BUFFALO, N.Y. — With Don Granato and Kevyn Adams speaking on Wednesday, the Sabres season is officially over.
We really didn’t hear too much new from these two men because their message has been pretty consistent since they arrived. They’re trying to build a team to sustain long-term success. The objective isn’t to mortgage the future just so they can break a 12-year playoff drought, which they have very little to do with. Adams’ plan is to build something so this will never happen again.
There are those out there that accuse Adams of blowing a huge opportunity to make the playoffs this year, but for once, I agree with the plan of a general manager around here. Tim Murray was the guy who traded for Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, and Robin Lehner to go with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, and it failed miserably. Once it failed, Murray had over paid to make those trades and he had no young players to rebuild with.
If the Sabres made trades at the deadline, just to make the playoffs for one year, that would’ve pushed two or three young players out of the picture, and they never would've gotten the experience of pressure game right up until Game 80. Those prospects and picks you traded away just to acquire players who won’t be around past this season are gone, you’d never get them back.
Many suggested Adams should be fired when he didn’t trade for a goalie at the deadline. Had he done that, Devon Levi wouldn’t have played after he signed because you’re not going to trade for a goalie and give up assets and not play him in your most important games.
In my mind, even if they made the playoffs, it’s a first round exit. Then, you’re sitting there with a weaker stable of players because you traded key young players away, and others didn’t get the experience of the run because they were pushed out of the lineup.
I get the anger of the fan base about a 12-year playoff drought, but three GMs tried, and three failed at making this team better. There’s absolutely no question Adams and Granato have made this team better, so I think their plan should be given a chance until it fails.
With this experience come expectations. Of course, Adams and Granato aren’t going to paint themselves into a corner and say they have to make the playoffs next year or else, but I will. This team MUST make the playoffs next year. Unless there are major injuries, regression is not an option. Granato did say that this season the players thought they could make the playoffs. He says moving forward, they now have a conviction that they’ll make the playoffs.
Adams did admit they need to be better defensively, and when I asked about adding a top-four defenseman, he said what he always does, they will consider everything. I don’t think this team can get to the next level without it. To me, it’s more important than a goalie you’re going to pair with Levi.
Now I’m saying this, not Adams. They of course say nobody has the Sabres goaltending job and it will be earned in training camp. In my opinion, their actions in the final games of the season told us who the Sabres No. 1 goalie is, and it’s Levi.
I don’t for one second think the Sabres should give up on 24-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. There were stretches last season where he was very good, but there were also stretches where he wasn’t. With the amount of turnovers this team committed and how poorly they were in many games with covering the middle of the ice in their own end, that has something to do with it.
When Luukkonen got hot and won six games in a row, eight out of nine and 12 out of 15, he would give up goals, but he made the big save at the big time. His stats weren’t great. 3.05 goals-against and .909 save percentage, but when you needed a save, he was there.
In my mind he regressed, and that went away after that. Granato said he’d be very comfortable with starting the season with Levi and Luukkonen as his goalies, but I think Adams would be taking a huge chance doing that. Luukkonen has proven to be a very hard worker, and I have no doubt he will put the work in this summer to try to get better, but I wouldn’t bet my reputation on that he'll get good enough to be the Sabres No. 2.
Adams said he wants both Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons back, but he did say it has to make sense for both sides. I can tell you this, every single player in that locker room wants to have their captain back. Okposo is one of the most highly respected Sabre I’ve ever seen in that room. Craig Anderson is retiring, so you can’t go with all young guys, you do need some veteran leaders.
I think Adams also needs to be searching for a few players that are harder to play against, and they absolutely need to improve their penalty killing. Buffalo was 28th in that department, and Granato must either come up with a different philosophy for his penalty kill or they need better players for it.
So things should be interesting this summer because expectations will be high, and rightfully so. Adams must improve this team through trades as unrestricted free agency on the high end is a fool's game, and is proven not to be the way to build your team.