Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Prime years: 2008, A seismec shift, poor season, solid draft

Reprinted with permission from

The 2008 NHL Draft for Buffalo was marked by and important draft-day trade that would finally net the Buffalo Sabres a bonafide top-level player. It was a move that involved tenacity on the part of their head amateur scout, a willing trade partner in the Los Angeles Kings and a little luck in that the Kings, holders of the 12th overall pick and the Sabres, who were one slot behind, were not after the same player.

Buffalo went into that draft after enduring a tumultuous 2007 off season that began with the departures of their top two centers and team leaders in Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. And in a kick to the groin while they were lying on the street beat up and bloody, 43-goal scorer Thomas Vanek signed an offer sheet from the Edmonton Oilers. The Sabres would match the 7 yr./$50M sheet with GM Darcy Regier proclaiming, "We aren't going to become a farm team for the other NHL teams."

That bold proclamation wouldn't last as they farmed out one more player--defenseman Brian Campbell. Campbell had blossomed into a offensive force and two-time All-star since being selected in the 6th round (156th overall) of the 1997 draft, Regier's first draft as Sabres GM. He was also a casualty of the success of the previous two seasons.

Like Drury, Briere and Vanek before him, "Soupy" was headed for a new contract with the Buffalo Sabres who, after only two years of NHL "cost certainty" were now operating on an internal budget. The NHL salary cap had risen from $39 million to $50.3 million (a 28% increase) over those two years and in order to keep the game affordable for the fans, the Sabres now were operating under a "just break even" edict from ownership. After doling out $10 million for the first year of Vanek's new contract, while looking at another $40 million over the six remaining years, the huge contract Campbell would surely be getting just wouldn't fit into Buffalo's financial structure.

Talks had been ongoing throughout the 2007-08 season, but they never got serious, and on February 26, 2008, Campbell was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Steve Bernier (2003, 16th) and a 2008 first round pick. It was a rather paltry return due in part to a sub-par season from Campbell, as contract negotiations bogged him down, plus Regier dealing from a position of weakness.

The Sabres would now be heading into the 2008 NHL Draft in Ottawa, Ontario armed with two first rounders (Nos. 13 and 26) as well as six other picks and as the draft unfolded head amateur scout Kevin Devine was watching a player the scouting department really liked fall to within their reach. Both the Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings were looking at drafting a defenseman and there were two prospects right there for them.

From Rich Hammond's inside the Kings blog from June 20th, the night of the draft:
"The Kings, eyeing defenseman Colten Teubert, thought they could move down from the No. 12 spot and still get Teubert. They had a deal in place, with an unnamed team, to move down two or three spots but Buffalo, which held the No. 13 pick, was nervous about missing out on its targeted player. The Kings and Sabres talked, and the Kings agreed to trade the No. 12 pick for Buffalo’s No. 13 pick, plus a third-round pick in 2009, UNLESS the Kings and Sabres coveted the same player.

How did they resolve this? Each GM got out pen and paper and wrote down which player he wanted to draft. They agreed to make the 12-13 swap if they coveted different players, so that the third, unnamed team wouldn’t swoop in and steal Buffalo’s targeted player. They showed each other the papers. The Kings wanted Teubert; the Sabres wanted Tyler Myers.

The Kings and Sabres made the swap. Buffalo took Myers at No. 12 and the Kings took Teubert at No. 13."

It was at the urging of Devine that Regier make the trade and it turned out to be an impressive choice, at least for Myers' rookie year.

Myers was tall and lengthy, could skate and shoot, could defend and score. After spending one more season in junior with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, the 6' 7" 205 lb. Myers hit the NHL for his rookie season and was dominant enough in a top-pairing role to win the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year beating out Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene and Detroit goalie, Jimmy Howard.

Having Myers win the Calder Trophy was a tribute to the scouting department as well as the team surrounding him. The "triad" behind the blueline had Myers paired with veteran Hank Tallinder, another lengthy defenseman who could defend rather well, and goalie Ryan Miller who won the Vezina Trophy for the league's best goaltender that season.

Instead of growing into a perennial Calder candidate, however, Myers' play steadily declined. His sophomore season was disappointing and things gradually got worse as tumult enveloped the organization. The list of things that would hamper Myers' development after his Calder Trophy-winning season included the loss of Tallinder in the off season, added weight for his role as #1 d-man, the pressures of being that #1 defenseman, the pressures of a huge, long-term contract, the 2012-13 NHL lockout and an injury he incurred while playing overseas that season, one ownership change, two major changes in the front office, and three coaches.

Myers was traded to Winnipeg this past February as part of a blockbuster that brought LW, Evander Kane to the Sabres along with fellow 2008 draft pick (3rd overall,) defenseman, Zach Bogosian.

