The Edmonton Oilers could really use a goalie. It’s no secret. They’ve got all the offensive potential in the world and some solid defense too. Between the pipes, however, they’ve got the ever-underwhelming Devan Dubnyk and the Russian enigma (to put it lightly) Ilya Bryzgalov. So yeah, they could use a goalie. It’s for this reason that every time trade rumors start brewing, the idea of shipping Sabres goalie Ryan Miller to Edmonton always seems to pop up. Buffalo needs high-end scoring, Edmonton needs veteran goaltending. It makes sense. It’s for this reason that whenever deals and deadlines are brought up, Sabres fans pack the bags of a young, explosive Russian who wears Oilers’ Blue and Copper and send him to Buffalo to swap Copper for Gold. It’s for this reason that Sabres fans perpetually bring up one trade: Ryan Miller to EDM for former first overall pick Nail Yakupov (the aforementioned explosive Russian).
But more on that later. For now, the Sabres are streaking. They are playing balanced hockey and actually staying in games. Moreover, they’re putting an exciting product on the ice and winning games. You read that correctly. Winning. They’ve won four of their last six and have gotten points in six of their last seven games. They’ve put together an exciting and respectable streak. This piece, however, isn’t about how the Sabres are winning or why the team is doing so well or even what the team is doing to get wins. That doesn’t matter. To this team, winning can’t and doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter? 22 games, that’s why.
The Sabres started the season with 22 regulation losses. I crunched some numbers on twitter yesterday (read: went to NHL.com) and came across an interesting tidbit. In the 2011-12 season, which was the last full NHL season, the Vancouver Canucks finished first in the West and won the President’s trophy. They finished the season with 22 losses. That’s two less losses than the Sabres currently have. So the Sabres have already accumulated more losses in half a season than the best team in 2011 did in a full season. Basically, the Buffalo Sabres played themselves out of a playoff spot in October and November.
There has been some talk among Sabres fans that the team could make a push for the playoffs if they keep playing hockey like they are right now. It makes sense that this mindset is happening. As I said earlier, the Sabres are playing great hockey and are definitely finding a way to win games they shouldn’t (like the one they just played against Washington where they were outshot 50-17 and won 2-1 in a shootout). That being said, this sort of discourse is a bit ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I want the Sabres to make the playoffs as much as the next guy, but there is a certain point where you have to be realistic (especially as a Buffalo sports fan).
There are 43 games left in the regular season for the Buffalo Sabres. One fan I conversed with said that they could see the Sabres playing .500 hockey for the rest of the season. Okay, sure. Let’s say hypothetically (VERY hypothetically) that Buffalo wins half their games from here on out. That puts them at 33-45-4 to end the season. In 2011/12 the last team to make the playoffs did so with a record of 41-31-10. That was when the Ottawa Senators beat out the *gasp* BUFFALO SABRES for the last spot in the East. The Sabres would have to go 31-12 in the second half of the year to meet that. THIRTY ONE WINS WITH ONLY TWELVE LOSSES. We haven’t even won 33 games in the first half of the season.
Bad teams can have good streaks. At separate times in 2011/12 the undeniably-worst-in-the-league Columbus Blue Jackets put together streaks better than the one the Sabres are in right now. They won 4 straight at one point and put together a 5 for 6 streak to end the season. Last year Florida, one of the worst clubs in the league, had a streak where they went 4 for 5. They followed that success by losing six straight. Point is, bad teams have good streaks. The Sabres can get streaky if they want. Like a college Freshman at DI sporting event, they can streak their little dic- er, rather… hearts… out. They still played so historically terrible to start the season that nothing, save for a catastrophic conference collapse and a win stretch of literally legendary proportion, will change their playoff hopes. Not even putting John Scott on the power play.
“Well sure, they won’t make the playoffs but what if they play their way out of our precious top-3 pick?!” Oh don’t worry random quote interjected into this piece, that draft pick is safe too. If the Sabres win half their games from here on out, as mentioned in that previous scenario, one might think they’d play out of a high pick. Wrong. If Buffalo wins half those games, they will end the season with 33 wins. Those 33 notches in the win column would be two more than the Montreal Canadiens who picked 3rd overall that offseason.
Furthermore, 33 wins to close the season would be one more win than the 32 that the Edmonton Oilers finished with in 2011/12. So if the Sabres are somehow able to scratch and claw their way to winning half their games from here on out, which is a feat that is so highly unlikely it’s actually laughable, they will still only scrounge together a record that would easily have them select in the top three. Their record would closely resemble that of the aforementioned 2011/12 Edmonton Oilers, a team that went on to win the 2012 NHL Draft lottery and pick first overall in that upcoming Entry Draft. And who did Edmonton select with that first overall pick? An explosive Russian forward whose inability to find himself in the NHL has put him in plenty of trade rumors that would bring his team a goalie. With the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, they selected a young man by the name of Nail Yakupov.
They did it playing better hockey than Buffalo is right now. So yeah, the Sabres draft position is safe.
When I was growing up playing hockey, there was one thing coaches used to repeat over and over and over ad-nauseam. I’d hear it from my coach (my dad), I’d hear it from the assistant coach (my best friend’s Dad), I’d hear it from other players, and I’d hear it from the most important voice to ever exist: myself. This one thing became a defining facet of my entire hockey career and for better or for worse (okay, pretty much for worse) became a cornerstone that I developed my game around (aside: I should take this time to point out that I played hockey from age five until age fifteen and was, to put it nicely, mediocre. Basically, I was about as “Drew Stafford playing the year after a contract” as they come.) Anyway, the one thing that every coach loved to harp on was this: You can’t teach size.
In youth hockey I’d watch some behemoth, hit-a-growth-spurt-way-too-early, “holy balls is this kid on steroids”, 13 year old out-play everyone on the ice. He’d steal the puck, go end-to-end propelled on stilts for legs and blast a stupidly fast shot past some poor 12 year old whose pads were too big and was probably day-dreaming about boobs or video games or boobs in video games, anyway. “Welp, you can’t teach size,” I’d hear someone rationalize from down the bench.
There were two problems with this idiom, at least from my underachieving, youth-hockey playing point of view. The first problem was that I was generally in the bottom five players for size on every single team I was on. I didn’t hit my growth spurt until a year after I quit and it was pretty much a guarantee that I was always one of the smallest players on the ice. The second problem with this height-based theory was that IT WAS TOTALLY CORRECT. Hit the jump to read more about my inadequacies and how Tyler Myers is tall.