BUFFALO — Although in previously proposed formats it seemed as if they would sneak into the postseason, in the most-recently proposed NHL playoff the Buffalo Sabres will be on the outside looking in at a newly constructed 24-team pool, which reportedly would include the top-12 teams in each conference. This would be the Sabres’ ninth-straight season in which they’ve missed the postseason.
This past week on WGR 550 AM, Sportsnet hockey insider Elliotte Friedman said with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on The Instigators how he believes the playoffs will be structured if the NHL is to resume play.
“I think that if we go to 24 (teams), you’re going to see the (New York) Rangers in some way,” he said in his weekly appearance on WGR. “The Rangers would be ahead of Buffalo (in the Eastern Conference), so I think one of the things I think they’re considering is if we go by the top-12 (in the Eastern Conference), seven teams are in the (Metropolitan) and five are in the Atlantic. The Rangers would be the seventh team in the Metro and go to the Atlantic (to make the divisions even at six a piece). They’re talking about the same thing out West with seven in the Central and five in the Pacific, and one of the (Central) teams might move into the Pacific.”
As the Eastern Conference standings currently read, the Sabres sit at 13th, which would place them one slot out of a playoff spot if the recently reported format is indeed carried out. Buffalo’s record is 30-31-8, while 12th place Montreal sits at 31-31-9 and three points ahead of the Sabres. Although The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun has reported that the new format may include games before the playoffs begin, it is unsure whether those games would serve as warm up for the posteason or games to finalize the standings. If the standings remain unchanged, Buffalo’s league-leading playoff drought will extend into the 2020-2021 season.
This is cruel and unusual punishment for a fan base which hasn’t seen their team make the playoffs in nearly a decade, but something about Buffalo ending that drought by way of an expanded playoff doesn’t seem right. Sort of in the same sense that the Bills ending their playoff drought on the back of Andy Dalton and the Bengals a few years back - to many it felt cheap.
Fans, although desperate for success, have a weird way of wanting their teams to earn what they get, rather than walk into a postseason appearance for the first time since the Harry Potter movies ended. For those who have been living and dying with this team for all of that time, many would tell you that they’d prefer their team’s next playoff appearance be one that comes after a legitimate run, rather than a gift given by way of a health crisis.
Finishing the abbreviated season under .500, this year’s Sabres team didn’t deserve to make the postseason. Walking in to a 24-team format wouldn’t fulfill many true fans, not to mention a manufactured trip to the playoffs may extend the good faith which Sabres ownership has extended general manager Jason Botterill, who much of Buffalo’s faithful following would carry out the door if given the opportunity.
In the end, if the Sabres do indeed miss out on the 24-team pool it will be poetic justice for a team that has under performed far too often as of late. In a year where they’re letting teams in at the same rate Oprah gives away free stuff, it looks like once again Buffalo will be left out in the cold.