It's become a habit to dismiss the Buffalo Sabres and any iota of a chance they have of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They've averaged a shade over 21 wins the past three seasons, and in each of the previous two finished at or near the bottom of the NHL in most offensive and special-team categories.
But there are precedents of teams making quantum leaps in the NHL standings. The Montreal Canadiens ascended from the Eastern Conference basement to a first-place finish in the Northeast Division in 2013. A season later, the Colorado Avalanche rose from 29th in the League (39 points in 48 games) to 112 points and the Central Division title. An extreme example is the 1992-93 San Jose Sharks, whose 58-point jump from the season before remains the biggest turnaround in League history.
A 58-point jump is asking too much, but there's no denying the excitement in Buffalo, where there are expectations for the Sabres to make noise in the East. The additions of Evander Kane, Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly fortified a group of forwards that already included Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart, putting them in position to significantly increase their NHL-worst 153 goals from last season. Defenseman Cody Franson, who signed a two-year contract Sept. 10, should spark a power play that finished 30th at 13.4 percent.