewest goals in a season by nine goals. The only issue is that the 1953-54 Blackhawks had 12 fewer games, and had they played an 82-game season, they would have scored about 156 goals, a mark the Sabres realistically may not reach.
It's going to be close, as the Sabres were a mere minutes from being shutout in back-to-back games last night, but they have found a scoring touch (at times) under Nolan. But what it comes down to on the most basic level is the Sabres don't get enough shots on goal.
Last night's game is a great example, with the team only registering 13 shots through about the halfway point in the third period. That's not going to get it done unless Ryan Miller decides he wants to make 49 saves every night.
So, while it seems the record is technically safe, the Sabres are scoring goals at a historically bad pace.
5. The Sabres Will Pick Either 1st or 2nd in the 2014 Entry Draft
For those Sabres fans worried the team was going to play themselves out of a top draft pick, it seems your worry was for naught.
If the Sabres finish in 30th, the worst they can pick would be second thanks to the NHL's new lottery system where a team may only pick one spot higher in the draft from where they finished in the standings.
With the Oilers being the only team that may reek of futility more than the Sabres at the moment, the Sabres fan's dream of landing Sam Reinhart are getting better each game. Even if the Oilers were to win the lottery as they seem to do, they are likely to address their porous defensive corps and draft blueliner Aaron Ekblad, the other stud in this year's draft.
Reinhart will start from day one and will go a long way to making this Sabres team a Stanley Cup contender. A guy like that always looks good in the blue and gold.