The last time the Buffalo Sabres made the playoffs was the 2010-11 season. The number one draft pick the summer prior was Taylor Hall, and that year, it was his first in the National Hockey League. It was the final season for the Atlanta Thrashers as they headed north to become the Winnipeg Jets the following season.
A lot has happened since then. Babies born that year are now 10 years old, and the iPhone has come a long way since the 4.
The Sabres in 2010-11 finished seventh in the Eastern Conference, matching up against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Led by captain Craig Rivet and head coach Lindy Ruff, they pushed the Flyers to Game 7 but came up just short, losing 5-2. It was the ninth time the two teams had met in the playoffs, the most of any Sabres postseason opponent. It was the first time any of those series’ went the distance for all seven games.
Sabres fans still following along this time of the year are taking part in their yearly ritual of choosing which team to cheer for, since following the ballad of Jack Eichel — though intriguing and attention-grabbing — is decidedly less exciting than playoff hockey.
But, despite the undeniable excitement of the NHL in full flight, it can be hard to find a reason to care still other than to watch the Leafs choke, which is another favourite pastime of Sabres fans and one that doesn’t last past the first round.
So with that in mind, I’ve decided now is a good time to look at some of the former Sabres who are chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2021, hoping that it will help you decide who to cheer for.
Two Zachs (each with a different spelling of their given name, both 30-year-old players entering this year’s postseason) are the first that come to mind as I sit down to write this piece: one with the Maple Leafs and the other with the Edmonton Oilers. Despite my jabs at the Leafs earlier, both of these players have a chance to emerge from the NHL’s North Division.
Zach Bogosian – Toronto Maple Leafs
Bogosian was drafted 3rd overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers and followed the team to Canada, playing with the Jets for four more seasons before being traded to the Sabres along with Evander Kane and Jason Kasdorf in exchange for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia and a conditional 2015 first-round pick (Jack Roslovic).
His time with the Sabres was up and down, but he became a fan favourite for his thundering hits. Bogosian’s tenure in Buffalo ended roughly. With his love for the team dwindling after being put on waivers on Valentine’s Day 2020, he found himself in some hot water. Not one team showed any interest in claiming him. As a result, he was assigned to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. Three days later, the Sabres suspended him for failing to report to the AHL. On Feb. 21, the organization placed him on unconditional waivers for the purpose of contract termination.
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Bogosian ended up getting the last laugh. He signed a one-year $1.3 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 23 and went on to win the Cup, recording four assists in 19 games.
This year with the Leafs, Bogosian has another chance with a very competitive team. After being out of action since April 20, missing the final ten games of the season during that span, he made his way back into the lineup for Game 1 and injected a “whole lot of nasty” into the Leafs’ lineup. He should be fun to watch in a series involving two bitter and historical rivals.
Zack Kassian – Edmonton Oilers
Kassian, Buffalo’s 13th overall pick in 2009, spent his first few years as a pro bouncing up and down between the Americans and the Sabres. He even played in a few playoff games for the Sabres’ old AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates.
During his third call up to the Sabres squad, just before the 2012 deadline, they sent him to the Vancouver Canucks along with Marc-André Gragnani in exchange for Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer. Media pundits called it one of the most unpopular trades in Canucks history, surprised that general manager Mike Gillis would trade a proven young player in Hodgson for one that was as unproven as Kassian.
The story from there goes like this: the Canucks traded him to the Canadiens on July 1, 2015, in exchange for Brandon Prust. In October of that year, he was involved in a car accident, breaking his left foot and nose and ending him on the naughty list with Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin. The Habs suspended him without pay because although he was not the driver of the vehicle, he was under the influence. This initiated his time with the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program and was the beginning of the end of his stint with the Canadiens.
Now with the Oilers, Kassian has made himself an impact player with an integral tough guy role on a team with the best player in the world on its roster. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this Connor McDavid guy before, but he’s pretty fun to watch.
Hall, Lazar and Big Bad Bruins
Two former Sabres are now mucking it up along with the likes of their new teammates Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on a Boston Bruins squad that is, so far, looking as good a playoff threat as ever. There’s not much to hide about how abysmal the Sabres’ season went with these two on the team, but it wasn’t their fault. It’s nice to see them having success now.
Taylor Hall – Boston Bruins
Hall was rookie general manager Kevyn Adams’ big splash on the free-agent market last fall. He was expected to bring an offensive punch to a roster that seemed to have some promise, and he was outwardly excited to be reuniting with his former coach Ralph Krueger.
Things didn’t work out for either of them. Krueger is now unemployed, and Hall was shown the door, putting him where he is now — on a run with the Bruins. The latter failed to bring with him the goal-scoring acumen he has been known for, posting just two goals and 19 points in 37 games played with the blue and gold.
