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Mike Harrington: Drought talk simply moves to Pegulas' other team

So you think we're done talking about droughts, right? Not on this watch.

The way things are going for the Sabres, they'll have you smashing tables for an entirely different reason.

Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane signed off for the season on Tuesday, and that puts the spotlight in the 716 clearly on Phil Housley and Jason Botterill. Just guessing here, but nobody is going out to the airport to greet them anytime soon.

There's a good chance many of you haven't been paying much attention to the goings-on at the rink, especially the last month as Drought Watch came to its dramatic conclusion. Your friendly correspondent, however, has been criss-crossing the continent the last three months and can dutifully give you the recap.

It's actually pretty simple: Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma have to be laughing their you-know-whats off while raking in the Pegulas' money not to work.

The so-called experts out there wanted you to believe that firing the coach and maybe even the GM was all that needed to happen. Of course, they're the same know-it-alls who sold losing as the quick fix for winning.

That's working well. In Jack Eichel's third NHL season, the kid is up to 39 points in 43 games and looks terrific at times. His team rarely does. The Sabres have 10 wins. Seriously. Ten.

They're going to be hard-pressed to get to 20. For perspective, they won 21 and 23 games during their tank seasons. They only time in their history they didn't get 20 wins was way back in 1971-72, when they went 16-43-19.

They were simply outlclassed most of the night in Tuesday's 7-4 loss to Winnipeg, a team with the kind of speed you have to have in today's NHL. Exactly what the Sabres don't have. There's no way Botterill and Housley came here expecting this heavy a lift. They knew the story. The players believe Bylsma handcuffed them to no end and Terry and Kim Pegula lapped up the tale, ousting the GM in the process as well.

The Wraparound: Jets 7, Sabres 4

But for all the genuflecting everyone did in the wake of the Pittsburgh-Nashville Stanley Cup final — and this corner was guilty of it, too — the fact of the matter is the Sabres went to a rookie coach and a rookie GM. It shows.

Housley and his staff have turned the league's best power play into its worst. The penalty killers look feeble, giving up a goal for six straight games. The offense is the league's worst while the defense and goaltending is now falling apart, giving up at least three goals for eight straight games.

That said, it was fabulous to see the steam coming out of Housley's ears after this one.

There are 39 games left in the season — and 22 of them are home. The Sabres play seven of eight downtown from Jan. 30-Feb. 13, then play eight of nine here starting on March 5. The first four in that group are brutal: Vegas, Toronto, Chicago, Nashville. Good luck there.

At 5-11-3, the Sabres have created zero advantage downtown and Housley's mic drop comment made it clear where he stood on that point.

"The one thing that really irritates me is we've got really good fans coming to the game," Housley said. "If there's something for our guys to play for, let's play for them. They're coming here spending their hard-earned money and we have to be better at home. ... We've got to give our fans something to cheer about and if it requires to win a 1-0 game, then so be it. We have to win a 1-0 game but we have to have more urgency in our defensive game."

Housley brought out heavy artillery. He called out Robin Lehner for soft play in this one, and clearly impiled he's gotten little from Chad Johnson in recent games either. He point-blank said his forwards prefer to "cheat" on plays rather than focus on defense, no small indictment when you consider this is the lowest-scoring team in the NHL.

"I think we're just giving up too much right now," admitted Eichel. "All four lines, the D, and both goalies probably want to get better. Myself included. I need to get better in the D zone. A few bad bounces but you kind of have to create your own luck and bounces. We all need to work better a a five-man unit to break the puck out and keep our game simple. When we get away from our game and get a little too cute between the blue lines, that's when we get in trouble."

For his part, Botterill turned over nearly half the roster with little results. Marco Scandella is a prideful man who will do anything you ask but he's overplayed as a first-pair guy. Jacob Josefson can't stay healthy. Nathan Beaulieu has been a disaster. Jordan Nolan adds little at this stage of his career. Benoit Pouliot is eating press box popcorn. Old friend Johnson has just one win as Lehner's backup.

Phil Housley sees Sabres growing accustomed to his coaching

The Sabres have looked quite disinterested at times since the Winter Classic ended, losing all four games since that frigid afternoon stretched into overtime in Citi Field. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2011 and they're not going this year. If the Carolina Hurricanes sneak in, and they entered Tuesday one point out of a wild card, the Sabres would have (yes) the longest playoff drought in the league.

The Sabres seem to be biding their time until Casey Mittelstadt and whatever top-5 pick they draw can be in the NHL next season. Evander Kane will be traded soon enough — and then Botterill will be looking exactly for Evander Kane, a power forward who can score.

Normally, you don't make a big deal about seeing scouts in the press box. After all, their main job is to watch hockey games. But when 20 different teams are listed on the eye-in-the-sky roster like they were Tuesday night, it's hard not to notice.

Kane is easily the most identifiable trade topic, with TSN saying Tuesday the Sabres are looking for at least a first-round pick and a prospect in a deal. Scouts from 20 teams were in the house and if they had any thoughts of Lehner they couldn't have liked with they saw after the Buffalo starter let in a pair of soft goals in one of his worst performances in weeks. It led to an early yank in the second period.

Eichel continues to be one of the few positives on this club, as his last 15 games or so have been some of the best in his career. When All-Star Game selections are announced Wednesday, you would think Eichel would be named the Sabres representative for the first time in his career. A rare bright spot in a lost season.

It shouldn't be this way. The NHL is all about parity. The Avalanche and Devils, among others, have made huge one-season turnarounds and the Golden Knights make every struggling outfit look silly with their ability to put together a team on the fly that could be a Stanley Cup contender. The Maple Leafs made a similar one-season rise last year. The Sabres continue to look clueless.

This is a heavy lift, probably far more than Botterill and Housley imagined. So far, they've failed miserably. Drought Watch remains on.

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