BUFFALO, N.Y. — Despite the organization's 12-year playoff drought, the Buffalo Sabres were playing meaningful games all the way into mid-April, finishing just one point out from a Wild Card spot this past season.
Buffalo had two games left on the NHL's 82-game schedule when they were eventually eliminated from postseason contention.
"Winning the last two games was a huge thing for me as a coach because I needed and we wanted these guys to see how close they are and were through their effort and work, so that belief would become conviction," head coach Don Granato said during his final press conference, capping the 2022-23 Sabres season.
"They have conviction. They know that they have enough that they have enough that they should have that as the target to make playoffs."
There was an optimistic shift in mentality for a team during locker room cleanout this season. Future expectations are refreshed.
"The strides that this team in particular has made is definitely a step in the right direction," said Tage Thompson, who led the team in goals and points this season. "This team's only been together a couple of years now. I think everyone here is growing as a team, which is something that we haven't been able to say for a while."
When head coach Don Granato was asked the same question about the expectations of the team and organization in playoffs moving forward, he had a simple response.
"Why not?" Granato said. "We had to build and restore belief... The last couple of years, the belief wasn't real strong."
The Sabres have gone through growing pains since Kevyn Adams took over as general manager in June 2020. They're finally starting to pay off.
"Were we disappointed we didn't make the playoffs? Absolutely. Did we fight hard? Did we come up just short? Yeah, that's tough to swallow," Adams said.
"But lost opportunity? No. I think there was an amazing gained opportunity... what our guys learned, and the pressure they had to go through, and the ups and downs and feeling must-win games and how to handle that being the youngest team in the league."