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As multiyear contracts abound, Sabres need more from within

As Jason Pominville looks around the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room, he senses guys want things to change.

"Everyone wants better," the right winger said. "Everyone is at a point where they'll do anything to try to help in any way they can."

It's time for the Sabres – especially the ones who will be in Buffalo for a while – to start helping and making things better.

Buffalo returns from its bye week Wednesday, and there are 38 games left on the schedule, starting with Thursday's visit to the New York Rangers. The players know the playoffs are out of the question. They need to start building a foundation to make the postseason next year.

It should start with the guys who are scheduled to be part of the future. General Manager Jason Botterill will undoubtedly try to wave a magic wand and improve the team through trades. But as Tim Murray's lack of moves at last year's deadline showed, other teams may not want what the Sabres are offering.

That leaves it up to the holdovers and building blocks to set the foundation. The Sabres have 12 players under contract for next season, including six who have deals past 2018-19.

Here are the guys Buffalo should be looking at to lead the team out of last place:

*Jack Eichel is signed for eight more seasons.

*Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo are signed for five more years.

*Rasmus Ristolainen is signed for four more seasons.

*Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella have two more years.

*Pominville, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, Nathan Beaulieu and Jake McCabe are signed through next season.

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That's a lot of key parts who should have a vested interest in turning around the franchise, and it doesn't include pending restricted free agents Sam Reinhart and Robin Lehner.

"Habits, details have to be part of our goals," Pominville said. "We've got to change that and keep improving that. It's tough because at times we're doing it well, and at times it's slipping away.

"That's practice habits. That's game habits. That's everything around."

If it seems like that's been said before, it has. Shortly before a concussion ended Okposo's season last year, he stood up in the dressing room and issued a similar message to his teammates.

Is it frustrating or disappointing that it has to be said again?

"It's not going to change overnight," Okposo said. "You have to try to do the right things and trust that it's going to happen. At some point, it has to."

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It's crazy to think things are improving for the club that has started 11-24-9, but the players believe steps are being made.

"From talking to the guys," Pominville said, "there's been improvements from what they had last year. Maybe not as far as results on the ice, but what they're saying from practice, in the room and on the bench, so those are good things, but we've got to keep improving."

The post-bye schedule won't make it easy. Of the 38 games remaining, 25 are against teams with a winning record. That includes three games against the best team in the league (Tampa Bay), two games against division-leading Washington, one against division-leading Vegas and four against Toronto.

The Sabres will play five games in eight nights starting Thursday, including a trip to western Canada. After breaking for the All-Star Game, there are 14 games in 27 days leading up to the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

That time frame should show who is truly interested in being part of the solution.

"You try to stay positive, stay upbeat and not get too down on yourself," Pominville said. "It has been tough at times. There's been frustration, for sure, with different guys, but I think it's just all about changing what we want to do and try to improve our details.

"Hopefully, things will start changing this year, but it's a process and I think we're in it right now."

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