The Stanley Cup Playoffs are here once again and, yeah, the Buffalo Sabres are not in them. It’s been 11 straight seasons without a whiff of the postseason in Western New York and while that’s a bummer, at least there are plenty of guys who used to wear blue (navy and royal!) and gold. Whether you choose to root against them or hope they’re carrying Lord Stanley’s cup at the end is your call to make. Hey, at least Vegas isn’t there, huh, hmm?
We know the main thing to happen is everyone shuts off the TV and ignores the playoffs when their team isn’t involved but let’s be real here: no one is doing that in Buffalo, at least based on the ratings anyhow. Let’s look at each series and where the old friends and Sabres legends are making a run at the Cup.
Florida: Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour, Robert Hagg, Jonas Johansson
Washington: Matt Irwin, Marcus Johansson, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Johan Larsson, Conor Sheary
If you’ve got nothing but nice things to say or think about any Sabres from the past few years, there’s no team you’re pulling for harder than the Florida Panthers.
We all knew Reinhart would be a positive impact player in Florida, but his 33 goals and 82 points (in 78 games) set career highs for the 2014 No. 2 pick and put him third on the Panthers in scoring behind Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. His 33 goals were second-best on the team behind Barkov.
Surprise to no one, Montour has been a great fit in the Panthers scheme under coach Andrew Brunette. His puck-rushing and stronger offensive instincts play well there, and he can be physical too. He’s a decent player who was in Buffalo under the wrong coach. That sounds familiar…
The Capitals also have a bevy of ex-Sabres but the most sympathetic guy is the one that’s going to stir up the most stuff. Johan Larsson went from being a guy fans demanded be in the lineup to demanding he never play again to never wanting him to leave and hope he comes back this summer. What a ride for “Grumpy Larry” and seeing if he can get under the skin of the Panthers in the playoffs should be fun to watch.
Sheary’s Sabres seasons are the likely low point of his career, same for Johansson’s one season in Buffalo. Irwin played half the games last season with Buffalo and if you recall any of them, congratulations. Remember when Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was on the Sabres for a couple of days earlier this season? No? Well, trust me it happened. I think.
Toronto: Colin Blackwell, Wayne Simmonds
Tampa Bay: Zach Bogosian, Brandon Hagel
Listen, the only way you’re watching this series is to see if the Leafs get bounced in the first round again. After all, being able to say the Sabres have won a first-round playoff series (2007) more recently than the Leafs (2004) is a pretty sick burn (of both teams, but shh). Thankfully there aren’t many former Sabres to make you want to watch more of the series.
Only two players actually played games for Buffalo in this series. Wayne Simmonds played seven games for the Sabres in 2020 after he was acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline. It would’ve been cool to keep him around after that, but them’s the breaks.
Zach Bogosian’s Sabres tenure was fraught with pain for everyone. He was part of the blockbuster deal with Winnipeg that also brought Evander Kane to town and he played 243 games over five-and-a-half seasons. He underwent two separate hip surgeries and his time with Buffalo came to an ugly end when he demanded a trade in late 2019, was eventually waived and assigned to Rochester where he didn’t report, and the Sabres ultimately terminated his contract. He then went on to sign with the Lightning and win the Stanley Cup, so it really wound up great for him. Reject authority, win the Cup. Put that on a t-shirt.
Although Blackwell and Hagel never played for the Sabres they do sit as a couple of prime examples of mistakes made by former Jason Botterill. Blackwell played for Rochester and performed well on an AHL contract but wasn’t signed to an NHL deal. Blackwell has established himself as a steady depth forward and a hard worker. While that one stings, what happened with Hagel is worse.
Hagel was a sixth-round pick of the Sabres in 2016 by then GM Tim Murray. When it came time to sign Hagel or let him go free, Botterill opted against signing him. He went on to Chicago where he scored 30 goals in 107 games and was traded to the Lightning at the deadline this year (along with two fourth-round picks) for two prospects and two conditional first-round picks. Whoops.
Boston: Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, Linus Ullmark
There isn’t much reason to pull for anyone in this series and luckily the Hurricanes made it even easier by having zero former Sabres on the roster. Rejoice, Buffalo, your stinging hatred of Cam Ward lives on.
The Bruins are a tale of conflict. Linus Ullmark was one of the more lovable players of recent Sabres history and probably would’ve been a pretty good guy to re-sign last summer. Instead of toughing it out through another season in Buffalo he went to Boston and split the net with Jeremy Swayman and now heads to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. It’s hard to root against him, but wearing black and gold can make even the kindest of hearts grow cold.
Lazar and Hall weren’t Sabres for a long time but how they’re thought of couldn’t be more different. Lazar was a generally likable fourth liner and probably would’ve fit in well with the vibes of the current roster. As for Hall… well, any success he has in Boston is met with sneering disdain after his brief Sabres era was less-than impressive. Anything that could’ve gone wrong in 2020-2021 did.
