Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Sabres world turned upside down

Reprinted with permission from

Connor McDavid. Jack Eichel. Noah Hanifin. Their names invoke a holy trinity-like reverence in the world of hockey fans who are, and have been, looking ahead to the 2015 draft.

At one point early in the season, the Buffalo Sabres were supposedly a shoe-in to finish at the bottom of the league and land one of the draft prizes. Even with the league changing the odds of landing in the top overall pick (McDavid,) the consolation prize (Eichel) was nothing to sneeze at should the last place team lose the lottery. It got to the point where those two were mentioned so often that they've now became synonymous with hitting the jackpot and are simply referred to as "McEichel."

Early on this season it was beginning to look like a harmonic convergence was taking place in Sabreland where everything was to fall into place for the a rebuilding Buffalo franchise. While the Sabres were barreling to bottom of the league eventually assuring the organization of at least one of "McEichel," the lower ranks looked to be developing players in a winning environment.

The main feeder for the future of the Buffalo Sabres is the Rochester Americans. They were coming off of a 2013-14 season which saw them make a decent amount of progress. Even though they lost in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs for the third consecutive year, they took a very strong Chicago Wolves team to the fifth and deciding game before bowing out.

When the Sabres were slogging through an atrocious start, the Amerks busy lighting the lamp and starting the season 6-2. But on come November and fans were witnessing a polar shift as the Sabres were beginning to heat up while the Amerks began to crumble.

With their 4-3 win on Thursday, Buffalo remained hot going 8-3 over their past 11 games including a four-game home winning streak. They're looking like a team that isn't afraid of anybody, especially with goalie Jhonas Enroth doing his best Arturs Irbe, 1994 playoff impersonation. Rochester, on the other hand, just dropped their sixth straight game last night and has plummeted to the bottom of their division, three points from last in the league.

It's a polar shift that has Sabres' fans screaming "Damnation Alley!"

For fans who embraced "the tank," there's gloom and despair as they see one of the "saviors" slipping away while in Rochester, they're asking if anyone got the number of the bus that just ran them over.

To try and keep it all in perspective, though, even if the organization doesn't land a top pick in this draft, it's not all doom and gloom. From 2012-2014 they've stocked the cupboards with quality amidst quantity and one needn't look further than the troika of youngins that have been instrumental in pulling the Sabres out of the sludge. And even as bad as the Amerks are right now, there is plenty of NHL-talent for them to pull out of the muck.

Tonight the Sabres are at home to avenge an earlier loss to the Florida Panthers in South Florida while the Amerks are home vs. the Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL.) This morning I had the opportunity to chill and grab a bite to eat at Mel's Diner in Greece, NY, the hometown of the Sabres' Brian Gionta.

Gionta talked yesterday about the team and how they, as players, never think about anything other than winning. "[Tanking] never crept into this locker room,” Gionta said to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. “Never. Even in training camp, even when we were struggling. That mind-set never set in. Guys in this room right now believe we can be a winning team and that’s where it starts.”

The Sabres are on a bit of a "win at home, lose on the road" kick right now which is the way it should be. During this 11-game hot streak, two of their three losses were on the road (both in Florida,) while six of their eight wins were at home.

The Amerks, though, are in a serious funk, plain and simple. Talent isn't the issue at this point, but coaching might be as Chadd Cassidy seems to be on the hot seat because of this skid.

Will the hockey world right itself in Sabreland soon?

It's highly possible as there's a delicate balance of an opportunistic offense and stellar goaltending fueling the Sabres' winning ways right now. They're winning, but any number of things can easily cause them to stumble.

As for the Amerks, we'll see.

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