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The Buffalo Sabres And The Art Of The Tank

When an NHL season winds down, those handful of teams within the cellar’s vicinity turn their thoughts toward how best to improve themselves via the draft. One way to accomplish that is a strategy known as “tanking.” It’s a legitimate tactic that’s been used for decades. However, there are different ways to go about The Tank.

In 2014, Calgary, Florida, Edmonton and the New York Islanders are a few of the teams hoping the winning draft lottery ticket bears its logo. Some of them were thwarted by their general manager’s questionable trading skills, while others simply aren’t good enough to place higher yet. Regardless, it’s now time for each to subtly jockey themselves into the position of walking up to the podium in Philadelphia this June earlier than as many other GM’s as possible.

Hockey’s current antonym for ‘subtlety,’ of course, is the Buffalo Sabres. It’s difficult to recall a team being so open and forthright about their tanking intentions than the skating swords have been. Over two seasons and as many general managers the Sabres have not left their plan open much to interpretation. It began with addition by subtraction. Since 2012, they’ve traded away Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Jason Pominiville, Robyn Regehr, Andrej Sekera, Jordan Leopold, Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Steve Ott and franchise goaltender Ryan Miller; a list of players that includes many points and three team captains.

They’ve also scoured the waiver wire while sending the top members of their recent draft classes to the AHL and various junior leagues. Only a few true veterans remain in Buffalo; including Ville Leino, who hasn’t scored a goal since before the M*A*S*H series finale. (An exaggeration; though only slight)

A rotating group of backup and AHL goalies combined with a mostly non-existent defense and injuries to key players has all but ensured Buffalo will finish last. Barring a miracle that would make Herb Brooks envious, they are now guaranteed either the first or second overall draft choice this summer.

Fans are welcome to criticize The Tank in general or the bull in a China shop way in which the Sabres are going about theirs.  But neither should be an issue. There are two things to consider here. First, though frowned upon it is technically okay to begin a sentence with a conjunction. Also if a team’s cupboard is bare with no chance at the playoffs, drafting a potential superstar they can contractually ensure stays on their roster for years to come is a great way to start.

Proper tanking is an art form that requires a plan more involved than simply finishing last. By stockpiling a slew of high draft picks over the next two years and with plenty of cap room to augment them and their highly-touted prospects with veteran talent, Buffalo is going about their tank the right way. A few seasons from now, the new-look Sabres should be the hottest ticket in town.

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