So desperate for a divorce from his free agency “mistake” was Adams that he retained 50 percent of Hall’s $8 million salary in a trade deadline move that sent him to the Bruins along with Curtis Lazar in exchange for Anders Bjork and a 2021 second-round draft pick. His presence on David Krejci’s wing along with Craig Smith provided an immediate boost to the Bs’ second line, giving them a formidable one-two punch, as Hall’s group lines up behind one of the best lines in hockey composed of Marchand, Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron.
In four games so far this postseason, the line has combined for three goals and eight points. Hall seems to have found his scoring touch again, too, as evidenced by this beauty:
Curtis Lazar – Boston Bruins
I’ve written about Lazar’s journey to the NHL before. I admittedly have a soft spot for this guy and have ever since he captained Team Canada to a Gold Medal at the World Junior tournament in 2015. The feisty forward makes hits and plays hard every night, which makes for excellent watching. Some nights though, he does seem to disappear.
After the trade that sent him to the Bruins with Hall, Lazar said he would miss the guys on the Sabres and that he was surprised by the trade. But in almost the same breath, he said he was looking forward to “sticking it” to his former team when they met on the ice. Harsh.
Lazar and Hall play on an exciting team that always seems to make a run come the postseason. However, cheering for at least one of these guys might make Sabres fans a little queazy. Still, the Bruins play good playoff hockey, and fans can not wholly ignore the entertainment value in that.
But Wait, There’s More
I led off with the four most intriguing options based on how the teams they play for could make a decent push in the playoffs. Of course, the way things can go when everyone has a chance until they don’t, all four of these players could also face an early exit.
Don’t worry, Sabres fans. I have you covered. Here are some more former players you can follow:
Conor Sheary – Washington Capitals
Sheary won a Stanley Cup in 2016 with the Pittsburgh Penguins before a brief stopover with the Sabres for two seasons, ending at the 2020 Trade Deadline when he returned to the Pens. In December of that year, Sheary signed on to a one-year, $735,000 deal with the Capitals and is currently battling Hall and Lazar’s Bruins in the first round.
Braydon McNabb – Vegas Golden Knights
Originally drafted by the Sabres, 66th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, McNabb has now found a home with the Golden Knights as a veteran defender who averages 19+ minutes per game. His role is more of a steady defensive presence than an offensive threat. However, he does chip in now and again as he did with an assist on Mark Stone’s goal — the first of five unanswered by the Knights — in Game 3’s 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
With the Sabres as a rookie in 2011, McNabb suffered a concussion against the Maple Leafs, causing him to miss eight straight games. As a member of the Rochester Americans, he was an AHL All-Star twice over. He made his way to Vegas via the Los Angeles Kings in a March 5, 2014 trade along with Jonathan Parker and two second-round draft picks (one of which the Kings used to draft Erik Cernak, and the other they traded to the Maple Leafs, who drafted Travis Dermott) was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for right-winger Hudson Fasching and left-winger Nicolas Deslauriers.
Marcus Foligno – Minnesota Wild
Drafted by the Sabres 104th overall in the same year as McNabb, Foligno played six seasons with the Americans and their parent club. In his most successful years in the blue and gold jersey, he put up 23 points. Now with the Wild, Foligno averages around 15 minutes per game and is getting time on the top line. Foligno recorded an assist, four hits, two shots on goal and a pair of blocked shots in Game 3’s 5-2 loss to the Golden Knights.
Ryan O’Reilly – St. Louis Blues
O’Reilly played three seasons with the Sabres before being traded to the St. Louis Blues for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (Ryan Johnson) and a second-round pick in the upcoming 2021 Draft that is now the property of Los Angeles Kings, who acquired it via the Golden Knights in exchange for Alec Martinez. The Golden Knights had acquired the pick in a trade that sent Colin Miller in the Sabres direction.
Many fans mourn the loss of O’Reilly, who has done great things since leaving the team. He’s now the captain of the St. Louis Blues, the team he led to a Stanley Cup championship in 2019. O’Reilly registered a shorthanded assist in a 5-1 loss to the Avalanche in Game 3.
There are many intriguing reasons for Sabres fans to follow along with the excitement of this year’s postseason. The thrilling action and on-ice drama of the playoffs might be enough on its own to draw your attention. But if it’s not, consider cheering on some of these former Sabres in their quest for the Stanley Cup and hockey immortality.
I’m a freelance writer/carpenter and contributor to The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me I am @mikecarterlives on Twitter. I spent four years reporting for community newspapers in northern British Columbia. Then, I decided to try something new and came to Edmonton to help build a company with my brother. It seems no matter what I do, I always return to the keyboard to tell interesting stories. Hockey has always been a part of who I am.