Since Terry Pegula has taken over as owner of the Buffalo Sabres, he and his crew have stated the desire to build a first-class organization, one that caters to all of its players needs and earns a reputation as one of the best around the league.
So far, the results have been mixed, with positive efforts like bringing the Amerks back in to the fold and renovating the locker rooms co-existing with front office debacles and last-place finishes. However, yesterday's announcement that the Sabres (and Amerks) will enter into an affiliation with the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL is another step in the right direction for a team that, over the next few years, will try to crawl from the basement all the way up to the penthouse.
The Sabres already have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL according to many people in the know, and with top draft picks in each of the next two drafts and a veritable cornucopia of second and third round picks, their prospect pool will soon grow greater than Buffalo and Rochester can hold. We've already seen come evidence of that this year, with former Amerks like Connor Knapp and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc being sent down to the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL.
Of course, Gwinnett is located down near Atlanta, which made about as much sense as the Sabres sending their prospects to Portland when Rochester was right down the street. With Elmira's location near the NY/PA border, the Sabres have now centralized their entire organization from ECHL to AHL to NHL in Western and Upstate New York. Not only will this make travel easier, but it regionalizes the team, and give the entire organization an identity they can share.
When the Terry Pegula reacquired the Amerks, they dubbed Rochester "Sabres University", and now, with Elmira in the fold, they've added the option to attend Sabres Community College. With so many new players coming in to the system over the next few seasons, this affiliation will give the organization another option to continue to develop their prospects right here in upstate New York. Sabres GM Tim Murray agrees, saying in their press release,
"Proper development is essential in maintaining a competitive roster at the NHL level. Having Elmira as an additional source to develop our young talent will certainly help our entire organization going forward. We’re proud to have the Jackals as part of our organization and, with the Amerks in Rochester, we now have the added bonus of working with minor-league affiliates that are no further than 150 miles from Buffalo."
Hockey Heaven is still a ways away, but the ECHL affiliation with Elmira is another positive step up Jacob's Ladder.