On Monday, April 14 the Buffalo Sabres spent the morning cleaning out their lockers at the First Niagara Center after one of the worst seasons in franchise history, finishing last place in the NHL with a 21-51-10 record. It was the Sabres worst record since their second season in the league in 1971-1972, when they finished 16-43-19 in 78 games.
The team dealt with numerous injuries, trades, and waiver claims throughout the course of the season, having a league high 39 different skaters and six goalies play for the team this year, with long time goalie Ryan Miller and co-captains Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek all getting traded this season.
On top of that, there was also a big overhaul in the front office, with coach Ron Rolston and long time general manager Darcy Regier being relieved of their duties in November after a dismal 4-15-1 start to the season. That coincided with Sabres great Pat LaFontaine being named President of Hockey Operations and former coach Ted Nolan being named as the interim coach.
LaFontaine would eventually hire Tim Murray as the team’s new General Manager in January before abruptly leaving the organization in early March. Ted Nolan was then named as the team’s official head coach and signed to a three year extension at the end of March.
The Sabres struggled offensively the majority of the season, averaging a mere 1.83 goals per game. Cody Hodgson led the team in scoring with 44 points with 20 goals and 24 assists, while Tyler Ennis led the team in goals with 21, a career high.
The Sabres started the season with the youngest roster in the NHL, and dressed five rookies and three teenagers in the first game of the season. After Ted Nolan took over as coach in November, most of the rookies were sent back to their respective junior teams or their AHL affiliate Rochester Americans, with Zemgus Girgensons (who turned 20 in January) the only one that spent the entire season with the Sabers. He quickly became a fan favorite due to his strong work ethic, and served as an alternate captain for the team’s season finale on Sunday, April 13.
With the season concluding, the Sabres will send several eligible young players to the Rochester Americans as they conclude their regular season hoping to clinch a spot in the AHL playoffs in their remaining three games, needing only one point. Among those players are defensemen Mark Pysyk and Rasmus Ristolainen, forward Nicolas Deslauriers, and goalies Andrey Makarov and Connor Knapp.
Connor Knapp finished the season as the Sabres number one goalie due to a brash of injuries, making his first NHL start in the final game of the season after late season injuries to Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, Nathan Lieuwen, and Matt Hackett (the latter two spending the majority of the season with the Amerks).
Knapp started the season with the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL before being promoted to the Amerks in March and then to the Sabres on April 11.
With the season coming to close, several of the veteran players want to quickly put the rough year behind them.
“We’re turning the page and we want to do our best this summer to get ready to put a better product on the ice for the fans.” said forward Drew Stafford. “This city deserves a lot more and the onus is on us as players to perform.”
“It was tough. It was a tough start for me and then with the changes, it got better,” forward Tyler Ennis said. “Finishing last place is always hard but we can’t make excuses and we’ve got to be better next year.”
“I’ve had a pretty bad taste in my mouth the last couple years and this one’s probably even worse,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “I mean, three years in a row not making the playoffs, you play the game to make the playoffs. You play the game to compete for a Stanley Cup.”
The Sabres now look to the draft on June 27 and 28, in which they will have either the first or second selection depending on the results of the Draft Lottery on Tuesday, April 15. Finishing the season with the worst record in the NHL, the Sabres have a 25% chance of landing the top overall pick, which is expected be one of three players, defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts (Ontario Hockey League), left wing Sam Bennett of the Kingston Frontenacs (Ontario Hockey League), or center Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice (Western Hockey League).