A year ago I did a post advising the Sabres' GM on how to properly Tank in the NHL. Eichel's trade demand had become public (or at least obvious) and it was increasingly clear that there was nowhere for the Sabres to go but down, into the crevasse. And so they did. And much like Alec Baldwin's character in the 30 Rock episode referenced above, the team's descent led to their ultimate success (success measured in VIBEZ) in the 2021-22 season. So how closely did Kyvyyyn hew to my 9-point plan?
- Step 1 was to write a letter to fans explicitly saying that the team messed up previous attempts at roster building, necessitating yet another round of tanking. National media types love the letter to fans. They think it's the height of class and how you Tank The Right Way. Did they do it? No but this is the least important part of a rebuild that only exists to appease the media who already think the franchise is a joke and this wouldn't have changed their minds about that.
- Step 2 was to embrace the Tank. No need to pussyfoot around or pretend you're not tanking. Everyone knows what's going on. Did they do it? They weren't explicit about it but they also didn't pretend they weren't tanking so I'll take it.
- Step 3 was to trade everyone. Did they do it? More or less. They got rid of Eichel, Reinhart, Risto, & Hagg but kept Eakin, Miller, Pysyk & Hinostroza. Eakin sucks and no one would have taken him. Miller was injured until right before the deadline. They should have traded Pysser & Hino but they wouldn't have gotten much in return.
- Step 4 was a warning not to trade for veterans in a vain hope of chasing a playoff spot. Did they do it? They did not. What did they do? See #5.
- Step 5 was a warning not to fill out the roster with ECHL caliber players in the vain hope of chasing Shane Wright. Did they do it? The original Tank team was unwatchable because they were desperately pulling players off waivers and out of the AHL. This season they wised up and signed veterans to cheap, short-term deals. Not great players by any means but bona fide NHL players.
- Step 6 was to weaponize their cap space. Did they do it? Not to the extent I would have liked. They made 2 deals to reach the cap floor but only got a 7th round pick out of it. Sadly, Terry doesn't seem to like the idea of shelling out $$$ to pay guys who aren't on the team, even if you can squeeze some draft picks out of desperate cap-strapped teams.
- Step 7 was a demand not to trade 1st round picks. Did they do it? Not yet but we'll see what happens in the next month. I'm cautiously optimistic though. Make all the picks!
- Step 8 was a bit of encouragement not to give into the pressure from fans, media, or the owners to speed things up by ignoring Steps 4 & 7. Did they do it? Nope. In fact I haven't sensed much pressure at all. Now, things could be different next season. That's the problem with exceeding expectations.
- Step 9 was a request to hire a coach who would play an up-tempo, offense-friendly system and to let the young players learn from their mistakes in the NHL. Did they do it? Yes and no. Donny Meatballs is absolutely the right coach for this group. They play fun hockey, even if they don't win. But they also made a concerted effort to keep the prospects down in Rochester. That worked out well for the Amerks but was that best for the Sabres in the long term? I hope so but I'm not convinced it was.