Doesn’t it seem like decades since the Buffalo Sabres have been relevant in the NHL standings? Although we are years past these times, it is nice to reminisce about the “Briere and Drury days”, where the Sabres were a dominating team, with plenty of young talent. Although the Sabres were never able to fulfill the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, they were able to capture the President’s trophy in 2006-07 and make back to back Eastern Conference Finals. Due to the young incoming talent the team had, some key veterans were forced to sign elsewhere, and were ultimately forgotten. I will take a look back at some of the former Sabres, who were essential pieces to the team’s success, and what their careers amounted to once they left Buffalo.
Selected 69th overall in the 1997 NHL draft, Max Afinogenov played nine seasons with the Sabres, recording 334 points. Afinogenov was a fan favorite for years in Buffalo, as he excited fans with his electrifying speed and blazing slap shot. In 2005-06, Afinogenov recorded a career high 73 points, which was good enough to lead the team. After his final season with Buffalo in 2008-09, the Moscow, Russia native played one season with the Atlanta Thrashers before going back home and playing in the KHL. Despite being 35 years of age, Afinogenov is still playing in the KHL, with Chekhov Vityaz.
Drafted in the 6th round, 164th overall in the 1998 NHL Draft, Ales Kotalik would go on to spend seven years in a Sabres uniform. Known to have a rocket from the point, and one of the most successful shootout players in NHL history, Kotalik had a career year in 2005-06, recording 25 goals and 37 assists for 62 points. Sabres coach (at the time) Lindy Ruff was never satisfied with Kotalik’s work ethic, so the forward was shipped to the Edmonton Oilers. The Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic native would spend parts of seasons with the Rangers and Flames, before finishing his career with Ceske Budejovice HC in the Czech league.
Drafted 3rd overall by the New York Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, J.P. Dumont made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1998-99 season. Dumont was traded to Buffalo in 2000-01, where he would spend five seasons. Dumont was at his best during the 2005-06 playoffs, where he recorded 14 points in 18 games. In the offseason, the Sabres were unable to re-sign Dumont, so he took his talents to Nashville, where he recorded a career high 72 points during the 2007-08 season. After five years with the Predators, the Montreal, Quebec native played one final season with Bern of the Swiss league before calling it a career.
Selected 18th overall in the 1998 NHL Draft, Dimitri Kalinin made his NHL debut with the Sabres during the 1999-00 season. Kalinin would spend the first eight seasons of his career with the Sabres before signing with the Rangers prior to the 2008-09 season. In 539 career games, Kalinin accumulated 162 career points, while having a career year with the Sabres in 2003-04 recording 34 points in 77 games. Since leaving the NHL, Kalinin has spent the past six seasons playing in Russia, appearing in many international competitions with Russia, including the Olympics. The Chelyabinsk, Russia native is currently 34 years old, playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk for St. Petersburg in the KHL.
There was no doubt that the Sabres roster was full of talent not too long ago. The success of the team relied on leadership from its veterans and secondary scoring from its young talent. In 2005-06, the Sabres were just one win away from reaching their third Stanley Cup final in team history; however, they fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in game seven. The Sabres are currently in the midst of a rebuild, and hopefully when it’s all done, they can find success like they did just a decade ago.