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Sabre Captains

I wrote this after thinking about the Sabres need for a center.  From there it got me thinking about how they got some of those players, seeing as they’re going to have to acquire another one soon (and hopefully better than most of those).  
Another obvious need for the Sabres is to settle on a captain.  Whether or not that guy is currently in the organization remains to be seen.  What is important (in my opinion) is that someone wears the “C” next season.  I don’t want to see another year with all “A’s” or a rotation of the captaincy.

With a little help from wiki, here’s a look at previous captains…after the jump.

Floyd Smith, 1970–71 Rotating captains, 2003–04
Gerry Meehan, 1971–74 – Miroslav Satan, October 2003
Jim Schoenfeld, 1974–77 – Chris Drury, November 2003
Danny Gare, 1977–81 – James Patrick, December 2003
Gilbert Perreault, 1981–86 – Jean-Pierre Dumont, January 2004
Lindy Ruff, 1986–89 – Daniel Briere, February 2004
Mike Foligno, 1989–90 – Chris Drury, March & April 2004
No captain, 1990–91 No captain, 2004–05 (Lockout)
Pat LaFontaine, 1992–97 Daniel Briere & Chris Drury, 2005–07
– Alexander Mogilny, 1993–94 Rotating captains, 2007–08
(while LaFontaine was injured) – Jochen Hecht, October 2007
Michael Peca, 1997–2000 – Toni Lydman, November 2007
No captain, 2000–01 – Brian Campbell, December 2007
Stu Barnes, 2001–03 – Jaroslav Spacek, January 2008
– Jochen Hecht, February 2008
Jason Pominville, March & April 2008
Craig Rivet, 2008–11

It seems natural to assume that Gilbert Perrault was the first captain of the Sabres, given his moniker as “The Original Sabre.”  And I’d wager a lot of folks would assume it too.  Floyd Smith would have issues with that, as he was the first captain in Sabre history.  He surely wasn’t a point machine by any means, but he must have had a good knowledge of the game, as he served a stint as intern coach in the Sabres 2nd season after Punch Imlach’s heart attack prevented him from coaching further.  Eventually coached the Sabres for three seasons which included the organization’s first ever trip to the Stanley Cup finals.  You can also see a nice write up of him by BBFan4Ever right here.

Gerry Meehan was the next captain for Buffalo. From the Sabres alumni site, “Centre Gerry Meehan was a fine scorer and playmaker who could also check effectively…He finally received a chance to prove himself after the Buffalo Sabres picked him in the 1970 Expansion Draft. Meehan scored 94 goals in four seasons with the club and was captain for three years.”

Wiki says “In 1984, the team made Meehan the first former Sabre to serve in a front-office position, as assistant general manager under Bowman. During the 1986–87 season, Bowman stepped down, and Meehan was promoted to general manager. With the departures of Bowman and superstar Gilbert Perreault, the Sabres finished the season in last place overall that year, but rebounded the next year as NHL’s most improved team, with a record of 37–32–11 – and 21 points higher in the standings.

After recording the album entitled “Schony” and getting drafted in the 1st round of the ‘72 draft, Jim Schoenfeld proceeded to become the Sabres third team captain, and held on to it for three seasons.  He was the classic “enforcer” captain.  If you don’t believe that, just watch this.  Also continued a pattern of ex-Sabre captains joining either the coaching or front office ranks, coaching the team for 43 games in the 85/86 season before getting canned by the guy who previously traded him.  What I don’t remember I would like to know, is how/why Schoenfeld lost the captaincy to…

Danny Gare, who put up almost a point a game along with 1.36 PIM per game over eight seasons in Buffalo.  Second round draft pick if memory serves me correctly.  Absolutely fearless player who cut his teeth skating on a checking line with Luce & Ramsey (talk about getting an education on two way play).  One of my favorite all time players.  Gerbe & Ennis should be watching highlights of this guy.  Scratch that – every Sabre should be watching highlights of this guy.

After the blockbuster Buffalo/Detroit trade, Gilbert Perreault assumed the captaincy.  While this might seem sacrilegious to some…he wasn’t a good captain.  His best years were behind him, and the team was in the midst of change.  They went through this phase of seemingly constant under-achievement, getting bounced out of the playoffs in the first or second round year after year.  Bert was a great player…just not a great leader.  I think his retirement revealed some of that too.

Lindy Ruff followed Perreault here.  While Ruff did a decent job (meh?), this organization was still mired in mediocrity, losing in the first round three years in a row.   His blowout with Ted Sator led to…

Mike Foligno captaining the team for the 89/90 season.  Dude spent parts of ten years here, and it’s a shame he wasn’t captain for more than one of them.  Respected player (aside from that stupid ‘jump’ thing) who scored at nearly .8 points per game, AND put up almost 2.2 PIM per game.  Played for the Sabres in an era where they…just stunk sometimes.  Like Danny Gare, this was a fearless player who played the game the right way.  Hopefully, his son Marcus can successfully follow in the footsteps of the old man.

Next up is a season (90/91) that quite frankly…I just don’t remember well.  The Buffalo Bills were the talk of the town, and the Sabres seemed to take a back seat.  Housley was traded for Hawerchuk before the season started, and team captain Foligno was traded for Lou Franceschetti (yuch) thirty some games into the season.  The captain role (to my knowledge) was left unfulfilled for the first time in team history.  The team started out slowly that season, and for the life of me, I can’t remember what Foligno did to land in Dudley’s “chateau bow wow.”

