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Building an All-Time Sabres roster is pretty straight forward, but what if none of the players chosen were ever teammates in Buffalo?
In an attempt to put something new and exciting together during the Buffalo Sabres’ extended break, I decided to try something unique. Loosely inspired by an article “Down Goes Brown” put together at The Athletic in April, I wanted to see if I could assemble a competitive Sabres roster full of players who never played together in Buffalo.
In Brown’s piece, he applied a similar concept, except he pooled his team from the entire NHL. For a team that has been around for 50 years, putting together a 19-man roster of players who were never on the same Sabres team seemed relatively easy at first. The task proved more cumbersome than I initially anticipated, but extremely fun, nonetheless.
The rules are very simple. No two players on the following roster could have skated in a Sabres uniform in the same game. This does not include time as a member of the Rochester Amerks. They could, however, have played together elsewhere (either prior to, or after), just not in Buffalo. We’ll list the choices in chronological order by years they were on the team, followed by an overall depth chart.
The key to this task was finding players who contributed nicely in short stretches. For example, a player like Gilbert Perreault would be really difficult to work into this since he played in Buffalo for 15 seasons. That’s 30-percent of the Sabres’ entire existence that would automatically become ineligible if he were selected. In fact, only three players on the following list played more than three seasons in blue-and-gold.
Inevitably, a piece like this will get a lot of “what about player X” reactions, but before you do that, take a minute and try this exercise on your own. I myself did four different iterations of it before landing on my final version that I felt was the most balanced and talented possible combination.
Without further ado, I present the Sabres’ All-Time Roster of non-overlapping players…
The Roster (In Chronological Order)
Phil Goyette – LW – 1970-72
Though Phil Goyette was at the tail-end of his career when he played for the expansion Sabres, his first year in Buffalo was one to remember. During the inaugural season, the 37-year-old led the team in points-per-game, registering 61 in just 60 appearances.
Like many on this list, his time in Western New York was short-lived, but certainly impactful. In 1971-72, he was traded mid-season to the New York Rangers after scoring 24 points in the Sabres’ first 37 contests that year.
Tim Horton – D – 1972-74
As nearly Sabres fan is aware, Tim Horton’s time in Buffalo came to a somber finish when he passed away in a car accident during the 1973-74 season. At 42 years old, with 20 full NHL seasons under his belt, Punch Imlach acquired Horton in the 1972 Intra-league Draft. His 17 points in 69 games helped the Sabres to their first playoff appearance that season.
It goes without saying that his best playing days were well behind him, but he was the first iconic name to sign with the team from another franchise. Given the time frame, and his place in NHL history, he was impossible to keep off this roster.
Fred Stanfield – LW – 1974-78
One of the longer-tenured Sabres on the roster, Fred Stanfield’s inclusion here is mostly based on the roster circumstances of the mid-70’s teams. Players like Perreault, Rene Robert, Rick Martin, Don Luce and Danny Gare played in Buffalo for too long to fit onto the roster.
Despite being a depth forward, Stanfield’s contributions from 1974-76 were still very good as he posted 82 points in 112 games with the Sabres. In his final two seasons with the club, that production tapered-off, leading him to finish his professional career in the AHL. One interesting note is that he was also one of the least-frequently penalized players in NHL history, totaling just 134 PIM in 914 career games at the NHL-level.
John Van Boxmeer – D – 1979-83
To this day, only one defenseman in Sabres’ history (Phil Housley) has registered a higher points-per-game clip than John Van Boxmeer. With 215 points in 294 games, he was by far the organization’s most offensively productive blueliner of the 70’s and 80’s.
Like many others, he joined the Sabres to close out his career. The only difference is that his most productive campaigns came with Buffalo from 1980-82. In fact, in 1981-82, only Gilbert Perreault out-scored the then 30-year-old Van Boxmeer. Today, he still serves as a member of the Sabres’ organization in the scouting department.
Real Cloutier – RW – 1983-85
One-hit wonders like Cloutier are the key to an exercise like this. In 1983, the Sabres traded Tony McKegney, Andre Savard, and Jean-Francois Sauve to the Quebec Nordiques for the electric Cloutier.
After spending just a year in Western New York after reports of a personality clash with head coach, Scotty Bowman, his NHL career came to a close at just 29 years old. Still, in that one season under Bowman, he was quite good, posting 60 points in 77 games, good for fifth on the team.
Don Lever – LW – 1985-87
Don Lever’s six-team, 15-year NHL career came to its final stop in Buffalo to start the 1985-86 season. Though he was actually pretty unproductive as a member of the Sabres (13 points in 39 games), he was excellent before that.
