Buffalo Sabres Extend Their Playoff Drought to 12 Seasons, But Here Are 15 Things They Did Right This Season

Buffalo Sabres Extend Their Playoff Drought to 12 Seasons, But Here Are 15 Things They Did Right This Season

The Buffalo Sabres ended their 2022-23 regular season with a 42-33-7 (91 points) – which was good enough for 5th in the Atlantic Division, but not good enough for a spot in the playoffs. They were just two points away (one win) away from securing a spot in the Wild Card, but came up short at season’s end. 

While it’s certainly the best season the Sabres have had in a long time, missing the playoffs this year extends their playoff drought to 12 seasons – they last made it during the 2010-11 season. They’re now tied with the New York Jets for the longest active playoff drought across the NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL. 

A big reason why they were on the outside looking in this season was their goaltending. They lacked a quality one-two punch behind the net and it resulted in them having the seventh-most goals against (297) and goals against average (3.62) in the NHL. With better goaltending, the Sabres are a playoff contender.

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15 Positives About the Buffalo Sabres’ 2022-23 Season

Buffalo Sabres Extend Their Playoff Drought to 12 Seasons, But Here Are 15 Things They Did Right This Season
via Instagram (@alextuch89)

You can ask any Buffalo Sabres’ fan and they’ll tell you the same thing – they thought this was their year. While they failed to make the playoffs, this season was a success in so many other ways and Sabres’ fans have a lot to be excited about because it appears their 12-year rebuild is finally coming to an end. 

After more than a decade of hard-to-watch hockey, the Sabres were one of the most exciting teams to watch and did it with one of the youngest rosters in the entire league. They boast one of the brightest futures in the NHL and can easily be a contender next season with a few key moves this offseason. 

As the Buffalo Sabres begin their offseason and start to find ways to improve moving forward, we’re going to take a look back at some of the positives this team – and its loyal fanbase – can take away from the season. It wasn’t the end they were hoping for, but there’s a lot to smile about in the City of Neighbors!

15. Tage Thompson is the Real Deal

Over the past two seasons, Tage Thompson has emerged as one of the most talented forwards in the league – his combination of size and skill is unlike anything the NHL has ever seen. After scoring 38 goals and 30 assists last season, he did even better this season with 47 goals and 47 assists (94 points). 

He led all Sabres’ skaters in goals (47), power-play goals (20), power-play points (34), points (94), points per game (1.21) and shots (295). He also ranked sixth in the NHL in goals (47) and 15th in the league in points (94). His 20 power play goals also ranked third in the NHL. He’s among the NHL’s best right now.

14. Alex Tuch is the Leader They Needed

The Buffalo Sabres have been searching for a leader for quite some time. While Kyle Okposo stepped in and became the captain this season – and did a fine job, at that – fans knew it was only temporary and they needed a long-term solution. They’ve got that in Alex Tuch and he should be a captain next year.

Tuch was traded to the Sabres midway through the 2021-22 season and had 12 goals and 26 assists in 50 games last year. He took a big step forward this year with 36 goals and 43 assists in 74 games. He loves playing for Buffalo and he’ll likely garner a long-term extension with the team in the near future.

13. Sabres Have an Elite Power Play

The Buffalo Sabres were horrid on the penalty kill this season, but the same can’t be said about their power play – it was almost as good as it gets. They scored 63 power play goals on 269 power play opportunities, scoring a goal on 23.42% of their opportunities – that’s almost one of every four!

For reference, the league averages were 54 goals, 252 opportunities, and 21.31%. Buffalo was led by Tage Thompson with a team-high 20 power play goals. Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner added 8 power play goals each, while Victor Olofsson had 7 power play goals and Rasmus Dahlin had 6 power play goals. 

12. One of the Youngest Rosters in the NHL

At the beginning of the season, the Buffalo Sabres had the youngest opening night roster – their average team age was 25.4 years old. For reference, the Pittsburgh Penguins had the oldest opening night roster at 29.9 years old. The Sabres’ maintained and over-exceeded with a young roster throughout the season.

Most of their best players are under 26 years old – Alex Tuch (26), Tage Thompson (25), Rasmus Dahlin (21), Owen Power (20), Dylan Cozens (21), Casey Mittelstadt (24), Henri Jokiharju (22), Devon Levi (21), Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (23), Mattias Samuelsson (22), Jack Quinn (21), and JJ Peterka (21). 

11. Four Sabres’ Players Had 30+ Goals (Almost Five)

Last season, the Buffalo Sabres had two 30-goal scorers in Tage Thompson (38) and Jeff Skinner (33) – two others (Victor Olofsson and Kyle Okposo) had more than 20. The season before that, their leading goalscorer was Sam Reinhart (traded) with 25 goals – only two others scored in the double-digits. 

Goals were coming in an abundance this season. They had four players score at least 30 goals – Thompson (47), Tuch (36), Skinner (35), and Cozens (31). They also had Olofsson finish with 28 goals and six others finish with at least 10 goals. They scored 293 goals as a group – up from 229 last year. 

10. Dylan Cozens Had His Breakout Season

Dylan Cozens – also referred to as the ‘Workhorse from Whitehorse’ – was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. He just completed his third season in the NHL and it was better than his previous two seasons combined as he continues to make a name for himself. 

Cozens had 17 goals, 34 assists, and 51 points in 120 games played between 2020-21 and 2021-22. He followed that up with 31 goals, 37 assists, and 68 points in 81 games in 2022-23 and emerged as one of the team’s best centers. He turned 22 in February and is already locked up with a long-term contract. 

9. Jack Quinn & JJ Peterka Provide Valuable Depth

The Buffalo Sabres entered the 2020 NHL Entry Draft with the No. 8 and No. 38 overall picks. They ended up selecting Jack Quinn at No. 8 and traded their No. 38 overall pick to the San Jose Sharks – moving the Sabres up to the No. 34 pick. There, they drafted John-Jason ‘JJ’ Peterka at No. 34 overall.

