It has been nearly six years since the Buffalo Sabres decided to tear down the old core. It’s no secret that the Sabres have been a complete unmitigated disaster the past couple of seasons when the expectation was that they would be an improved team. It’s really sickening that we’re currently three, years removed from the tank season of 2014-2015 and I’m still seeing tweets about how the tank is the reason why the Sabres aren’t a good team, the tank was morally wrong, that they should’ve never torn down the old core, etc. Jeremy White of WGR 550 had a great piece on WGR550.Com yesterday that inspired me to go in depth on the tank. Jeremy’s article is linked below and I recommend that you should check it out if you haven’t already.
Here’s a look back at Buffalo’s failed rebuild and a look at what is to come…
It’s always debated amongst fans when Buffalo’s rebuild actually began. You could make an argument that it started in 2012 when they moved Gaustad for a 1st round pick, in 2013 when they moved Pominville, Leopold, and Regher, or even in 2014 when they moved Miller, Ott, Vanek and also finished in last. But, I think this whole rebuild started in the lockout-shortened season in 2012-2013.
It seems that every week you’ll see on Twitter, “We should’ve never tanked.” The way that some people talk about the 2013 Sabres team and how it was just so morally wrong to tear that team to the ground, you’d think that they were legit playoff contenders. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Sabres won the North East Division in 2009-2010 and after that season it was just three years of heroic runs to eighth place. But when you look back on these teams, there was no trace of a number one let alone even a number two center. And they just couldn’t score goals (sound familiar?). Just about everyone was sick of that team. The diehard fans in Buffalo deserve more than a team that has a horrific start to the season that gets their act together midway through the season and just falls short of the playoffs. The fans deserve a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup year in and year out. And they just had to look in the mirror and tell themselves that there was absolutely no chance that this team could ever contend for a cup let alone a playoff spot. Like seriously, look at the roster of the 2012-2013 Sabres team. Are they really missing any of those guys? The answer is no. They were all basically spare parts, ageing veterans, and pending UFAs. It just wasn’t going to work no matter what way you shake it. They moved out Jason Pominville, Robyn Regehr, and Jordan Leopold for a platoon of picks and prospects and they kickstarted a rebuilding process that almost couldn’t fail right? If you still question the decision to rebuild, please, what was your alternative???
Get To The Bottom
Under rookie head coach, Ron Rolston, Buffalo picked up a lot of points late in the season which pretty much cost them an awesome player in Nate MacKinnon, Seth Jones, or Alex Barkov. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ristolainen but picking in the top three (where they belonged) they probably would’ve been much better off.
Talk of “momentum” carrying over into the next season was about in Buffalo. Yes, they had a strong finish, surely the momentum would carry over into the next season! And it was the complete opposite. Rolston was shown the door along with GM, Darcy Regier after just nineteen games. They had a record of 4-15-0. Yes, they were that bad. Terry Pegula brought in Pat LaFontaine as the President of Hockey Operations and Ted Nolan as head coach. LaFontaine was tasked with finding the man who’d head the Sabres rebuild. And that man was none other than Ottawa Senators assistant GM, Tim Murray. Murray was touted as the next great talent evaluator in the game and he came into an almost perfect situation in Buffalo. An owner with deep pockets, an already decent prospect pool, lots of picks, and a whole lot of trading assets. Tim shipped out pending UFAs in Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, and Matt Moulson and just accumulated even more draft picks to add to the stockpile of them that Darcy Regier left him with.
Murray faired pretty well for himself in most of his deals leading up to the 2015 draft. I’d say he made two very questionable trades pre-2015 draft. And that was parting ways with not one, not two, but THREE second round picks and Brayden McNabb in trades to acquire Josh Gorges, Nic Deslauriers, and Hudson Fasching.
But the end justifies the means and the Sabres finished in last place two seasons in a row and picked Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Yes, they tanked. It was no secret what they were doing. The Sabres seemed as if they were heading in the right direction. But then good old Tim Murray seemed like he couldn’t make a single right move after uttering “Buffalo selects Jack Eichel.”
