The 2014-15 season was like no other in Sabres history as Buffalo’s rebuild plunged the team into another last place season as they pushed to secure the right to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
Media narratives on tanking and the need to pick first piled on game after game of poorly played hockey by a patchwork roster led by a lame duck coach. The season was capped by the Edmonton Oilers snatching the first overall pick with the Sabres guaranteed to slot in second in the draft order.
Such an odd season cannot be served by any run-of-the-mill awards post. So the fourth-annual 2ITB Awards will take on a slightly different look this year as we reflect back on a headache inducing run towards the end of the rebuild.
Most Valuable Player: Jonathan Toews – Toews heroics in the final minutes of Chicago’s 4-3 win erased an improbably Buffalo lead and snatched away a regulation win that would have brought the Sabres two points closer to 29th place. As it turns out, Captain Serious’ tallies were much needed as Buffalo didn’t ensure last place until the second last game of the year and the lottery results would have pushed them out of the second pick.
Least Valuable Player: Andre Benoit – I’m not sure there was any one player on the roster who was as consistently disappointing as Benoit was. He scored a nice shorthanded goal in a drubbing by the Red Wings but was generally bad the entire year. He certainly contributed to the tank but was a complete albatross in every other situation.
Best Prospect: Mark Pysyk – Pysyk has been a good solider for the Sabres since he was drafted. Tim Murray knew that the best place for Pysyk this year was likely to be Rochester despite Pysyk’s ability to excel at the NHL level. He’s poised to be a major piece of the puzzle in the near future and if his health issues clear up I think he’ll wind up playing a top-four role next year.
Best Use of Context: Jerry Sullivan – Sully’s entry into the awards is a late one as his post-lottery column was a doozy from The Buffalo News’ resident occasional hockey columnist. Watching and listening back to Murray’s comments, he is consistently asked about his feelings regarding the lottery process, to which he tells the same story he did last year as an opponent of the system. He also repeatedly refers to the great prizes at the top of the draft and how pleased the Sabres are to be picking second. But Jerry didn’t let that get in the way of a good column. Nice work, Jer.
Best Narrative: Tanking is an affront to our morals, or something – The Buffalo News provided us with a monthly reminder that the Sabres were tanking by getting the thoughts from the players at the forefront. Of course, the players would respond that they want to win every game and they compete every night. It was a lot of #fun.
Best Media Personality: John Vogl – Vogl continued to just do his thing. His weekly Inside the NHL column is sound and he never joined the idiotic fracas that was the pro-tank vs. anti-tank, cheering against your team vs. cheering for the best result arguments. He did his job and he did it well.
Best Use of Twitter: Sabres 101 @ScottyMCSS – Scott and I don’t agree on everything and there were times this season we butted heads, but he managed to keep things very even keel in a season that was full of turmoil and opposing viewpoints. Kudos to Scott for that.
Best Use of Retweets: The Buffalo Sabres – Because who doesn’t want to know how Suzy and Jimmy’s cat is watching the Sabres game?
Best In-Arena addition: Skybridge to HarborCenter – This kind of wins by default because I’m not aware of any other major changes that came to the arena this year. Still, the bridge is a nice addition.
Worst In-Arena addition: https://www.twitteraudit.com/Nickinbuffalo
Best Moment: Matt Calvert’s ENG – Sad isn’t it? The game in Columbus was a culmination of a week or two worth of obnoxious, Chicken Little nonsense in which Buffalo collectively lost their minds. When Calvert scored to ice that game away it was as if a massive weight was lifted from my shoulders – and I presume the shoulders of WNY hockey fans. It’s too bad it didn’t come sooner as it would have made more of the final games that much more enjoyable.
Best Moment that wasn’t related to losing: RJ and Jim Kelly dropping the puck: A pair of WNY icons who had recently gotten the tremendous news of being cancer free coming together for a ceremonial puck drop was excellent.
Most Disappointing Moment: Fans cheering for the Coyotes – I know what was at stake that night, but to go into the arena and actively cheer against your team was just idiotic. A quiet, subdued fist pump would have done just fine and wouldn’t have been an affront to the team and wouldn’t have set off the subsequent media firestorm.
Most Underwhelming Moment: Dominik Hasek Night – The Sabres could have done so much more while still honoring Hasek’s wishes for a low key ceremony. I think they swung and missed on this one and I hope they can find a way to do something to improve on ceremonies for next year and beyond.