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Hamilton's year in review: Sabres show growth, endure growing pains

'You could start seeing the improvement in March and April, when they started to win some games.'

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As we wind down 2022, let’s take a look back at the Buffalo Sabres. From Jan.1 until now, the Sabres are 21st in the NHL with a points percentage .518. You may not have guessed this, but the Philadelphia Flyers are worst at .345.

Buffalo struggled in January and February, but when March 2 rolled around, the Sabres went to Toronto and beat the Maple Leafs 5-1 and this team came of age. From Jan 1 on, Buffalo had 86 points in 83 games. Now 86 points isn’t going to get you into the playoffs, but it’s an improvement for a young team.

Tage Thompson is 18th in league scoring in this calendar year with 52 goals and 46 assists for 98 points in 78 games. His 52 goals are sixth most in the league and only five behind the leader Austin Matthews. Buffalo has the fourth best power play in 2022.

You could start seeing the improvement in March and April when they started to win some games.

The Draft came in July and thanks to the trades that sent away Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, Buffalo had three first round picks. Buffalo’s lineup is already sprinkled with good young talent that were high picks. The Sabres added to it by selecting Matt Savoie, Noah Ostlund and Jiri Kulich in the first round and the goaltender that many felt was the best in the draft in Topias Leinonen in the second round.

If you add in Isak Rosen and Ryan Johnson, the Sabres have five first round picks that are still developing and haven’t played in the NHL yet.

Leinonen joins a young goaltending crew of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Devon Levi and Erik Portillo.

This year starts and it’s time to plug in Owen Power, Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, Mattias Samuelsson and Peyton Krebs. Things started rough. Quinn, Peterka and Krebs weren’t very good as they were finding their way. Buffalo endured an eight-game losing streak where they didn’t even pick up any loser points and fans were screaming, “Same old Sabres.”

Since then, Quinn and Peterka have formed a very good line centered by Dylan Cozens. They have provided plenty of scoring to help Thompson’s line and since the losing streak, the young team is 10-3-2 and have gotten five very solid games in net from Luukkonen and Craig Anderson to win five in a row.

The impatience is growing as now that this team leads the NHL in goal scoring, people think the time is now, but Kevyn Adams didn’t come this far with his plan to change it. He is not going to panic one way or the other or sacrifice long-term success just to make the playoffs once.

The fast tracking for immediate gratification didn’t work when Tim Murray tried it. As a matter of fact, it was a disaster. All it did was send away talented prospects for good players, that didn’t help.

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres right wing JJ Peterka (77), right wing Jack Quinn (22) and center Dylan Cozens (24) celebrate a goal by Quinn during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

As this team gets better in 2023, the playoffs are something I expect next season thanks to development and growth.

The Sabres have a superstar in Thompson. There’s a trade that both teams did well on. The St. Louis Blues got two exceptional years and a Stanley Cup from Ryan O’Reilly and Buffalo has a guy that is only scratching the surface in Thompson. The Sabres still have Ryan Johnson in college at Minnesota. He was the first-round pick the Sabres got in the trade.

When I look back at 2022, I see a team that has had growth with growing pains. They have formed a bond that is so close and it’s something they take to the ice with them. They are proud of each other and proud of the city they play in and I think Granato is going to get the best out of these guys and I know it’s not the popular opinion, but I think Adams is doing the right things.

Adams respects the opinions out there, but he’s not going to listen to them and that will serve him well.

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