The elimination was sudden. The road toward it was painfully long.
The Buffalo Sabres’ offseason will be, too.
Though three games remain on the schedule, the phrase “wait till next year” is ringing through Sabreland for the 43rd straight spring. The Sabres were officially eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention Friday with an 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers, rendering them an also-ran yet again.
“It’s frustrating,” right wing Drew Stafford said after the debacle, which featured five goals by New York in less than three minutes. “You can’t pinpoint this on the one game. We had chances all year to get points.”
They squandered them for a variety of reasons, ranging from internal factors of talent level and effort to external dynamics such as bitterness and atmosphere. Whichever reason fans, players, coaches, management and ownership choose, it points to another postseason on the sidelines — the second straight during an unacceptable slide of four of six and seven of 11.
A tumultuous season — which featured a lockout, the firing of Lindy Ruff, bickering between the team, fans and media, and more losses than wins — could lead to a tumultuous offseason. The Sabres might have changes in everything from management to players to their television and radio broadcasts.
Buffalo, which has simulcast Rick Jeanneret’s play-by-play on television and radio since 1997, is expected to split the two feeds beginning next season, multiple sources tell The Buffalo News. Different announcing teams would represent MSG and WGR-AM 550.
Jeanneret has already said he promised to call every game for this season only, which will leave an undetermined void for the television broadcasts.
Meanwhile, the team needs to examine whether to retain General Manager Darcy Regier after another team assembled by him failed.
The GM, whether it’s Regier or a replacement, will need to determine whether to remove the interim title from coach Ron Rolston or hire a new bench boss.
The GM also will need to decide which players should be part of the rebuild and how best to use the organization’s growing number of draft picks.
Now that the Sabres have been eliminated, they have a lot of time to address those situations and a variety of others.
“If they want change, if they’re [ticked] off, that’s fine,” goaltender Ryan Miller said of the fans. “It’s not like we haven’t been searching for a way to satisfy our needs to basically satisfy their needs. We just haven’t gotten the job done.”
As would be expected for a team that’s won only 13 of its 45 games in regulation or overtime, the Sabres need help in various areas:
• They have just two players in the top 60 in scoring, with Thomas Vanek entering Saturday’s schedule ranked tied for 32nd (36 points) and Cody Hodgson tied for 48th (32 points).
• They have scored 2.49 goals per game, which ranks 22nd, and have allowed 2.98, which ranks 24th.
• They are allowing an NHL-worst 33.2 shots per game while generating 28, which ranks 20th.
• Their power play was tied for 28th at 13.8 percent, while their penalty kill was 26th at 78.6 percent.
• Miller ranks 41st with a 2.89 goals-against average and 22nd with .912 save percentage, though he leads the league in shots faced (1,197) and saves (1,092).
The Sabres took Saturday off to regroup following the loss to the Rangers. They will practice today before hosting Winnipeg on Monday in First Niagara Center. The other remaining games are Tuesday in Pittsburgh and Friday at home against the New York Islanders.
None of them mean a thing.
“It’s very disappointing,” goalie Jhonas Enroth said. “It’s a shame that we ended like this.”