Though the Buffalo Sabres provided fans with an exponential improvement over their last two seasons, their effort was still not enough to propel them into the Stanley Cup playoffs. The only thing left for Buffalo hockey lovers to do is continue to prop up the flagging television viewing numbers and hope that come next season, they’ll be watching the blue and gold fight for Lord Stanley’s prize.
One of the most agonizing decisions a fan must make once their team is eliminated is to decide who to support in their grueling march to the Cup Final. Thankfully, Buffalo has spent the better part of the last few seasons dumping veteran talent for an ever-growing pile of prospects, and many of these former Sabres are still in contention.
With the first round of the playoffs coming to an end following a surprising Game 7 victory for the Nasvhille Predators, all eight teams in the second round have been decided, and nearly every team has a player who once held the hearts of Buffalo fans. When weighing your bandwagon options for the postseason, here are a few of the most beloved former Sabres who still have a shot at hoisting the greatest trophy in sports.
The longest-tenured coach at the time he was relieved of his duties in Buffalo, Lindy Ruff did not stay unemployed for long. He took up the bench for the Dallas Stars (can you hear the boos?) and thus broke the unspoken rule among Sabres fans–never Dallas. Never, ever Dallas. Do fans still rue the day that Brett Hull skated straight into the crease, crushing the hopes and dreams of a desperate city? Absolutely we do.
Maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet though. Ruff has done an amazing job melding veterans like Jason Spezza and explosive youthful talent like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Though he’s had some issues with goaltending, cut him some slack. He was spoiled on Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller and now he’s just trying to make do.
Though he only played just over 100 games in Buffalo, Steve Ott was one of the team’s most memorable cups of coffee, despite his ties to the aforementioned Stars. He served as both alternate captain and co-captain, ultimately being named the lone captain of the Sabres before joining Miller in a 2013-14 trade to the Blues.
Ott’s contract was set to expire at the end of the season, but he re-upped with the Blues to join them in their perennial quest for the Cup. He’s seen his ice time diminish in the playoffs, but he still contributed a point in the first round. His on-ice presence is as much comedy as it is physical–remember when he licked Jeff Halpern’s faceshield?–and for that reason, Ott and the Blues are a strong candidate for post-season love.
Affectionately dubbed ‘Goose,’ Sabres fans catcalled him at every opportunity, prompting announcers to clarify, “Those aren’t boos you hear, nyuck nycuk.” Gaustad was a seventh-round draft pick for the Sabres in 2000, and started with the AHL affiliated Rochester Americans in 2002-03.
By 2005, he was ready for the big club, and spent seven seasons as a center for the Sabres. Known largely for his grit, Gaustad won the hearts of the blue-collared Sabres fans, who bemoaned the lack of physicality from the team during Gaustad’s tenure. It was Gaustad himself who potted the game-winner for the Predators to propel them into the second round. He has accumulated 10 years in the NHL and is the poster child for Nashville’s underdog run going into round two. Who doesn’t love an underdog?
While there are several other players remaining in the playoffs, these three were the most cherished during their time representing the Queen City. Of course, the Islanders have Steve Bernier and Jaraslov Halak, who combined for 17 games in Buffalo. Mike Weber is on Washington’s roster, but has only skated in one postseason game, and if Brooks Orpik returns, he may not see the ice again. Dainus Zubrus may have one of the coolest names of any former Sabre, however, he’s been a scratch for each of the Sharks’ playoff games in round one.
There is a lot of hockey left to play before the final horn sounds on the season. As Buffalo retains its Hockey Heaven moniker by driving ratings almost single-handedly, fans have the opportunity to support those players whose homes once graced the shores of Lake Erie.