(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions. Here is Ryan Nagelhout and Goose's Roost, giving us The Essentials for the Buffalo Sabres.)
Player: Dominik Hasek
Sabres fans have been spoiled with good goaltending. That most don't understand how good Ryan Miller has been in recent years tells you how spectacular Hasek was between the pipes in Buffalo. He carried entire teams into the playoffs, including the 1998-99 trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. I'm pretty sure a lukewarm corpse was skating with Michael Peca on the top line.
Hasek has the Vezinas, Harts and highlight reels to prove he was one of the best ever. Plus the French Connection never got their own Mastercard commercial.
That has to count for something. Gilbert Perrault is getting his own statue in Buffalo. Once Hasek finally stops playing hockey, his bronze should be on the way.
The Sabres went 52—24—6 that year, taking advantage of their speed and stature as the league adjusted to the post-lockout rule changes. Considering the team missed the playoffs the previous three seasons, the Sabres came out of nowhere and Buffalo immediately fell in love. Devastating blue line injuries halted a playoff run in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the excitement of that season jump-started a fanbase just recovering from bankruptcy and a work stoppage.
Game: 1975 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 3
There was a bat, fog and Rene Robert scoring in overtime to win it. Of course, the Sabres went on to lose that series, too.
Goal: May Day
The call made it legendary, but anything that sweeps the Bruins is tops in my book. The Sabres ended a long streak of playoff futility, going around Ray Bourque to do it.
Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue, Dave McLlwaine and Uwe Krupp to the New York Islanders for Pat LaFontaine, Randy Wood and Randy Hillier.
Apologies to Uwe Krupp, but this one is known as the LaFontaine/Turgeon deal for a reason. The move was all about retooling: both Turgeon and LaFontaine were unhappy with their former teams and needed a change of scenery. In LaFontaine, the Sabres got a superstar that reignited fan excitement after years of first-round playoff exits. He had 93 points in 57 games that season, then scored 148 points the next year. The deal helped both teams, but no one missed Turgeon in Buffalo.
Worst Trade: 2001
Dominik Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings for Vyacheslav Kozlov, a first round pick in 2002 and future considerations.
Kozlov played 38 games before an injury, then was shipped off to Atlanta. Hasek won 41 games and a Stanley Cup in his first year with the Wings, while Sabres fans were treated to a death spiral of bankruptcy. Oof.
Unsung Hero: Gary Bettman
If there's one thing Bettman has done it's avoid franchise relocation, if possible. (I'm looking at you, Phoenix) In 2002, Sabres owner John Rigas went to prison, the team declared bankruptcy and the NHL took over. The team could have gone to the highest bidder and shuffled out of town, but Bettman wanted the franchise in small-market Buffalo. Even after a misstep with Mark Hamister's bid, Bettman made sure to find a buyer willing to keep the team local.
Eventually, Tom Golisano came through and relocation hasn't been a concern since. Sabres fans owe Bettman a small debt of gratitude for his leadership during some of the franchise's darkest days.
Franchise Villain: Brett Hull
Just... let's move on.
Fight: Rob Ray vs. Tie Domi.
All 13 times.
The best fight ever is Jim Schoenfeld and Wayne Cashman in the Zamboni entrance, but if I don't pick Ray, well, he'll fight me.
Coach: Lindy Ruff
The man with a seemingly bottomless tie collection is respected throughout the league and somehow survived bankruptcy, three ownership changes (including the NHL) and many postseason-less years at the helm. Ruff has the franchise record for wins and is the longest-tenured coach in hockey, with four Eastern Conference Finals appearances under his belt. Terry Pegula loves him, too.
Broadcaster: Rick Jeanneret
Ted Darling may have his name on the press box at First Niagara Center, but only one Sabres announcer has his own Sportscentre Top 10 list, greatest hits album and t-shirts.