Buffalo Sabres: Where Does the Current Slump Leave Them?

Matt Clouden@@mattcloudenCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2015

Philadelphia Flyers Wayne Simmonds (17), Zac Rinaldo (36), Luke Schenn (22) and Michael Del Zotto (15) celebrate the game-winning goal by Michael Raffl (12) as Buffalo Sabres Michal Neuvirth (34) reacts during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, in Buffalo, N.Y.  Philadelphia won 4-3. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

So 2015 has been fun for Buffalo Sabres fans, hasn't it?

The Sabres are marred in a 1-14-1 slump that includes an 0-9-0 showing in the month of January. In that time, the Sabres have lost in any number of ways, including getting blown out a lot, two one-goal games and giving up a three-goal lead.

So what's standing between the Sabres and a winless January? A three-game Western Conference slate with stops in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

To say Calgary and Vancouver are motivated squads right now is an understatement.

Calgary, which lost 4-3 to the Sabres during its 10-3-0 stretch in November and December despite getting outshot and out-Corsi'd by a significant margin, is currently in possession of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Vancouver is currently second in the Pacific Division, with San Jose, Calgary and Los Angeles breathing down its neck.

It stands to reason that the Flames and Canucks will come out and play some inspired home hockey against a team they should both handle easily.

That leaves the Edmonton game, sandwiched between the stops in Calgary and Vancouver, as the Sabres' best shot of winning in January.

The funny thing with the Oilers game is just how important it could be in the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel derby. The two blue-chip prospects are listed first and second in NHL Central Scouting's latest rankings.

As it stands right now, the Sabres have an 81 percent chance of finishing in 30th place, according to Sports Club Stats, with the Oilers and Arizona Coyotes being the only other teams deemed to have a chance at it.

Therefore, the game in Edmonton may turn out to be one of the biggest games—if not the biggest gamefor the pro-tank contingent of the Sabres fanbase. If Edmonton were to beat the Sabres and open up more of a cushion in 29th place, it'd be hard to see the Oilers ending up lower in the standings.

Now, Sabres fans have been looking to the offseason since the puck dropped in October, so for many, this is not a surprise. In fact, a good portion of the fanbase is happy it's happening.

But no matter where you stand on the tank, the Sabres need to figure out how they're going to start to right the ship.

While there are obviously roster questions to answer, there are also plenty of other decisions that must be made.

The biggest one revolves around the future of head coach Ted Nolan and his staff. Sabres general manager Tim Murray has an extremely important decision to make on whether he should take the reins away from Nolan or allow him the ability to right the ship with a better roster.

This will become more of a hot-button item as the season winds down, mainly due to the general admiration Nolan gets from the Buffalo community, but the talk of Nolan potentially losing his job has been growing since this slump began in December.

The other storyline to watch is how the incumbent players handle what is essentially now a 35-game tryout for next season.

Murray has the financial flexibility and a stocked prospect cupboard to go out and sign some impact free agents and make a few blockbuster trades.

Yes, there are those who are obviously safe given the status quo, but it seems likely that Murray's list of untouchables probably only has a handful of names on itespecially when there are names like Ryan O'Reilly and Phil Kessel swirling in the trade winds.

But the trade speculation will only increase as the March 2 trade deadline gets closer and the Nolan talk will only intensify as the team continues to lose.

What can be said with certainty is the Sabres are a bad hockey team and the next 35 games have a real possibility of being even worse than the first 47.

Good luck, Sabres fans.

Advanced statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com.

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

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