The Buffalo Sabres have toiled through a difficult rebuild but the club finally seems to be headed in a new direction. The Sabres finished in last place for the past two seasons. As a result, the club managed to secure the second overall picks in both the 2014 and 2015 NHL Entry Drafts. Sabres hockey has been ugly during a good portion of the rebuild but it will begin to turn a corner in the 2015-2016 season.
Buffalo’s top two draft picks, forwards Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, will have an opportunity to earn a spot with the Sabres this season. Meanwhile, GM Tim Murray has pulled the trigger on several recent trades that brought forwards Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, David Legwand, defenseman Zach Bogosian, and goaltender Robin Lehner among other players to the organization.
As the Sabres prepare to emerge from the NHL’s basement, here is a look back at the trade that many point to as the deal that put Buffalo’s rebuild into motion. Back in February 2012, former Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier traded forward Paul Gaustad which started the rebuilding process. The torch was later passed to current Sabres’ GM Tim Murray who has continued this process through the present day. The rebuild has been grueling at times for fans but it appears the Sabres’ worst days are now behind them.
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Sabres Send Gaustad to Nashville
After winning the President’s Trophy then enduring some difficult personnel losses after the 2006-2007 season, former GM Darcy Regier hitched the Sabres’ wagon on a talented group of young players. This Sabres core had limited success in the years following the 2006-2007 season. According to hockeyreference.com, the Sabres qualified for the playoffs in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 but each time they had an early exit. The club failed to qualify for the playoffs during the 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 seasons.
As the 2011-2012 season progressed, it became clear that the Sabres needed to make some changes. In February 2012, the Sabres sent forward Paul Gaustad along with a fourth round selection in 2013 to Nashville in exchange for the Predators’ first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The rebuild took more time to reach its peak but many point to this deal as the start of this period in Sabres history.
Gaustad was an important part of the Sabres’ old core. While he didn’t generate a ton of offense, Gaustad had good size and played a gritty game for the Sabres. The veteran also provided good value for Buffalo on faceoffs and Gaustad continues this trend in Nashville where, according to NHL.com, he won 56.4 percent of his draws last season.
From Gaustad to Girgensons
Fate had it that the Paul Gaustad trade helped the Sabres land forward Zemgus Girgensons. The pick that the Sabres acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Gaustad trade was the 21st overall selection. Former Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier later used this pick as currency by making another trade to move up in the draft.
At the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, according to Hockeydb.com, the Sabres first used their 12th overall pick to select forward Mikhail Grigorenko. Buffalo later sent the 21st overall selection from Nashville and a second round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to the Calgary Flames in exchange for the 14th overall selection. The Sabres then used this newly acquired pick to draft Zemgus Girgensons.
Girgensons is coming off of an injury that cut his 2014-2015 season short. There are some facets of his game that he needs to improve upon but it appears that Girgensons will become an important piece of the puzzle for the Sabres. The youngster has already shown some potential during two seasons in Buffalo including an All Star Game appearance last season.
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Despite playing for the NHL’s last place team for two consecutive seasons, according to Eliteprospects.com Girgensons has managed 23 goals and 52 points in 131 games for the Sabres. Putting these historically bad Sabres’ seasons aside, Girgensons will need to improve his offensive output going forward. This seems very feasible for Girgensons who will enter the 2015-2016 season with a much more talented team around him.
Girgensons has a strong work ethic and it will be interesting to watch his game further develop this season. He leads by example rarely taking a shift off and he uses his size to his advantage. Opportunity will definitely be knocking for Girgensons and he has the potential to emerge as one of the Sabres’ leaders.
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