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What if Buffalo Did Not Have the Sabres?

The Buffalo Sabres are celebrating their 40th anniversary next season and Die by the Blade will take a look back through the history of the franchise throughout the summer. One of the features will be a weekly feature entitled What If Wednesday. A couple of months ago I read a book entitled "What If the Babe Had Kept His Red Sox?" by Bill Gutman. It inspired me to do this feature with a Buffalo Sabres flavor. 

This is the second installment in the What If Wednesday's feature. It is a feature that is dedicated to the persistence of the Knox brothers in their pursuit of NHL hockey in Buffalo.

It's almost impossible to imagine life without the Buffalo Sabres. They have been a staple in Buffalo for my entire lifetime and I'm guessing that holds true for many of you. We have some readers that might be able to imagine Buffalo without the Sabres, back when the Buffalo Bisons played in the American Hockey League and called The Aud home.

Most of us know life with the Buffalo Sabres but we don't know what Seymour and Norty Knox had to go through to get a team in Buffalo. The Knox brothers first applied for an NHL expansion team in 1965 but they were denied and six other cities were awarded franchises. Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Oakland (yep that's right Oakland) were awarded franchises instead of Buffalo.

It was widely speculated that James Norris, then owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was the reason Buffalo was not awarded a franchise. The reasons why Norris would not want a team in Buffalo were widely speculated but his ties to the arena in St. Louis were likely the biggest cause for the failure to secure a franchise. Norris owned the franchise in St. Louis and they were awarded a franchise although they never actually applied according to this old SI article. Imagine that, the city of Buffalo thinks they are getting a team but are denied while people in St. Louis were surprised to find out the NHL was coming to town.

The Knox brothers were very persistent and they would not give up until they brought hockey to Buffalo. They next tried to lure the California Oakland Seals to Buffalo and they had an agreement in place to do just that. Once again they were denied by the NHL, but once again they did not give up. 

In 1969 the NHL finally awarded an expansion franchise to Buffalo and the Knox brothers. Buffalo and Vancouver were both awarded franchises that would take the ice in 1970, and after a naming contest, the Buffalo Sabres were born.

If the Knox brothers were not so persistent there might not be a NHL hockey team in Buffalo to this day. Buffalo is a strong hockey market but not a strong financial market and it makes you wonder what the outcome would have been if the process was delayed any further. Is it a stretch to think that Buffalo would still have an AHL franchise and no NHL team?

While there is a chance the NHL could have kept Buffalo out forever, it is not likely they would have. Buffalo is a perfect place for professional hockey because the proximity to Ontario, Canada. If the Knox brothers had given up their dream to have hockey in Buffalo, somebody would have come in to pick up the pieces. There would still be hockey in Buffalo and it would be NHL hockey.

Still makes you wonder what it would be like. Luckily we don't have to because Seymour and Norty were persistent in their attempt to bring hockey to Buffalo. Because of their persistence we can talk about the 40 year history of the franchise from Gil Perreault and the French Connection flying down the ice, to the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals that featured an arena full of fog and Jim Lorentz knocking a bat out the air during the game, to famous "Mayday goal", to no goal and the many more memories we have of our beloved Sabres.

If you have any ideas for topics on What if Wednesday's fell free to e-mail me at diebytheblade at gmail dot com