Was it a successful Sabres season? That depends through which lens you are looking. The Sabres finished outside of the playoff picture for a fifth consecutive season. Still, it was definitely the most successful stretch when it comes to the rebuild, especially the second half of the season.
There were lots of positive, forward-thinking messages coming from the team's end-of-season press conference on Monday afternoon. General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma held court at First Niagara Center.
The common theme coming from both men, a non-playoff finish is no longer acceptable. They say the bar will be raised and it's time for the Sabres to take the next step.
“We have to state every year that the goal is to make the playoffs. If that's not coming from the manager and the head coach then what are the expectations for the players? So, in saying that, I've said to you guys a lot that we just want to improve every year and i think we have done that to a pretty good degree,” said Murray. “Again, the goal will be to make the playoffs. Next year maybe it may actually be a realistic goal.”
Some other notes from Monday:
- Murray said he won't consider Matt Moulson as a buyout option after his disappointing season.
- Murray has yet to have contract conversations with pending restricted free agent Rasmus Ristolainen and doesn't know if the defenseman wants a short-term bridge deal or a long-term contract.
- Murray liked the season that Robin Lehner had (when he wasn’t injured).
- Bylsma said we can expect Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart to stay on the same line to start next season.
- Murray said Cody McCormick is planning on retiring. McCormick missed all of this season with blood clots.
- Murray said he has interest in bringing back goalie Chad Johnson. Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent.
When it comes to the goaltending I think questions still have to be answered with this team. Lehner performed okay between injuries but has to prove himself as a legitimate number one, long term starter next season.
On the positive, I think with the strides the Sabres made in the second half of the year should give us an indication that they can and should compete for a spot in the postseason in 2017.
Shawn Stepner on Twitter: @StepnerWKBW