I wanted to believe, Sabres fans.
Seriously: in the days leading up to the draft, despite the fact that the Buffalo Sabres were clearly not interested in doing much to improve their standing in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, I felt like the Sabres were going to pick up an exciting young talent who would put fans in the seats at First Niagara Center and give those bodies reason to hope that the playoffs would soon be within reach.
How could I not feel that way? The Sabres were picking 8th in a draft that had at least 9-10 offensive players who scouts were pretty high on, and even though I knew there was no realistic shot at the Sabres picking up Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, or Aleksander Barkov, I woould have been okay if the Sabres had drafted Elias Lindholm (who went earlier than expected), or Valeri Nichsuhkin (who went later than expected), or Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Max Domi, Curtis Lazar – get my point?
Yeah, there were some concerns that went along with each of these prospects – but when is there not? Every prospect is a risk; some risks are simply lower than others. Not one of the players that I listed, with the exception of Nichushkin, were so risky that anyone would have rolled their eyes had the Sabres snagged a forward with their first pick, especially given their 22nd-ranked offense last season (and 2nd-to-last ranked power play, by the way).
Yep. I was feeling pretty optimistic when I sat down to watch the draft today.
Apparently, I must have forgotten that Darcy Regier is the General Manager of this team.
Some people may be able to forgive Regier and the Sabres for picking Rasmus Ristolainen with the 8th pick in the draft; I cannot. Here’s why: the Sabres
need help on both ends of the ice – we all knew that heading into this afternoon. What the Sabres also should have known was that any chance to land an impact-player on offense would be gone once the draft moved out of the top 10. Teams looking for a role player to compliment established offenses might not mind picking up a player like Alexander Wennberk, Anthony Mantha, or Fredrik Gauthier, but the Sabres were not in the market for role players; they were in the market for a difference maker, and holding the 8th pick would have given them a legitimate chance to pick a player who might become a second- or -first-line player in just a few seasons.
Furthermore, the Sabres should have known that there still would have been some really solid defensive players there for the taking when they picked again at the 16th spot. Nikita Zadorov, Mirco Mueller and possibly even Samuel Morin (or one of the other defensemen who might not have been pick had Ristolainen still been available after the 8th pick) would have all been drafted after the 16th pick, so had the Sabres gone offense first they still would have been able to grab a solid defensive prospect.
Darcy Regier and the Buffalo Sabres front office should have known that – isn’t that their job? – but either they didn’t do their homework, or they really are not fit to perform the duties required of their positions, because they blew a golden chance to improve their offense and doubled-down on blueliners, despite the fact they have, what, forty-seven d-men on the roster today?
Even tonight I’m trying to retain some sense of optimism that there is a master plan to improve this team offensively – maybe they are stockpiling defensemen in order to pull off a major trade in the next week? – but who am I kidding? It’s the Buffalo Sabres, the current poster children for the phrase, “No guts, no glory.” Young forwards were still on the board, and the Sabres leave New Jersey with their inefficient offense wholly unimproved. For a team that claims to be in a rebuilding phase, this is akin to building a strong brick house without any mortar to support it. Will Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov become solid, maybe even good or (God help us) great defensemen in the NHL? They may very well do exactly that. I don’t doubt they are talented for one second. The two of them combined, however, cannot address the gaping holes on offense the Sabres still need to fill. Swing and a miss, twice, Darcy. Just about the entire Northeast Division improved their teams tonight, and by basically standing still, the Buffalo Sabres fell even farther behind.