Buffalo Sabres starting to rebuild

Buffalo Sabres

Ryan Miller (Photo credit: weblogny.com)

The 2013-2014 season will be a season the Buffalo Sabres would rather forget.  Throughout the course of the season, the team dismissed both Darcy Regier (former GM) and Ron Rolston (former coach) from their posts. Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who won a Jack Adams award with the team (coach of the year), was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season and Pat LaFontaine was named President of Hockey Operations. On January 9, 2014, the Buffalo Sabres named Tim Murray as their General Manager.

The Sabres have been in the state of a rebuild since winning the President’s trophy back in the 2006-2007 season, a team that featured stars like Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek, Dainius Zubrus, Jason Pominville and Brian Campbell.  All such players have since been dealt or picked up by other clubs.  The only remaining mainstay from that core is standout goaltender Ryan Miller.

Buffalo Sabres, Chris Drury

Chris Drury (Photo credit:sabres.nhl.com)

With the Sabres currently at the bottom of the barrel in the league with a horrendous record of 14-30-8, this will guarantee the Sabres a lottery draft pick, which can help accelerate their rebuilding.  With the high probability of Miller being shipped elsewhere before the NHL trade deadline on March 5th, the Sabres will likely look for young prospects or draft picks in return.

Do not forget, when they dealt former co-captain Thomas Vanek to the Islanders (who was a pending UFA), they received Matt Moulson, a capable forward who has multiple 30-goal seasons, and a first round pick in return (that is lottery protected for the Islanders this year).  So unless the Islanders pick it up, the Sabres may have to wait another year until they can have two first round picks, as the Islanders will select in the top-5 if their season does not turn around soon.

Sabres fans, no need to fear.  Many teams have gone through rebuilding periods and have managed to get back on their feet quickly.  One prime example: the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins were seemingly a few years away from relocating after putting together abysmal season after abysmal season.  In 2003 they were awarded the first pick in the draft, where they selected Marc-Andre Fleury, who became the second goaltender to ever be selected first overall (Rick DiPietro in 2000).  Once they had their backbone in net, they selected prolific goal scorer Evgeni Malkin 2nd overall in 2004.

The following season, there was a lockout, and by the luck of the draw, the Penguins won the opportunity to draft Sidney Crosby 1st overall in 2005.  They weren’t done there.  In 2006, they selected Jordan Staal 2nd overall, adding another piece to an already strong offense.  While the team continued to grow, so did the Penguins’ winning percentage.

In the 2007-2008 season, the Penguins made it  to the Stanley Cup finals where they were ousted by the dominant Detroit Red Wings.  The team continued to add veteran pieces such as Bill Guerin during the 2009 trade deadline.  With Guerin on board, the Penguins’ scoring was unstoppable and they won the Stanley Cup.

While it’s hard to say every team can follow this model, the Penguins had four consecutive season of top two picks in the NHL entry draft.  Only three seasons after the latest edition, Staal was drafted, the Penguins were Stanley cup champions.  If Tim Murray can follow the system of being patient and waiting for his youngsters to grow before tacking on FA pieces, the Sabres may be on top of the world before the decade is over.