It was almost three years ago to the day when the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres met in Buffalo for the infamous “tank game”. On March 26, 2015, the Coyotes came into the game trailing the Sabres by five points in the race to the bottom of the standings. A regulation win by the Coyotes to stretch the gap to seven points almost guaranteed the Sabres last place.
I’m sure you know what the stakes were and why it was so important to many fans for Buffalo to finish last. Not only would they have the best odds to land superstar Connor McDavid, but if the lottery didn’t go their way they’d get the other superstar Jack Eichel.
Being at the game, it’s one of a few I’ll never forget. Along with the Ottawa brawl game, Zednik game and Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers (Drury game).
Sabres fans taped Coyotes logos over their sweaters and some just wore Coyotes gear they purchased to the game. It was pretty clear the outcome most in the building were rooting for. It even rubbed some of the players, most notably Mike Weber, the wrong way.
I’ll admit I even jumped up when the Coyotes scored their first goal out of instinct. I was able to contain myself the rest of the evening.
Arizona would end up winning the game in overtime off the stick of Sam Gagner and the rest is history. The Sabres would get Jack Eichel after losing the lottery and the Coyotes would pick third selecting Dylan Strome.
Nearly three years later here we are again. It’s like groundhog day. The Sabres are in last place and the Coyotes are chasing them to the bottom in second last. The point difference is a little closer this time around. The Sabres have 58 points going into tonight and Coyotes come in with 59.
The stakes are not nearly as big either. Sure, there’s a big prospect at the top of the draft in Rasmus Dahlin, but no equal level prospect available at number two. Also, the lottery rules are different. The Sabres could end up in last place but fall out of the top three, similar to what happened to the Colorado Avalanche last year.
Tonight’s game is more indicative of how the two clubs have still not figured things out from the game three years ago. The Sabres got their prize in Jack Eichel, but never put the pieces around him to get out of the NHL basement.
For Arizona, they haven’t got what they’ve expected out the third overall pick in the 2015 draft. Strome has played 18 NHL games and has one career goal. Meanwhile, McDavid and Eichel are two of the best young players in the game.
Coincidentally the Coyotes recalled Strome last night from the AHL, so we may see him play his 19th career game tonight.
I don’t expect the same type of crowd we saw that night three years ago. We may see a few fans break out the Coyotes gear again, but not to the same extent it was in 2015.
Both clubs have different management teams than they came into the game three years ago with, but the goals are still the same. Rebuilding teams looking to restore credibility back to their franchises.
Neither team wants to live this type of game again in another three years.