Put Buffalo In The West And Then Put The Sabres In The Playoffs
12:11 PM EST on January 4, 2023
The logistics of moving an entire city are complicated and expensive. Take a look at this Atlantic article from 2016, about a small town in Sweden on unstable ground. To move the thing just two miles east, it says, will take decades and cost something like a billion dollars. The process remains ongoing, though the results so far seem reasonably encouraging.
This is just to say, I don't think we can move as big a city as Buffalo west of the Mississippi in the span of just a few months, before the start of the NHL playoffs. But if we can all collectively put our minds to it and imagine picking Buffalo up and plopping it, hm, maybe right next to Omaha, the benefits could be extraordinary.
In the last decade, there has been no better time to be a Buffalo Sabres fan than right this moment. That's a low bar to clear—the Sabres haven't made the postseason since 2011—but the past doesn't matter, because this team, and more specifically the out-of-nowhere brilliance of Tage Thompson, is exciting. On Tuesday night, on the road against the Washington Capitals, it was the tall, fresh-faced, goal-scoring center who delivered another two points for his team. The big slap shot from the left circle on the power play—Ovechkin could learn a thing or two from this kid!—broke a 1-1 tie in the first period. Some nifty stickhandling through traffic and an accurate shot gave the Sabres a 3-1 lead in the second. And when overtime came around, tough forechecking by Alex Tuch set up Thompson for the winner from close range.
Do you know the leading goal-scorer in the NHL right now? It's Connor McDavid, of course. But do you know who's second? That's right. It's Tage! Once upon a time he was an afterthought out of the Blues' Ryan O'Reilly trade, a former late first-rounder who scored seven times in 12 minutes a night as a 21-year-old back in 2018–19, lost a year to shoulder surgery, and came back to score just eight in 38 games. But ever since the Sabres stopped being Jack Eichel's team, it's become Thompson's. He's big and strong and can blast the puck to smithereens, but he also boasts surprising finesse, with an ability to maneuver that 6-foot-7, 219-pound body into whatever position makes the defense most vulnerable. Did I mention this assist he also picked up on Tuesday?
Tage is unstoppable! And so are the Sabres, kind of. With Thompson providing a hat trick threat on any given night and opening up chances for his linemates, plus Rasmus Dahlin spreading the puck around from the blue line, Buffalo's won seven of their last eight. To say they're great is overstating it by a large margin—they're top-heavy and lacking a goalie—but as a team that's first in goals scored and 23rd in goals allowed, they're a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
Keep that in mind—fun—while I explain the rest of the situation. The Sabres probably aren't going to break their playoff drought this season, because they have the misfortune of playing in an eastern city, and the NHL's Eastern Conference is far tougher than the West this year. The Sabres, at 19-15-2, sit with the 18th best point percentage in the league right now, but 10 of the teams above them make their home in the East, and only seven are in the other one. Put it this way: if Buffalo existed in a place where buffalo actually lived, they'd be an eight seed right now.
And that would be awesome. I'm not saying I would bet on them to take out a team like Vegas, but that atmosphere and intensity for an underdog battle in that long-starved building would probably be the best of the entire first round. How I'd love to see a top seed panic after giving up a 7-1 loss with four Thompson goals in Game 2, or take in Zemgus Girgensons (who really deserves this more than anyone) shifting the momentum of a Game 5 with a nasty check to a star forward. The Sabres have both the thrills and the heart to earn a neutral fan's love in 2023. We would all benefit from a Buffalo boost. That's why Western New York is in Nebraska now.