Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The NHL season has finally come to an end with the Colorado Avalanche being crowned as Stanley Cup champions on Sunday.
It was just five years ago the Avalanche were the worst team in the NHL, by far. Patrick Roy quit as head coach right before the season started in 2016, so, like the Sabres did with Don Granato, general manager Joe Sakic gave Jared Bednar his first chance to coach in the NHL.
Bednar was coming off a season in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters that won them the Calder Cup. He had also won a championship in the ECHL during the 2008-09 season with the South Carolina Stingrays.
As the Avalanche players carried the Stanley Cup around the ice on Sunday night, I bet Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams was hoping his young players were watching and getting themselves motivated to get to that point.
For Colorado, it all started in 2011 when they drafted their future captain, Gabe Landeskog, second overall behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Two years later, with the No. 1 overall pick, Sakic selected Nate MacKinnon. In 2015, Mikko Rantanen was the guy with the 10th overall pick, and it all came together in 2017 when Colorado snagged Cale Makar with the fourth overall selection.
In that draft, Nico Hischier went first overall to the New Jersey Devils, followed by Nolan Patrick to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Dallas Stars grabbed Miro Heiskanen one pick before Makar, who is doing things now that only the great Bobby Orr has done.
Sakic filled in the roster with trades and smart signings, but he built the core first. The one thing he didn’t do was get a great goaltender, but the team he built in front of Darcy Kuemper was so good, average goaltending got it done.
So now let's turn to the Sabres. How have they been built?
It all started with the tank, which did work. It was designed for the Sabres to draft high for, at least, two years, and that netted Buffalo forwards Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel with the second overall picks.
The problem was, general managers Tim Murray and Jason Botterill did a very poor job of building around those two players, and had no idea on how to hire a coach.
Buffalo did get this thing turned in the right direction by getting the first overall pick in both 2018 and 2021. By taking Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, the Sabres have a defense that could turn into the best young group in the league.
The team also got another stud defenseman in the 2018 NHL Draft, as Mattias Samuelsson was taken with the first pick of the second round, 32nd overall.
Buffalo acquired another first-round pick in Henri Jokiharju, and all it cost them was 2016 bust Alex Nylander, who was drafted eighth overall. The other two young defensemen are 2017 fourth-round pick Jacob Bryson and 2016 third-round pick Casey Fitzgerald.
As we look down the roster, Adams is building a team, what I feel, the right way. He’s ignoring high-priced free agents that they’ll regret in three years and is developing some high-end talent.
Buffalo has Dylan Cozens (2019, seventh overall), Peyton Krebs (2019, 17th overall), Tage Thompson, (2016, 26th overall), Casey Mittelstadt (2017, eighth overall), Alex Tuch (2014, 18th overall), Victor Olofsson (2014, seventh round), Rasmus Asplund (2016, 33rd overall) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 54th overall) that will all likely make some sort of impact on the roster next season.
It’s not just that, though. There are some good young players that are on the cusp of making their presence known in the NHL.
Jack Quinn (2020, eighth overall), JJ Peterka (2020, 34th overall), and Isak Rosen (2021, 14th overall) are in waiting, as well as three first-round picks this July in Montreal.
Buffalo also has two of the best goalie prospects in college hockey in Erik Portillo at Michigan (2019, third round) and last year’s Mike Richter Award winner, as college hockey’s best goalie, Devon Levi at Northeastern.
Of course, I’m not predicting the Sabres are going to become the Avalanche, but the blueprint that Adams is using is similar to what Sakic did.
The question is, can Adams execute it, as well?