Money can not buy happiness. At least not in Buffalo.
It was supposed to be the start of an era of great prosperity for the Sabers. This small bankrupt team had just been bought by billionaire Terrence Pegula a few months earlier, in February 2011.
We have been aggressive in the free agent market. Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, 50 points the previous season in Vancouver, received 40 million for ten years. City Leino, 53 points, including 19 goals, in 2010-2011 in Philadelphia accepted 27 million for six years.
With a core already made up of Jason Pominville, Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers and Thomas Vanek, a wind of optimism was blowing over Buffalo.
Ten years later, the Sabers still haven’t made the playoffs. Four general managers have followed one another. After Darcy Regier, fired in 2013, Tim Murray and Jason Botterill were no more successful. Hired in 2020, Kevyn Adams is the new trusted man of Terry Pegula and his wife Kim, team president since 2018.
Ralph Krueger is the sixth coach since 2011. Before him were Lindy Ruff, Ron Roslton, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma and Phil Housley.
There have also been six captains in ten years: Craig Rivet, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott, Brian Gionta and now Jack Eichel.
Five goalies have tried to establish themselves as number one since Ryan Miller left in 2014: Jhonas Enroth, Chad Johnson, Robin Lehner, Carter Hutton and now Linus Ullmark.
The Sabers are still not doing well. They occupy the 30e rank of the general classification with a record of 4-7-2. Buffalo has however in his formation five players drafted among the first two in total: Jack Eichel (2e), Taylor Hall (1is), Rasmus Dahlin (1is), Sam Reinhart (2e) and Eric Staal (2e), although the latter is at the end of his career.
It is also one of the few clubs to devote more than 25 million annually to three strikers: Eichel, Hall and Jeff Skinner. Poor Skinner, or rather rich Skinner, has an assist in 13 games so far this season. He had 23 points in 59 games last year after signing his gargantuan contract. After that year, he will be owed another $ 9 million a year for six years.
Discontent is obviously well established in Buffalo. There is now talk of firing Kruger and swapping Eichel.
We change GM, coach, goalkeeper, captain, but we obviously cannot kick out the one who holds the purse strings. It is still in place since 2011 …
Eichel is said to be in the market, according to the distinguished Elliotte Friedman. The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings would court him.
In 2018, the Sabers had made Ryan O’Reilly the symbol of their failure. Botterill traded him to the St. Louis Blues for Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, a first-round pick in 2019 and a second-round pick in 2021.
O’Reilly not only won the Stanley Cup in St. Louis the following year, but the Conn-Smythe Trophy awarded to the playoff MVP. Thompson, 23, a 6-foot-7 colossus, has 13 points in 74 games since arriving in Buffalo. He has one assist in eight games this year. Sobotka now plays in the Czech Republic and Berglund in Sweden.
The first round pick, 31e in total, defenseman Ryan Johnson is playing his second season with the University of Minnesota. He has eight assists in 18 games and had a good World Junior Championship. But for the moment, we are not talking about a leading hope.
With all their draft picks, the Sabers have good youngsters. Eichel is only 24 years old, Reinhart 25 years old. Dylan Cozens, seventh overall pick in 2019, flew over the World Junior Championship with 16 points in seven games. Young defender Dahlin shows great promise. Jack Quinn is the newest pick among the top 10.
For some reason, despite all these talented players, the recipe doesn’t work in Buffalo. We can understand their fans to sink into despair.