Murray quickly showed Ted Nolan the door at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 season. It’s no secret that Murray wanted Mike Babcock as the next coach of the team but Babcock backed out and signed with the Leafs at the last minute. When the Sabres first started their rebuild in 2013, there was talk about the Pittsburgh and Chicago models. But what we didn’t take into account there is that you need luck and they Sabres have probably been one of if not the unluckiest teams in the NHL in recent memory. Losing those two lotteries was crushing for Buffalo and you could tell by the sheer disappointment from Tim Murray and Ted Black after they lost the McDavid lottery.
The Downfall of GMTM
As mentioned earlier, Murray failed miserably at rebuilding this team. This team had 17 first and second round picks over a three-year span and what do they have to show for it? Not much. There are only three players that are regulars in the Sabres lineup that have been drafted since 2013. That being Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, and Jack Eichel. You can’t make this stuff up! Only three players that you’ve drafted over a span of five years is just flat out inexcusable. Murray a brutal 2014 draft. He picked Sam Reinhart 2nd overall and he’s had his ups and downs throughout his short NHL career and he’s already been surpassed by the likes of Leon Draisaitl, William Nylander, and Nikolaj Ehlers. He had three second round picks at his disposal and failed miserably on all three of them in Brendan Lemieux, Eric Cornel, and Vaclav Karabacek. The only hope in this draft is Swedish Winger Victor Olofsson who you can read more about at the link below.
He traded a lot of prospects and picks in an attempt to “accelerate” the rebuild so they’d be a better team quicker. In theory that wasn’t a bad idea at all but looking back on it, was it the best option? Maybe they should’ve stayed the course and continued to use their picks? I’m not a Lehner hater or anything but trading a first round pick for a goalie not named Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist is just flat out stupid. Especially when there were some nice prospects available at 21st overall like Brock Boeser who will be a candidate for the Calder Trophy this season. Murray had so much to work with while he was here and he completely blew it. And of course, you can’t forget about the horrid salary cap management as well. Signing Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo was a huge mistake and trading for injury-prone Zach Bogosian has been a flop as well. Those three players take up roughly 16 million dollars on Buffalo’s salary cap. And the O’Reilly contract isn’t that pretty as well.
Progress And Then More Disappointment
Buffalo showed significant growth in Jack Eichel’s rookie season. They jumped from 54 points to over 80 and the expectation was that they’d be playoff contenders in 2016-2017. But at the 2016 draft, Murray made even more mistakes. He took Alex Nylander 8th overall when there were players like Mikhail Sergachgev, Jakob Chychrun, and Charlie McAvoy available and they’re all defensemen which was and still a position of weakness for this team. They could’ve even traded the pick to the Ducks for Cam Fowler. They even moved Mark Pysyk for Dmitry Kulikov which is still to this day a head-scratching move. With Murray, it was bad move after bad move. And to top it all off, he couldn’t even get a bag of pucks for Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov at the 2017 trade deadline.
Buffalo severely regressed in the 2017 season and it was the downfall of Murray and Bylsma. Both were fired and in came Jason Botterill and Phil Housley who are now tasked with fixing the mess that Tim Murray and Darcy Regier created.
Is There Light At The End Of The Tunnel?
I know it may sound crazy but there is some light at the end of the tunnel for our Buffalo Sabres. Evander Kane is going to be dealt for some young assets and no doubt Buffalo will get an infusion of young talent on the team next season with Casey Mittelstadt, C.J. Smith, Brendan Guhle, Linus Ullmark, and possibly even their 2018 1st round pick. Think about all of the one-goal games that they’ve been in if you don’t count the empty net goals. If they can get special teams to just be average and maybe get some depth scoring here or there next season you never know, maybe they’re knocking on the door of the playoffs. Look at Colorado and New Jersey, both are having very nice seasons and are showing everyone that it doesn’t have to take a long time to turn it around.
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