On July 1, 2001, the Buffalo Sabres traded away their greatest player in a generation.
Dominik Hasek finally got his wish and was shipped out to
On the first day of that draft, June 22, 2002, general manager Darcy Regier set in motion a series of trades that eventually sent Kozlov to
The Sabres selected winger Dan “Fat Crosby” Paille.
In hindsight, couldn’t the Sabres have gotten more? Probably. But given the circumstances, Regier didn’t have much of a choice.
Ownership under John Rigas was as shrewd as ever, personified by the Michael Peca trade. Sure the Sabres were still contenders in 2001. They had just lost to the Penguins in a series they choked up. So the six-time Vezina Tropy winning gold medalist and his $7.5 million salary wanted out. But Hasek wanted to go to a team he considered a contender.
So in return we got one of the worst Sabres of our time: Slava Kozlov.
It’s not that he wasn’t talented, he definitely was and still is a quality player. He just didn’t mesh well with coach Lindy Ruff and did more harm than good behind the scenes. Kozlov eventually found himself in harm’s way and suffered a season ending injury, just as he seemed to be trying to fit in. Regier, notorious for protecting his coach (see the Jason Woolley trade as an example), he made a deal to ship the bad egg out.
So six years after the Hasek trade and five years after the Kozlov deal, the Sabres are left with Hecht, who has played just 253 games in four full seasons with
After 10 games this season, Hecht served as the team’s captain, and led them to a 5-5 record. Not exactly stellar. But the team still sits in tenth place in the East, just a point out of a playoff spot if the season ended now, and eight points behind mighty
Now no one expected the Sabres to pull off the roller coaster ten game winning streak of last season. But the team has been so up and down that it’s hard to tell exactly what we’re looking at.
Realistically, Buffalo only lost four players in the offseason. Chris Drury, Daniel Briere and Dainius Zubrus ended up in the Atlantic Division via free agency and Teppo Numminen has been nursing a heart condition since training camp opened. Players were expected to step up in more expanded roles and to live up to new contracts. Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy are prime examples #1 and #1A.
After a run and gun opening night which the ended up losing, the team came back and played a tight defensive game on
Right off the bat, it was obvious that the team was struggling within itself to find its go-to-guys. The players you follow into battle that will lead you to victory.
Center Tim Connolly could be that guy. He’s tied for the team lead in points with defenseman Brian Campbell, but he’s more prone to looking for the pretty pass and setting up the easy goals (PLEASE SHOOT MORE, TIM!!!), like he has done for Pominville several times this season. Connolly’s been great on the powerplay, and so has Jaroslav Spacek, who up until this season, looked like a $3 million bust.
As soft as Pominville can be, no one on the team is better at moving to open spaces in front of the net to set up a shot on goal. The lack of toughness is a concern not just to Pominville, but to the team as a whole. Maybe finally getting gritty veteran defenseman Nolan Pratt in the line up will help alleviate some of those problems.
But the Sabres are really hoping that the go-to-guy is Thomas Vanek, the Ten Million Dollar Man whose play has been lackluster so far to say the least. He had just three goals in the month of October and an infinite number of after-whistle swearing spells. Love that we have seven more years of this guy dropping the F-Bomb after every shift.
After the “breakaway” against
Remember, the Sabres were pretty dreadful in November and December of 2005. And I consider that to be the greatest Sabres team of my lifetime. So there’s still a very good chance that this year’s team can find their way and get things going in the right direction.
Trading Hasek opened the door to a new era in Sabres history. We waded through a few years of mediocrity as fans before the team found our next franchise goaltender. Ryan Miller hasn’t been great so far, but he’s been good enough. He can be better and he’s going to have to be. Like the great teams of the late 1990’s, the goaltender has a chance to make the team his own. Miller is a leader and has the ability to take this team as far as he can carry them.
The journey continues tonight in