With the pick the Sabres received from the San Jose' Sharks in the Campbell trade, Buffalo selected "jitterbug," Tyler Ennis.

At 5'9" and just under 170 lbs., Ennis didn't have an NHL frame. But what he lacked in size he made up for in "greaziness."

Ennis is a quick, skilled forward who can stickhandle in a phone booth. He started his pro career in Portland registering 65 points (23+46) in 69 games for the Pirates while on his way to the Dudley "Red" Garrett Award for AHL Rookie of the Year. He was the second in a row for the Sabres as Nathan Gerbe (2005, 142nd) had won it the previous season.

Ennis' had a solid 2010-11 rookie campaign with the Sabres with 20 goals and 29 assists, while helping the team to it's second consecutive playoff appearance. In a crucial game-5 at Philadelphia, Ennis would score the overtime winner as the Sabres would head back to Buffalo with a 3-2 series lead over the Flyers. The Sabres would squander that and lose the series.

Like the other Tyler, tumult would rule the next four seasons for Ennis, beginning with a lingering ankle injury would shelve him for November and all but one game in January for his sophomore season. He would come back after the All-star break and would go on a tear after head coach Lindy Ruff had him centering a line with power forwards Drew Stafford and rookie, Marcus Foligno. In March that line would play 11 games, scoring 20 goals and 24 assists combined with a cumulative plus-34 rating and lead the drive to the post season. But the Sabres would fall short and miss the playoffs.

Ennis has proven to be extremely consistent in his NHL career despite everything thrown at him. During his above-mentioned sophomore season he projected out at roughly 57 points (25+32) over an 82 games season. His season was also shortened the following year due to the lockout where he managed 31 points (10+21) over 47 games which projects out to 53 points (17+36) in a full 82 game season. He would remain consistent through the darkest two years in Sabres history scoring 43 points (21+22) in 2013-14 and 46 points (20+26) last season. He lead the team in goals-scored both seasons.

Out of every pick the Sabres had from 2005 to 2008, he's the only one left standing in a Sabres uniform.

Luke Adam was plucked with the 44th pick in the draft that season. As a big center (6'2" 200 lbs.) he was the counterbalance to the number of smaller-skilled players that the Sabres were working with at the time. He was also the third consecutive "Red" Garrett award-winner for he Sabres as he was named AHL Rookie of the Year in 2011.

Adam has had a tough time keeping up with the pace of the NHL, both physically and mentally. He started out on fire for the 2011-12 season as an injury to Jochen Hecht afforded him the opportunity to play on the top line with veterans Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. But after scoring 11 points in 11 games (4+7) things fell apart. He was dropped down to the third line mid-season and finished the year in Rochester.

After six years in the Buffalo organization yo-yoing between the AHL and NHL, never really passing through that NHL threshold, he was at the crossroads last summer. He re-upped with the Sabres, but in December he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jerry D'Amigo. On July 3 he signed a one-year/two-way deal with the NY Rangers.

With their third round pick in the draft the Sabres went with big defenseman and Mr. Hockey (Minnesota) finalist, Corey Fienhage.

Fienhage played two seasons of college hockey with North Dakota before heading to Canadian Junior to play for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. He landed in Portland a year later and would play parts of two seasons with Rochester with his last AHL season being 2012-13 where he played only three games for the Amerks.

The Sabres selected slender RW, Justin Jokinen (6'3" 180 lbs.) with the first of their two fourth round picks. The Minnesota native played four years for Minnesota State and was never heard from again in the hockey world.

Although defenseman Jordon Southern fared a little better than his fellow fourth-rounder Jokinen, it wasn't in the Sabres system. When it became time to offer him a professional contract, the Sabres let Southern walk in 2012. In five seasons of pro hockey he's played in 29 AHL games on three different teams.

Forward Jacob Legace has managed to eek out a professional hockey career bouncing between the AHL and ECHL. His only"
"big" moment for the Sabres organization may have come at the 2012 Development Camp when he was plowed into the boards by Corey Tropp and scored on the ensuing penalty shot. He would appear in only four game for Rochester the ensuing season. After two more in the ECHL he went overseas.
Defenesman Nick Crawford spent four seasons playing for the Pirates/Amerks. The 6'1" 183 lb. sixth round pick played in 262 games during that stint registering a total of 90 points (23+67) and 99 penalty minutes. He played last season in Austria.

This was the draft that the Sabres needed to begin filling the pipeline with talent and it was lead by the two Tylers who were not only a contrast in size, but also a contrast in organizational development, perseverance and consistency. They were two different types of players, with different attributes who are now on different teams.

And as we'll see, of the five drafts (2005-2009) we're focusing upon that constitute players who would be in their primes right now, Ennis is one of only three players still with the organization this off season.

One of the other two came from the 2009 draft.

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