Sabres fans, a tip of the hat to you. The past two seasons have been quite the journey filled with many valleys and few peaks. While some hockey fans and national media have criticized Sabres fans for how they’ve reacted to games in the recent past, I think Sabres fans deserve a lot of credit.
Despite another historically poor season in Buffalo, according to ESPN.com the Sabres’ average attendance at First Niagara Center through 40 home games is 18,568 or an average of 97.4% capacity. Our other partner in ‘tanking crime’, the Arizona Coyotes averaged 13,285 fans per game which represents an average capacity of 77.6%. Other teams near the bottom of the ESPN.com attendance ranking include the Carolina Hurricanes who averaged 12,492 fans or a 66.9% capacity and the Florida Panthers with 11,241 or a 66.0% capacity.
After all the losing and frustration, either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel will be members of the Buffalo Sabres.
— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) April 11, 2015
Much of Buffalo’s average attendance is comprised of season ticket holders which again shows how loyal Sabres fans have been in the wake of two historically poor seasons. Rather than cancelling their season ticket orders, the vast majority renewed them knowing full well what they were getting themselves into this season. There aren’t too many other markets in the NHL that would endure what Sabres fans have these last two seasons.
After last night’s 4-2 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Buffalo Sabres have officially clinched last place and they have a 100% chance of landing either Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid. Buffalo has the highest odds in the league of landing the first overall pick with a 20% chance. If lady luck isn’t on their side to help them land the first overall pick in the lottery then they will receive the second overall pick. Given their already stocked cupboard of prospects, a good amount of cap space, and their newly acquired win in the McEichel sweepstakes, the Sabres are well positioned for a bright future.
[See Also: Four Shots at Last Place]
April 10, 2015: An Important Date in Sabres’ History
Many have criticized the Sabres and others for ‘tanking’ to land a top pick. There have been many debates on the morals of tanking and these points have all been supported by valid evidence. In Buffalo clinching last place after yesterday’s game, this long debate that has caused turmoil among Sabres fans can officially be retired.
The game that officially cemented Buffalo’s position in the standings was an edge-of-your-seat performance that in a strange way almost resembled a playoff game. Columbus had a 2-1 lead at the first intermission then Sabres’ captain Brian Gionta tied it up with the only goal of the second period.
Not sure if this has been mentioned before, but worth noting — Columbus sealed win with 9.7 seconds left on clock. McDavid's number.
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) April 11, 2015
The third period was pretty evenly matched in the opening 10 minutes. The final shot totals for the 3rd period gave a slight edge to Columbus. The Sabres gave a strong effort throughout the game blocking a total of 12 shots while forcing seven turnovers.
Despite their efforts, Cam Atkinson of the Blue Jackets scored what turned out to be the game winner just over halfway through the third period. Interestingly, this goal ultimately locked Buffalo into last place in the NHL standings so it instantly became an important goal in Sabres’ history. Boone Jenner later scored an empty net goal to seal the win for Columbus.
Buffalo’s loss cemented their 30th place finish and gave them a 100% chance of landing Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid. Ironically, both of these youngsters also had historic nights in their respective hockey worlds. Connor McDavid and his Erie Otters locked horns with the London Knights in a playoff match. In this game, McDavid showed why he is the top rated prospect by scoring an unprecedented 5 goals in a 7-3 victory.
— Erie 🦦🦦🦦 (@ErieOtters) April 11, 2015
Meanwhile, Jack Eichel also had an important day in which he was selected for the Hobey Baker Award as this season’s most outstanding college hockey player. Eichel is a freshman at Boston University and just 18 years old. He is the first freshman to be selected for the Hobey Baker Award since Paul Kariya earned it as a freshman in 1993. According to Hockeydb.com, Kariya finished his NHL career with 402 goals and 989 points in 989 games played.
— Hobey Baker Award (@HobeyBakerAward) April 11, 2015
The Dawn of a New Era in Buffalo
Tonight’s season finale marks a turning point in a lot of ways. The most important aspect is that Buffalo has already clinched last place so all Sabres fans can go back to rooting for their team to win. This game also marks the end of two seasons of rebuilding and the beginning of a new era in Buffalo.
The debate over the morality of tanking has entrenched the Sabres fan base for the better part of the last two seasons. At the beginning, this debate was closer to a 50-50 split but as time went on most fans seemed to side with the possibility of landing McDavid or Eichel. Fans expressed their opinions in a variety of ways but at the heart of both sides of the debate is the common thread that all Sabres fans desperately want to win a championship.
McDavid and Eichel both have superstar potential so all of the rooting for losses was done in hope of brighter days ahead. The tanking debate is now done as the Sabres’ fate in the standings is sealed. Tonight’s match is the first home game since that happened and fans can reunite to do what they all wanted to do in the first place – root for their club to win.
With the Sabres now possessing a 100% chance of landing McDavid or Eichel, there will be a buzz in the atmosphere at the First Niagara Center that hasn’t been felt in a long time. Sabres fans have supported their club at the box office through two very difficult seasons and through many tough nights of hockey. Tonight’s game marks the dawn of a new era. The news that one of Eichel or McDavid will wear blue and gold brought about an overnight change to electrify the fans just in time for their season finale at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
#Pens winning % this season when facing team for 1st time: 66%
When facing team for 2nd time: 52%
When facing 3rd time or more: 35%
— Mike Colligan (@MikeColligan) April 11, 2015
The Pittsburgh Penguins roll into town needing to win tonight’s game to get into the playoffs. The Penguins arrive in Buffalo on the heels of a loss to the New York Islanders and with a one point lead on the Boston Bruins in the standings. Pittsburgh dominated the Sabres in their matches earlier this season winning both games by 5 goals. The Sabres can get their revenge with a win tonight coupled with a Boston win because this would propel the Bruins into the playoffs and knock out the Penguins.
… If Bruins defeat TB in regulation or OT, they would qualify with either a Senators regulation loss or Penguins loss in any fashion. 2/2
— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) April 11, 2015
The combination of the Sabres winning the McEichel sweepstakes, the beginning of a new era in Buffalo, fan appreciation night at First Niagara Center with more prize giveaways than you can shake a stick at, and a chance to knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs has the makings of an electric atmosphere at First Niagara Center. This environment will become the norm again in Buffalo as the franchise’s young talent begins to surface starting with next season. In the words of the legendary Buffalo Bills broadcaster Van Miller, “fasten your seatbelts” Sabres fans because the best is yet to come.
[See Also: Sabres Future Decided in Less Than 5 Minutes by Chad DeDominicis]
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