At the beginning of 2022, the Eichel and Hall jerseys were on the reduced shelf. Don Granato showed what a coach and captain looks like. Fans are absent from KeyBank.
Although not everything has changed in the past 12 months, 2021 will long be remembered as one of the most transformative years in Sabriland’s history.
The path from January 1 to December 31 seems unimaginable, but those who have witnessed it will say that word may not mean what you think it means. Really, who would have thought that trading the face of the franchise would be secondary to the months-long drama that led to the deal? Or will Kyle Okposo outperform Eshel, Hall, and Eric Stahl – combined? Or that winning the NHL lottery would hardly go off the radar?
And this is just the beginning.
The five most important floors in 2021
1. Pain in the neck
When Eshel suffered a herniated disc in his neck in March, he studied potential treatments long and hard. His choice to replace the artificial disc got a “no” from the organization – over and over again.
“I’ve been a little upset with the way things have been handled since I got hurt,” Eshel said in May, two months after the onset of the illness. “I would be lying to say that things have gone smoothly since my injury. So, yes, there was some degree of disconnection, I think, from the organization and myself.”
Cyber has never wavered in their recommendations for fusion surgery. Eshel never backed down from his preferred method. There were late-night news releases, opposing claims of process control and accusations of lying – and this was just a public debate. In secret, things have been a lot more lively.
Hopes for a solution to the injury and relationship arrived in June but were ruthlessly undone to July, August, September, October and November.
“The most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figuring out a way to be available to play hockey next year – wherever that may be,” Eshel said in May before adopting a self-imposed silence.
Wouldn’t be in Buffalo.
2. The bomb
Eichel, a master with the man advantage, was involved in another power game. Like the athlete reported november 3Eshel, later confirmed, told the Cypress family that he had ended his silence on November 4. Sportsnet’s Elliot Friedman traveled to Buffalo for an interview. Eichel’s buddies on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast were on hand via video conferencing.
All the things that Eshel kept private were ready to be announced.
Before the cameras turned on, the Cypresses distributed their former captain and their 2023 draft third-round pick to Vegas for right winger Alex Tosh, middle Peyton Crips, 2022 first-round pick and 2023 second-round pick. Eshel got his wish, so his secrets stayed with him.
“We had to get what we felt was the right payoff,” Cypress General Manager Kevin Adams said on November 4. “That day came.”
The era of “drunken optimism, crushing disappointment, and bitter strife” is over in Buffalo.Tweet embed Explains why the past six years have felt like a loss for everyone after Jack Eichel was finally traded from Sabers ⤵️ https://t.co/JYyGmNSKOn
– TheAthletic November 4, 2021
3. Training change
Even today, some former Kroger players praise him for being a great guy. But it turned out in February that he wasn’t a great coach. His unyielding adherence to defensive “principles,” odd squad choices, and poor messaging have turned a talent-packed roster into a vault joke.
It wasn’t until March 17 when Adams finally pulled the Krueger plug, promoting Granato from assistant to interim chief. By April, the new guy had won over players and fan base, essentially, becoming Krueger’s anti-Krueger. Granato preached the attack, pressed the right stimulus buttons and made a lineup of injuries and deals in a group to watch.
The search for off-season training has solidified the belief that Granato is the man for this group of Sabers.
4. Tickets take a back seat
Fans were not allowed to be in the Sabers Arena for most of the 2020-21 season, which ran from January to May. Many discovered that they did not miss it.
Ticket sales are at their lowest level since the franchise’s founding in 1970. Buffalo has sold only 8,669 tickets per game during its 17 games this season, and actual attendance has been much lower. The franchise that used to limit season ticket sales at 16,000 now has just over 6,000.
There are many influencing factors, including COVID-19 and border issues that cut the 10 to 20 percent of the fan base living in Canada, but a decade of loss and price hikes are the biggest causes of the crash.
5. Royal Jordanian’s last appeal
Play-by-play announcer Rick Jennert joined the Sabers for their second season in 1971. The team celebrated its 50th year during the 2020-21 season. In August, he and the team announced that season 51 would be their last.
“He’s an iron man on top of being an icon,” Sabers Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine said. “He’s on Mount Rushmore from the announcers of the hockey world.”
Adams had a busy and busy year. Eichel’s trade alone would have made 2021 significant. GM has also taken on Hall and Curtis Lazar to Boston, Rasmus Restollinen to Philadelphia, Sam Reinhart to Florida, Stahl to Montreal, Brandon Montour to the Panthers, and Jonas Johansson to Colorado.
