I can't remember the last time it was this interesting to be a Buffalo Sabres fan...
The NHL preseason schedule is winding down as preparations continue for the 2014-15 campaign. Even the most optimistic Sabres supporter would likely admit that the team is in for a long season, coming off a disastrous year that saw a coaching change for the second year in a row, the departure of their long-time general manager, the return of fan favourite Pat LaFontaine and the quick departure of said fan favourite due to a rumoured power struggle in the front office. That is to say nothing of the on-ice product, which produced, for lack of a better word, one of the worst statistical seasons by any team in NHL history.
And the NHL has been around for a long, long time.
With that said, there is reason for optimism in Buffalo. Tim Murray, the Sabres new general manager, put the finishing touches on a rebuilding plan that started the previous year with Darcy Regier, who traded away long-tenured players like Paul Gaustad, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek before getting fired early last season along with fish-out-of-water head coach Ron Rolston. Murray's "checkmate" move was trading superstar goaltender and most importantly, the face of the franchise in Ryan Miller, along with captain Steve Ott to Stanley Cup contender St. Louis. In return, the Sabres got a 2014 2nd round pick, a 2015 first round pick, scoring winger Chris Stewart and prospect William Carrier.
A new era was upon us...
Murray inherited an interim head coach in Ted Nolan, personally selected by LaFontaine, who played for Nolan back in his first go-around with Buffalo in the 90s. There were rumblings that Nolan wouldn't stick around when #16 shockingly resigned the day after the Miller trade, only three months after his hiring. But Nolan persevered and shed the interim tag by the end of the month, signing a three year extension with the club and presumably he has earned the trust and support of the general manager that didn't hire him.
It is abundantly clear that Murray has a plan going forward and that plan involves turning their impressive prospect pool and cache of high draft picks into future NHL players. The Sabres got one of the best going away presents you can imagine from Regier, who somehow convinced the New York Islanders to trade Matt Moulson, a conditional first round pick in 2014 and a second round pick in 2015 for Thomas Vanek. Vanek, a superb talent that often left fans wanting more, was a great servant in Buffalo but getting Moulson, a similarly proficient scorer along with two high picks was considered highway robbery at the time of the deal. It quickly would be regarded as a massacre of epic proportions, as Vanek wouldn't sign a long-term deal with the Islanders and they were forced to move him to the Montreal Canadiens at the deadline for a pittance.
We all know how that turned out - the Isles would miss the playoffs by a mile, mostly because of injury to star forward John Tavares and that 2014 first round pick, expected to be a mid-round selection at worst by GM Garth Snow, turned into a lottery pick. Snow put a clause into the deal that allowed him to eventually keep that pick, which turned into the 5th overall selection in the 2014 draft but in doing so, he had to relinquish the Isles first round pick in 2015, in addition to their second round pick in '15 that was already locked in.
Including their own selection and the 2015 draft pick secured in the Ryan Miller deal with St. Louis, the Sabres now own three first round picks in next year's draft, widely regarded to have two franchise altering talents in forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
If the Sabres finish at the bottom of the NHL standings again, as expected by most media pundits, the worst they can do in the NHL draft lottery will be to pick second, thereby guaranteeing them one of those potential franchise players. If the Sabres elect to keep their other two first round picks as well, they will all join the deepest prospect pool in hockey, with many of those young players ready to spread their wings as soon as this year.
But the intrigue doesn't end there!
If you think that the roster of players signed up for a season of losing, just to get a potential franchise player that could put their own job in jeopardy, well...think again. Murray made a few shrewd veteran signings, bringing back Moulson in free agency, signing another unrestricted free agent in local boy Brian Gionta, the Canadiens captain last year and then immediately making a deal for one of Gionta's good friends on that team, defenseman Josh Gorges.
They are good players with excellent character and leadership ability and all three will be tasked with helping the plethora of youngsters in Buffalo grow as players and as men, all while trying to contribute on the ice as well.
With Nolan behind the bench and a new staff at his disposal, the team will be more entertaining and likeable and you know that work ethic will not be an issue with this bunch.
This club can't be any worse than they were last year...right? There is a very good chance they will improve significantly and STILL FINISH IN LAST PLACE.
I can't wait to see how this will all turn out...
So yeah...Bleeding Blue and Gold - Reborn...what is that all about?
So, you may be wondering about the title...
Bleeding Blue and Gold is the name of the Sabres blog I started in 2006, back when the team was a Stanley Cup contender coming out of the lockout. Those were heady times for fans of the Sabres, as the team would win a President's Trophy and advance to two Eastern Conference finals, losing both of course. I enjoyed writing about the team but became disenchanted with the club in the summer of 2007 when both Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were let go. My last post written at the old Bleeding Blue and Gold was on January 26, 2008 and it was a detailed writeup and pictorial of the first ever Winter Classic game, held at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo.
I've backed up every post I wrote at the old blog and moved them here: Bleeding Blue and Gold (Former Site)
So why start writing about the Sabres again?
Obviously, I've touched on part of the reason up above but there are other reasons that are motivating me to get back into this again...
I'll expand upon those reasons tomorrow. Thanks for reading.