Buffalo Sabres believe worst might finally be behind them after latest last-place finish



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BUFFALO, New York — Difficult as it was to go through finishing last for a second consecutive season, forward Tyler Ennis believed the worst might finally be behind Buffalo.

"It's definitely the start for sure of better days," Ennis said Sunday, a day after Buffalo closed its season with a 2-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "There should be optimism."

He has reason to be upbeat, even after Buffalo (23-51-8) matched a franchise low in losses for the second straight year.

Reinforcements are on their way for a franchise that spent much of the past two-plus seasons purging high-priced veteran talent and accumulating a large cache of high draft picks as part of a grand — and often times painful — plan to rebuild from scratch.

"A lot of time it was frustrating, but we made the most of it," said Ennis, who led the team with 20 goals and 46 points. "I'm looking forward to relaxing this summer, but also knowing what lies ahead. And it should be pretty exciting."

Add a new coach to the list.

Coach Ted Nolan and three members of his staff were fired on Sunday after general manager Tim Murray completed his individual meetings with Sabres players.

Murray made the move in a bid to improve his team after determining the two had an imperfect working relationship.

"I don't think it was a bad fit. I don't think it was a great fit," Murray during a hastily called news conference. "Maybe it's just chemistry. Maybe it's just two different personalities."

Nolan was in good spirits but declined comment when reached by The Associated Press. "I'm just going to reflect on it and come out with a statement in the next couple of days," Nolan said.

Nolan had two years left on his contract. And the Sabres are suddenly holding their third coaching search since Lindy Ruff was fired a month into the NHL's lockout-shortened season in February 2013.

Otherwise, the offseason rebuilding plan starts with the draft in June, when the Sabres are guaranteed selecting one of two highly prized centers: Erie Otters' Connor McDavid or Boston University's Jack Eichel, this year's Hobey Baker winner.

The NHL's draft lottery to determine who picks first will be held Saturday, and Buffalo will pick no worse than second as a result of finishing 30th.

The chances of landing one of two players described as "once-in-a-generation talents" was the key reason numerous Sabres fans openly rooted for their team to lose this season.

The Sabres also have a number of regulars coming off significant injuries, and ready for the start of next season. It's a group that includes top-line forward Evander Kane, who had season-ending shoulder surgery shortly before being acquired in a seven-player deal with Winnipeg in February.

And Buffalo has a stockpile of promising prospects poised to make the jump to the NHL, including Sam Reinhart, the playmaking center drafted second overall last year.

"We understand what happened this year, trying to get our future put in place," veteran defenseman Josh Gorges said. "But now, it's time to take a step forward."

The Sabres spent most of the season stuck in neutral with a roster that featured as many as nine players who opened the season in the minors. And they finished the season minus both goalies who began the season in Buffalo after Jhonas Enroth was traded to Dallas and Michal Neuvirth was dealt to the New York Islanders.

The lack of proven talent showed through on a team that scored a league-low 153 goals — three more than last season, when Buffalo set an NHL post-expansion era low. The Sabres were shut out a franchise-worst 14 times while giving up a league-high 269 goals.

The low point came during a franchise record-setting 14-game skid lasting from Dec. 29 to Jan. 30.

The Sabres have been so bad that their combined two-season 106-point total would have placed them fourth in the Eastern Conference standings this year.

Low as the expectations were in October, Gorges called the team's performance unacceptable at times.

"It's a big offseason for everyone on this team," Gorges said. "We had better be willing to put the time in and effort in to make sure this doesn't happen again."

NOTES: Ennis (Canada) and defensemen Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia) and Rasmus Ristolainen (Finland) have been invited to represent their countries in the world championships to be played in the Czech Republic next month. ... Gorges revealed he had micro fracture surgery on his knee in February.

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