Our luck is changing

Another big moment in Western New York sports

Howard Simon
April 29, 2018 - 7:09 pm

Photo: Bill Beacon - The Canadian Press via AP

Despite our recent run of sports success in Western New York, I didn’t get my hopes up for the NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday night.

Sure, we saw the Buffalo Bills end their playoff drought and then we experienced an unprecedented Big-Four basketball season. Heck, even celery ended its suffering and went out with a first ever win after 449 straight losses in the Bisons' WCC race. It didn’t matter. I had mentally prepared myself for the Sabres to have the fourth pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. As far as I was concerned, there was no one named Rasmus Dahlin.

Now that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be watching, so there I was on Saturday hunkered down in my basement/man cave being my usual anti-social self. When it was revealed that Carolina had jumped up from the 11th spot into a top-three selection, I figured it was a good thing I didn’t get my hopes up. I thought about last year when New Jersey and Philadelphia both leaped up into the top-three, and I figured this was not going to go well for the Sabres.

When it was time for No. 4 to be revealed, I just kept saying, "please be Ottawa" since we already knew Montreal had moved up too. When the card was turned over and the Senators logo was shown, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Sadly, we all had to wait for two periods of the San Jose-Vegas game to be played before we found out the Sabres' fate. Memo to the NHL: please don’t do that again.

When Montreal’s card came up, I moved to the edge of my seat and began praying once again. It reminded me of the way I felt before that fourth down play from the Cincinnati Bengals in the season finale with Baltimore. It's one of those moments where you promise the sports gods that if they let you have this, you won’t ask for anything for a while. I think nearly four months constitutes a while, don’t you?

When Bill Daly flipped over the card and it showed the Sabres logo, I did what all of you did and let out a series of screams. I can’t confirm or deny that I had a few "(expletive deleted) yeah!” chants spewing forth. I’d say it's a good thing my wife wasn’t home at the time, but she knows not to be worried about shouts that emanate from our basement during sporting events involving my teams.

I was pumped. I was on a natural high. I mean, we REALLY needed this after what was, in my opinion, the worst season in Sabres history. Sabres fans have been beaten down, and this season left them with barely a pulse for their hockey team. I would have gone out and celebrated, but I couldn’t wait to get on the internet to start reading up on Dahlin and to watch some highlights of the Swedish defenseman.

The first set of highlights I found also had some comments on Dahllin’s abilities. Former NHL general manager Craig Button, who now works for TSN in Canada, said Dahlin is a No. 1 elite defenseman. Button said his command of the game is superb in every single regard. TSN colleague Bob McKenzie said when it comes to Dahlin, think Erik Karlsson (Ottawa’s franchise defenseman) but bigger (in terms of size). 

Dahlin is exactly what the Sabres need right now. Coach Phil Housley must have been doing hand stands when the Sabres logo was revealed. Dahlin is considered a dynamic two-way defenseman with all of the skills necessary to star at the NHL level. Great skater, great speed, tremendous vision, poise with the puck, hard shot from the point, physical player in the defensive zone and hockey smarts beyond his years. Those are just some of the recently turned 18-year-old’s attributes. 

Dahlin excelled in the Swedish Hockey League, which is considered one of the best leagues in the world. His stats were better than Victor Hedman’s during his final year in the SHL, and they matched Karlsson’s production from the league in the year before he was drafted by Ottawa.

If you haven’t done so already, go look at some of Dahlin’s highlights on YouTube. You’ll wish the Sabres season was starting tomorrow. This is my favorite highlight so far:

It will be interesting to see how this impacts the decisions of Sabres general manager Jason Botterill. One of my first thoughts was whether or not this means Botterill might look to move Rasmus Ristolainen. He’s coming off a disappointing season, but, then again, almost every Sabres is. Ristolainen might be able to bring in some badly needed forward help. But Botterill might look at the addition of Dahlin as a boost for Ristolainen. Perhaps he can be paired with Dahlin or maybe Ristolainen goes down to the second pairing on defense where he might be better suited.  

When I woke up Sunday morning and took a look outside, I noticed some very light snow. Even though this has been an absolutely horrible first month-plus of spring, who could be angry? The Sabres won the lottery! If Josh Allen turns out to be the Bills' franchise quarterback, we might look back on this as one of the most important weekends in Buffalo sports history.

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