Time for Buffalo Sabres To Up The Ante On Tank


Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers have swapped forwards with the Pittsburgh Penguins. David Perron heads southeast to Pennsylvania, while Rob Klinkhammer and the Penguins 2015 first round draft pick are going northwest to Alberta. With this maneuver, it has come time for the Buffalo Sabres to up the ante on this season’s tank job.

The anti-tank factions are vociferous, as is their right; it’s just that they’re wrong.

Nearly everything personnel-wise that the Sabres have been doing since they dealt Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild in 2013 has been leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft. Yes, they’ve stockpiled numerous picks while drafting great prospects of late; but they’ve always kept their eyes on the McEichel prize.

And now they’re about to be undercut at the last second by a team that can’t get out of its own way, despite having had approximately four thousand #1 draft picks in recent years. It just goes to show that careful planning cannot top organic ineptitude.

The wheels haven’t yet fully come off the tank plan, but they’re starting to wobble. The Islanders first round pick, which Buffalo owns, was at one time thought to be another near-guaranteed lottery ticket in the McEichel Sweepstakes. It’s now fairly clear that, just like the Blues’ top choice that is also Sabres property, it’ll be nowhere near the NHL’s most important raffle.

So all that’s left to Buffalo is its own pick. And it reminds me of that old saying: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Obviously the players would never tank; nor should they. Several are now receiving time at the NHL level that they normally would not have; time they can use to show other clubs what they’ve got on the big stage for when they’re soon shown the door.

A few veterans are just passing through on their way to points elsewhere either soon, or at the March trade deadline.

And this season will be a distant memory to the young stars who are getting the chance to grow their game under the least amount of pressure possible. All of these players in all of these categories will be fine going forward.

No, tanking is management’s job. And both Edmonton and Carolina are not and will not make it easy. Both have a nice lead on Buffalo in the race to the bottom, with absolutely zero incentive to do anything about it. Why should they?

And now Edmonton has fired another shot across the Sabres’ bow with this trade today. It’s almost inconceivable that the Oilers could receive yet another #1 overall choice to squander, but those are the rules.

Edmonton also has something(s) else to fall back on if they fail again that the Sabres don’t: 4 Stanley Cups. In its 45 years of existence, Buffalo has yet to claim even one. Their consistent on-ice mediocrity has cost them dearly in past drafts.

This time though, they’re primed. With a slew of young top prospects including Canada’s current wunderkind Sam Reinhart, a superstar like Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel is just what they need to pull it all together. Either of them is of a caliber to instantly make Buffalo a destination for free-agent wingers, and they’ll be growing together at the same time with all of the aforementioned numerous quality players Buffalo already has out on the farm.

Getting one or the other could very well ensure Buffalo Sabres NHL dominance for a decade.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now. Just like trading, free-agent signings, line-matching, call-ups, front office shake-ups and et cetera, tanking is a strategy; a legitimate strategy. And as with the others, there’s still a risk. The lottery guarantees no more of the Eddie Johnston-Pittsburgh Penguins-esque Mario Lemieux shenanigans of 1984.

But with so much for the franchise at stake, it’s time for General Manager Tim Murray to push all of his cards to the table. When healthy again, trade Tyler Myers. Trade Chris Stewart and Drew Stafford. Trade one of your goalies. In fact, instruct head coach Ted Nolan to bench them both and play 6-on-5 with an empty net for 60 minutes. (Okay, yeah; while allowed, that’s unlikely.)

Yes, 2015 is a draft with depth. But while the majority of it is far-end-of-the-pool deep, the top two slots are Mariana Trench deep. The Sabres need to do whatever they have to to get themselves as close as possible to drafting in one of those slots next June in Florida.

If they can do that, the short and long-term reward for Buffalo would be enormous.