Obviously #1 on that list would be the playoffs. Is it reasonable? Probably not, however the Sabres do have a stretch of 12 games where they only play one team currently sitting in a playoff spot, and their only really tough stretch is a trip to California. Of their last 28 games, 11 of those come against teams between them and the wild card spots. Impossible, no. Highly unlikely, but hey, the Senators did it just a year ago.
Is a top 3 pick really a success? It’s a polar opposite to the playoffs, but for a young Sabres team, is another top pick, likely a forward, helpful? I’ll say no. If they do end up finishing with a top 3 pick, I’d call it success if Tim Murray can deal that pick for an established young defenseman. A prime target I would look to is Hampus Lindholm out of Anaheim, or possibly Shea Theodore or Cam Fowler. Picking up a young defenseman who can grow with the rest of the team would be an absolute success.
Aside from the easy success stories, a more in depth look at things would lead to team chemistry. Dan Bylsma has not been shy to jumble the lines – an attitude that has earned him the nickname “Disco Dan”. It will be a great triumph if he can finally find a line that gels. Especially if that line includes Jack Eichel. If he can find some chemistry for Evander Kane and Tyler Ennis, anywhere in the lineup, then that’s just a bonus.
I’ll say it simply because of the chemistry he’s had with Ryan O’Reilly – resigning Jamie McGinn would be huge. He’s a pending UFA, and with the Sabres 12 points out of the playoffs, it may be tempting for Murray to trade him to a contending team. He could garner a solid return, for a player who has 11 goals and 23 points in 53 games. But the upside for the Sabres is too good. The chemistry with O’Reilly and his point totals are a better value than anything they could get in return. If Murray elects to trade him, it’s a big step backwards from success. For a team looking for any chemistry, trading the only chemistry they have is a bad move.
If Eichel wins the Calder, it’s not really a team success, however, it’s a sign that he’s finally found some chemistry, and it’s a big confidence booster if he can finish the season on a high. It gives him a boost coming into next season, hopefully pushing him to start the season quickly. If the team can give Eichel the boost to win the Calder this season, it’s only going to help the team next season – and if Eichel gives a late season Calder performance, maybe they can make the playoffs.
That’s a lot to do for the Sabres. They won’t be able to do it all. However, if they can get two or three of these things done, it can definitely be called a successful building block season. If they can make the playoffs, get a good young defenseman, and Eichel wins the Calder, well, then that’s a huge success. But even if they only manage to find some chemistry and resign McGinn, that’s still a successful build. It’s moving in the right direction, which is really all the Sabres need right now.