Buffalo Sabres fans may rather forget the 1998 conference final and 2008 Winter Classic. But do they remember when the stars of those moments were Sabres?
Within a year of their respective fraction-of-a-season stints with the Buffalo Sabres, two NHL veterans had a personal top-tier highlight as a visitor to the Queen City.
One zapped his later team’s hopes for an Eastern Conference crown. The other stymied the locals’ bid for a perfect ending to a picturesque day.
Both of those players were with the Sabres as part of a deep playoff run, but did not factor in much, if at all. The same goes for a well-traveled depth winger who sandwiched ample individual and team success in other cities around one comparatively unremarkable spring in Buffalo.
Sabres fans could theoretically remember the following five NHL retirees as one-time divisional or regional rivals. Three had longer and more eventful tenures with a fellow franchise at the intersection of the Northeast and Midwest. Three played multiple seasons for an Adams or Northeast Division rival. Four played in at least one other Great Lakes market.
Four of them did a combination or two or all of the above. But together, all five combined for 35 games with Buffalo, with the leader of the herd logging 12.
5. Ty Conklin
Representing three different teams, Conklin scraped the blue paint in each of the NHL’s first three regular season outdoor games. That included the inaugural Winter Classic on New Year’s Day 2008, midway through his one-year stint with the Penguins.
As it happened, his previous employer was the host at suburban Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium. But the Conklin-Ryan Miller card being a matchup of two recent colleagues was far from a leading storyline.
The Sabres rented Conklin from Columbus ahead of the 2007 trade deadline. As his first impression in Buffalo, he sandwiched a 42-save win over Florida with a pair of one-goal, no-decision relief outings.
That would be his peak on the shores of Lake Erie, at least on the home side. After allowing four goals apiece in a pair of losses, Conklin rode the postseason pine while Miller took the Sabres to their second straight Eastern Conference Final.
The next year, Conklin and the Penguins prevailed in a shootout at the first Winter Classic. He followed that up with a 6-3 win at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, one of his 25 victories for Detroit in 2008-09.
While technically the backup to Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Detroit’s Chris Osgood, Conklin made his first two post-Sabres seasons his most substantive. He went 18-8-5 in 30 starts and 33 appearances for the Penguins. In his first of two nonconsecutive seasons with the Red Wings, he saw action 40 times and won a career-high 25 games.
Two full seasons apiece in Edmonton — where he started the 2003 Heritage Classic and played one Stanley Cup Final game in 2006 — and St. Louis kicked even more ice chips on Conklin’s brief Buffalo tenure.