Buffalo Sabres eliminated

The Buffalo Sabres failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 13th consecutive season.

The Sabres were eliminated from contention Tuesday when they lost 3-2 to the Dallas Stars shortly after the New York Islanders won 4-2 against the New York Rangers.

The last time the Sabres qualified for the playoffs was in 2010-11 when they lost in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games. That playoff appearance marked the fourth time the Sabres had made the postseason in six years.

Here’s a look at what happened in the 2023-24 season for the Sabres and why things could be better next season.

The skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Victor Olofsson, F; Zemgus Girgensons, F; Tyson Jost, F; Eric Robinson, F; Eric Comrie, G

Potential restricted free agents: Peyton Krebs, F; Henri Jokiharju, D; Jacob Bryson, D; Kale Clague, D; Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, G

Potential 2024 Draft picks: 8

What went wrong

Slow starts: The first period of games was not often very friendly to the Sabres this season. Not only did they allow the most first-period goals in the NHL, with 95, eight more than the Chicago Blackhawks, but they also struggled to score goals at the beginning of games. They are 26th in the NHL in first-period goals with 63. Starting behind in most games is a tough way to win.

Lack of winning streaks: Sometimes it helps to get on a run. But the Sabres were never able to do that in the 2023-24 season. It took them until Feb. 25 to string more than two consecutive wins together. They would do it once more, from March 9 to 14, but it’s nearly impossible to be a playoff team without getting a head of steam at least a couple of times during the season.

Power play: In a season that has been marked by a significant offensive downturn from the Sabres -- No. 22 in goals per game (2.96) after being No. 3 (3.57) last season – nowhere has it been more obvious than on the power play. The Sabres are tied for 28th in the NHL on the man advantage at 16.5 percent after finishing ninth last season at 23.4 percent.

Reasons for optimism

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen: There’s no question that the Sabres have a bright spot in goal, with the breakout season by Luukkonen. The 25-year-old has been given a chance to grow, to take his time, in ascending to the No. 1 goaltender for the Sabres – and it has paid off. Luukkonen is 26-22-3 this season with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage and is tied for third in the NHL with five shutouts. Luukkonen was the reason the Sabres were able to get back into the playoff race at the end of the season, something that should pay dividends down the road.

CHI@BUF: Luukkonen blanks the Blackhawks, 3-0

Bowen Byram and Rasmus Dahlin: The Sabres have all the makings of a talented blue line for years to come. Chief among those talents are Byram, whom they acquired from the Colorado Avalanche at the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline for Casey Mittelstadt, and Dahlin. Byram and Dahlin have had their ups and downs since the trade, but Byram is a move for the long term. Not only is he an offensively talented defenseman, but he’s a player who knows what it takes to win – having won the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2022 – and that’s something the Sabres need around their locker room.

Young talent: There are certainly questions in Buffalo, especially in a season that was expected to finally end the team’s playoff drought, but there’s no doubt that the Sabres are among the teams with the best collection of young talent in the NHL. Between defensemen Dahlin, 23, Mattias Samuelsson, 24, and Owen Power, 21, forwards Jack Quinn, 22,, JJ Peterka, 22, and Zach Benson, 18, and goalies Devon Levi, 22, and Luukkonen, plus the talent assembled at the American Hockey League level, this team should be a powerhouse in the making. It might just take a little bit more patience from Sabres fans, who have had to be patient for a long while.