The Buffalo Sabres have fallen short of sky-high expectations once again. They have been eliminated from the NHL Playoffs for the 13th straight season. This is the worst playoff drought in the entire league. In fact, no team in the league has missed the playoffs for more than seven consecutive years at this time.

This time, the disappointment feels a bit different. It simply wasn't supposed to turn out this way. Top goaltending prospect Devon Levi was entrenched as the team's starter. Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power led an extremely promising blueline. And Tage Thompson emerged as one of the league's best players.

The Sabres were right there. They missed the NHL Playoffs last season by just one single point. Even small steps forward would have had Buffalo in the playoffs in 2024. Unfortunately, it just didn't happen. The Sabres are now headed for an offseason with a few questions in need of answering.

This season may cause some to doubt the Sabres once again. And, to be fair, that's completely understandable. That said, Buffalo has shown glimpses of turning it around this year. There are glimmers of hope in this dark and depressing outcome. With that in mind, here are two reasons to keep the faith in the Sabres ahead of the 2023-24 NHL Playoffs.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has arrived

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (1) during a stoppage in play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the third period at KeyBank Center.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Sabres received a fine performance in goal, but not from the puck-stopper they expected. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen emerged as a legitimate NHL goaltender this season. In fact, he kept the Sabres in the race for the NHL Playoffs within the last few weeks.

Luukkonen began the season as the clear backup to Levi. However, he took over the starter's role soon enough. To this point, the 25-year-old goalie has played in 54 games this season. And his .910 save percentage is by far the best mark of any goaltender to take the crease in Buffalo.

Luukkonen has shown that he can be a fixture in goal for years to come. Whether he takes the starter's role full-time moving forward obviously remains to be seen. However, he is certainly a part of the long-term future, and could potentially lead the team back to the NHL Playoffs as soon as 2025.

Bowen Byram is a perfect fit with the Sabres

The Sabres made one of the most interesting trades of this year's NHL Trade Deadline. Buffalo acquired defenseman Bowen Byram from the Colorado Avalanche for forward Casey Mittelstadt. It certainly kicked up discussion at the time. Now, the move looks rather good for the Sabres.

Byram immediately earned a large role with the Sabres. His ice time went from nearly 20 minutes a game to nearly 22 minutes a game after the trade. And he showed his patented offensive touch. In 17 games, the Stanley Cup champion rearguard has three goals and eight points.

Byram has struggled with injuries since his dominant display in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. However, he looked very good after joining Buffalo. He gives the Sabres quite the defensive trio alongside Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin moving forward.

Bowen Byram needed a fresh start and he received just that through this trade. Now, he could play an integral part in a young core with the Sabres. And his Stanley Cup-winning experience could pay dividends in the NHL Playoffs sometime down the line.