It’s been a long and drawn out year for Buffalo Sabres fans.
A season that began with doubt and concern over leadership and the direction of the team, has turned into a year with little doubt and concern about leadership or the course of the franchise.
Bid adieu to former GM Darcy Regier. Hello new GM Tim Murray.
This year has been about the future–not the present–for the Buffalo Sabres. It has been about building a championship franchise for the coming years. To endure “suffering”, as one former Sabres executive so eloquently put. That future, of course, focuses on prospects and draft picks. Yet in a few short months the secret formula for that recipe has drastically changed.
Under Regier’s watch, fans were taught that building a champion involved accumulating draft picks. The more picks you owned, the stronger your position. You could amass top 100 talent with those draft choices, or trade those picks to move up into the top two or three overall selections and grab an instant difference-maker.
Under Regier’s watch, fans were also told that playing younger stars early and often against NHL competition was the fast track to growth despite their vast age differences. This would allow prospects to mature at a more rapid pace and decrease the time it took for that dreaded “S” word.
Oh, how times have changed.
Murray, along with head coach Ted Nolan, immediately put the kibosh on that philosophy. Once Nolan arrived, a majority of the younger prospects were sent down to their respective farm teams. Growth, we were told, doesn’t come from boys playing against men 5-10 years their senior, but rather gaining confidence in a setting that gives them a greater chance for success.
Murray also taught us that young prospects are as important as draft picks. Obtaining a player a year or two into their development gives the franchise a more accurate snapshot of their skill set, and also makes their trek to the Sabres roster a speedier one. This, according to Murray, is the correct way to lessen the time for a rebuild. Not forcing them into situations that they are ill prepared to handle.
Additions such as forwards Nicolas Deslauriers, Hudson Fasching, and William Carrier at this year’s trade deadline have added serious depth to an already growing youth movement that features Zemgus Girgensons, Nicolas Baptiste, JT Compher, and Mikhail Grigorenko.
On defense, the Sabres were able to trade Brayden McNabb due to their depth on the farm in order to strengthen the forward position. In the coming years Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Mark Pysyk are serious contenders to join Tyler Myers as a formidable top four defensive pairing. Prospects Jake McCabe and Anthony Florentino continue to stand out on their junior teams and should challenge for those spots as well.
On the goaltender front, Jhonas Enroth has shined in his role as starter after the departure of Ryan Miller. Recent acquisition Michal Neuvirth has also played well since being obtained from Washington. With both players a mere 25 years old and having already experienced success in the NHL, the Sabres are in a good position to decide if one of them is the answer. Recently called up prospect Nathan Lieuwen has been playing lights out in Rochester, posting a 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage. Prospect Linus Ullmark, 20, is garnering attention in the Swedish Hockey League for MODO with a 2.08 GAA and .931 save percentage this season.
Despite all of the talent in their system, the Sabres are poised to add much more. Recent injuries accompanied by a six game losing streak have all but guaranteed Buffalo the first overall selection in this year’s draft. That pick should provide the team with an instant top six forward next season. They will also have two first-round selections in 2015, which is said to be one of the deepest drafts in recent history. Another struggling year could put the Sabres in a prime position to cash in once again, or at the very least trade up to add another immediate play-maker to the roster.
Murray’s philosophy on player development along with his scouting acumen puts the Sabres in a great position for faster growth through competent leadership. As he has done with other franchises, the Sabres are on the road to finally building a team the right way. Although they are still years away from fully appreciating the fruits of his efforts, it’s all about having a championship franchise that can sustain the long-haul and compete year after year for the Stanley Cup.
Fans have waited 43 years for Lord Stanley to reach the city of Buffalo. If history repeats itself, adding a few more years will be well worth the wait.
Tags: Anthony Florentino Brayden Mcnabb Buffalo Sabres Darcy Regier Hudson Fasching Jake Mccabe Jhonas Enrorth JT Compher Linus Ullmark Mark Pysyk Michal Neuvirth Mikhail Grirorenko Nathan Lieuwen Nicolas Baptiste Nicolas Deslauriers Nikita Zadarov Rasmus Ristolainen Ted Nolan Tim Murray Tyler Myers William Carrier Zemgus Girgensons