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December 17, 2013 | 12:52pm ET
Walk before you run
 The Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers are on the right track, but it's going to take a few years before they are playoff bound.

NEW YORK, NY -- There comes a point -- in every hockey season -- when a team needs to fully evaluate its roster, team health and general direction of the franchise to decide whether or not they can seriously contend.

And almost important as that first debate comes a second question, at what cost does contending come?

With divisional realignment, teams will be much more confident in their ability to contend throughout a full season. After all, in the last full NHL season, an eight seed and a six seed squared-off for the sport's ultimate prize. Last year, two of the top teams in the NHL won their conferences and the right to play in the Stanley Cup Final, but it seems, consistently, there's a mentality of "just getting in," and starting a second season from that point.

There are a two teams that should be focuses all of their energy entirely on the future, rather than the present and have already fired their coaches this season.

Through 33 games, the Buffalo Sabres have managed to get a meager 17 points. That would put them on pace for 42 points. The last team to finish under the 50 point mark in a full, regular season was the 1999-2000 expansion Atlanta Thrashers. That was almost 15 years and two lockouts ago, when teams could still finish a game in a tie. A man named Norm Maracle -- a player that, when you Google, the first autofill is "Norm Maracle fat" -- got the bulk of the work in between the pipes for the Thrashers that season.

The rebuild effort truly began last year, when the Sabres shipped Jason Pominville to Minnesota and continued in grand fashion this season, when they traded Tomas Vanek to the New York Islanders. After their general manager and coach were both let go in one fell swoop, the Sabres have already begun to look to the future.

Pat LaFontaine, one of the franchise's great players took the reins of the hockey operation department.

"My job is to build this hockey department for a championship caliber team in the future," Lafontaine explained, which highlights the franchise's willingness to move forward.

A true rebuild starts from the top and once the organizational structure is in place, the rest can follow.

Examining the roster, there are still several extremely tradable pieces left, the first one being the man acquired as part of the Vanek trade, Moulson.

The 30-year-old winger had been a consistent offensive force since joining the Islanders, scoring 30 goals in every single full year that he played. Now, he had the obvious benefit of playing alongside John Tavares, one of the better players in the game, but he still has an unmistakable ability to put the puck into the back of the net. Moulson will probably command a decent-sized raise in the off-season, when he is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but could certainly warrant a first-round pick from a team looking to add a little offense on the wings.

Ryan Miller is another player that has been discussed at length, but trading him isn't as obvious and won't be as easy as finding a trade partner for Moulson. Contending teams are usually comfortable with their goaltending. Teams with no answer in net are usually teams picking in the lottery. On top of that, you can win with a replacement-level goaltender, so it doesn't necessarily make a ton of sense to give up assets if Miller is just a slight upgrade in net.

Trading Miller this past off-season would have been a much brighter move, but hindsight is 20/20 and the Sabres must have believed they had a chance to compete this year. Still, it will be difficult to find the right fit and right value for Miller.

Another team that has struggled this year, and seems to be in an endless rebuild, is the Florida Panthers. The Panthers have made the playoff just once since seasons began in the new millennium, and have only made it past the first round once their franchise history. This year, with a young roster, their struggles continue.

Johnathan Huberdeau has already begun to establish himself as a supremely talented NHL player and with some of the other young forward talent on the team, like Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov, it seems the future may be bright for the Sunrise, Fla. based hockey club, after all.

The team has some players with very tradable contracts -- Brad Boyes won't set your franchise up for the future but his low-cost and expiring deal could bring back a third round pick, perhaps.

The issue with the Panthers is that next season or the off-season may be the best time to trade away a lot of their assets, because Tomas Fleischman, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and Sean Bergenheim are all forwards who could complement contending teams extremely well and will be free agents at the end of the 2014-15 season.

For now, they are saddled with an over-35 contract for the injured Ed Jovanovski and still have Brian Campbell's massive contract -- although, with the right situation and the salary cap going up, Campbell may turn into a tradable asset in the near future.

For Florida, their best bet is that teams will be interested in acquiring players with two-years left on their deals, in exchange for restocking the cupboard with young, promising talent and draft picks.

For fans, it's tough to let go of a season, to spend money supporting a team that has a very miniscule chance of making a run through their division into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But with a clear vision of the future and an immense amount of belief in the team's hockey operations department, the future is not so grim. At least your team hasn't be relocated.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.
 

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