Hockey News

Revisiting the Sabres’ Failed 2015 Draft Class – Hockey Writers – Sabers History

For many of the reasons for the decade that was the 2010s for the Buffalo Sabres, their inability to consistently develop their talent was perhaps the greatest. With three different general managers (GMs) in charge at various points from 2010 to 2019, the team has drafted well but failed to develop players, or was drafted completely badly. That being said, their biggest debate of the decade isn’t talked about nearly enough.

Heading into the 2015 NHL Draft, the Sabers had a chance at life on their hands but somehow managed to squander it. It was a day that could have revitalized the franchise and put it back on the road to greatness, but instead it was one of its biggest mistakes. With the 2024 NHL Draft upon us, let’s take a look back at the 2015 Draft and how it was a disaster for the Sabres.

The 2015 NHL Draft Class is STILL STACKED

The 2003 draft class is often considered the greatest, but his teammates 12 years later may still be in the hunt for that title one day. Just like 2003, it’s truly mind-boggling when you look back at how much talent was available in the 2015 Draft. Most classes have a clear leader named as the top pick, but this draft had two. Hailed as productive talents, the duo of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel have been the talk of hockey throughout the 2014-15 NHL season and were all guaranteed to go first and second, respectively. But what really made this class stand out was that it wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

Pictured here during the 2013 IIHF U18 Championship, Connor McDavid (right) and Jack Eichel identify the NHL’s loaded 2015 class (THW Archives).

Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot and Brock Boeser were just a few of the names that had teams with young players in the first round. Of the 30 players selected in the first round of that draft, two have gone on to win the Stanley Cup and 12 have become NHL All-Stars. It’s only been nine years but the class of 2015 is already considered one of the country’s best and it’s easy to see why.

And because of their rebuilding efforts that had begun a few years earlier, the Sabers entered that year’s convention sitting in the bird’s seat.

The Sabers Are Loaded Before The 2015 Draft

The Sabers endured back-to-back upsets in 2013-14 and 2014-15 as they finished last in the NHL both years. It stretched the patience of their fans to unprecedented lengths but a silver lining appeared. Starting in the fall of 2013, the team began clearing house and traded two long-time stars, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, to save for the future. Both deals returned significant gains including a 2015 first-round pick, making it clear they were headed for the draft.

In addition to the disappointing performance on the ice, the Sabers’ 2014-15 season was marred by controversy. Although they would not compete in the tournament, the team was accused of throwing the season so that they could win. Buffalo Stories called the “McEichel Derby” (from ‘The McEichel Derby: It could be a two-team race as Oilers pull out OT win over Flyers while Sabres, Coyotes lose again,’ Buffalo Stories, 3/22/2015). This was especially evident on March 26, 2015, when the Buffalo crowd erupted into cheers after the Arizona Coyotes scored in overtime, keeping the Sabers in the clear race for last place.

Whether Buffalo won that season depends on who you ask, but the Sabers finished last and were guaranteed one of the top two picks in the draft. The fans wanted McDavid and he seemed unable to catch him, but the shock came when the Edmonton Oilers won the 2015 Draft Lottery and went from the third pick to the first. There has been no shortage of controversy and anger in Buffalo and the NHL alike, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Sabers fans weren’t happy with the results, but Eichel was the prize himself and helped ease their disappointment. They had put it through two brutal seasons and the 2015 Draft was the long-awaited pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Or at least it should have been.

Murray Sells Farm

Tim Murray only served as the Sabers GM from 2014 to 2017 but in retrospect, it’s surprising that he lasted that long. Known for his carefree, mine-or-the-highway style that led to a very strained relationship with his coaches and fellow managers, he was in charge of one of the most important days in Sabers history. Knowing what we know now, he shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near you.

Murray is primarily credited as the architect behind the Sabers tanking and there is an argument to be made that he is the worst GM in Sabers history. The main reason is how he squandered the scandal of wealth that was accumulated before and during his reign. He made a few trades that piled up Buffalo’s assets, but then disposed of those assets with a number of nonsensical trades designed to speed up the team’s ongoing rebuild. The first came in February 2015 with the Winnipeg Jets. Buffalo got Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian in exchange for Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick (read that right).

It was a mind-boggling trade to this day, but there was no cause for concern at the time as the Buffaloes still had their first two players available come draft day. However, on the morning of the day of the meeting, another move was made. The Sabers sent a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Robin Lehner and David Legwand, another deal that didn’t seem like a good fit at the time.

Instead of keeping their three first-round picks in what was a veritable goldmine of young talent, Murray decided to do everything possible to quickly turn the team around, and as we now know, it paid off. The trade where that pick was given away so much didn’t work out (for many reasons) and only added to the team’s issues. But rather than focus on that part, let’s examine what could have been.

Buffalo’s 2015 Draft Class That Never Was

In addition to their second overall pick in 2015, the Sabers also own the 21st pick (acquired from the New York Islanders in exchange for Vanek) and the 25th pick (acquired from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Miller). If he had been patient, Murray could have used these two picks to move up on draft day to select another big name alongside Eichel. Power players like Marner and Rantanen or speedsters like Barzal and Connor would be easy to find if that were the case.

But disregarding the trade entirely, Murray would still have options with both of his extra picks, even if most of the big names weren’t on the board at the time. At pick 21, Ottawa used to take Colin White, two big-name stars were still there. The smart and accurate Boeser and the young but brave Travis Konecny ​​were taken later.

Brock Boeser Vancouver Canucks
Brock Boeser, was one of the future stars that Buffalo missed in 2015 (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers).

Both went on to become NHL All-Stars and could help give the Sabers the depth they badly needed at the time. Goalkeeper Ilya Samsonov was also available and wouldn’t be an immediate solution to their goalscoring issues, but could be developed into a key piece.

At the 26th pick, Winnipeg used Jack Roslovic, a solid pick still left. Anthony Beauvillier, who became a key part of the Islanders’ renaissance, was available. Additionally, Sebastian Aho and Kirill Kaprizov, two of the draft’s biggest steals, weren’t taken until the second and fifth rounds, respectively.

A missed opportunity is a lost opportunity

The Sabers could have come out of the 2015 Draft with one of their best classes in team history. But instead, apart from Eichel’s writing, they had very little to show for it. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20 and there’s no telling what would have happened if things had gone differently, but it would be hard to argue that they didn’t waste a huge opportunity here. To be fair to Murray, he helped fix that by making the impressive deal that brought Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo during the draft, but that was pretty good.

The trade that left the other two first-rounders didn’t work out, and instead of making the Sabers an immediate contender, it led to more futility and frustration. It should come as no surprise that Murray was fired after the 2016-17 season and it became apparent that his plan had failed. Unfortunately, the team spent years afterward paying for his mistakes.

Related: Buffalo Sabres’ Best Draft Steals

Entering the 2024 Draft, the Sabers will have the 11th overall pick after missing the playoffs this year. It took time, but current GM Kevyn Adams has gotten the Sabers back on track since taking over in 2020. Still, he has a lot of work to do and will have to choose wisely to continue Buffalo’s upward trajectory. If he chooses to look to the past for inspiration, let’s hope he surpasses Murray’s reign.

Substack The Hockey Writers Buffalo Sabers Banner

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button