The 2014-2015 NHL season begins for the Buffalo Sabres tonight when the club will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at the First Niagara Center. The promise of a new season is filled with many possibilities, but the Buffalo Sabres are team in transition moving through a rebuilding phase. Many Sabres fans and analysts expect the club to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and most predict that Buffalo will miss the playoffs again this season.
Despite these low expectations, the Sabres are moving towards a turning point with a stocked cupboard of young talent. They will add to this arsenal during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft where, barring any future trades, Buffalo will pick three times in the first round. The club has amassed some excellent young prospects and has arguably one of the deepest farm systems in the NHL.
Expectations might be low for the Buffalo Sabres in the upcoming 2014-2015 campaign but there are many fans who are thrilled to see the development of the Sabres’ young prospects. Sabres fans have many mixed emotions about the team this year but there are many reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Here is part two of a three part series on the different schools of thought running wild among Sabres fans this season. This article will focus on the ‘keep building’ philosophy which is visible in many facets of the organization, city and among Sabres fans.
The Sabres organization is perhaps a representation of what is taking place in the city of Buffalo itself. Buffalo is undergoing an economic and cultural change. The city has had an infusion of construction projects that brought many new jobs and cranes to the city – the likes of which haven’t been seen in many years. The city of Buffalo is being reborn through an emerging medical campus, a developing waterfront, and an electric sense of civic pride among Buffalonians.
Buffalo’s rebirth has been praised by Buffalonians and by many outside the city. It has been spearheaded by many key leaders including Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula who has directly contributed to this rebirth with the construction of the Harbor Center that is due to open in the very near future.
Much like the city of Buffalo, the Sabres have invested their draft picks in a multitude of young talent and he scaffolding of this young team will start to emerge this season. Much like a new building at a construction site, it will take time before the Sabres’ roster will become a solid product. The ‘keep building’ philosophy shared by many Sabres fans is fueled by the enthusiasm that surrounds this young squad as it develops.
Tim Murray on Sabres' rebuild: "I knew it was a big job, and I know it’s a job that has to be done the proper way, and that’s hard."
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) June 30, 2014
The club may have low expectations for this season but the ‘keep building’ fans are thrilled to take it all in and enjoy the ride. For the ‘keep building’ fan, success this season won’t be measured by a certain number of wins or even by making the playoffs. Instead, success will be gauged by the improvement of the on-ice product through the effort and advancement of Buffalo’s young talent.
What Brought on the Historically Bad 2013-2014 Sabres?
Optimism was high in Buffalo after the 2005-2006 season when the Sabres went on an unexpected playoff run. The Sabres had a strong post-season following the 2004-2005 NHL lockout but they fell just short of the Stanley Cup finals when Buffalo lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Many predicted that Buffalo would make more noise the following year. The Sabres met these expectations by earning the NHL’s best regular season record during the 2006-2007 season and securing the franchise’s first President’s Trophy. However, Buffalo reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season but again fell short of the Stanley Cup finals – this time at the hands of the Ottawa Senators.
Since the 2006-2007 season, the Sabres have not found much success. Forwards Daniel Briere and Chris Drury left the Sabres via unrestricted free agency during the summer of 2007. After their departure, former GM Darcy Regier hitched his club’s wagon on the team’s young core which included forwards Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and goaltender Ryan Miller.
Terry Pegula remained loyal to the incumbent staff when he purchased the Sabres in 2011. After an initial infusion of resources and the arrival of some highly-touted free agents, the club seemed to get a boost from the huge level of enthusiasm that engulfed Buffalo. However, things fell apart with the club’s mix of players which caused the Sabres to part ways with former head coach Lindy Ruff and GM Darcy Regier. After several seasons of missing the playoffs and a few early playoff exits, it became clear that the club needed to move into a new direction.
It took them a long time, but thank you Sabres for letting the fans breathe. We can handle a rebuild, but Darcy needed to go.
— Christopher Parker (@Bulldogwgr) November 13, 2013
Buffalo re-hired it’s former bench boss Ted Nolan and GM Tim Murray to lead the franchise’s rebuilding efforts. The Sabres had a historically bad 2013-2014 campaign but it is poised for success in the not-so-distant future. This season represents a step towards this potential success and it will feature some of the Sabres’ young talent who will be battling for a roster spot in Buffalo.
