It’s become cliche at this point to call 2016 a bad year, but for the Buffalo Sabres organization, there were some good memories to go along with the bad. As the calendar turns to January, let’s take a look back at the best and worst Sabres moments of 2016.
Best: Jack Eichel continues to be good
As with all things Sabres, we’ve gotta start with Jack Eichel. He’s had many highlight-reel goals in his first year and a half in blue and gold, but this one from mid-March is a great reminder of his combination of speed, power, and scoring sense. Even after watching the slow motion replays, I’m still not sure how he did it.
Worst: Eichel getting injured the day before the season opener
Possibly the worst moment of the year for many Sabres fans was hearing back on October 12th that Jack Eichel would miss weeks of the season after suffering a high ankle sprain in practice. Even though the Sabres have suffered numerous serious injuries this season, Eichel’s was by far the most devastating, both to the product on the ice and the morale of fans.
Best: Hosting the 2016 NHL Draft
For a few days in June, the entire hockey world came to Buffalo, and boy was it a lot of fun. From hearing rowdy fans in the arena, to seeing all the players and their families react to being drafted, to frantically googling names like Vojtech Budik, it was a whirlwind weekend that the franchise pulled off with aplomb.
Now can we talk about getting Uber...
Worst: Evander Kane’s off-ice troubles
In the same weekend that had everyone in Buffalo excited to show off the best of the city, Kane unfortunately reflected the worst. Kane has been involved in two legal issues involving women since being traded to the Sabres, and has taken both his trade value and his popularity in Buffalo close to zero.
Best: RJ Cam
I don’t know who came up with the idea of sticking a camera in the press box, but for one moment at the tail-end of overtime against Carolina, the gimmick worked to perfection. Everything about the reaction to Eichel’s last-second goal is perfect, from Jeanneret looking up to the heavens in a gesture of thanks, to Rob Ray flipping his pen in the air to the random arena employee shaking his head in disbelief. Oh, and the goal itself was pretty good, too.
Worst: The way the Sabres continue to present themselves to fans
This is kind of a nebulous way to touch on a bunch of things that the Sabres have been doing poorly for years and aren’t getting better. To start, the team’s Twitter account too often forgoes clear information and news to bring us pictures of kids in jerseys and #EichSnipe emoji nonsense that helps with #engagement.
Their game presentation at KeyBank Center continues to be one of the most boring, uninspired presentations around, despite minor improvements. The fact that the “Let’s all laugh at this guy who’s not paying attention cam” is a highlight of the night speaks volumes. The organization has also continued its confusing war against giveaways and theme nights, leaving the product on the ice (often bad) and the game presentation (always bad) as the only reasons to show up to the Key.
I know Buffalo fans are supposed to the best fans in the NHL and we don’t need that extra stuff and whatnot, but the classy, dignified approach is a lot harder to pull off when you’re in last place every year.
Best: Getting the 2018 World Juniors, and hosting an outdoor game
One of the things the Pegulas have done best since purchasing the Sabres has been bringing marquee hockey events to Buffalo, and their latest get might be their biggest one yet, at least in terms of international appeal. The World Juniors, currently going on right now in Canada, will be coming to Buffalo next year, and the annual USA vs. Canada game will be hosted outside at New Era Field.
The always-exciting tournament should bring in plenty of fans, players, scouts, and GMs, giving Buffalo another chance to show the hockey world what we’re all about. And since there’s going to be a perfectly good rink on a football field already, seems like a shame not to put it to use a few days later...
Worst: Losing out on more big fish
From losing free agents year after year to big names like Mike Babcock spurning the Sabres, the organization has long been a franchise viewed as a place people leave, not come to, and this offseason was no exception. Steven Stamkos and Jimmy Vesey both had their own flirtations with Buffalo this summer, and both ultimately decided to go somewhere else. Signing Kyle Okposo, the second biggest fish in free agency, dulls the pain of this one a bit, but once again the Sabres failed to reel in the truly big fish.
What were your best and worst moments of the year? See any that we missed? Head down to the comments to let us know.