In the late-80’s my choices were a bit slim, and in the interest of full disclosure, Lever was one of the last few forward slots I needed to fill. Very few open seasons remained with an entire fourth line to fill, and he just seemed like the best possible choice at that point (mostly for what his career was, as a whole). He also spent time as an assistant coach under Lindy Ruff from 1992-2002.
Ray Sheppard – RW – 1987-90
From this point forward, the trend of “guys who ended their careers with the Sabres” is essentially reversed. Ray Sheppard is the first instance of a player on this roster starting in Buffalo, and then going on to be great elsewhere as well.
After being selected by the Sabres with the 60th-overall pick in 1984, he made his NHL debut during the 1987-88 season. Interestingly enough, the year prior, he put forth a very lackluster AHL season with the Rochester Amerks, posting just 31 points in 55 games. In his rookie campaign in Buffalo, he exploded, registering 65 points in 74 contests.
After two very productive years with the blue-and-gold (and an injury-riddled third-year), he went on to play 10 more seasons between four different teams.
Keith Carney – D – 1991-1994
Like Sheppard, Keith Carney got his start with the Sabres as their 76th-overall draft choice in 1988. Though he never really caught on as a roster regular (just 51 games-played), his career took off in the mid-1990’s with the Chicago Blackhawks. Not one to a big splash on the scoresheet, he earned a reputation as a very talented defensive defenseman.
In my first go-round, his roster spot originally belonged to Gary Galley, but Galley’s inclusion caused an unsavory trickle-down effect. Considering that the drop-off between them wasn’t significant enough to justify losing out on our next player, Carney got the final nod to serve as our left-side defensive specialist.
Randy Burridge – LW – 1995-98
Like many others, Randy Burridge is a well-known Sabre, in part because he participated in the infamous four-overtime game against the New Jersey Devils in the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That season was his only truly productive year in Buffalo, registering 58 points in 74 games (good for second on the team behind Pat LaFontaine).
As far as this particular exercise goes, he was the first person listed who I can actually remember watching play an actual game. After stops in Washington, Boston, and Los Angeles, he played out the final few years of his career in Western New York.
Joe Juneau – C – 1999
Calling Joe Juneau a “one-hit wonder” would be a stretch of the imagination. Despite being a truly effective player both before and after he served as a trade-deadline rental with the Sabres, Juneau really only noticeable during the 1999 Stanley Cup Final run. (where he registered 11 points in 20 playoff games).
As one of the two players on this list who appeared in a Stanley Cup series with Buffalo (Stanfield being the other), his name is often fondly recanted by Sabres fans. If not for his solid career outside of Buffalo, he probably would have been an afterthought in this exercise, to be quite honest.
Chris Gratton – C – 1999-2003
After the Sabres’ 1999 Stanley Cup bid, Darcy Regier tried to re-calibrate the top of his forward pool, in order to take that next step as a team. As part of that plan, he traded Wayne Primeau, Cory Sarich, Brian Holzinger and a third-round pick for Chris Gratton (and a second-rounder).
Despite not ever becoming as impactful as the Sabres had hoped, Gratton was still a decently effective offensive producer in his four years with Buffalo. In 244 games he notched 131 points, serving behind Stu Barnes as the team’s de-facto second-line center.
His presence also helped facilitate the acquisition of our next player, which is obviously a massive bonus.
Daniel Briere – C – 2003-07
As you’ve probably already surmised, the forward pool in this exercise is a little weak. For that reason, I decided to splurge a little bit here and include Daniel Briere, who is one of the longest-tenured Sabres on the list.
His production as co-captain of the 2005-06 and 2006-07 Sabres teams that reached back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals, is still fondly remembered by fans. Conversely, they also still loathe the events leading up to his unceremonious exit via free-agency in 2007. All that aside, he is arguably the best Sabre of the 2000’s.
In 223 games, he registered 230 points, including 95 in his final year with the team. Though he certainly put up some impressive numbers with the Philadelphia Flyers after leaving the organization, his best years were played-out in Buffalo.
Nolan Pratt – D – 2007-08
If this exercise had a “Mr. Irrelevant” award, Nolan Pratt would hold the title. As the very last spot I needed to fill, I was down to two individual seasons to choose from. The only blueliner who fit the bill between those two years was Pratt, so he won by default.
Fortunately, his one season as the team’s seventh defenseman wasn’t totally awful. He notched seven points in 55 games, and served as an uninspiring, yet far from detrimental presence on the third-pairing. He’s a warm body, which is all I needed to complete the exercise.
Dominic Moore – C – 2009
Similar to Pratt, I needed two short-tenured forwards to round-out my depth chart. In order to do that, both of them virtually had to be one-year Sabres. Acquired as a rental piece in 2009, Moore was essentially worthless in Buffalo, accounting for four points in 18 games.
The Sabres also failed to make the playoffs that year, so they might as well have lit the second-round pick it took to acquire him on fire. But hey, we needed a fourth-liner to finish the lineup, and we got one.
