Buffalo Sabres: Struggles Likely to Continue Through Next Season

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Buffalo Sabres: Struggles Likely to Continue Through Next Season
Adam Wiepert

Breathe deep, Buffalo Sabres fans. It's almost over. 

Only eight games remain on the schedule in what could arguably be one of the worst NHL seasons ever. They are 12 points behind the Edmonton Oilers, who are in 29th place, and if Buffalo was to win out, the best it could finish is tied for 27th. 

What's worse, the Sabres have been laughably bad since the trade deadline. While not unexpected in the least, it still is disconcerting seeing Ted Nolan's team schooled up and down the ice on a daily basis. 

The other night's game in Nashville was an excellent example of this as the Sabres found themselves heading into the locker room down 4-0 after the first period with all four goals being scored as a result of less-than-stellar defensive play.

Sure, injuries have played a role. Sure, it's likely the team has mailed it in as they've been just trying to get through the season since November.

Yet, it doesn't seem like there is going to be much relief in the months to come.

This team is still very much in flux. Nolan signed his three-year extension Monday (via Sabres.com), but that's only one thing off the list.

More major roster moves, including re-signing restricted free agents Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Cory Conacher are coming. More questions about who will play at the NHL level next year will need to be answered.

When all is said and done, the Sabres will likely look much different in October than they will on April 13 when they line up for the final time this season. 

What that means above all else is the Sabres are likely to be in a similar position in the standings come this time next year.

Now, as a rebuilding team under the eye of a new general manager in Tim Murray, this may be a good thing in the long run. Murray has all but finished dismantling what Darcy Regier started last year with the trade of Jason Pominville.

A few "core" guys remain from the Regier era, most notably Drew Stafford, Ennis and Tyler Myers, but those seem to be, at the moment at least, guys that Murray is willing to move forward with. It's certainly possible that he's just waiting for a more receptive market place during the offseason than what the trade deadline provided, but for now, they remain a part of the team.

Yet, the questions surrounding the "old core," or any Sabre for that matter, are unlikely to subside anytime soon.

Myers and Christian Ehrhoff were the discussion of rampant trade talk leading up to the trade deadline earlier this month. Both would require a return that, at the very least, would be termed "substantial." Trading one of those two would significantly alter the makeup of the Sabres roster. 

Chris Stewart, who played in parts of two games for the Sabres, was expected to be flipped before the deadline and was not. Ville Leino is almost certainly going to be bought out. John Scott will continue his "quest" to become a first-line player

Basically, half of the Sabres' top-six forwards next season are likely not playing for the team right now. Stafford, Stewart, Leino, Zemgus Girgensons and Cody Hodgson are the only potential candidates under contract for next year. Never mind Stafford and Stewart are trade candidates and Leino could be dropped off somewhere in-between Nashville and Buffalo today.

Hopefully, some free agents want to sign with the Sabres.

Funny thing is, they probably have to. The Sabres are currently projected to be upwards of $20 million under the salary cap floor of $52 million next year (via CapGeek). 

Now, that shouldn't be too hard to accomplish seeing as the Sabres likely have to bring up or sign about ten guys this offseason, but just bringing up rookies or signing bottom-six forwards or bottom-pairing defenseman will not get you there. You almost have to sign a Ryan Callahan to ensure compliance. 

But even with a Callahan-type signing, this team has a lot of building and growing to do to be a consistent force night in and night out. 

Luckily for Sabres fans, there's light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the 2015 draft. 

Assuming Murray doesn't pull some wild deals this summer, the Sabres will be fighting for the top pick next year as well. And while this year's draft has some top-end talent, it's nowhere near the talent that next year's will hold. 

Some more heartening news: Also assuming the New York Islanders use their likely top-five 2014 first rounder, giving their 2015 first to the Sabres, the Sabres could be in a position to take two of the top talents since a guy named Sidney Crosby came out. 

The pursuit of Connor McDavid is well known, but the top of the draft next year also includes two Massachusetts products in Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin who are flying under the radar. 

Discussions about McDavid, Eichel or Hanifin are premature, especially seeing as the Sabres have yet to pick in the 2014 draft, but they will be important come this time next year. 

So, despite the season coming to a close, a lot of questions remain: What will Murray do this offseason? Who will return, and who will be on the move? Will any free agents want to come here? Will the youth get a chance next year?

As the offseason progresses, some answers will be had, but for the most part, there's likely to be no quick resolution to many of these. With that scenario, it's likely that Sabres fans will not have much of a reprieve for the next 90 games, let alone the eight remaining this season.

Sabres fans just hope they'll be able to look back on this in a few years and laugh.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18.  

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