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Is Colorado’s rise a fair example of what might happen in Buffalo?

Aug 28, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT

Chris Stewart Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres are frankly expected to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2014-15. It’s easy to see why: They’re a rebuilding club coming off of a season where they posted a 21-51-10 record. They could have added six wins last season and still finished in last place. For that matter, they could have scored 37 more goals and still ranked 30th offensively.

The short-term situation is so bleak that there are Sabres fans rooting against their team as they’ve already abandoned hope of them being competitive next season and just want them to be able to draft a potential superstar in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Chris Stewart, who came to Buffalo from St. Louis in February as part of the Ryan Miller trade, doesn’t want the fanbase to write the Sabres off.

“Look at the Colorado Avalanche two years ago,” Stewart recently said. “They were a last-place team, and they were arguably one of the best teams in the league last year. So the past is the past. You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly.”

Of course you’d be hard pressed to find a player that wants to lose or, for that matter, one that is going to paint anything other than an optimistic picture going into the season, but does Stewart have a point? Does Buffalo have a chance to follow in Colorado’s footsteps?

Let’s move past the obvious answer, which is: Of course. Anything can happen, so obviously there’s a chance that Buffalo will make the playoffs. But is it a big enough one to give Stewart’s argument validity?

Well, first off, he is correct that the team will look very different than the one that opened the 2013-14 season, which right off the bat actually makes this story a lot different than the one in Colorado. The Avalanche team that surprised the hockey world in 2013-14 wasn’t substantially altered from the one finished with a 16-25-7 record in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign.

Additionally, different isn’t automatically better. The Sabres have lost Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek for example and you can make an argument that no one on their current roster is better than those two players — at least not yet as some of their youngsters have high ceilings.

A few things did change in Colorado though. Patrick Roy took over as the team’s head coach and, in addition to giving them new hope, he joined goalie coach Francois Allaire in helping Semyon Varlamov take a huge step forward. Varlamov was at the center of the Avalanche’s success as they were bombarded with shots all season and relied on him to stand tall.

Meanwhile, Buffalo struggled largely in spite of Miller’s goaltending last season so while the new combination of Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth might prove to be solid, the single biggest change that bolstered the Avalanche wouldn’t have quite the same effect on the Sabres.

What Buffalo needs is for its defense to improve, but more than that, they need someone to find the back of the net. Colorado saw its offense improve in part thanks to a strong rookie season from Nathan MacKinnon and while the Sabres have some promising young forwards that might step up, they have a far bigger gap to overcome.

The Avalanche’s offense wasn’t great in the lockout shortened campaign, but Buffalo’s offense last season was statistically the worst of the 21st century.

It’s that gap that will be difficult for the Sabres to overcome in a single campaign. They do have some noteworthy scoring threats such as Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, but their top two lines don’t look overly promising on paper.

So maybe Colorado isn’t an ideal example for Buffalo, but the thing about a young team is that you never know quite what will happen. It seems realistic to assume that this will be a season of growing pains for the Sabres, but if they find their groove early in the season, then they might surprise people.

  1. shaundre93 - Aug 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM

    They wont surprise like Colorado, but I think they’ll do better than expected. They have a great coach, a couple goalies who could potentially break out, some solid young fwds (big Girgensons fan) and I think a top pair of Gorges-Myers will be dynamite as Myers will finally have a safety net which will lead to some steady progression for him. They will definitely be at the bottom, but I think they’ll be much more competitive this year

    • mackattack29 - Aug 29, 2014 at 9:25 AM

      I don’t get how anyone couldn’t be a Girgensons fan. That kid is straight up talented. No way around it.

    • jinx21fan - Aug 29, 2014 at 2:00 PM

      “They wont surprise like Colorado, but I think they’ll do better than expected.”
      “They will definitely be at the bottom, but I think they’ll be much more competitive this year”

      LOL – So what you are saying is the Sabres have very, very low expectations!

  2. djshnooks - Aug 28, 2014 at 5:31 PM

    Next year that’s exactly what it will be.

    They are focused on that 2015 draft with5 picks in the top-60, 3 first rounders…and lots of cap space for July 1st, 2015.

    Come October 2015, they will break out.

    Even if they win 10 more games this year, that could still be “good enough” for a top-5 pick…but it’s all about the 2015 offseason.

    However, I think with the prospects already in the pipeline, a scenario that sees them get say 2 of Strome, Zacha, Hanifin, would be a good consolation to losing a #1 or #2 and a chance McDavid or Eichel.

    If they didn’t get Reinhart and have 3 first round picks next year, I wouldn’t think that…but given the depth of the 2015 draft, adding 2-3 more top-end prospects works.

    • 19to77 - Aug 28, 2014 at 7:18 PM

      I imagine they may try to add a fourth. They still have plenty of pieces to offer at both the trade deadline (Stewart, Stafford and Meszaros all UFAs this year) and at the draft. Endless goalie and centre depth in the prospect pool means they could trade one or two of either and still have plenty to work with, especially with the three new 1st-rounders they’ll already be adding.

  3. avscup - Aug 28, 2014 at 5:54 PM

    Keep in mind Colorado drafted Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog and Mackinnon. It is rare that so many 1st and a 2nd pick pan out the way these players have. Two Calder trophies and a runner up. Buffalo should be better but it will boil down to a lot more than the good fortunes Colorado had. Coaching was a big part of that. Roy changed the culture of the team!

    Stewart will need to play the whole ice for 60 minutes a night for starters. When he does that, he is awesome. I watched for a couple years in CO. Wasn’t always pretty and the effort wasn’t always there. Same in St. Louis. You won’t do what CO did without that kind of effort.

    • 19to77 - Aug 28, 2014 at 10:43 PM

      Well, as far as coaching and culture changes go, you won’t find many guys who preach work ethic harder than Nolan. And aside from that he works with whatever he’s given and the sum of his teams is always more than their parts. Guy’s a professional overachiever. Look at the Latvian national squad.

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