Steve Montador – D – 2009-11
Not only did Steve Montador make the cut for this squad, but he would probably also make my team of the most under-appreciated Sabres of all time. As we now reach the early-years of the advanced stats era, Montador’s impact was quite evident.
During his two-seasons in Buffalo only Tyler Myers had a higher Corsi rating among Sabres defensemen. His xGF rate of 51.59-percent was also strong. His contributions on offense weren’t always evident on the score sheet, posting 49 points in 151 games as a Sabre, but he was a very solid two-way defender in his time.
Zack Kassian – RW – 2011-12
As mentioned in Moore’s section, I was desperate for warm bodies to finish the fourth line. Kassian’s 27-game stint during the 2011-12 campaign made him a great fit. At this point, I noticed that my roster was pretty undersized, and while I do feel skill always trumps physicality, it felt good to add a bruiser in the bottom-six.
Following a tumultuous start to his NHL career, he’s currently carved-out a nice role for himself with the Edmonton Oilers. He’ll probably never live up to his draft position (13th-overall in 2009), but he’s still a serviceable middle-six forward.
Michal Neuvirth – G – 2013-15
I know, I know. It hurts to see anyone but Dominik Hasek here, but he was just here too long. In fact, most of the good goalies in Sabres history were in Buffalo for an extended period of time, making them very difficult to include.
Despite not being on most fans’ list of all-time great Sabres netminders, he was very solid during two of the worst seasons in franchise history. Playing behind Tim Murray’s infamous tank teams, Neuvirth was respectable in his 29-game stint, posting a .929 save-percentage.
He was actually so good that Murray had to trade him in order to help ensure his 2014-15 squad’s bid to finish last. In March of that season, he was sent to the New York Islanders in exchange for Chad Johnson, and a third-round pick.
Ryan O’Reilly – C – 2015-18
This one stings a little. Jason Botterill’s decision to deal Ryan O’Reilly will go down as one of, if not the worst trade in Sabres history. Just one year after being dealt for what equated to a handful of magic beans, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the St. Louis Blues’ MVP during their Stanley Cup run.
As a member of the Sabres, O’Reilly was a rare bright spot in a very dark era (one we cannot seem to escape). In three seasons, he posted 176 points, and served as the best two-way pivot the team had seen in quite some time.
Rasmus Dahlin – D – 2018-Present
When I started assembling this roster, I tried to work my way backwards, chronologically. Initially, I had Jack Eichel penciled into O’Reilly’s spot, but it would have precluded me from taking Dahlin. Having a first-pairing defenseman and a top-line center seemed like the superior option.
While some have bemoaned the Swedish phenom’s usage by the Sabres coaching staff (myself included), his contributions to this point have been fantastic. As the second-highest scoring teenage defenseman in NHL history, the future is extraordinarily bright. 2020-21 should be a big opportunity for him to take that next step from being great, to being dominant.
Final Depth Chart
Burridge – O’Reilly – Sheppard
Stanfield – Briere – Cloutier
Goyette – Gratton – Juneau
Lever – Moore – Kassian
The forward group is a little bizarre. The center spine is obviously very good, but the wingers leave a lot to be desired. One thing I learned from this exercise is that if the Sabres found good wingers at any point their history, they typically hung onto them forever.
Finding short-term, yet talented contributors at forward was a generally cumbersome and frustrating task. Hopefully, the highly skilled centermen listed above would be able to elevate their less-talented wingmen.
Dahlin – Horton
Carney – Van Boxmeer
Pratt – Montador
Unlike the forwards, the Sabres have actually done a pretty efficient job of cycling defensive talent over the years. Building a talented blue line was certainly an easier task for that reason, and it’s probably the most impressive piece of the roster.
It’s part of the reason I justified picking Neuvirth instead of badly hamstringing myself with one of the longer-term great netminders in franchise history (of which there have been several).
Like I mentioned in the introduction paragraph, this task was challenging, but a lot of fun. I highly recommend you give it a try if you’re bored. The most difficult aspect for me was excluding Hasek. I did do an iteration of this exercise with him in the fold, but the rest of the roster was pretty uninspiring, and to be quite frank, would have been very dull to write about.
Personally, I feel that this group is more talented, but Hasek was so dominant, you just never know.
The other tough part of this is the research I had to conduct surrounding guy who played in Buffalo well before my time. Someone like Goyette retired from the sport nearly 20 years before I was born, so obviously I never saw him in action. Same goes guys like Stanfield, Horton, and Van Boxmeer. For that reason, it was especially fun for me to get a bit of a historical education of the 1970’s and 1980’s Sabres teams. At the end of the day, this was a blast to put together in a time where intriguing Sabres storylines are at a severe premium.