Barring an unprecedented run, the Buffalo Sabres' playoff drought will continue. They have been among the NHL's worst teams since their 10-game winning streak ended, despite career years from Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
General Manager Jason Botterill added Brandon Montour on the eve of the trade deadline, but the Sabres continue to struggle defensively. The offseason will surely bring more changes to the roster.
Speaking of potential changes, let's start there for this week's mailbag ...
Kevin Palmer: What do you think happens this offseason since much of the roster is under contract for next season?
Lance Lysowski: The offseason will begin with a contract extension for Jeff Skinner. Only then can Botterill know how much cap space he will have for free agents.
I don't foresee Botterill spending much beyond locking up Skinner, so he'll try to trade some of the Sabres' assets, particularly prospects, for some secondary scoring help. They also can deal from their depth on the blue line, perhaps Rasmus Ristolainen.
There is always risk involved when dealing a 24-year-old defenseman because Ristolainen could develop into a shut-down player. However, his upside and contract — three more years at a $5.4 million annual cap hit — would draw interest around the league.
Steve Tripi: When is there pressure for the Sabres to win? They are burning through years of Eichel's prime.
LL: Next season. The 10-game winning streak did not alter Botterill's expectations or his perception. While qualifying for the playoffs was the goal, he expected this to be sort of a transition year for the organization because of the Sabres' young roster.
Casey Mittelstadt was thrust into a second-line center role, and Rasmus Dahlin is already the team's most trusted defenseman in the offensive zone. Their growing pains won't be a valid excuse next season.
The Pegulas have to be aware of the fans' frustration. The Sabres are in jeopardy of owning the NHL's longest active playoff drought, and they will surely become only the second team in league history to miss the postseason in the same season in which it won 10 consecutive games.
That is a harsh reality for an ownership group that hasn't come close to bringing playoff hockey back to Buffalo. All involved will feel an added sense of urgency. Botterill and coach Phil Housley will be entering a critical third year with the organization.
It's time for more bold moves to add to an excellent core, and the coaching staff must get the players to finally execute a defensive system.
Derek Roland: As the season winds down, will we be seeing some players from Rochester who have yet to be called up get to play some games with the Sabres, such as Victor Olofsson or Alexander Nylander?
LL: Barring injury, I don't see the Sabres calling either player up. Realistically, who would Housley take out of the lineup in favor of Olofsson or Nylander? Vladimir Sobotka hasn't been a healthy scratch, and Tage Thompson will remain with the Sabres for the rest of the season.
Kyle Okposo has performed well since returning from his concussion, and Scott Wilson has proved to be a perfect fit. Housley won't scratch Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons in the same game because they are needed on the penalty kill. I'm not saying I agree with the logic, but I don't see their philosophy changing over the final month.
Jeff Micholas: Why are the Sabres shuffling lines this late in the season? Don't they know what they have yet?
LL: Even the most successful teams are shuffling lines this late in the season. Coaches are always searching for a spark. I'm more surprised with Housley's decision to reunite Eichel, Reinhart and Skinner.
Reinhart proved he can carry his own line, and Jason Pominville was effective while playing with Eichel and Skinner. That gave the Sabres some much-needed secondary scoring.
There is no exact science to piecing together lines. For example, who would have guessed that Wilson would work well with Mittelstadt? Sometimes it is as simple as trial and error. My only issue is when a coach panics and throws the lines in a blender after only one bad period.
Jake Kach: I know puck luck is a factor in the Sabres' struggles, but is there any way Housley or Botterill can legitimately claim the team has improved over the course of the year?
LL: They will cite player development as progress. Eichel and Reinhart are having career years, while Skinner has flourished since joining the Sabres. Evan Rodrigues has become a reliable, versatile forward. Dahlin has improved by making subtle adjustments, and Mittelstadt's offensive game is trending in the right direction.
Recently, there have been positive signs from Conor Sheary and Wilson. Plus, the Sabres' special teams have improved. The roster is much better now than it was a year ago.
While I don't disagree with positive steps in player development, the reality is they shouldn't be struggling so badly in their own zone. Even veterans have committed egregious mistakes in important moments.
Rob Daggett: Who from Rochester will make the jump and have an immediate impact next season in your opinion?
LL: Lawrence Pilut. This probably isn't the most exciting answer since the 23-year-old played 25 games with the Sabres this season, but he is by far the most realistic option. Pilut needed more time in Rochester to improve his defensive awareness and adapt to the more physical North American game.
It's no secret he struggled to move opponents from in front of the net and committed some horrible defensive-zone turnovers when facing tough forechecking teams. He'll benefit from adding strength and playing with Zach Redmond on the Amerks.
Pilut is precisely the type of dynamic defenseman the Sabres need, and he will be a restricted free agent next offseason. It's time to see if he's part of their long-term plans.
Story topics: Buffalo Sabres