The Sabres were always expected to be -- even planned to be -- bad this season, but they ended up being historically bad as they enter today with 51 points and
154 (147 when you take away the shootout win "goals") goals in 81 games. That cost them their general manager and coach (justifiably), a briefly returning hero (and former Islanders unperson), and two longtime stars who knew they'd be moved heading into this Dead Season Walking.
But given all the dastardly circumstances and Terry Pegula's misspent trust, the Sabres have arguably done the things necessary to right the ship. It doesn't show on the ice right now and probably won't for a while, but as Islanders fans know quite well, the hope is that they set things right for a few years down the line. With that in mind, we swapped questions with Andy Boron of Die By The Blade, SB Nation's Sabres site, to check the temperature in Buffalo. (My answers to his questions are right over there.)
Lighthouse Hockey: The Sabres pulled off two of the best rental sales of the season in the Vanek and Miller deals, with first-round picks in each. Does it feel almost like Darcy Regier's parting gift was to cash Vanek in for a gift that kept on giving?
Andy Boron: Depending on how the picks shake out, the Sabres could theoretically draft #1, #4, and #27-28 in the first round this season. If that doesn't work out, they could have an extra lottery ticket in the 2015 draft. At the very worst, they get a few extra top prospects in the system. Regier's final gifts will be a part of the organization for years to come, and most fans are very pleased with the way both deals worked out.
LHH: The impression from here is that the Sabres have lots of promising D prospects, but not as much at forward. Does that mean the Sabres should pass on Ekblad in the draft? What's the prevailing sentiment?
AB: Tim Murray has emphatically stated that he's taking the best prospect, regardless of position, so there's that. Most fans would like to see the Sabres take a forward, because they do look stacked on defense, but drafting Ekblad would open up the possibility to make some trades, whether a prospect or a more established name like Christian Ehrhoff or Tyler Myers. At this point, I think BPA is the way to go, and if they think Ekblad is unquestionably the best player, then take him.
LHH: What are the initial impressions of Tim Murray so far?
AB: Murray has been such a breath of fresh air - not just because he's a new face after over a decade of Darcy Regier, but his honesty in interviews and aggressiveness on the trade market are just so refreshing to see. Most fans think he's done a great job so far, but we're still in the honeymoon phase. Murray's biggest strength, however, is drafting, which is great news for a team that has approximately 500 first and second round picks over the next three seasons.
LHH: Of the young kids, who looks most promising at this point?
AB: Zemgus Girgensons came into the season with the promise of being an incredibly hard worker with offensive upside, and boy has he delivered. This kid is a David Backes-type in the making, and is such a gym rat that coaches have to tell him to stop working out and go home (true story.) On defense, Rasmus Ristolainen has grown by leaps and bounds during his time in the AHL, and went from a mountain of awkward potential at the beginning of the season to a smooth operating, all-situations producer the past few weeks.
LHH: Finally, a lot of Isles fans fondly recall Ted Nolan. Is he the right guy for the Sabres at this point?
Nolan has shown that he's the right guy for this team at this time, and has earned his extension by getting the Sabres to play like an NHL team (albeit a bad one) most of the time. However, the question remains of whether he's the right man for the job in two or three years, when the Sabres are more than just a hard-working team with little talent. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. If we come to it.
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FIG Picks Tonight, Leaderboard
Repeating from the morning thread, for our regular reader/commenters our annual First Islanders Goal title has already been decided, as martyInd clinched it by picking Anders Lee last game, but you can move up or down in the standings with the right pick today. And of course Mrs. Mike in MI still holds a two-point lead over Mike in MI thanks to a mid-season comeback. The top of the leaderboard:
43 - martylnd
32 - zack779
31 - DoctorOsty
27 - Isle in Dixie
25 - mrs. mike in mi
23 - jeanluc1968
23 - mike in mi
23 - Ukiddinme
22 - Torgo
Go here to see the full standings of participants. And thanks for playing!