What If? Buffalo Sabres NHL22 Edition

What if former Sabres players were suddenly brought back to Buffalo?

The Buffalo Sabres have made a lot of trades in their day, like any other hockey team, to “improve” their team for the future. Some of these trades were an instant success, while others crashed and burned in epic proportions. While the trades themselves are fascinating, what would happen if they never happened? How would teams look now? Could we see superstars on different teams? These questions can all be answered by one simple question…what if?

Some former Sabres, like Robin Lehner and Ryan O’Reilly, are key pieces to their new team; others like Jack Eichel are recovering from injuries, and some like CJ Smith are role players fighting for their spot in the NHL.

This experiment came to light while watching a Sabres game one night, wondering just how many ex-Sabres are around the NHL still, and after a lengthy search on CapFriendly, it can be seen that there are 51 in total either in the NHL, AHL, or on injured reserve. Those 51 players can be found across 29 teams. The only teams not included are San Jose, the New York Rangers, and the New York Islanders. The complete list of those players can be found here: Sabres Around the League.pdf

This list comprises any NHLer who donned the blue and gold in some capacity. Some were drafted and never played a game for the team in the regular season, while others were acquired through trade or free agency.

Now let’s take this a step further.

What if it was possible to create an NHL team from this ragtag group of players and put them out on the ice? While it’s never going to happen in real life, it can happen in a video game.

Using NHL 22 and a lot of spare time, the “All-Time Sabres” were born. This team is comprised of 29 former Sabres with at least one from each team possible, while staying under the current NHL salary cap. Along with them, included is one current Buffalo Sabre under the age of 25: Dylan Cozens. The final roster and lines can be found here: All-Time Sabres Final Roster.pdf and below:

Forwards: Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, Marcus Foligno, Dylan Cozens, Wayne Simmonds, JT Compher, Joel Armia, Conor Sheary, Tyler Ennis, Jimmy Vesey, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, Nathan Gerbe, CJ Smith, Kyle Criscuolo, Seth Griffith

Defense: Rasmus Ristolainen, Tyler Myers, Brandon Montour, Jake McCabe, Nikita Zadorov, Brendan Guhle, Andrej Sekera, Nathan Beaulieu, Zach Bogosian, Matt Tennyson, Will Borgen

Goalies: Robin Lehner, Linus Ullmark

While video games are not real life, this does give us a decent look at how well this team could perform on the ice. With 16 former Sabres draft picks, eight of whom are first-round picks, this team is rated at an overall of 87 in the game. The current Buffalo Sabres are rated at an 81.

To put this team to the test, it was time to send them through a simulated season in place of the current Buffalo Sabres to see how they fared against the NHL’s finest. This schedule they were put through is the current season’s schedule.

The results of this season were quite interesting. The “All-Time Sabres” had a regular-season record of 41-30-11 with 93 points, good enough for 3rd place in the Atlantic, 4th in the Eastern Conference, and 11th overall in the league.

The top five scorers for the team were Jack Eichel with 83 points, Ryan O’Reilly with 80 points, Dylan Cozens with 57 points, Sam Reinhart with 46 points, and Wayne Simmonds with 43 points. Eichel also finished top 5 in points in the league. Robin Lehner was the starter in net with a record of 31-23-7 with four shutouts, and Linus Ullmark tallied a record of 9-7-4 with three shutouts.

The major thing to notice out of all that is that this team made the playoffs, something the real Sabres haven’t been able to do for 10, going on 11, years. It was none other than the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round for this Sabres team who would ultimately spoil the fun in game seven in overtime to knock the “All-Timers” out in the first round. While they did battle back in from a 3-0 deficit, they couldn’t hold on, and the dream was over.

Some other interesting things that happened in this simulation around the league.

The Stanley Cup Final shaped out to be Carolina versus Colorado with a victory for the Hurricanes, and the President’s Trophy was presented to the Colorado Avalanche. Connor McDavid would win four player awards, the Art Ross, The Hart, The Lady Byng, and The Ted Lindsay. However, the Oilers would still lose in the first round.

Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina, Trevor Zegras would win the Calder, and Alex Ovechkin would continue his quest to 894 goals by winning another Rocket Richard trophy.

Overall this experiment was fun, engaging, and a good way to spend a snowy afternoon. While it isn’t probable that these 30 players would all be on the Sabres at the same time, it’s still interesting to see all the talent that has come through here over the past 10 to 15 years. Maybe someday soon, the real Buffalo Sabres will be able to accomplish what the “All-Time Sabres” did and go on the quest for the Cup.