Let us examine the case of the 2007-2008 Buffalo Sabres:
Sabres fans, as you may or may not recall, we went through a bit of a rough patch beginning with encountering the Ottawa Senators in the ECF last spring. The rough patch continued on through July 1st, when (just to remind you) both of our previously beloved captains bolted town amidst cries of managerial incompetence from nearly every corner of the hockey media. Then, the season was up and down (mostly down), and Brian “Soupy” Campbell was traded when it became clear he could not be signed as a Sabre. Again, Buffalo lost another valuable piece of the team that had come so close to the Stanley Cup. Finally, in the season’s dying days, the Sabres were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, ending an all-around depressing year.
Now, let us examine the case of the 2007-2008 Ottawa Senators:
After losing in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Ducks, the Senators management calmly began signing their marquee players to contract extensions. One by one, Spezza, Emery, Fisher, and finally, Dany Heatley were inked to long term deals ensuring that the team would be an EC powerhouse for years to come. The season started out in spectacular fashion, with the Sens playing a record breaking 432-2-1 in their first 20 games. (Okay, I’m too lazy to look up their actual record, but I assure you, it was good.) Then, inexplicably, it all went to hell. For awhile they look merely mortal, but by December they were looking terrible. In the end, only their incredible start saved them from missing the playoffs altogether. They were eventually swept by the Penguins in round one of the 2008 playoffs.
The Sens are essentially the same team now as they were one year ago, and HOLY COW is that scene a disaster. The Sabres essentially lost all of their lockerroom leadership from last season, and the scene is, well, it’s not quite a disaster, but it’s definitely not ideal. There’s plenty of room for improvement, let’s put it that way. I would argue that the Sabres season was preferable to the Sens season from a fans perspective, but that’s just a matter of opinion. The fact is, these two teams ended up in basically the same place at the end of the year: zero playoff wins.
I’m not saying that what happened to the Senators would have happened to the Sabres had we locked up all the free agents, I’m just saying it could have happened. It’s worth noting.
There are no guarantees. Ever. That’s all I’m saying.