The ‘Keep Building’ Sabres Fan Philosophy
The ‘keep building’ school of thought comes to us from the Sabres fans who have grown very comfortable rolling with the changes. This philosophy is built on the idea that the reward down the road will be worth all the growing-pains that come with a developing young squad. The club has a rich pipeline of young talent and there is a strong chance that this talent will start to emerge this season. These Sabres fans want to see the youth merge with the vets to take a step in the right direction but they aren’t expecting a lot of wins or even a playoff appearance.
Based on what has happened so far, the Sabres’ rebuild has been modeled off of the past rebuilds of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks. Both of these organizations went through similar periods of hockey that was tough to watch at times, but now they both stand among the NHL’s upper echelon of elite teams.
Their transition from rags to riches came to fruition mainly by securing elite-level talent through the draft. These clubs have amassed impressive young talent during their rebuilding years. Most notably, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while Patrick Kane and Jonathan Towes were drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Sabres have made strides over the last few seasons in the draft. With their first round picks in the past three years, the club added forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Gregorenko in 2012, defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov in 2013, and most recently, the club has drafted forward Sam Reinhart in 2014. Buffalo has also amassed an impressive group of prospects in the later rounds of the draft and through trades which includes the likes of Brendan Lemieux, Jake McCabe, Hudson Fasching, and Nicolas Deslauriers.
[See Also: Sabres Final Cuts: Who’s In and Who’s Out by Chad DeDominicis]
Many analysts have praised Buffalo’s drafting over the last few seasons. Arguably, the Sabres have one of the deepest groups of prospects in the entire NHL. The ‘keep building’ Sabres fans want to let the kids take the time to develop and they are excited to watch the youth earn a spot with the Sabres. Some of Buffalo’s young talent already began to surface during the preseason and Sabres fans are excited to see it come to fruition.
Nolan on Ristolainen: said he did so much work in off season to get better, in much better shape.went from 19 yr old kid to 20 yr old man
— Howard WGR (@hsimon62) October 7, 2014
‘Keep building’ fans recognize that it will take time for these prospects to find their niche in the NHL. Fans who have adopted this philosophy aren’t going into the 2014-2015 season with the expectations of playoffs. Instead, a successful season in Buffalo will feel much different for the ‘keep building’ fans than it may in other NHL markets. So long as the games are entertaining and the players give a good effort, this group of fans will be satisfied and enjoy the ride. While this sentiment won’t last forever among Sabres fans, perhaps not too far beyond this season, the ‘keep building’ philosophy will be a common thread among Sabres fans as they analyze their club this season.
The city of Buffalo is undergoing some dramatic changes with the infusion of economic development and a sky-high level of civic pride engulfing the Nickel City. As the Sabres enter the next phase of the organization’s rebuild, the ‘keep building’ philosophy has permeated the minds of many Sabres fans who have grown very excited about the future of their hockey club.
Under normal circumstances for NHL fans, success is measured by a club qualifying for a playoff berth and by how close the club comes to winning a Stanley Cup. As Buffalo continues the rebuild, the Sabres have a tough road ahead if they hope to earn a playoff appearance. Qualifying for the playoffs is a lofty expectation for the Sabres this season but this is not to say that the Sabres can’t find success this year.
The ‘keep building’ philosophy may lead Sabres fans to measure success based on individual advancements. Others may evaluate success based on smaller improvements in various facets of the game such as a more effective power play or a more consistent effort in five-on-five play. These may seem trivial to some hockey fans but they are crucial to the Sabres’ youth movement. These are important steps because, if they are achieved, they will help build confidence among a group of youngsters who have the potential to grow into something special.
The Buffalo Sabres embody the spirit of rebirth that is prevalent today in the city of Buffalo. Both seem to be at a similar stage of development with respect to their situations. In a city known for losing professional sports championships, heavy snow storms, and a long-lasting economic downturn, the city of Buffalo is moving away from this reputation of the past and is poised to start creating a new one. The same can be said about the Buffalo Sabres which is a franchise in transition. Buffalonians share a special bond with their hockey team and this commonality between the city and the team is about to make this relationship even stronger.
Sabres hockey is not only a way of life in Buffalo, but the current state of the club is a representation of the rebirth that is also taking place in the city. Will the Sabres and the city of Buffalo be reborn into something special? The ‘keep building’ fans are excited by these possibilities and are ready to embrace what lies ahead.
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