What if the Buffalo Sabres lost the tank? Yes, I know that it’s a tough thing to imagine this team without Jack Eichel and it’s honestly a horrifying thought but I’m going to lay out What the future of the Buffalo Sabres franchise would be had they finished in 29th place in the 2014-2015 season.
During the lockout shortened season of 2012-2013, the Buffalo Sabres who were under the leadership of former General Manager, Darcy Regier had finally come to a realization that the group just didn’t have what it takes to be a Stanley Cup contender again. At the 2013 trade deadline, captain Jason Pominville was traded to the Minnesota Wild for a great return of a 1st round pick, a 2nd round pick, Johan Larsson, and Matt Hackett. Earlier that season, Lindy Ruff was fired and replaced by Ron Rolston. It seemed as if after the trade deadline the Sabres really upped their game. They forced several shootouts and made a push for the playoffs but fell short which was just another year of trying to make the playoffs and coming up short. So instead of drafting in the top 5 like they were supposed to be before the crazy run at the end of the season, they picked 8th. Which looking back on that now it’s not that big of a deal because they drafted Rasmus Ristolainen.
Some fans had high expectations for the next season because they’d have “momentum” going off of the hot run at the conclusion of the 2013 season but that couldn’t be any further from the truth. They had a miraculously bad start to the season with a 4-15 start to the year. After a win against the LA Kings, the Sabres cleaned house by firing Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston and they hired Pat LaFontaine as the President of Hockey Operations and also brought in folk hero Ted Nolan as the Head Coach. LaFontaine would bring in the Ottawa Senators Assistant GM, Tim Murray to lead the franchise in a new direction. The man the fans called GMTM, didn’t take long to make a big trade. He shipped off Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis for a 1st round pick, a conditional 3rd round pick, William Carrier, Chris Stewart, and Jaro Halak. GMTM also made a flurry of trades at the deadline shipping off a few rentals.
The Sabres would finish the season with a record of 21-51-10 and would lose the draft lottery after having the best odds at #1. The Sabres were leapfrogged by the Florida Panthers in the draft lottery so Buffalo picked #2 overall. Buffalo ended up drafting Samson Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League.
Sam Reinhart is a nice player but the vast majority of Sabres fans wanted more. They wanted that franchise type player and conveniently there would be 2 of those players in the 2015 draft. Sabres fans have had their eyes on Connor McDavid since he was granted exceptional player status and went #1 overall in the OHL Priority Selection. But the name of Jack Eichel started to emerge midway through the 2014 season and then I’m sure even more Sabres fans were signed up for what we all love to call “The Tank”.
It sounds simple. Finish in 30th place and guarantee yourself a franchise centerman that will be the cornerstone of your team for the next 15 or so years. The Sabres were already a horrifically bad hockey team and it was reasonable to say that they would be just as bad the next season. They brought in a handful of veterans like Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros, Andre Benoit, and they even convinced Matt Moulson to come back.
Things were going perfectly at the start of the season. The Sabres were losing on a very consistent basis and fans could already imagine Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel suiting up in the blue and gold next season. But then the nightmare inducing winning streak occurred. Buffalo went on a 10-3 run in late November and were all of the sudden closer to a playoff spot than last place. Fans were starting to ponder the possibility of this historically bad hockey team playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but I just didn’t buy it. Thankfully after that 10-3 stretch, the Sabres had one of the biggest losing streaks in NHL history losing 14 games in a row. Probably one of the most memorable games for myself that season was in that losing streak. That game, of course ,was a 7-0 beat down by the Minnesota Wild. The Sabres were back where they belonged at this point and that was 30th place. But as the season went on there were only 2 other teams that could stop the Sabres tank. The Arizona Coyotes and the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers eventually separated from Buffalo and Arizona and then it became a 2 horse race. Buffalo and Arizona made many trades to weaken their rosters to the point where you were watching an American League team playing on a nightly basis. This is where the what if will start and that’s Monday, March 23rd in Dallas.
The What If
The game has just been tied up at 2 after Jamie Benn scores a quick goal at the start of the 3rd period. Matt Moulson put Buffalo ahead 3-2 just 9 minutes later and Buffalo would end up holding on for dear life to win this game 3-2 (In real life they blew the lead and ended up losing 4-3).
The rest of the games in this alternate universe would play out the same but here’s a game changer right here. Yes the Hawks VS Sabres game where John Toews scored 2 late goals in a matter of seconds to help the Hawks beat the Sabres. But let’s just say that Toews didn’t score those 2 goals. The Sabres would’ve won the game 3-2.
With the combination of the Sabres beating Dallas and Chicago, that would’ve slotted them in 29th place surpassing the Arizona Coyotes. As you can see here, the Sabres were actually really close to blowing the tank. It took 2 miraculous comebacks by the Stars and Hawks to lock down McEichel for Buffalo.
The nightmare scenario just happened for Buffalo. They blew 30th place right at the end and would lose the draft lottery for the 2nd year in a row. But in this what if the Coyotes will pick 2nd overall because they finished in 30th place. And Edmonton will still pick 1st overall. Former Sabres GM Tim Murray was visibly upset that Buffalo lost the draft lottery for missing out on McDavid but could you imagine his reaction of they actually finished in 29th? Yikes, I think he would’ve been a wreck. And I don’t think that he’d be the only man in Buffalo that would be disappointed.
As expected, Connor McDavid gets drafted #1 overall by the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel goes #2 to the Arizona Coyotes. Buffalo would select Dylan Strome 3rd overall. Ideally, if this nightmare scenario actually happened I would’ve liked Buffalo to take Mitch Marner but just about everyone had Strome or Hanifin as the 3rd best prospect that year.
Now there are two ways that we can go here and I’m going to step into Tim Murray’s shoes right now. They could’ve gone in the direction that they went in by trading for Ryan O’Reilly and Robin Lehner, or they could’ve decided to go all in for Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine in the 2016 draft. I believe that the right way to go here is to tank one more year and try to snag Auston Matthews. Now the vast majority of Sabres fans would be severely against this decision of tanking for 3 years in a row but this would be the only way to get yourself a franchise player. So in this alternate universe, no Robin Lehner and no Ryan O’Reilly.
Because the Sabres didn’t trade the 21st and 31st overall picks for Lehner and O’Reilly, I have the Sabres selecting goaltender Ilya Samsonov and defenseman Brandon Carlo with those picks.
Just for the sake of filling out the roster, Tim Murray resigns some of the bum tank players from the previous season. Here are the lines…
*Strome gets sent back to the Erie Otters*
Yeah, that roster doesn’t look great and long story short, the Sabres have another awful season and finish in 30th place for the 3rd consecutive season. But this time there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Sabres finally win the draft lottery and have the right to select Auston Matthews 1st overall in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Tim Murray fires Ted Nolan and replaces him with Bruce Boudreau. Murray is now also tasked with building a roster that could possibly compete for the playoffs in 2017. I’m not going to make any mock trades here but I’d like to assume that he’d still go hard after Cam Fowler along with a few other players.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this what if. What event in Sabres history should I alter next? Lets us know on our Twitter or Facebook @sabresfanatics. You can also follow me on Twitter @JoeSFBSN.