The season has come to an end and the Buffalo Sabres spent Monday morning cleaning out their lockers at First Niagara Center.
The Sabres finished the 2013-14 campaign in 30th place with a record of 21-51-10. It was a pretty tumultuous season for everyone involved. The team dealt with numerous changes throughout the course of the year from Ted Nolan coming in to coach in mid-November to Tim Murray being hired as the new general manager in January to the multitude of trades and injuries that seriously altered the shape of the roster.
It was a season that many players are looking to put behind them as they enter the offseason.
“There’s definitely a long list of words to describe it,” Sabres alternate captain Drew Stafford said. “‘Hard’ is one word. ‘Challenging.’ The amount of adversity that we went through with all the changes in management and players, injuries – you can go down the list of excuses, but bottom line is that this is something that we’re moving on from.
“We’re turning the page and we want to do our best this summer to get ready to put a better product on the ice for the fans. This city deserves a lot more and the onus is on us as players to perform.”
Offensively, the Sabres struggled to score goals all season long. Cody Hodgson led the team with 44 points (20+44) and Tyler Ennis set a career-high with 21 goals, which was tops for Buffalo. The Sabres averaged a League-low 1.83 goals per game.
“It was tough. It was a tough start for me and then with the changes, it got better,” Ennis said. “Finishing last place is always hard but we can’t make excuses and we’ve got to be better next year.”
Buffalo started the season with the youngest roster in the NHL and dressed five rookies – including three teenagers – in the first game of the season. Since Nolan took over behind the bench, the Sabres sent many of their young players back to juniors or the American Hockey League.
Rookie center Zemgus Girgensons, who turned 20 in January, is one player that spent the entire season developing in Buffalo. He served as an alternate captain in the season finale on Sunday.
“I think I can speak for every single young guy, to be a young guy to go through this for the first full year, it’s tough. Especially in the NHL, when you go through a losing season like this, it’s hard,” he said. “It’s just a learning experience for all of us so you can just take the best from it, learn from it and give the best advice to the next guys that come in.”
Several players that ended the season with Buffalo will be heading to Rochester as the Sabres’ AHL affiliate looks to clinch a playoff position. The Amerks need one point over the course of their final three games to lock up a postseason berth.
Mark Pysyk, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nicolas Deslauriers, Andrey Makarov and Connor Knapp will be among the healthy bodies heading back to Rochester.
The Amerks play Wednesday night in Utica and wrap up the home portion of their regular-season schedule on Friday against Syracuse before heading to Toronto on Saturday for their final game of the season.
“I haven’t played playoffs a lot in my career and it’s always nice,” Ristolainen said. “When I watch our lineup, it’s pretty good. We have a lot of skill. Hopefully we can get things going on and we can make a long playoff run.”
While the younger players will use this season as a learning experience, some of the veterans are ready to move forward and turn things around as soon as possible.
“I’ve had a pretty bad taste in my mouth the last couple years and this one’s probably even worse,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “I mean, three years in a row not making the playoffs, you play the game to make the playoffs. You play the game to compete for a Stanley Cup.”
Weber is looking forward to getting healthy in the offseason and coming back strong in the fall.
“I think our fans have been very supportive, but at the same time, you don’t want to disappoint people. You don’t want that feeling walking around town that you’ve disappointed people or you’re letting people down, especially a hard-working city like Buffalo,” he said. “I think to every man, we’ve accepted the challenge.
“…You’ve got five-and-a-half months here to get yourself ready for training camp and I expect training camp to be what training camp should be for a 30th-place team. It should be hard. It should be intense and again, I know Teddy is making sure every guy knows that – that we’re not joking around anymore.”