Buffalo Sabres v New York Islanders

Evaluating Buffalo’s slim playoff chances


The Buffalo Sabres absolutely throttled the Boston Bruins last night, but as entertaining as the rivalry has become, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll see each other in the playoffs.

Still, the 6-0 win likely stirred that thought in some of us, so how about we break down Buffalo’s chances in a variety of ways?

The odds

Going by Sports Club Stats’ numbers, the Sabres are teetering on the edge of playoff irrelevance. The well-respected resource gives Buffalo just a 3.2 percent chance of making the playoffs, ranking them second-to-last in the East.

What they’ll need to do to beat those odds

According to Sports Club’s numbers, Buffalo will probably need a record of 18-8-3 (64.9 percent chance to make it), 18-7-4 (80.3 percent chance) or better for a good chance to play beyond 82 games. So the question is: can they earn 39-40 points in those 29 games?


Schedules can often make or break these situations. Buffalo plays seven of its next eight games at home, including matches against fellow East contenders. Getting regulation wins in that span would improve their outlook, but surviving a flip-side stretch of seven of eight road games will be just as crucial.

Overall, the Sabres will play one more road game (15) than home contest (14), but the other big factor is that they have five back-to-back sets left. Looking at those numbers, one would say that Buffalo’s schedule is a wash – at best.


The most obvious plus is Ryan Miller’s recent play. Much like his team, Miller is 4-0-1 in his last five games. Miller has allowed just five goals in those five games – including a shutout in a shootout loss.

On paper, Buffalo might be the most talented bubble team aside from the Tampa Bay Lightning, which could play out on the ice even if it hasn’t so far. Spending money to improve that situation could be key, too. Terry Pegula’s deep pockets could swing things against lower-budget teams like the Panthers and Islanders, if it comes down to a trade deadline deal.

(If he hasn’t soured on putting up big bucks after Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff’s disappointments, that is.)


Buffalo made an impressive late run to the playoffs last season, but I’d say they hit the “snooze” button one too many times on this wake-up call. What do you think, though?


* – You can break down the East bubble teams into three different groups. (Note: ranks based on Sports Club’s numbers, not on current standings.)

Teams expected to make it
6) Toronto – 86 percent
7) Washington – 79.2 percent
8) Florida – 67 percent

Half-decent contenders
9) Ottawa – 40.1 percent
10) Winnipeg – 16.4 percent

Long shots
11) Montreal – 8.2 percent
12) Islanders – 5.4 percent
13) Tampa Bay – 5.3 percent
14) Buffalo – 3.2 percent

Here’s hoping 3-on-3 doesn’t degenerate into a boring ‘game of keep-away’?

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Are coaches going to ruin 3-on-3 overtime?

It’s been the one, big worry since the NHL decided to change from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3 as a way to reduce the number of shootouts.

Via TSN’s Bob McKenzie, here’s a quote from an anonymous coach (talking about 3-on-3 strategy) that won’t exactly quell that worry:

“Really, it’s a game of keep-away, that’s what it is and the longer you can keep it away from the other team, the more likely they’ll break down. So I say let’s slow it down and hold onto that puck for as long as we can.”

Now take that a step further and imagine there’s a team that’s really good at shootouts. If you were coaching that team, might you tell your players to rag the puck for as long as possible to try and get to the skills competition?

Granted, five minutes is a long time to rag the puck. Not sure any team could play “keep-away” that long. Plus, there will always be teams that aren’t very good at the shootout; theoretically, those teams should be more willing to take their chances in 3-on-3.

But just remember that more time and space doesn’t always lead to more goals. Look at international hockey, which is played on a bigger ice surface. Canada won gold in Sochi by beating Latvia, 2-1, the United States, 1-0, and Sweden, 3-0. It was hardly firewagon hockey.

While nobody’s quite ready to suggest that 3-on-3 will actually lead to more shootouts, it will be interesting to see how things evolve, and if there are any unintended consequences.

“I don’t know if anyone’s figured it out completely yet,” Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said Saturday after losing in 3-on-3 overtime to Vancouver.

“The big thing is, you want to control the puck as much as you can. It’s 3-on-3, so there’s lots of room and space out there. You don’t need to give it away. I think it’s smart to just wait, take your time, and wait for a good opportunity.”

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.