Much has been made of the Buffalo Sabres‘ abysmal 2013 season.
What began as a another year with playoff aspirations quickly faltered as the team was often heavily outshot, could not protect a lead with any efficiency and the players were trapped in disarray.
Ryan Miller criticized his teammates, emphasizing their penchant for throwing away points in the latter stages of games and even singling out Patrick Kaleta in March for comments in regards to being a healthy scratch.
Lindy Ruff, after coming aboard as Buffalo’s head coach in 1997, was unceremoniously fired in February because of the lackluster performances that his players continued to put forth. Somehow, general manager Darcy Regier was absolved of any blame and managed to hang on to his job.
Veteran defensemen Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold were dealt for draft picks that will pave the way for the rebuild. Following those trades, captain Jason Pominville was let go in exchange for prospects Matt Hackett, Johan Larsson and two more draft selections.
With these moves, Regehr is hoping to mimic what the Los Angeles Kings accomplished in 2012: key pieces to their championship win, such as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, were acquired at the expense of homegrown talents such as Jack Johnson and Brayden Schenn.
One of the few appreciations Buffalo can take out of the year is the play of Kevin Porter down the stretch.
A former Hockey Baker Award winner, Porter chose the collegiate route to strengthen his game, but he has struggled to transfer his success into the NHL.
Drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, Porter, among others such as Mikkel Boedker and Kyle Turris, was believed to have been rushed into the league too fast. He failed the get the chance he so desired as the Coyotes only handed him 38 games of experience.
A move to the Colorado Avalanche in 2010 did not alleviate the 27-year-old’s concerns and although he did receive a better look there, he found himself without a contract renewal two years later.
Buffalo, in search of depth, signed the free agent in the off-season to a two-year contract, hoping he could be added to the Sabres in a third or fourth line capacity. Before he could even receive his regular season debut, Porter was cast aside on waivers in January; but with no other organization snapping him up, he was recalled by the Sabres in February.
Things happen for a reason, and it is feasible to suggest that Buffalo and Porter were not meant to part ways.
His first shot was in conjunction with new interim head coach Ron Rolston‘s first day behind a bench in the NHL. As the previous coach of the Rochester Americans, Buffalo’s American Hockey League affiliate, Rolston was aware of certain players’ intangibles, one of them being Porter.
From then on, Porter was fully implemented into Buffalo’s roster, beginning with third line minutes. His consistency and tenacious work effort, something that could not be spotted within the Sabres in countless matches, got his minutes bumped up deservedly. He was even rewarded with powerplay shifts.
Porter heated up with seven points in as many contests during the early days of April, showing himself to be more comfortable. His versatility and hunger to stay in the NHL is what will best serve Buffalo, as he will not take any shift haphazardly.
With Rolston in charge of the line-up tweaks now, his chances of avoiding a demotion into the AHL have been significantly bettered.
Really, it is a win-win situation.
Buffalo, laying the groundwork for a laborious restructuring of the organization, will seek hard-working players to help develop character and positive energy, which Porter can provide. Thomas Vanek and Miller, two stars on a team that is short on them, have hinted that they will not wish to be involved in a rebuild of such a nature.
For Kevin Porter though, it represents the type of opportunity to cement his spot in a line-up that has largely eluded him in his career thus far.