Sunday, December 6, 2015

Visions of 2007 plus, looking ahead to 2018

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres are on a bit of a tear lately having won three of four games while scoring 17 goals in the process and for fans it's pretty awesome. With growing pains still on the horizon, it's not without mild trepidation, mind you, but with the Sabres having scored four or more goals in four consecutive games for the first time since November, 2007 fans have the right to be a bit giddy. Especially after the team tested historic post-Original Six lows for goals in the previous two seasons.

Most fans remember the "Ferrari Sabres" of the 2006-07 season when the team lead the league in goals scored (298) averaging a league-high 3.63 per game, a number no team has come close to matching since. It was the year when they could never be counted out no matter how many goals they might be down in a game. The '06/'07 Sabres had team-speed, snipers and players with a nose for the net and this team has similar traits.

It also should be remembered that the '06/7 Sabres fell short in the overall team-grit department. The previous season had a nice mix of speed, skill and grit but the salary cap caused the team to make some tough decisions and much of their sandpaper ended up walking. As it stands right now, the team we're watching emerge from two seasons as the doormat of the NHL is looking like a hybrid of those first two post-2004 lockout teams, which is a pretty exciting proposition.

And they're young too.

Which leads me to thinking where some of the players will be on New Year's Day, 2018.

The big official announcement yesterday that the city of Buffalo will be hosting its second  IIHF World Junior Championships in a span of seven years is complete with a planned outdoor game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a first for the tournament. The IIHF has granted the Championships to a U.S. city for only the sixth time and it's the first time that an American city will have hosted it twice.

Logistics still need to be hammered out but one might be able to bet the farm that the IIHF will do everything to match the U.S. against international rival Canada outdoors in a preliminary round game. As of now, they're looking at a game for either December 27th or 29th at the Ralph.

The closer they can get to New Year's Day the better as 2018 will mark the 10th anniversary of the inaugural NHL Winter Classic which featured the Buffalo Sabres hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Ralph. With it's cold but not freezing temperatures and light precipitation giving the appearance of a snow globe, the 2008 Winter Classic is considered the standard hockey players were taken back to their roots of playing pond hockey. Add in that it went to the shootout with superstar Sidney Crosby beating Ryan Miller for the victory and it was everything the NHL could have hoped for.

The Pegula Family, which own both the Sabres and the Bills, are no strangers to tradition and/or marketing and one could bet the farm that Pegula Sports and Entertainment will be going hard after the 2018 Winter Classic. Their hockey team is young and on the rise playing a fantastic brand of hockey with a burgeoning pool of stars and potential superstars thus providing the NHL the kind of showcase it desires.

Looking forward through the eyes of, here's a list of Sabres signed through the 2017-18 season:

Forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Tyler Ennis. The defensemen include Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges. Those eligible to hit free agency that season are Brian Gionta, Cody Franson, Cody McCormick and Cal O'Reilly, all unrestricted free agents while Robin Lehner, Linus Ullmark and Mark Pysyk will be restricted free agents.

Three RFA's from 2016-17 whom one would expect the Sabres to re-sign are defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe plus forward Zemgus Girgensons while three others, Marcus Foligno, Nic Deslauriers and Johan Larsson will be RFA's as well.

In the hopper and coming up through the ranks are Nicolas Baptiste and Justin Bailey, who are in their first pro seasons in Rochester. There are a host of other RFA's that year, many of whom will probably move on.

Two years is a long time, and much can happen to the roster between now and then. It's also plenty of time for the Sabres new core to gel as well, which is pretty exciting to think about. Right now we're beginning to see the firepower they have and with it a glimpse into what we might be seeing on a regular basis--an exciting, high-scoring team that will roll four lines and give every other team in the league fits.

Back in 2007 the Sabres were said to be "build for the new-NHL." Right now they're built for any style NHL. Back then hockey fans were enamored with that team and hopefully were beginning to see the rise of that kind of team again.

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