New York: None
Pittsburgh: Evan Rodrigues, Chad Ruhwedel
The crabby angst between Rangers and Sabres fans going back to last summer when the Eichel rumors really started to kick up made it so angst-filled that there’s little chance Western New Yorkers will have any desire to see the Blueshirts win anything. Fortunately, there are no lovable (or hate-watchable) Sabres in Manhattan.
Why can’t the Sabres find guys like Evan Rodrigues? Oh right, they just trade them away instead. Rodrigues had 19 goals and 43 points for the Penguins this season and turned into a solid scorer when put into a larger role. Going from the outhouse in the Sabres bottom six to the penthouse of playing next to Sidney Crosby did well for the Boston University stand-out.
Ruhwedel is so far gone from his time in Buffalo he’s been on two Stanley Cup winners with Pittsburgh. If you remember him with the Sabres, you’ve really been paying attention to things and should be commended... or committed. Take your pick.
Colorado: J.T. Compher (I guess?)
You should want to watch this series in general because the Avalanche are a lot of fun to watch and they’re under immense pressure to go deep in the playoffs. Everyone loves a stress show. Anyhow, Compher once was a Sabres prospect and he’s stuck with Colorado since Buffalo sent him there in the Ryan O’Reilly trade in 2015. If you’re still banging your head against the wall for including him in the deal, please stop – you’ve damaged the wall and you’re going to pay for that, mister.
Everyone in Buffalo loves the city of Nashville and Sabres fans can enjoy them without having a former Sabre causing personal angst. Grab a hot chicken sandwich and enjoy.
Minnesota: Marcus Foligno, Nicolas Deslauriers, Dmitry Kulikov
St. Louis: Ryan O’Reilly, Marco Scandella
Everyone’s favorite former heartthrob, Marcus Foligno, is still thought of fondly in Buffalo although he’s so long removed from here that it feels like the last time he played for the Sabres was decades ago (it was 2017).
The Wild added Nick Deslauriers from Anaheim because for some reason they felt they weren’t tough enough with Foligno and Jordan Greenway. Kulikov had a terrible time in Buffalo under Dan Bylsma. That season was cursed for him from the get-go after hurting his lower back badly in a preseason game. Now he’s known as the guy the other guy in the draft deal which they moved up in the second round to take Rasmus Asplund.
Can you believe the Blues traded Tage Thompson?! What a bunch of suckers!
I mean, sure, they got Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly who helped bring the Blues their first Stanley Cup since they entered the NHL in 1967, but has he ever scored 38 goals in a season? No! So really, who came out on top of that one? That’s what I thought…
Oh yeah, Marco Scandella is in St. Louis too. Remember when Montreal got a better draft pick from the Blues than the Sabres got from the Canadiens for him? Good times.
Calgary: Nikita Zadorov
Dallas: Andrej Sekera
Remember when a lot of you were cheering for the Stars against Vegas a couple weeks ago? Pepperidge Farm remembers. But now you can say you were doing it because you loved Andrej Sekera and thought he got a raw deal after being traded to Carolina back in 2013. You remember that, right? Totally.
Then again, maybe you’re the kind of fan that thought the Sabres gave up on Nikita Zadorov too soon and including him in the O’Reilly deal to Colorado was a bad move just like adding Compher. Please breathe, it’ll be OK.
Edmonton: Evander Kane, Zack Kassian
Los Angeles: Brendan Lemieux, Cal Petersen
This whole series is going to be played pretty late at night so maybe you just want to skip it entirely.
The Oilers have a couple of guys who had rough times in Buffalo: one of his own makings and the other he’s since gotten help to take care of himself. It’s hard to imagine there’s anyone in Buffalo with warm-fuzzies for Kane and Kassian was traded so long ago it’s basically us knucklehead writers that remind you he was a Sabres first round pick in 2009. Oops, I did it again.
If you’re not looking for Connor McDavid and his bunch to move on, the Kings make it really awkward. Lemieux (allegedly) didn’t want to sign with Buffalo after he was drafted in the second round by the Sabres in 2014 and was included as part of the Kane/Bogosian deal. Lemieux’s career in Winnipeg, New York, and now L.A. has seen some rather, uh, colorful things happen.
The fan base in general is still psychologically damaged by Petersen not signing with Buffalo, a fifth-round pick in 2013, before their rights to him expired and he signed with the Kings. If you think that hasn’t had an effect, the angst about Devon Levi and Erik Portillo should be enough to remind you.
Watching the playoffs is fun and having reasons to root for and against teams helps make it fun. Watching the playoffs with some old grudges? Now that’s the stuff.