In addition, Adams traded “Future Considerations” three times, bringing Will Butcher from Demons, Malcolm Suban from Black Hawk, Johnny Boychuck, and his $6 million salary from Islanders.
For only the fourth time in their history, the Sabers were selected first in the NHL Draft. Due to the chaos surrounding Eichel and Reinhart, as well as crowd fatigue after losing the 10th record, Owen Power’s selection did not resonate as well as those of Gilbert Perreault, Pierre Turgeon and Rasmus Dahlin.
But the outsized defender is starting to ignite fan imaginations with great starts at the University of Michigan and in the youth world, and his arrival on the ice in 2022 will be more anticipated than his draft entry.
‘Born to Play Hockey’: Owen Power Shows the Sabers, Michigan, How Special They Can Be – On and Off the Ice https://t.co/7fGtNvBbd2
– Sports Buffalo (TheAthleticBUF) December 6, 2021
Rebuilding the front office
When he hired Pegula Adams as general manager in June 2020, he directed him to fire people and completely destroy the organization. Adams entered the year with a skeleton crew.
The request for help has been answered. Assistant General Manager Jason Karmanos joined in April. Analytics expert Sam Ventura arrived as vice president of hockey strategy and research in July. Adds scout assignments and analyzes dotted to the calendar in the summer and fall, bringing the Sabers back into a fully functioning organization.
Cypress used nine goalkeepers in 2021. The results were not good.
Carter Hutton, Aaron Dale and Johansson came together to score a 1-20-2 and 882 savings. None of the nine have scored a closing in their 88 starts. Only two have had a winning record, Craig Anderson (4-2) injured after six games while Linus Olmark (9-6-3) left in free agency.
Prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen finally stabilized the situation in December, but it was 11 long months before his impressive play came.
Five years after hosting the Sabers concurrent radio/television show, Andrew Peters and Craig Revitt left “The Instigators” to start podcasting. Departures coincided with the reduction of the offer from two hours to an hour.
Studio analysts Brian Duff and Martin Biron took over “The Instigators” in September.
The Russians are coming
Entering the July draft, Buffalo picked only three Russian players in the past 15 years, a pool that included 110 picks. The team hasn’t picked any of them since the last round in 2016.
They chose four this year. They chose strikers Prokhor Poltaov and Alexander Kissakov in the second round and Stephen Sardarian in the third round. They added defender Nikita Novikov in sixth place.
“There has been a focus in our organization for the past year and a half or so to go deeper into looking at some of the players in Russia and the Czech Republic,” said Jerry Fortun, who has gone from head of collegiate scouts to director of amateur scouts. “The analytical data from the Russian periodicals is very advanced and very accurate from our point of view, so it all gave us a level of comfort.”
After trading, Eichel announced that he first requested to be dealt with during the 2020 season. The Sabers rejected the shockwave and they decided to go ahead with acquisitions of Hall and Staal, two of the major offensive weapons of the past decade.
Although Hall created enough helpers to set up the help list, both of them were a disaster in the chaos that Krueger is leading. Hall scored just two goals in 37 games, shooting a measly 2.3 percent. Stahl scored three goals and seven assists and was – 20 in 32 games.
A lack of attacking as well as poor training and goal-like guards doomed the season and sealed Eshel’s departure – even before the injury.
Real rebuilding coming?
Despite a year to be forgotten, the Sabers found themselves in a better place on December 31st than they were on January 1. They have legitimate high-end prospects, including drafted players Power, Isaac Rosen, Jack Quinn, JJ Petrka, and commercial acquisitions Krebs and Devon Levy. They have confidence that the training has been solidified. Americans win with youth rather than AHL veterans.
Buffalo also has three first-round picks in the 2022 draft, including the Florida pick as part of the Reinhart deal. There is hope that things may eventually turn out, fortunately, in the end.
And if that wasn’t enough, the sabers have a dog too.
Rick Is 8 Months Old From SPCA Rescue!
This season, he will be training to become a service dog for a veteran in need. pic.twitter.com/yCYpXFuLCZ
– Buffalo Sabres November 9, 2021
It’s good to be Rick. pic.twitter.com/2eeeksxpkc
– Rick (@ SabresPup) December 30, 2021
(Photo by Don Granato and assistant coach Matt Ellis on the Sabers bench: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)