Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sabres game-day preview before Briere night in Philly

Reprinted with permission from

It took seven years, an ownership change, and a complete demolition of the 2007-2013 Sabres known as "the core," for Sabreland to finally get over the summer of 2007. But with a new owner and the likes of Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and host of other players, it would seem as if we can finally put that to rest as one of the driving forces behind the success of the 2005-07 Buffalo Sabres teams will be honored  in a retirement ceremony tonight at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA.

Daniel Briere was former GM Darcy Regier's greatest acquisition. At the trade deadline in 2003, Regier traded big center Chris Gratton and a 2004 fourth-round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for Briere and a 2004 third round pick (Andrej Sekera.) Briere,  worked his way through the final stages of that poor Buffalo season by scoring 12 points (7+5) in 14 games.

In his first full season for the Sabres he got things rolling with 65 points (28+37) in 82 games. Although it was unfortunate that the 2004-05 lockout hit, a positive is that the "new-NHL" allowed for a freer-flowing game to which suited Briere and his freer-flowing style perfectly.

Coming out of the lockout Briere hit the ice flying before being felled by a sports hernia in mid-December. He would come back in March and finish the season with 25 points (25+33) in 48 games. The Sabers would make the playoffs as a fourth seed, take down the fifth-seeded Flyers in six games and walk over arch-nemesis Ottawa in five games (Jason Pominville's shortie in OT clinched the series, the only time in history that happened) before losing to Carolina in seven games.

Briere finished the playoff run with 19 points (8+11) in 18 games. Unfortunately his production put him at odds with the Sabres during contract negotiations that summer. The case went before an arbitrator.

Of note, the lockout brought cost-certainty to NHL owners as player salaries were tied to revenue and there was a cap in place. The cap-ceiling for the 2005-06 season was $39m. The following season it went up to $44m. Even though the Sabres were considered a small-market team, they could operate on an even keel with the "big-city" teams at that cap-ceiling.

The arbitrator awarded Briere $5m, or a $3m raise above his previous salary. It was a number easily absorbed as the Sabres could and did spend to the cap, but it also meant that some tough decisions needed to be made like the choice between keeping forward Ales Kotalik or JP Dumont, as both would no longer fit under the salary cap.

Buffalo went into the following season on fire starting out with a record-tying 10-game winning streak and proceeded to fly by the league on their way to the President's Trophy. Briere lead the " Ferrari" Sabres in scoring with 95 points (32+63) in 81 games but the team once again fell in the ECF, this time to the Ottawa Senators.

The Sabres knew they had a tough decision to make at the end of the season as co-captains Briere and Chris Drury could not both fit under the internal salary structure owner Tom Golisano and team president Larry Quin implemented. They made the decision to keep Drury and let Briere walk, which he did, but they wound up with neither as Drury bolted for the NY Rangers.

Briere signed with the Flyers that off-season and had a great career in Philadelphia with 283 points (124+159) in 364 games. But was especially potent in the playoffs with 68 points (36+32) in 62 game and tonight he will be honored by the Flyers with the Sabres in the building.

Such is the story of Briere and his short stint with the Buffalo Sabres.

So after Briere is honored, and the national anthem is sung, the 2-6 Sabres will take on the 4-2-1 Flyers.

The Sabres have a couple of key injuries in Zach Bogosian, who's yet to lace them up for the team this season because of injury, and Evander Kane suffered an MCL injury last game and will be out 4-6 weeks. Both were acquired from the Winnipeg Jets for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, two prospects and a first-round pick.

Buffalo is off to a rough start to a season where expectations were high, but not overwhelming. The team came in with a massive roster turnover placed in the hands of a brand new coaching staff who have ideas totally different from the previous regime. Their talent-level is many times higher that what they had last season but they're scoring at the same pace but have just one more win than last year's team.

Bylsma has been doing a lot of juggling up-front this young season and with Kane out, even more juggling will happen tonight. Reinhart who has started in the top-six for more than a few games but almost invariably has been moved down the lineup, will be on Eichel's wing along with Johan Larsson. Filling out the top-six will be center Ryano O'Reilly flanked by Tyler Ennis and Nic Deslauriers, a tough north/south player who's more accustomed to playing a checking role.

Rounding out the forward ranks are Zemgus Girgensons flanked by Matt Moulson and captain Brian Gionta while veteran David Legwand will be centering Marcus Foligno, who just returned from injury, and Jamie McGinn. Recently recalled Tim Schaller will be the healthy scratch.

Bylsma said that Bogosian is still week-to-week and his abscense has really crimped the back-end. Ristolainen will again be anchoring the defense-corps with Josh Gorges as his side-kick. The young duo of Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe will continue their growth together on the second pair while it looks like Carlo Colaiacovo will get the nod for the second game in a row after being a healthy scratch for the previous five. He will be paired with powerplay specialist, Cody Franson.

Chad Johnsons gets the start in net after taking a breather last game. Linus Ullmark, who started his first NHL game on Saturday, will be the backup.

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