The word “tanking” has become a highly toxic word throughout the hockey world these last handful of years, with franchises appearing to lose on purpose to gain a further advantage within the NHL Entry Draft. We know all the dirty details about those alleged practices.
It must be pointed out (mostly tongue-in-cheek) that the Buffalo Sabres never tanked and always fielded the best team possible. Just ask team owner Terry Pegula, who attempted to set the record straight days ago at his season-ending press conference.
I don’t want to talk about the past. A lot of teams go through rebuilds. Hope to lose? We do not hope to lose. We went through a rebuild. I don’t understand why I’ve read an article from one of you gentlemen, how Cleveland is going through a rebuild, but the Sabres tanked. One city can rebuild but we tank – you can’t have it both ways. We rebuilt.
This intriguing look at rebuilding franchises brings us to the hottest topic in the Western New York area: do the Sabres and their fans care too much about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild?
As Buffalo struggled to gain any traction this season, Toronto’s franchise, chock full of young, talented players, began to blossom into a serious Stanley Cup playoff contender.
Although Toronto failed to make it out of the first round, they opened the eyes of doubters throughout the league. The result itself is irrelevant to Sabres fans, but the Leafs had done something Buffalo had not done in six seasons – play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Again, this begs the question: do the Sabres and their fans care too much about the Leafs’ rebuild?
Buffalo’s Strong Passion
A member of the media asked then-general manager Tim Murray about it, and his comments were spot on:
“I can only worry about us. I think we worry too much about other teams. One of my complaints is we worry too much about the opposition. We need to worry about what is going on in this building.”
It is clear to many that Toronto’s quick success has clouded the judgement of many in the Western New York area.
Instead of being upset that one process takes longer than the other, why not take a look at why things are progressing slower in Buffalo?
Former Edmonton Oilers analytics consultant Tyler Dellow took a minute recently to point out why things might’ve progressed at an accelerated pace for the Leafs.
Here's what I think the difference between Buffalo's tank and Toronto's tank is. Toronto tanked with percentages. Buffalo with possession.
— dellowhockey (@dellowhockey) April 21, 2017
That is about as spot on a take of the Buffalo versus Toronto rebuild that we have seen. If you are struggling to understand, take a minute and follow this analogy:
Say the rebuilds are separate houses about to be hit by a storm – with the storm being a terrible, horrible self-inflicted losing season.
Buffalo has a house but decided to strip everything out of it right down to the copper piping and electrical wire in hopes that they could survive on the absolute bare-minimum during the storm. Toronto had a beat-up house but decided beat-up was OK and made minimal improvements while hoping the walls stayed up as the storm approached.
After the storm passed, you can imagine that getting back to a nice, respectable house would be easier for Toronto than Buffalo.
Ok, no more house analogies – back to hockey.
Another big thing that set Toronto apart from Buffalo was building a team with adequate and proper depth. This is a direct indictment of Sabres’ front office management. Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello knows how to build teams, judging solely from his track record here, and clearly had little issue formulating their roster.
Problems Start at the Top
One issue with the Sabres, which has held back their rebuild, has been the demeanor of the franchise from top to bottom. Terry Pegula wasted little time laying into his team in regards to this issue:
Our organization needed more discipline, structure and communication. That’s how you win. All of that stuff goes together with character. Gotta have character through the organization, and on the ice. They have to be in a disciplined structured environment where everybody knows what everybody is doing and everybody is talking.
We heard stories from the Buffalo media that head coach Dan Bylsma lost the locker room in the tail-end of his first season, and those stories were magnified this year when rumblings continued to gain volume.
Even Murray discussed how communication struggled during the season, highlighted by the Sam Reinhart one-game
suspension. Murray had reportedly made a call from the top to change team policy late in the season because players wanted more black-and-white policies. A lack of communication creates issues even with multi-million dollar athletes.
Taking a step back, Sabres fans need to realize one big thing – Buffalo’s rebuild is not Toronto’s rebuild and that is OK.
Both franchises will end up being just fine with each having a bevvy of young talent, despite the placement of each team right now. Toronto will likely have much quicker success but that comes with the territory of having a very young, well-built franchise anchored by a Hall of Fame general manager and head coach.
Buffalo needs to make sure they commit themselves to their core beliefs – discipline, structure, communication and character – when hiring a new general manager and head coach, or else, unfortunately, we’ll be having this conversation again relatively soon.