It wasn’t very long ago that we were celebrating the one-year anniversary of the “Tank War” between the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes—the infamous Sabres home game of 2015 where blue and gold fanbase was divided on who to root for. It was either “stay loyal to the players wearing the logo to the bitter end”, or “put your faith in the draft lottery and hope that the Sabres lose more games”.
One year later, and there’s not much controversy over this sentiment—it’s such a relief to just sit back and watch this young, inexperienced Sabre club gradually mature on the ice.
Even though there’s been some stumbles, and even a couple of outright hideous games, the Sabres have undoubtedly played their best hockey in the past few weeks. After their 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, the Sabres have gone 8-5-4 in their last 17. To have gotten points in 12 of their last 17 contests is a gargantuan leap forward from where this team was a year ago, and not simply for the improvement in the standings, but for the improvement in the fans’ outlook on the team’s future.
Last year, seeing the Sabres go 8-5-4 down the stretch would have conjured a maelstrom of cynicism as Buffalo would have strode away from its chances to pick Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
This year? There’s not a lot of outcry about Buffalo veering off the path that yields Auston Matthews.
The Sabres got their franchise cornerstone in Eichel last year, and since his arrival helped the draw of other talented players, the Buffalo fanbase seems content to put the ‘tank’ days behind them. It’s time to watch the team we have grow into something special.
That game against Toronto was a bit surreal. It was a match up between two franchises following the same rebuilding model, only the teams were at very different stages of the process. Toronto is where Buffalo was not far back in the past—the Leafs are exorcising the players of previous rosters that failed to find success, while making a determined effort to bring in the brightest young talent on the market. The Leafs are on their way to finding their “Eichel”.
Buffalo, meanwhile, has that base, and is cultivating it. Eichel and Sam Reinhart—two NHL rookies—have managed to develop incredible chemistry between one another and are both having outstanding debut seasons. Ryan O’Reilly has fit into this organization like a glove, offering scoring and a litany of assists to other players’ goals. Marcus Foligno, Johan Larsson, and Brian Gionta have somehow gelled into a line that’s a certified two-way threat.
Chad Johnson—the same goaltender that fans were convinced was acquired to lose games last year—woke up this morning with a save percentage just shy of .920 after stopping 25 of 26 Toronto shots.
Buffalo may not get that top five draft pick this year, but the progress that’s already here and is on the way isn’t such a bad consolation prize, at all.