As of tomorrow I'll be on hiatus and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank EK and Eric for giving me the opportunity to write about the Buffalo Sabres for hockeybuzz.com. I'd also like to thank Cisco for putting my name in the hopper when they were looking for a blogger and would like to give a shout out to homie, who was one of the few who followed me when I was writing my own blog.
When writing to Eric concerning this decision I told him that it's been a 100% positive experience blogging on this site. And I meant it. The time and effort I put into each blog was well worth it as I was doing so for a group of die-hard Sabres fans who rarely provided a dull moment. Some of you I've had the pleasure of meeting while most I have not but all of you have brought something unique to these threads and for that I thank each and every one of you.
Although I'm still looking forward to this season and beyond, in closing I'd like to take a look back and in honor of the Sabres Golden season, I'd like to offer up my 50th Anniversary team. It brings me full circle as the blog I started 10 years ago, which led me to this gig, began with my 40th Anniversary team.
C, Gilbert Perreault
--The Original Sabre and the reason I and many, many other Western New York hockey fans fell in love with the Buffalo Sabres. Those who saw Perreault play during his time in Buffalo will never forget how he commanded the ice with his end-to-end rushes and how he left everyone aghast as he eloquently weaved his way through the opposition. Perreault was everything you could want in a player--speed, skill and fluidity--and the way the Sabres won the rights to draft him with their first-ever pick was a lot of fun as general manager Punch Imlach halted any Vancouver Canucks celebration by pointing out that the number on the wheel was '11' not '1'. Number 11 was perfect number for a perfect player to start a franchise with.
LW, Rick Martin
--Buffalo added to their top line drafting Martin with the fifth-overall pick a year later in 1971 and with it they had 2/3 of the line that would be known as "The French Connection." Martin didn't waste any time as he scored 44 goals and 74 points in 73 games as a rookie and two years later he was an NHL first team All-Star as he finished the 1973-74 season with 52 goals, the first time a Sabre player ever hit that mark. Martin would match that goal total the following season and come close the following year as he scored 49 goals. Although he's 10th in number of games played for the Sabres (681) Martin is second only to Perreault in goals (382) and is third in points (695.)
RW, Alexander Mogilny
--The story Mogilny defecting from Soviet Union is a legendary tale in and of itself as he was the first Soviet player ever to defect to play in the NHL. What he was able to do as a member of the Sabres might have been even better as he and center Pat LaFontaine brought an electricity to the ice hadn't seen since the French Connection. Mogilny had a short but incredibly impactful stint in Buffalo highlighted by his 76-goal season in 1992-93 which remains a franchise best and is tied for fifth-best in NHL history. He scored 221 goals and 444 points in 381 games for the Sabres and was also interim captain for the club in 1993-94 becoming the first-ever Soviet-born captain in NHL history.
C, Pat LaFontaine
--The 2003 Hockey Hall of Famer still holds Sabres records for points (148) and assists (95) in one season but his career was somewhat tragic having been cut short because of concussions. LaFontaine and Mogilny were one of the most feared duos in the NHL during their time together in Buffalo and he's probably one of the greatest players to never win a Stanley Cup having appeared in only one Cup Final (his rookie season with NYI.)
LW, Dave Andreychuck
--The big guy took the Phil Esposito approach to goal-scoring consistency by parking his big frame in front of the net. Andreychuk produced consistently strong numbers most notably on the powerplay where he holds the NHL record of 274 powerplay goals scored by a left-winger. He left Buffalo with 368 goals (3rd most in franchise history) and 804 points (2nd) in 837 games (6th.) It took a while, but Andreychuk was eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017 some 11 years after retiring from the game.
RW, Rene Robert
--Would have been easy to simply put Robert up top with his other French Connection linemates, but Mogilny was just that good. Robert, however, was a point/game player for the Sabres and was the workhorse for that line with his number-14 hanging from the rafters along with #11 and #7. In 542 games for Buffalo, Robert scored 222 goals and added 330 assists and finished his NHL career with 702 points in 744 games. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.
C, Jack Eichel
--Even through his first four seasons when he was battling through issues with consistency and injury, along with playing on some messed up Sabres teams, Eichel electrified the crowd unlike any other Sabres player since Perreault. It looks as if he's finally arrived this season as he's found an extra gear and upped his game to the point where he's considered amongst the elite. Eichel has been maturing right before our eyes and in addition to his scoring he's also ramped up his 200' game and has fully embraced his role as leader for this team. Some may think it's a bit premature to put him on this list but he is all that...and a bag of chips.
LW, Thomas Vanek
--The Austrian winger will always be remembered for signing a 7 yr./$49 million Edmonton Oilers offer-sheet when the Sabres were over a barrel in 2007. However, Vanek's sniping ability was on full display as he was coming off of a 43 goal season. He would hit 25 or more goals (including two 40-goal seasons) in all of his first seven seasons in Buffalo and he did it without a true No. 1 center. Vanek had his issues, most notably with gambling, but the guy could score and set up as well. He would finish his Sabres career with 254 goals (5th all-time on the Sabres) and 497 points in 598 games for Buffalo.
