The Buffalo Sabres’ 2014 was a year filled with both change and improvement. Tim Murray was hired by the Sabres in January 2014 to replace former GM Darcy Regier. Throughout 2014, Murray has continued the rebuild that was already unfolding in Buffalo before he was hired.
Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick, and Brayden McNabb were all traded away in 2014. Meanwhile Chris Stewart, Michal Neuvirth, Torrey Mitchell, Nicolas Deslauriers, Hudson Fasching, Jaroslav Halak, Cory Conacher, William Carrier, and Rotislav Klesla all arrived in Buffalo this year. Some of these players remain with the club while others have already departed.
The Sabres had a historically bad 2013-2014 season in which the club finished in last place. The dawn of the 2014-2015 season got off to a similar start but as 2014 winds down we are seeing signs of improvement. Buffalo again spent the early part of the 2014-2015 season in the NHL’s basement but have since climbed up in the standings.
As we move towards the new year, new opportunities for improvement are emerging in Sabreland. The club is a ways away from the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but qualifying for the playoffs is within the realm of possibility. The first month of 2015 has some very interesting match-ups for Buffalo and it will be an important month in determining just how realistic the Sabres’ chances are of making the playoffs. Here is a look at three must see Buffalo Sabres games that are coming up on the schedule in the month of January.
[See Also: Top Five Buffalo Sabres’ UFA Trade Bait]
Sabres vs. Red Wings: Tuesday, January 13th
The first must see game for the month of January is a tilt between the Sabres and Red Wings. This game is very significant for Sabres fans because the organization will retire Dominik Hasek’s number thirty-nine jersey in a pre-game ceremony. Also, the game itself could be dubbed as the ‘Hasek Bowl’ because the Dominator played for both clubs during his stellar NHL career.
The Sabres have retired six other numbers in their forty-four year history. Jerseys that have been retired include Tim Horton’s number two, Rick Martin’s number seven, Gilbert Perreault’s number eleven, Rene Robert’s number fourteen, Pat LaFontaine’s number sixteen and Danny Gare’s number eighteen. Dominik Hasek was inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame this past November and in January he will become the first Sabres’ goaltender to have his number retired by the organization.
As far as the game goes, Buffalo will be looking for revenge after a pre-Holiday loss to Detroit. The Sabres had a 3-1 lead in the game but surrendered five consecutive goals to the Red Wings in a 6-3 loss. This came after Buffalo secured a 3-2 shootout victory in their first game against Detroit this season. With Hasek’s jersey retirement and the Sabres’ seeking revenge, look for Buffalo to play an inspired game against the Wings and for a spirited atmosphere at First Niagara Center.
Sabres vs. Wild: Thursday, January 15th
Another must see game for Sabres fans will be when the Buffalo Sabres face off against the Minnesota Wild. This game will be chalked full of subplots. Former Sabres Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville will be returning to Buffalo as members of the Wild. Meanwhile, Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick, Torrey Mitchell and current Amerks Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett were all once members of the Wild.
Jason Pominville was selected as the Sabres’ captain in 2011 and continued in this role until he was dealt to Minnesota in April 2013. The forward had numerous strong statistical years in Buffalo including his tally of eighty points in eighty-two games during the 2007-2008 season. Perhaps his most famous moment was the series clinching goal against the Ottawa Senators during the 2005-2006 playoff run.
Thomas Vanek is another offensively talented forward from Buffalo’s recent past. The forward scored many key goals for the Sabres including four seasons in which he scored thirty or more goals. Vanek is having a disappointing inaugural season in Minnesota after signing a large contract earlier this year.
— Paul Allen (@PAOnTheMic) December 18, 2014
There are a bunch of former Wild that are a part of the Sabres organization. Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick had a brief stint with the Wild at the end of last season and during the playoffs. Moulson scored six goals and thirteen points in twenty regular season games for the Wild but only one goal and three points in ten playoff games last season. McCormick brought a physical game to the Wild logging two points in fourteen regular season appearances and one point in thirteen playoff games.
Torrey Mitchell played one hundred three games for the Wild over the course of two seasons and notched seventeen points over that span. Other Sabres who are former members of the Wild include goaltender Matt Hackett and forward Johan Larsson who were acquired in the Pominville trade. Hackett and Larsson likely won’t play in this game but with so many on-ice subplots this is a game you won’t want to miss.
Sabres vs. Canucks: Friday, January 30th
The third of the must see games for the month of January is a battle that will take place in Vancouver between the Sabres and Canucks. If Ryan Miller is given the nod for this game, it will be Buffalo’s first game against their former number one goaltender. It will also be a head-to-head match-up between Sabres’ forward Cody Hodgson and Canucks forward Zack Kassian who were the centerpieces of a trade in 2012.
Ryan Miller played for the Buffalo Sabres for parts of eleven seasons earning two hundred eighty-four regular season wins. The goaltender appeared in fifty-three playoff games for the blue and gold and won twenty-seven of them. Miller’s play, community service, and attitude won over many Sabres fans during his tenure in Buffalo. Miller also represented the city during the 2010 Olympics where Team USA fell short of a gold medal at the hands of Team Canada.
When the Sabres’ former number one goaltender departed from Buffalo it was met with many mixed emotions. Miller was traded by the Sabres to the St. Louis Blues prior to last year’s trade deadline and he signed with Vancouver during the offseason. The thirty-four year old goaltender has struggled at times for the Canucks posting a .907 save percentage and a 2.56 GAA so far this season. However, he has won eighteen games for his new club.
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) December 19, 2014
Another must see sub-story will be the clash of the traded. Buffalo drafted Zack Kassian with the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. After playing twenty-seven games with the Sabres and tallying seven points, former GM Darcy Regier decided to trade Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to the Canucks in exchange for Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer.
Gragnani and Sulzer no longer play in the NHL while neither Kassian or Hodgson have met their potential. This game will add to the debate on which team won the trade but for now it is best described as a push. The game won’t start until 10:00PM eastern time so be sure you grab your favorite caffeinated beverage and enjoy the show.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW