The Sabres Model

When the puck drops Thursday night at First Niagara Center, the Sabres will be icing a completely renovated roster. It is quite amazing to look at the Sabres roster today and compare it back to the roster of that kicked off the 2013 season (side note: Ron Rolston was the coach then). In just two short years the Sabres went through a ‘scorched earth’ rebuild and are on the upswing. So how did we get here?

Let’s take a look at how the Sabres flipped their roster in such a short period of time.

To begin.. let’s rewind four years ago to 2011. The Sabres were coming off back to back playoff seasons, Terry Pegula had just bought the team and fans believed this was a team ready to take the next step. To further that belief, that offseason the team added Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino to complement the core that was in place. Fans were very high on this club.

Unfortunately, this team did not get the job done and missed the playoffs. It was a disappointment but the Sabres were not in rebuild mode yet. The team re-tooled as Derek Roy was swapped for Steve Ott, and the group was given another shot. The next season was the shortened due to the lockout, and this is when the wheels came out from under the Buffalo Sabres. Lindy Ruff was fired, and captain Jason Pominville was traded as the Sabres finished low in the standings. In my eyes, the day Jason Pominville was traded marked the start of the ‘scorched earth’ rebuild.

In 2013-14 the Sabres committed to rebuilding by shipping out a majority their ‘core’ for future assets. Darcy Regier was replaced by Tim Murray midseason and the Sabres finished last place in the standings by a mile. Tim Murray was all in for the ‘scorched earth’ rebuild and went on with it up until the end of last season, earning a second straight second overall pick (those picks were Samson Reinhart and Jack Eichel). A group made up of Miller, Vanek, Pominville, Stafford, Myers, Gaustad, and Roy were often referred to as “Darcy’s Core.” Through this process we saw everyone of these players traded, but the return has given birth to a new core.  

Below is a chronological sequence of the trades made during the rebuild and their eventual return (note: not all trade pieces are included- full trade details are listed at the bottom of this article).

Paul Gaustad→ 2012 1st rounder → Traded up and drafted Zemgus Girgensons

Derek Roy→ Steve Ott → part of Ryan Miller trade → Assets used to in Winnipeg trade

Jason Pominville→ 2013 1st rounder (Nikita Zadorov)→ Used to acquire Ryan O’Reilly

Andrej Sekera→ 2013 2nd rounder (JT Compher) → Used to acquire Ryan O’Reilly

Thomas Vanek → Matt Moulson, 2015 1st rounder → Draft pick used to acquire Robin Lehner

Ryan Miller→ 2015 1st rounder → Used to acquire Evander Kane & Zach Bogosian

Tyler Myers→ Used to acquire Evander Kane & Zach Bogosian

Drew Stafford→ Used to acquire Evander Kane & Zach Bogosian

Sabres own 1st round picks during this time period:

2011: Joel Armia → Used to acquire Evander Kane & Zach Bogosian

2012: Mikhail Grigorenko → Used to acquire Ryan O’Reilly

2013: Rasmus Ristolainen

2014: Samson Reinhart

2015: Jack Eichel

So what does this show us? It has been a circle of life in terms of taking Darcy Regier’s core and flipping them for pieces that have become Tim Murray’s core. But despite all of the trades Murray has pulled off, the most important aspect of the Sabres rebuild has been finishing at the bottom of the standings and being rewarded with high picks. The cornerstones of the Sabres rebuild are Eichel (2nd overall), Reinhart (2nd overall), and Ristolainen (8th overall).

The Sabres had a core in place that could not get the job done so they went ahead and executed a perfect three-step rebuild now referred to as the ‘Sabres Model’.

Step 1.) They traded all of that core away for valuable assets.

Step 2.) Finished at the bottom of the standings for two years to acquire elite level draft picks.

Step 3.) Flipped their surplus of assets (acquired in step one) for talented young players about to enter their prime to complement elite draft picks.

This was a progressive move by the Sabres. While ‘scorched earth rebuilds’ have been done before none have been this extreme and this quick. What truly sets this plan apart, is the excessive collection of assets being flipped for Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly.

 Trading for Evander Kane accelerated the Sabres rebuild.  Getty Images

Trading for Evander Kane accelerated the Sabres rebuild. Getty Images

(Skip this paragraph unless you’re a hockey nerd)Too often teams are overly stingy with prospects because of the fear of them developing into stars. This isn’t a terrible philosophy under most circumstances, but when you have a surplus of prospects, it is foolish to hold on to them all. Look at a team like Edmonton the past six years, loaded with prospects but many failed to develop properly and the ones who have, have not had the right supporting cast. If Edmonton had flipped several of their prospects when they were still at peak value (Cogliano, Gagne, Paajavari, Yakupov jump to mind) perhaps their team would already be contending (and without Connor McDavid... I know... but pretend they lost the lottery).

This article would not do justice if Darcy Regier wasn’t praised as well. He had his ups and downs as GM for the Sabres-- It was time for him to move on when he was fired, but the ammunition Tim Murray has used in his blockbuster trades are largely the product of Darcy, who started the rebuild. Not to mention some of his draft picks will be crucial parts of future contending Sabres’ teams (Ennis 2009, Pysyk 2010, Girgensons 2012, Ristolainen 2013).


*Vanek also yielded pick 51 this year (Guhle)

*Pominville’s return included Johan Larsson as well as a 2014 2nd rounder (Vaclav Karabacek)

*Miller & Ott also brought in Chris Stewart, William Carrier and Jaro Halak. Halak was flipped for Neuvirth and Stewart for a 2017 2nd rounder.

*Moulson was flipped for a 2014 2nd rounder (Eric Cornel) and then re-signed in Buffalo.

*By finishing last place in 2014 and 2015, the Sabres also possessed the 31st overall pick in both the 2014 & 2015 drafts. The 2014 pick was Brendan Lemiuex, who part of the Evander Kane & Zach Bogosian trade. The 2015 pick was sent to Colorado as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade.

*Jamie McGinn was also acquired from the Avalanche along with Ryan O’Reilly.

*Tyler Ennis survived the rebuild, but worth noting that he was drafted 26th overall in 2009 with a draft pick acquired from San Jose that came in a trade for Brian Campbell. Sticks with the circle of life theme.