RW, Danny Gare
--People remember Gare for his scoring prowess (two 50-goal seasons) for Buffalo, but he was also a standout two-way player scoring 50 goals on a checking line with Don Luce and Craig Ramsay. Gare was a real firecracker as well who at 5'9" 175 lbs. never thought twice about jumping out of the penalty box to defend his teammates in the "Slapshot" era. He's ranked fourth on Buffalo's all-time goals list (267) and fifth in plus/minus (187.) A truly special player.
C, Don Luce and LW, Craig Ramsay
--Why am I putting these two together like this? Because they represented quite possibly the best checking duo in the league for a number of years and in every crucial defensive situation, against all the heavyweights of the era, it was Luce and Ramsay on the ice. Ramsay is the all-time Sabres leader in plus/minus (+324) and shorthanded goals (27,) and finished his entire 14-year career in Buffalo with the 1984-85 Selke Trophy. Luce is second all-time with 25 short-handed goals, won the 1974-75 Masterton Trophy and played a key role in the Sabres helping Mogilny defect from the Soviet Union back in 1989. The Sabres haven't seen a shutdown duo like that since the two last played together in 1979-80.
C, Michael Peca
--"The hardest working team in hockey" could not have had a better leader in Peca whose nickname, "Captain Crunch" helped define a group of Sabres that made it to Game-6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999. The two-time Selke-winner (one with Buffalo, 1997) was a fan favorite as his blue collar style of play tapped directly into Buffalo itself. Though his numbers weren't special (363 games, 96 goals, 121 assists,) Peca was the captain of a rag-tag bunch of players who didn't have the overall talent, but reveled in the fact that they were the dogs that kept getting kicked and fought back with everything they had while enjoying every second of it.
Honorable mentions: Miroslav Satan, Mike Foligno, Jason Pominville
--May be the most underrated Sabre of all-time. Ramsey was an integral part of the 1980 U.S. Miracle on Ice Team and relished his role as a top-notch, defensive defenseman in both the Olympics and the NHL. In an era where there was very little padding, Ramsey brought shot-blocking to an art form and boy could he block shots. He was a four-time All-Star and was selected for the 1987 Rendez-vous Team of NHL All-Stars vs. the U.S.S.R. There's been a call for his number to be hanging from the rafters in Buffalo and it should have been done years ago.
--During the mid-70's "Slapshot" era, Schoenfeld had to deal with the likes of the Big, Bad Bruins featuring Carol Vadnais, Wayne Cashman and Terry O'Reilly as well as the Broadstreet Bullies with Fly-boys Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly and Don Saleski--all of them NHL heavyweight pugilists. Schoenfeld had that monumental task while blocking shots, clearing the front of the net and defending his 1972, folksie music release, Schony
--Simply put, pure offense...to the point where legendary Hall of Fame head coach Scotty Bowman was forced to place Housley on the wing his rookie season because his defense was that bad and his offense that good. Whatever shortcomings his defense might have had were trumped by the way he could skate and score. Housley played his first eight seasons in Buffalo scoring 178 goals and 558 points in 608 games while on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
--What Housley was to Sabres lore in an offensive-defenseman, Hajt was to defense. The unheralded defenseman had a +320 rating in his 14 yr. career (all with Buffalo) which was more than the 244 points he scored (which was still a significant number for the type of defenseman he was.) Hajt was rock-solid in his own end against the greatest teams of the 70's and 80's including the Flying Frenchmen of Montreal, the dynastic NY Islanders and Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers
--Was the backbone of the 1999 Eastern Conference Champion Sabres and the 2006 East Finals team and for 10 years (582 games) was a solid, crease-clearing, shot-blocking machine. With those early years forgotten, McKee is more well known for his staph infection before the Game-7 of the 2006 ECF against the Carolina Hurricanes and his subsequent departure for big contract with the St. Louis Blues that off season.
--It was a tough choice between Korab and Brian Campbell for No. 6 on the Sabres defense, but in the end it's hard to top a nickname like "King Kong." Korab was a behemoth on the back end but he could skate very well. He also fought, had a hard, heavy shot from the point and produced a significant amount of offense for the brute he was. Korab finished his nine-year Buffalo career with 67 goals (3rd all-time amongst Sabres defensemen,) 216 assists (5th) and 283 points (5th.)
Honorable mentions: Brian Campbell, Alexi Zhitnik
--In what might be heralded as the most lop-sided trade in NHL history Hasek, arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, was acquired by Buffalo for what amounted to a bag of beans. Although New Jersey's Martin Brodeur may have the wins and goalies like Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante and Patrik Roy may have name recognition and multiple Stanley Cups, there was no one like Hasek. How he got that rag-tag, '99 Sabres team to within two games of the Cup is a marvel in and of itself as were his NHL-best 2.20 career goals-against average and .922 save percentage for post-expansion goalies playing in 350 or more games. For as spectacular as Perreault was and for as much love as I have for him as "the Original Sabre," Hasek, because of what he was able to accomplish with so little in front of him, should be considered the greatest player ever to play for the Sabres.
--This was another tough call because there are a number of excellent goalies who would be No. 2 to Hasek including Ryan Miller, Gerry Desjardins, Al Smith and Bob Sauve. But Edwards, to me, had the longevity as well as the Vezina (shared with Sauve) and for some reason I always seem to remember him coming up big versus top teams.
Honorable mention: Ryan Miller