How The Sabres Built The Center Position

Editor' Note: While I would like to take credit for this, this article is all from Krytime, but we had some technical issues and published under my name. 

Like a lot of Sabre fans, I've been thinking about what the Sabres need to do this off season.  I think it's fair enough to say adding a "number one" center is a priority we'd all agree on.  They already have an All-Star goalie, All-Star winger, and a potential Norris candidate...they need a center.

That had me thinking about who the "good" centers were in Sabre history.  And specifically, how they were acquired.  In this particular grouping, "good" is being defined as guys who I remember playing 1st or 2nd line minutes at some point while donning a Sabre jersey.  Here's a list of a few guys I thought of off the top of my head and how they were acquired, in no particular order, and after the jump:

 

Name GP G A PTS PIM Years Here Years Played
Gilbert Perreault 1191 512 814 1326 500 1970-1987 17
Doug Gilmour 82 10 45 55 82 1999-2001 2
Brian Holzinger 352 70 97 167 202 1994-2000 6
Stu Barnes 310 67 105 172 98 1998-2003 5
Mike Peca 363 96 121 217 352 1995-2000 5
Daniel Briere 225 92 138 230 219 2002-2007 4
Derek Plante 395 91 145 236 126 1993-1999 6
John Tucker 345 116 154 270 142 1983-1991 8
Andre Savard 467 130 175 305 221 1976-1983 7
Tim Connolly 464 94 226 320 174 2001-2011 8
Pierre Turgeon 322 122 201 323 119 1987-1992 5
Christian Ruuttu 438 101 230 331 483 1986-1992 6
Derek Roy 469 144 239 383 277 2003-2011 7
Dale Hawerchuk 342 110 275 385 204 1990-1995 5
Pat LaFontaine 268 158 227 385 207 1991-1997 6
Don Luce 766 216 310 526 304 1971-1981 10
Dale McCourt 119 41 57 98 22 1981-1984 3
Brent Peterson 265 43 63 106 180 1981-1985 4
Paul Gaustad 423 64 100 164 515 2002-2011 7
Jochen Hecht 544 129 194 323 298 2002-2011 8
Chris Gratton 244 50 81 131 278 1999-2003 4
Chris Drury 234 85 104 189 130 2003-2007 3

Gilbert Perrault - First pick of the 1970 entry draft.  Overall, I'd say this pick worked out fine.

Doug Gilmour - Per Wikipedia, "Gilmour was traded to the Buffalo Sabres along with left winger J.P. Dumont for forward Michael Grosek in a salary-dump move for Chicago. Gilmour made an immediate impact with the struggling Sabres, which had been Stanley Cup finalists the season before, helping them to make the playoffs. However, Gilmour was felled by a severe stomach flu and could only play in five playoff games. In 2000-01, injuries limited Gilmour's regular season stats but he had a strong playoff performance as the rejuvenated Sabres defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in the Quarterfinal Round of the NHL playoffs. The Sabres were subsequently upset by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a tough second-round series that saw Gilmour play some of his most inspiring playoff hockey since his days in Toronto."

Why don't I remember Gilmour playing "inspired" hockey in that Pittsburgh Series?  I was living in Pittsburgh that year, and still can't get over Game Six.  Buffalo won this trade solely on the addition of Dumont in the deal.  Grosek was a career underachiever, and Gilmour wore out his welcome with Ruff real quick.

Brian Holzinger - Drafted in the six round of the 1991 draft, winning the Hobey Baker award in the 94/95 collegiate season.  Decent player at times, but always left you wanting more.

Stu Barnes - Acquired in a trade for fan favorite Matthew Barnaby in 1999, and quickly became a fan favorite himself.  He was a solid and classy player in his stint here.  Was he at the reunion?  I don't recall.  I do remember practically giving him away to Dallas when the organization was falling apart during the Rigas scandal, and actually feeling good that he had a chance to move away from a mess.  If there is a "Stu Barnes" like player out there right now, I'd take him in a heartbeat.

Mike Peca - Was a key piece in the Mogilny trade to Vancouver, along with Jay McKee and Mike Wilson.  I liked this trade for Buffalo, in spite of Mike Wilson's failures and the contract dispute that Peca went through, ultimately leading to his trade to the Islanders for Pyatt & Connolly.  Like Barnes above, I'd love to have a "Mike Peca" type of guy on the roster for 2011/2012.

Daniel Briere - An absolute heist for Buffalo, acquiring the diminutive center for perennially underachieving

Chris Gratton - There was also a swap of 3rd and 4th round draft picks, which resulted in Buffalo taking Andrej Sekera, while Phoenix took the infamous Roman Tomanek.

Derek Plante - I'd guess you'd call him a "steal" of sorts, considering the production you'd expect from an 8th round pick in the 1989 draft.  Centered the "Kid" line (May-Plante-Audette) which was fun to watch for awhile, but he never really had the tools to be a top notch center.