They both spent some time in the AHL and made their debuts during the 2021-22 season, but became regular skaters on the roster this season – and it turned out well. Quinn had 14 goals and 23 assists in 75 games, while Peterka had 12 goals and 20 assists. They’re fun to watch and they’re only getting better. 

8. Devon Levi Looks Like a Future No. 1 Option

Speaking of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers selected Devon Levi with the No. 212 overall pick in the seventh round that year. He didn’t join the Buffalo Sabres until July 2021 – when the team traded Sam Reinhart to the Panthers in exchange for the then-19-year-old and a first round draft pick in 2022. 

He has spent the past two seasons in the NCAA with Northeastern and has emerged as one of the best goalie prospects in the league. He signed a three-year entry deal with Buffalo in March and made his NHL debut on March 31. In 7 games, Levi had a 5-2-0 record, .905 save %, and 2.95 goals against average. 

7. Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin Shore the Defense

The Buffalo Sabres have a young defense, but they play like veterans (most of the time) and it’s all because of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. Dahlin just completed his sixth season in the league and has already established himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league at 23 years old.

Dahlin ended the season with career-highs in goals (15), assists (58), points (73), and blocked shots (132). Meanwhile, Power completed his rookie season and showed glimpses of superstar ability at just 20 years old. He finished the season with 4 goals, 31 assists, and 35 points – adding 86 blocked shots. 

6. Sabres Play Better With a Healthy Mattias Samuelsson

Anyone who has watched the Buffalo Sabres this season knows Mattias Samuelsson is one of their secret weapons. He’s easily one of the most underrated defensemen in the league and the Sabres are much better with him on the ice – they were 33-18-4 with him healthy. He’s both physical and skilled. 

Samuelsson only played in 55 games this year, but he was the team’s leader in hits (107) and third on the team in blocked shots (91) – he also added 2 goals and 8 assists, most of which came at even strength. Keeping him healthy has to be a priority for Buffalo – if they can do that, they’ll be much better off. 

5. Sabres Limit Penalties and Penalty Minutes

A lot can be said about the Buffalo Sabres’ penalty kill last season and most of it isn’t anything good – they had the fifth-worst penalty kill in the league at 73.0%. For reference, only seven teams had a penalty kill rate under 75% and the Boston Bruins led the league with a penalty kill percentage of 87.3%. 

With that said, the Buffalo Sabres did have one thing going for them – they rarely gave up big penalty minutes. They had the sixth-fewest penalties called against them and second-fewest penalty minutes. While they gave up a lot of goals during the penalty kill, at least they were limiting the penalties!

4. Jeff Skinner Averaged a Point Per Game – Finally!

The Buffalo Sabres traded for Jeff Skinner in August 2018, sending Cliff Pu and three draft picks to the Carolina Hurricanes – where he had spent the previous eight seasons. After a 40-goal season in 2018-19, the Sabres signed him to an eight-year contract worth $72 million – paying him $9 million per season. 

He failed to live up to expectations in the following two seasons, but now has two consecutive 30-goal seasons and his 35 goals last season was the second-most of his career. He also had a career-high 82 points this season, making him a point-per-game player for the first time in his career – it’s about time!

3. Don Granato is the Coach They’ve Been Looking For

Don Granato began his coaching career after a short stint as a player in the ECHL. He coached teams in the USHL, ECHL, and AHL before earning a spot as assistant coach in the NHL with Chicago and St. Louis. From 2013 to 2016, he was head coach of the  USA Hockey National Team Development Program. 

Granato joined the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant coach in 2019 and was promoted to interim head coach after the team fired Ralph Krueger. The team went 9-16-3 under his leadership in 2020-21, 32-39-11 during the 2021-22 season, and now 42-33-7 this past season – they’ve improved every year. 

2. Sabres Post a Winning Record – Finally!

The Buffalo Sabres have been hard to watch for the past 12 years. They last made the playoffs during the 2010-11 season, when they went 43-29-10. While they missed the playoffs the following year, they still posted a winning record at 39-32-11. Unfortunately, they posted losing records in the next 10 seasons. 

That all came to an end in 2022-23. Their 42-33-7 record was their best since that 2010-11 season and their 91 points had them just two points away from a playoff spot. They showed a massive amount of improvement this season and they’re nowhere near their best yet – so things are only going to get better. 

1. Momentum, Momentum, Momentum

One of the things the Buffalo Sabres have lacked the most over the past 12 years is momentum. They had glimpses of what could be in the past, but could never maintain quality play long enough to be considered a playoff contender. This season, they proved they can compete with any team in the NHL. 

They definitely had their moments when things went bad, but it didn’t happen consistently and they always worked their way out of it. Now they go into the offseason with a ton of momentum and gained a lot of confidence with their stellar play this year. They just need to take that momentum into next season!

What’s Next for the Buffalo Sabres? 

The Buffalo Sabres are one of 16 NHL teams not in the playoffs, which means their offseason technically starts now. And while they have a lot to smile about this past season, there are certainly a few key areas that need to be addressed during the 2023 NHL Draft and free agency period if they want to improve.

The main issue at hand is goaltending – they were one of the worst in the league in this area this past season and was the primary reason they didn’t make the playoffs. They have two young goaltenders who show a lot of promise, but they need a quality and proven veteran to help continue their development.

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Another area the Buffalo Sabres need to improve on this offseason is their penalty kill. While they boasted the ninth-best power play (23.4%) this season, they also had the fifth-worst penalty kill (73.0%). While they don’t get called for a lot of penalties, they need to do a better job at killing them when they come.  

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