The Sabres’ organization has turned its focus to future seasons. Buffalo’s players and coaches have 11 more games this year.
They’re refusing to adopt the company line of treating this season as the beginning of a rebuild.
“We treat it that we’re going to make the playoffs,” interim coach Ron Rolston said Thursday. “That’s how we treat it.”
The Sabres host the Ottawa Senators tonight with a far different roster than if they’d met last Friday. Buffalo traded captain Jason Pominville and veteran defensemen Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr because management decided this year’s disappointing club wasn’t moving toward the ultimate goal.
“We made a determination that it was about the Stanley Cup,” said General Manager Darcy Regier, whose team was in 13th place entering Thursday night’s schedule. “Maybe we could have stayed in the race. Maybe we could have acquired a player. Maybe we could have made a run at it like we did last year, either got in or just out.
“But the reality is that the preference is to build for a Stanley Cup versus a playoff run.”
Despite overwhelming odds against them – the Sabres have a 3 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to SportsClubStats.com – the folks in the dressing room still dream of a postseason.
“We’re not eliminated yet,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “There’s hope. It starts again with Ottawa.”
The Sabres will skate into First Niagara Center after playing possibly their finest game of the year. They beat Pittsburgh, 4-1, Tuesday to snap the Penguins’ 15-game winning streak.
“We finally put a 60-minute effort together,” Weber said. “They can give you all the excuses they want – they had [Sidney] Crosby out, they had some D-men that were out – but we took it to them on a consistent basis. We stuck to our game plan, getting pucks deep, working their defensemen, cycling pucks, getting shots through, so we need to build on that to go forward here.
“Obviously, with the moves we’ve made, that’s a huge momentum swing for our younger guys and for the guys that need to step into bigger roles as we go forward.”
The Sabres will play the rest of the schedule without a captain. Rolston and his staff have decided not to name a replacement for Pominville.
Instead, Buffalo has promoted Steve Ott to alternate captain. The forward joins Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford. Vanek may return tonight after missing four games with an upper-body injury.
“He looked pretty good, see how he’s feeling in the morning and pregame skate and go from there,” Rolston said.
Pominville was set to debut for the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night after leaving Buffalo early in the morning and flying to the game in Los Angeles. Though he realized a trade was possible, especially after Regier asked him to supply an eight-team, no-trade list, the veteran was caught off-guard.
“Even though I kind of had a little bit of feeling that it might happen, it’s still a shock,” he told reporters in L.A. “Obviously, I’m really excited to come to this team, this organization, this city. They’re doing whatever it takes to win, and they’re heading in the right direction.
“Hopefully, I can just fit in and add to the puzzle.”
Vanek, who went to the University of Minnesota, gave his former teammate a brief synopsis of the area.
“I told him just the good things, put him a little upbeat because he was down a little bit,” Vanek said. “Once he gets there, he’ll be fine.”