Swords depend on the increase in the late season to continue next year

While Buffalo set a National Hockey League record by missing the playoffs for the eleventh consecutive year, the mood was unequivocally optimistic among the players who gathered one last time.

Buffalo, NY – Expressions of the grievances and expressions of frustration that have followed each of the previous 10 losing seasons of the Buffalo Sabers were notably absent on Saturday.

While Buffalo set a National Hockey League record by missing the playoffs for the eleventh consecutive year, the mood was unequivocally optimistic among the players who gathered one last time.

“It’s definitely a different feeling this year,” said striker Zemgus Girgensons, the longest-serving player on the team after completing his eighth season at Buffalo.

“Usually in the morning you try to gather ideas about all the complaints and issues that are going on,” he added. “This morning, my wife asked me, ‘What would you say?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have many complaints.’ It’s weird.

A clear sense of optimism may be finally beginning to take root for a team that has shown distinct signs of taking shape after a year of turmoil and reforms.

With a focus on rebuilding through youth and targeting players who want to stay at Buffalo, general manager Kevin Adams’ purge began with striker Sam Reinhart and defender Rasmus Restolainen on separate deals last summer. The operation culminated in November when Buffalo ended his longstanding stalemate with Jacques Eichel by trading the former captain to Vegas.

Cypress (32-39-11) finished the season by going 16-9-3 over the last two months, with the 16 wins in 28 games equaling their total over the first 54. It was a final period where Buffalo went 8-1-3 in the matches that were decided with one goal (compared to 5-7-8 in her first 54) and scored four or more goals 12 times (compared to 16 times in her first 54).

“Looking back at what we started on the first day of training camp, I think everyone can be very proud of who we are,” said Kyle Okposo. “If you look at the expectations from the outside, I think we might have exceeded what they were. Internally, we didn’t set any expectations in terms of winning and losing. It was just, ‘We’re going to win today.'”

With so much of the crew back the way it is, Jeff Skinner believes the foundation of the culture is there.

“I think there’s reason to be excited and encouraged, but now it’s up to us to take the next step,” Skinner said.

Comments that grabbed the headlines during previous exit interview sessions were missing on Saturday. There was a time four years ago when Ryan O’Reilly suggested that sabers had a losing culture. Eichel’s frustrations spanned over each of the previous two seasons, and capped them with questioning his future with the franchise a year ago.

Jergenson said that perhaps both Cypress and the departing players should have moved on.

“That’s how it works sometimes. Maybe they needed a fresh start and we needed some new faces here,” said Jergensons. “I think it worked this year. All of our guys, there are no complaints. I loved everyone in the room.”

Many Sabers have had career seasons. Tage Thompson, who started the year with 18 goals in his first 104 NHL games, scored 38 goals in 78 games. Rasmus Dahlin – his career best 53 points – was the most numerous Sabers defenders since Gary Galley earned 54 points in 1995-96. Owen Power, top seed in last year’s draft, scored twice in eight games after dropping out of University of Michigan.

His 229 goals were the highest since he scored 240 in 2010-11. And 287 goals allowed was the most since he surrendered 297 goals in 1992-93.

Strikers Vinny Hinostrosa and Cody Eiken, defender Colin Miller and goalkeeper Craig Anderson are among the Cypress players eligible to become Unfettered Free Agents this summer.

Anderson, who turns 41 next month, is split between retirement and openness to re-signing with Buffalo based on how much he enjoyed his first season with the Sabers.

“The mind says, ‘Sure, I’d like to be with these guys and that says a lot in terms of the group of guys, the management and the staff,'” Anderson said. “If I were five years younger, that would be the ideal situation.”

Anderson went 18-12-2 and racked up 308 career wins, tied for 33rd with Tuukka Rask on the NHL roster.

The Sabers will potentially have three first-round picks in this year’s draft. Aside from their own, which will be decided in the draft lottery, they also got a Florida pick for the first round in the trade that sent Reinhart to the Panthers. Buffalo also took home a first-round Vegas award earned in the Eichel trade. The Golden Knights, who missed out on the playoffs, have the option to protect the pick should they land in the top ten this year, with Buffalo then securing their first pick in Vegas in 2023.

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