Mike Ramsey was named captain at the beginning of the 91/92 season.  If you didn’t like Mike Ramsey, you didn’t like the Sabres or USA hockey.  Dude was all class, and was solid yet very unspectacular.  If blocked shots were a stat in his era, he might have been the all time leader in that category.  A first round pick (11th overall) in 1979, and was an important defensemen on the “Miracle On Ice” team.  What I don’t remember (or am too lazy to look up) is whether or not he finished the season as captain, or handed it off to Pat Lafontaine upon his arrival.

Lafontaine was/is one of my favorite Sabre captains, despite the lack of success the team endured during his relatively short reign.  He played the game the right way, and in my book, resurrected some credibility for the organization in his short stint here.  His charitable works are legendary in the annals of the modern professional athlete.  If there is one guy I’m hoping Pegula “brings” back in any capacity, I hope it’s this one.
There was a little “blip” in the Lafontaine era when it comes to guys wearing the “C.”  While Patty was suffering from injury, Alexander Mogilny served as captain during the  1993-1994 season.  Alex put up some great numbers at times, and was obviously a human highlight reel.  With that said, he may have been my least favorite captain of all time.

Following the trade of Pat Lafontaine to the New York Rangers for a 2nd round draft pick (Andrew Peters), Michael Peca assumed the captaincy. Having won the Selke Trophy the previous season (joining Craig Ramsey as the only other Sabre to win the award), Peca was coming into his own as a player and a leader. Despite weighing about 180 pounds, Peca was known throughout the league for his checking ability and fearless style of play. He even managed to kick in a little offensively, coming close or hitting the twenty goal mark in four of his five years on the ice here, often while playing with journeymen like Jason Dawe & Dixon Ward. Another one of my favorite captains and a guy I’d like to bring back in some fashion, his tenure ended after an ugly contract dispute in which he held out for the 2000/01 season and subsequently forced a trade to the Islanders.

The 2001/02 season featured Stu Barnes (acquired in ‘99 trade for Matthew Barnaby) as captain of the team. Barnes took over a team in the middle of significant & controversial changes, as the organization traded both Mike Peca & Dominik Hasek prior to the season. He was a very multi-talented player, capable of playing in all situations, and was a class act on and off the ice. Mercifully, he was traded to the Dallas Stars in the wake of the Rigas scandal in 2003.

2003/04 featured a new look as far as team captains go, as the Sabres rotated the “C” on a monthly basis.  I hated this move, but understood it.  The team had taken quite a few punches the past few seasons, and it was just tough to keep kicking them while they were down.  Although they missed the playoffs, they did play well down the stretch, and gave us a glimmer of hope.  The season started out with Miroslav Satan (acquired from Edmonton in 1997 for Craig Millar & Barrie Moore) leading the way.  He’s second to Mogilny in my ‘least favorite’ captain rankings.  Chris Drury followed up in November, James Patrick (signed with the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent) in December, J.P Dumont (acquired in 2000 with Doug Gilmour for Michal Grosek) got the nod in January, Daniel Briere had February, and Drury closed it out from there.  In my opinion, Drury should have just been given the “C” from here on.

Following the lockout, Buffalo entered the 2005/06 season with Chris Drury & Daniel Briere as co-captains.  This seemed to work rather well, as the two led Buffalo in a run that captivated the city and it’s fans.  Still, I personally would rather have had one guy getting the “C”.

After the debacle that ensued on July 1st, 2007, Buffalo entered the season with a rotating captaincy again.  Jochen Hecht, Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell (3rd on my worst captain list), Jaroslav Spacek, and Jason Pominville carried out the duties.  This team barely missed the playoffs, and I hang it on Darcy & Co. for not filling the void of losing two ‘captains’.  Nothing against these guys – but none of them were/are really captain material.  Good players?  Yes.  Captains?  No.

Craig Rivet was brought in through a trade with San Jose for two 2nd round picks (William Wrenn and Mark Alt ).   Often injured, Rivet’s skills seemed to diminish rather quickly once he arrived in Buffalo.  In addition, rumors persisted that he was not happy to be headed to Buffalo, having spent a good chunk of change on a new house in California before the deal.  All things considered, you have to look at Rivet’s time here as a captain as a “fail.”  Surely, ten million dollars and two 2nd round draft picks should have netted you a better overall performance than what Rivet provided.

Next up?  Who knows.  I often wonder if the captaincy is actually decided by the players, or the coach.  It seems to me it’s a little bit of both.  Vanek & Myers are two of the names bandied about as of now.  I love the way Vanek has grown up, but I’m still not entirely sold on him leading the team.  I do think Myers has captain written all over him, but I think he’s still a year or two away from that, and thrusting that responsibility on him at such a young age may actually hinder his game.  
The web says Lindy loves Hecht in that role; I like Hecht, but not like that.  Pominville is a good alternate captain – nothing more, nothing less.  Roy or Stafford…no thank you.  I see a little something in Gerbe & Weber, but not enough, unless of course, they really, really improve.  
If beggars can be choosers, I’d prefer the next Sabre captain exhibit many of the traits as some of my favorite Sabre captains, as well as play the center spot.  The question then remains, who is that guy, and how do you get him?