We're weeks away from the beginning of the season, and while we have a pretty good idea how the year will go, today we'll give you a chance to indulge yourself with some nostalgia. Pretty straightforward question - "What one move in Buffalo Sabres' history would you go back and undo, and what would you do instead at that moment?"
There is plenty of scope to let your mind wander, so we'll limit these to moves made by the Sabres' ownership/front office/management group. These could be roster decisions, coaching choices, free agency signings (and not-signings!), gameday selections, draft day pickups, trades made, stadium-related issues, and even team uniform decisions. For the purposes of this exercise, we can't change plays on the ice, but any decision made by a person in charge is fair game.
As a younger guy, my undo moments both come from the last decade - the two obvious choices here are Drury/Briere and the third jersey debacle. I'll take Drury/Briere here.
During the summer of 2007, the Buffalo Sabres were coming off of two amazing seasons filled with deep playoff runs, President's Trophies, and game after game of exciting hockey. It was a style we hadn't seen in Buffalo since the days of LaFontaine-Mogilny, and it re-energized a fan base that had drifted away during the 2004 lockout. It was, as we would come to know it in modern times, the Glory Days of Sabres hockey.
All of that came crashing down, however, on July 1, 2007. During that free agency period, Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left the Sabres for bigger paydays elsewhere, and the Sabres would never be the same. Drury and Briere were the heart and soul of those teams, not to mention two of the biggest point producers that helped to push youngsters such as Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek into more manageable third line roles.
The obvious thing to do would be to re-sign them both, but we know thanks to hindsight that the re-signing option wasn't really possible under Tom Golisano's budgetary restrictions. With that in mind, I wish the team had gone after Briere rather than Drury, and earlier to boot. Keeping one of those players could have extended Buffalo's playoff run for another two or three years, and given the Sabres a chance to compete for a Cup through 2010. However, Buffalo lost too many players to free agency or retirement to keep their juggernaut status, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As for the third jersey, just burn them. Burn them all.
I'll take you back to the same era too. It was the playoffs of 2005-06, the first one after the lockout. The Sabres were one of the teams that benefited greatly from the rule changes that eliminated the defensive clutching and grabbing that had bogged the game down. In the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Buffalo had come up against a strong Ottawa Senators team and had blown them away, with Jason Pominville scoring one of the most memorable Sabres playoff goals of all time, shorthanded and in overtime no less.
Another unsung hero in that series was defenseman Jay McKee, who was seemingly indestructible, blocking shot after shot in front of goalie Ryan Miller. In that game in Ottawa, one of the shots that McKee blocked caught him right on the shin, causing a small cut. Right after that game is where I choose my 'undo' moment. Just a couple of dabs of some antiseptic and a Band-Aid over the cut. A fix that would cost only a couple of dollars, but would have the butterfly effect of changing the face of a franchise to the tune of millions of dollars.
With that simple remedy, McKee would have played even better than he continued to do in the Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes, where he led the team in checks and blocked shots. Even if Carolina had taken Buffalo to Game Seven, McKee would not have missed the game with a severe infection of that cut. Nathan Paetsch would not have made his Sabres debut in that pivotal game. The injury-ravaged Sabres would have had one more veteran on the ice in the third quarter when they let a lead slip, to lose the series. A mediocre Edmonton Oilers team would have been swept aside in the Stanley Cup Finals and Buffalo would celebrate it's first Cup win.
As the saying goes, the monkey would have been flung off the franchise's back. Success would have bred more success as Lindy Ruff would have been able to attract more talent to Buffalo. A stronger squad would have then not succumbed to Ottawa in the 2006-07 Conference Finals, and possibly a second successive Cup would have been paraded through the streets of Buffalo. Who knows, right?
Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section below on where in Sabres history you'd have liked to hit Ctrl-Z to undo and make a different decision for the front office.