The Buffalo Sabers failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for an NHL-record 11th straight season.
Buffalo (26-34-11) was eliminated from contention when the Washington Capitals won 4-3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. The Sabers have not qualified for the postseason since 2011, a seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Sabers were tied with the Florida Panthers (2001-11) and Edmonton Oilers (2007-16) for longest postseason drought.
Here is a look at what happened in the 2021-22 season for the Sabers and why things could be better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Drake CaggiulaF; cody eakinF; John HaydenF; Vinnie HinostrozaF; Will ButcherD; Colin MillerD; Mark PysykD; Craig AndersonG; Malcolm SubbanG; Dustin TokarskyG
Potentially restricted free agents: Jacob BrysonD; Victor OlofsonD&
Potential 2022 NHL Draft picks: 10
what went wrong
Jack Eichel saga: Prior to the season, the Sabers stripped Eichel of the captaincy after he and the team could not agree on the best course of action for a neck injury. The center was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 4, ending his tenure as a core piece of the Sabers when he scored at least 24 goals and 56 points in each of his first five seasons (2015-20) and was their best offensive player during his time there. Eichel had been the face of the Sabers since he was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Goalie issues: Buffalo used six goalies this season because of injury. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who entered training camp as a candidate to be the starter, hasn’t played for the Sabers since Jan. 11 because of a lower-body injury and has been playing for Rochester of the American Hockey League since Feb 9. Craig Anderson (upper body) was out three months, and Dustin Tokarski (COVID-19 related illness), was out for two months. Malcom Subban, who was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Dec. 2, played four games before he was ruled out for the season with an upper-body injury. Aaron Dell and Michael Houser have each also started for the Sabers this season.
Long losing skids: The Sabers started the season 3-0-0 and 5-1-1 but followed up with a 5-18-5 stretch that all but sealed their fate. They lost at least five straight games four times this season, including three of at least six. The inability to string victories together was an issue; they won three straight games eleven more (March 18-23).
reasons for optimism
Alex Touch, Peyton Krebs: The two forwards acquired in the Eichel trade have made an impact and shown they can be important pieces in the future. Tuch has 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists) in 39 games for Buffalo. The 25-year-old native of Syracuse, New York has been rejuvenated since returning from a shoulder injury Dec. 29 following the trade. Krebs, 21, has 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 46 games and scored his first NHL goal with the Sabers on Jan. 22.
Healthy Luukkonen: The 23-year-old goalie has been limited to nine games this season but has a respectable 2.74 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He played four games for the Sabers last season and if he is healthy to start next season he will likely be their No. 1.
Core under contract: In addition to Tuch and Krebs, forwards Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt, Zemgus Girgensons, Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozensand defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, are all signed at least through next season. Olofsson is the only key piece who can become a restricted free agent after the season, so the Sabers could have the main part of their roster intact barring an offseason trade.