There is a lot of ill-will surrounding the last decade of Buffalo Sabres hockey. A perpetual cycle of tanks and rebuilds, coaching changes and management mis-fires has fans frothing at the mouth for the type of consistent success that ends with a playoff appearance. The rabid fervor is justifiable - few hockey markets have suffered like this for as long as Buffalo has.
It’s easy to pinpoint a lot of the things that have gone wrong over this dark time, but the truth is that it hasn’t been all bad. In that time, Buffalo has iced some good, fun players. This is a look back at some of the bright spots in that time - The All-Tank Team.
Goaltender: Ryan Miller
It seems like an eternity, but Miller was a part of this team only five years ago. He tended the Buffalo net for almost ten seasons, and since he left in 2014, over a dozen goalies have tried (and failed) to replace him in the minds of fans.
His last few years in Buffalo were marred by a poor record, so it may be hard to believe that in his last 40 games as a Sabre, the American native posted a 13.58 goals saved above average. It’s a ludicrous stat, and that alone puts him above the cut.
Defense: Tyler Myers & Rasmus Dahlin
This was tough. In these long-suffered seasons, defense has been the dullest weapon Buffalo could wield. In that time, though, a few blueliners have had some spectacular seasons.
Tyler Myers’ sophomore season was a glimmering star in a field of black. Over 50% for both corsi and fenwick, and career highs in relative stats. He scored fewer points than in his rookie season, but it gave fans confidence that he was growing as emerging as a better defender.
Unfortunately, this success wasn’t sustainable, but the season deserves a mention.
Another young stud defenseman played a similar role for Buffalo. One doesn’t have to think too hard to remember Rasmus Dahlin’s rookie season. Fourth on the team in points(44); fifth in shots(177). He led the Sabres in defensive point share(3.4), and led defenders in total point share(6.6) - Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner were the only skaters with a higher rating.
Is it early in his career? Absolutely. Was it impressive for the teenager to make such an indelible mark? Astounding.
Forwards: Thomas Vanek, Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville
A few of Buffalo’s favorite things: Wings. Blue Cheese. Hating on ranch. Reminiscing about players past. Maybe the last more than the other three combined. Which makes this part the most fun.
Remember when Thomas Vanek was one of the most prolific scorers in the league? He had a reputation for being lazy, but advanced stats show he was above average as a two-way player. And his 134 points over two seasons served as the team high in the drought era until this year. His single season 73 in 2010-11 was tied with Pomminville for the high; again, until this season.
In the end, Vanek couldn’t keep the pace and Buffalo moved on from him. Unfortunate, but inevitable in today’s market.
Pominville was Vanek’s partner in crime. The yin to Vanek’s yan. After a successful season together in Rochester, the pair was reunited in Buffalo and continued to light the lamp, arguable as well as any duo in Buffalo history.
Their points totals were impressive, and stood as the team’s pinnacle for the better part of a decade, until Eichel crested 80 this season, finishing with 82. That put him at 146 over two years, again besting Vanek and Pomminville. There are those who think that there are parts of Eichel’s game that are up for debate, and they may be correct. The fact is that he was a part of 13.6% of Buffalo’s points - the best by far in a very long time. As dismal as things have been, Eichel has had a hand in almost every good play since he came to the team - especially in the last few years.
It will be interesting to see what transpires in the coming years. General manager Jason Botterill is on the hot seat, and needs to make the moves to get the teams in the playoffs this year. The fact that Buffalo has gone nearly 10 seasons without a player that broke 70 points says a lot about the team, and where it has finished.
Who’s on your Tank Team?