John Tucker - Almost an afterthought as a 2nd rounder in the 1983 draft when Buffalo had three picks in the top 11 (Barrasso, Creighton, Lacombe), Tucker had a decent career in some pretty lean years in Buffalo in the early/mid 80's.  Had a natural hat trick, four goal, five point game against the Bruins in ‘89 playoffs.  For whatever reason, I associate him and Eugene Marve as mid 80's Buffalo pro athletes who were good, but played on some crappy teams.

Andre Savard - Was a good 2nd/3rd line center behind Perrault for quite a few years.  Signed as a FA in ‘76 from Boston, the Bruins were given Peter McNab as compensation.  Not a very good deal on Buffalo's part, as McNab went on to have a very, very good career.

Tim Connolly - Acquired along with Taylor Pyatt in a trade sending holdout Mike Peca to the Islanders.  To date, Pyatt has 3 more goals than Connolly.

Pierre Turgeon - Drafted with heavy expectations as the number one overall pick of the 1987 draft, much was expected of "Ooh-la-la Pierre."  He put up some fairly good numbers in his relatively short stint in Buffalo, and yet at times was heavily (and deservedly?) criticized.  The guy had an amazingly long NHL career, and topped the coveted 500 goal mark.  Timing is everything, and his in Buffalo was just at the wrong time.  It's easy to say in hindsight, but under a different set of circumstances, he could have had the chance to be a great one.

Christian Ruuttu - Another relative "steal" when it comes to talking about the ‘83 draft, Ruuttu was picked in the 7th round.  He certainly beat out his highly touted counterparts in Lacombe & Creighton, but didn't do much else.

Derek Roy - For some reason, I feel like Roy is too young to be on this list.  Then I realize the years fly by rather quickly, and the next thing you know, he's heading into his 8th season.  Drafted high in the 2nd round in of the 2001 draft, he has put up significant & consistent numbers, along with inconsistent play.  I don't agree that he "matured" last season.  In my opinion, he's in need of the proverbial change of scenery, and is a key asset in any attempts to improve the team through a trade(s), given his cap friendly salary.

Dale Hawerchuk - Holy blockbuster trade.  Trading Housley, Arniel, and Jeff Parker(who?) for one of the sweetest passing centers ever was a win in my book.  The only down side was the swap in picks.  As much as Brad May was/is one of my favorite Sabres of all time, the Jets got Keith Tkachuk as part of the deal.

Pat Lafontaine - Huge, huge, huge trade here.  Buffalo (in my opinion) really didn't give up too much to get Lafontaine.  Turgeon, Krupp, Hogue, and some dude named McIllwain.  While Lafontaine & Co may have failed to deliver a Cup, he did manage to somehow/someway restore a degree of respectability to an organization desperately in need of it.   If I were Pegula and/or Black, I'd be trying to figure out who the next LaFontaine is, trade for him, and then bring back the original in some front office capacity.

Don Luce - Was drafted by the NYR in the 3rd round (14th overall) in the ‘66 draft.  Bounced around until the Sabres acquired him via trade in 1971 from Detroit.  Became one of the NHL's all time best penalty killers.  Great hockey mind.  I wonder what his contact status is with Philly.

Dale McCourt and Brent Peterson were both acquired in the first "blockbuster" trade of my lifetime.  Mike Foligno was also involved in that trade, as Danny Gare, Jim Schoenfeld, and Derek Smith were sent to Detroit.  McCourt didn't turn into the number 1A center Buffalo was hoping for, but Peterson stuck around for a few years, and served as a very good face off guy and solid checking line center.

Paul Gaustad came to Buffalo after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2000 NHL draft.  Very good find for the organization, but should not be playing the role of a top center, a role he's been forced into at times due to varying circumstances.

Jochen Hecht was traded from Edmonton to Buffalo in exchange for two 2nd round draft picks in the 2002 draft (Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers & Jarret Stoll).  Assuming Tim Connolly won't be returning, he's now tied for team tenure with Ryan Miller.

The Chris Gratton trade was a bum deal in my opinion.  Brian Holzinger, Wayne Primeau, and the highly touted (at the time) Cory Sarich were dealt for this enigma.  Gratton had a long career in the NHL, but never lived up to his draft expectations.

The Sabres acquired center Chris Drury in a four-player, three- team trade involving the Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche.  The Sabres traded defenseman Rhett Warrener & center Steve Reinprecht, acquired from Colorado. Buffalo also acquired center Steve Begin from Calgary.  In the deal for Reinprecht, the Sabres traded defenseman Keith Ballard (their first-round pick in the 2002 draft) to Colorado.

So what does this all mean?  Nothing actually.  History might repeat itself, but it's not predictable by any means.  Maybe it shows how rare it is to get a genuine number one franchise center, and if you do get one, you might not have him for long.

Sometimes you can land a decent guy with a late round pick, and other times you might whiff on a higher pick (Zagrpan, Novotny, Kryukov, etc.).  Sometimes you can win a trade, and then sometimes you lose one.  Either way, this organization's quest for a bona fide center is going to be interesting ...

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