For many, the 2016 NHL Draft was about focusing on what moves each of the league’s 30 teams would make in order to improve their franchise in the future.
For others, however, it was about the host city of Buffalo and how they would handle having an event of this magnitude taking place smack dab in the middle of downtown. How would the city be able to accommodate the throng of media that descended on the event.
One staff member of an NHL club, who wanted to remain anonymous due to potential backlash, was strong with his praise of the event while throwing jabs at previous hosts.
“From top to bottom, everything about this year has been top notch,” he said. “Compared to Florida last year, the layout and ease of access has been night and day.”
From the connected hotel that includes a 24-hour media room to the close proximity of all draft week events, it made doing what needed to be done as easy as it could’ve been expected. But that’s just a part of the atmosphere that the 2016 NHL Draft provided.
The Sabres hosted a fanfest across the street from the First Niagara Center that showcased the newly revamped waterfront of the city, something that couldn’t even be imagined just six to seven years ago. Fans and staff alike crowded the local establishments throughout the week, giving a big city feel to the area surrounding the venue. It also didn’t hurt that the weather during the week had been near perfect.
Gone is the thought of a destitute city from visitors. In it’s place is a feeling that Buffalo could, and should, host more major league events in the future.
It was announced on Friday night that the NHL Scouting Combine would return to Buffalo for the third year in a row in 2017. There were even more rumblings among the media in attendance that the league and Sabres are working towards a deal to make Buffalo the permanent home for the combine a la Indianapolis and the NFL Scouting Combine. However, many club staffers and media members were under the impression that it was only a matter of time before another big-time event makes a return to Buffalo: the NHL All-Star Game.
That could come, quite possibly, as early as 2018 should the NHL decide to not have player participants in the 2018 Olympic Games. Though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Las Vegas receive an All-Star Game before Buffalo gets it. But that’s a debate and discussion for a different time.
As far as the actual NHL Draft itself inside the First Niagara Center, Friday night’s opening round was truly something to behold. From the thunderous boos for both Commissioner Gary Bettman and the Toronto Maple Leafs by fans in attendance to the roaring ovation that former Sabres head coach, and current Dallas coach, Lindy Ruff received, the fans inside made it a night to remember.
Even the opening of the night that included a strong speech from Sabres owner Terry Pegula was remarkable. It was something that many can’t remember ever happening prior to the start of an event like the draft.
Be proud Buffalonians. The city put on a major event for a major sports league, and the opinion of the event itself as well as the surrounding area has been overwhelmingly positive.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.