Buffalo - September 10, 2014 - Timing never seems to be on the side of the Buffalo Sabres.
When they were still a perennial playoff team from 2007 to around 2011 or 2012, the team definitely had talent. Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville. But one of the key components that seemed to be missing every year, pretty much since Chris Drury left, was that all-important leadership aspect.
It became clear that there was no ultimate leader in the Sabres locker room; no one like Drury to take on the role. There were the alternating captains, the shared captaincies and even times when there was no captain. Even a guy who had never played a game before signing in Buffalo (Craig Rivet) was able to step right in and take over the captain role.
Now, as the Sabres trudge forward in their efforts to rebuild from the ground up, it seems as though the Sabres finally have a grasp on how to address that pesky leadership issue. They’re drafting more and more players who show strong leadership qualities at a young age like Sam Reinhart, Johan Larsson and J.T. Compher. Guys who the organization hopes can not only be what they’re looking for on the ice, but in the dressing room as well.
More importantly, General Manager Tim Murray is bringing in the veteran leaders the team needs right now to lead those youngsters to greener pastures, teach them how to win and how to bring a winning culture back to the Sabres organization.
The team already has emerging young leaders in the two Tylers, Myers and Ennis, who both have publicly declared that they need to take on a larger leadership role as the roster continuously gets younger and younger. Matt Moulson has also stated his desire to become more of a leader. Drew Stafford has worn the “A” on his sweater for years and is considered one of the leaders of the locker room. Zemgus Girgensons has been pegged by many as a future captain of the blue and gold.
To supplement those leaders, the Sabres went out and acquired two more pieces to the puzzle, both from the Montreal Canadiens. Brian Gionta was the first American-born captain of les habitants and will bring that indispensable quality to the Buffalo locker room. Whether he’s named captain or not is irrelevant; he’ll serve as one of the primary leaders of this team whether he has a letter stitched to his sweater or not. He’s got the track record and the elder statesmanship going for him to help lead this youthful core.
Joining him is the man many felt would replace him as captain in Montreal: Josh Gorges. Gorges wore the “A” under Gionta for the last few years and was one of the likely candidates to take the job from Gionta after he departed until a surprise trade landed him in Buffalo. Here, he’ll serve a leadership role as well, helping youngsters like Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk along as they grow into NHL defensemen.
It took some time and much different circumstances, but the leadership woes of the past have seemingly disappeared as the team prepares for a brighter future. Not all of these faces will be in the mix by the time the youthful core is ready to make this team a contender, but their presence now is important all the same.
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