By all accounts, the NHL Draft was a big success here in Buffalo this past weekend.
Hundreds upon hundreds of people descended on our city. Owners, officials and management personnel from all 30 NHL teams, players and their families, all hoping to hear their name called in the seven rounds of player selections over two days. Local fans, augmented by a good contingent of Leafs fans from Toronto coming to celebrate their pick of Auston Matthews as first player overall, and fans from all across the continent converged at the foot of Main Street. Clearly, the third time that this city has hosted this event, which has become that much more of a showcase than the previous times in 1991 and 1998, was the best ever.
Some random observations…
- The United States of America was well represented in the selections. 12 American players were chosen among the 30 in the first round of selections, and by Saturday morning USA Hockey leaders Dave Ogrean and Jim Johansen were crowing about that achievement to the assembled members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, who were holding a morning conclave.
- Commissioner Gary Bettman gets booed. Again. It is kind of de rigeur to boo the commissioner of any sport. He is not there to win any popularity contests, except with the owners who hire him and pay his salary. What is somewhat astonishing is that Bettman would receive such a hostile reception here in Buffalo, No Goal notwithstanding. For those without long memories, it was 2003 when the Sabres franchise collapsed under the weight of the Adelphia scandal and went into bankruptcy. It would have been very easy for some oligarch to move in, buy the team at a fire sale and move them to wherever. Bettman recognized Buffalo as a premier hockey city and made sure that did not happen. The league ran the team until such time as local interests could buy the franchise and insure its future here in Buffalo. Without the Commissioner, Buffalo could today be a proud ECHL city and a massive curtain could be draping over the 300 seats at games with 5000 fans in the house.
- Alex Nylander has nicer hair than his brother. Everyone is already excited about the Nylander rivalry between Alex and his brother Michael, who plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs. So as the questions to Buffalo’s first selection, Alex Nylander, in the media scrum began to wander to the absurd, we learned that Alex has nicer hair. But oh… Michael is the one who likes to talk trash. Stay tuned!
- Canalside was hopping. Putting together a Fan Fest at the popular venue was a no brainer, and thousands of fans came down for food, drink, games, fun and a watch party on the big screen set up on the stage. Although just a one day event, perhaps this was a trial run for a bigger and better Fan Fest which will run during the 2018 World Juniors, albeit that will be staged in the cold weather. Can Buffalo handle the test? Fingers crossed (but not optimistic) that the port a potties will be history and the ECHDC will have built permanent washroom facilities by then.
- No Uber. The biggest complaint from visiting team officials and media people was the lack of transportation infrastructure. People have a hard time grasping the inertia at the state level with regards to Uber, and our cab companies are woefully inadequate. And expensive. Metro rail was offering free rides up and down the system all day Friday. Anybody taking part in the draft feel like taking a ride up to Forest Lawn Cemetery? Didn’t think so.
- Pysyk for Kulikov? Say it ain’t so! One has to love the reaction of fans assembled in the crowd the minute the announcement comes from the podium, “The Buffalo Sabres have made a trade…” Rapture and cheering. It could be Bin Laden coming to Buffalo in exchange for Jack Eichel. No matter. We made a trade, yay! Mark Pysyk is an NHL ready top four defenseman who took one for the team and got buried in Rochester while the Sabres were in deliberate tank mode. Kulikov adds grit and toughness, and is best remembered here for ending Buffalo player Derek Roy’s season in 2011. This is one trade that may come back to bite the Sabres in the ass.
- Canada leads the selection count. Of the 211 players selected Friday and Saturday, Canada ended up with the lead in numbers. Interesting that four Finnish players went in the first round. And just by looking at these stats, the Czech and Slovak hockey programs have dropped like a rock. There is work to be done there. Canada 89,United States 52, Sweden 25, Russia 17, Finland 14, Czech Republic 4, Denmark 3, Belgium 2, Switzerland 2, Belarus 1, Germany 1, Latvia 1.
- Bert and Dom in the house! The Buffalo Sabres pulled out all the stops, bringing Gilbert Perreault and Dominik Hasek to the event to do meet and greets and their presence was most welcome. Remember that Perreault was drafted first overall by the Sabres in 1970, in the famous “spin of the wheel”. Imagine bringing one of those carnival bazaar wheels to such an event today…. “Clack, clack, clack, clack…. clack…… clack……… clack………… clack”.
- Lindy Ruff, still loved and revered. It was late in the night on Friday when it became Dallas’ turn to make their selection. When the time came, it was former Sabres player and coach and now head coach of the Dallas Stars, Lindy Ruff, who got to announce their pick. He received a long and heartfelt ovation. Perhaps that will change should he be ever named NHL Commissioner.
- Pegula opens the proceedings. The opening remarks at Friday’s event were bestowed upon none other than team owner Terry Pegula, and he brought down the house when he suggested that if anyone has any complaints that they should call his wife. Having a team owner being given such a platform at a league event is not something they often do. If ever.
- The NHL Combine coming back to Buffalo. Amidst the din of the boos directed at Bettman, the commissioner announced that the NHL Combine will be returning to Buffalo and HarborCenter come 2017. Another win for our city.
- When will the NHL All Star Game return to Buffalo? Buffalo hosted the NHL All Star Game but once, and that was way back in 1978 at Memorial Auditorium. Going now on 40 years, it would make sense that this is Buffalo’s time again. With all the new hotels and attractions downtown, Canalside (even with the portable toilets), a magnificent HarborCenter and all the facilities it provides, and a growing reputation in national sports circles that Buffalo is more than capable than handling sports extravaganzas, one would think that Buffalo would be high on everyone’s radar.
It is estimated that the economic impact of the NHL Draft to the Buffalo region was $9.2-million. The good publicity that the many writers and broadcasters take back to their communities, and the positive vibe presented on national networks TSN, NBCsn and the NHL Network are beyond measure. To the tiny but shrill band of naysayers who fought valiantly to keep HarborCenter from happening and keeping the Webster Block in its former state as an asphalt parking lot… when are they going to man up and admit they were wrong?