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What if the Sabres Did Not Draft Gilbert Perreault?

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. 

The first story in this weekly series will take us all the way back to before the Sabres had ever played a game. Buffalo and Vancouver were both issued expansion teams in the same season and therefore were afforded the opportunity to have the first selection in the amateur draft. Because there were two teams there was a spin of the wheel to decide the draft order and Sabres coach and general manager Punch Imlach won the first pick for the Sabres.

Everyone in the league knew that Gilbert Perreault was the obvious first pick and now they knew the Sabres would be the team to make the selection. Perreault wasted no time making his mark in a Sabres uniform. He scored his first NHL game in the Sabres very first game, a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He went on to dazzle the fans throughout his rookie campaign and won the Calder Trophy, given to the best rookie in the NHL.

Perreault, "Gil" as many fans referred to him, went on to have a remarkable career that spanned 17 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before he retired in 1986. He is the franchise leader in almost every category imaginable, including goals (512), assists (814) and points (1326).

GP G A PTS +/-
Gilbert Perreault - career 1191 512 814 1326 42

Career Stats at Hockey Reference

The Sabres knew that Gil couldn't do it alone and they brought in help in the form of line mates Rick Martin and Rene Robert. The three would go on to form one of the most famous lines in NHL history, the French Connection. The three are still referred to as the French Connection and their numbers hang from the rafters at the HSBC Arena with a tribute to the aforementioned French Connection. 

That brings us to our question, What if the Sabres did not win the spin of the wheel and did not have an opportunity to draft Gilbert Perreault?

There is no doubt the Sabres history would be altered dramatically. There would have never been a "French Connection" in Buffalo. The Sabres might not have made it to the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals and Sabres fans would never have been afforded the opportunity to fall in love with a guy that is synonymous with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Vancouver Canucks were the second expansion team that season and they were awarded the second overall pick after losing the wheel spin to the Buffalo Sabres. The Canucks selected defenseman Dale Tallon with the second pick. 

Tallon put up good offensive numbers with the expansion Canucks but he lasted only three seasons in Vancouver before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on May 14, 1973 for Jerry Korab and Gary Smith {note: Korab lasted only half of a season in Vancouver before being dealt to the Sabres on December 27, 1973 for John Gould and Tracy Pratt}. 

Tallon lasted five seasons in Chicago and developed into a complete player while with the Blackhawks. He had 44 goals and 156 points in five seasons with Chicago and he was a minus-13. His play regressed in his final two seasons with Chicago and he was a minus-32, the Blackhawks eventually traded him to Pittsburgh where he layed two more seasons. 

Tallon played a total of 10 seasons in the NHL with three different teams and had 98 goals and 336 points. 

GP G A PTS +/-
Dale Tallon - career 642 98 238 336 -111

Dale Tallon Full Stats at Hockey Reference

The Boston Bruins had the third and fourth selections and they took Reggie Leach with the number three pick and Rick MacLeish with the number four pick. Both players went on to have successful careers but neither spent much time in Boston.

Leach played only 79 games with the Bruins before he was traded to the California Golden Seals during the 1971-1972 season. Leach lasted only two seasons in California before being traded to Philadelphia. Leach scored 384 goals in his career and he had a league high 61 during the 1975-1976 season.

Leach would have probably been a successful pick for Buffalo but he might have required some patience from the Sabres brass. He had only 15 goals and 39 points in his first two NHL seasons. It is likely the Sabres would have traded him away much like the Bruins did if he was the Sabres first round selection in 1970.

GP G A PTS +/-
Reggie Leach - career 934 381 285 666 +123

Reggie Leach Full Stats at Hockey Reference

Rick MacLeish also had a very successful NHL career but it too him a couple of years to become a regular in the NHL. He never dressed for the Bruins who traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers in February of 1971. He scored only three goals in 43 games during his first two seasons. In 1972-1973 he exploded on the scene with 50 goals and 100 points as a 23 year-old Center.

GP G A PTS +/-
Rick MacLeish - career 846 349 410 759 +152

Rick MacLeish Full Stats at Hockey Reference

MacLeish and Leach both had long successful careers with the Philadelphia Flyers and both were part of the 1975 Broad Street Bullies team that beat the Buffalo Sabres in six games for the Stanley Cup. I am having trouble finding box scores for each game but playoff statistics are available here. MacLeish led the team with 11 goals and 20 points during the playoffs and Leach contributed eight goals and 10 points.

It's amazing to think of how much history would have changed if the wheel did not spin the right way for the Sabres that season. There were obviously some talented players available in that draft but none was more talented than the great Gilbert Perreault. Even after writing this I can not even fathom the Sabres without number 11 racing up the ice and firing his patented slap shot or dishing off to Martin or Robert. The Sabres remain without a Stanley Cup after 40 seasons but we still have the great memories of Gilbert Perreault.