As we get ready to celebrate the year that was and ring in the New Year, let us reflect on what was a busy year in Buffalo sports it was! Both the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Bills had some memorable, and not so memorable, moments over the course of the 2015 calendar year.
First off, we want to thank everyone that makes the site what it is, that includes the staff and also the readers! Without everyone’s help and support, Better Live Than Dead Sports would not be what it is today.
Without any more delay, here are the top-10 most memorable Buffalo sports moments from 2015!
Perhaps the greatest indoor lacrosse player to every suit up decided to hang up the lacrosse stick in September.
John Tavares seemed like an ageless wonder at age 47, and was the National Lacrosse League’s all-time leading scorer with 815 goals, 934 assists, and 1, 749 points in 306 career games. Tavares spent the span of 24 seasons in the NLL, all with the Buffalo Bandits.
Tavares was a 19-time All-Pro player in the NLL, he lead the Bandits to 19 playoff appearances, and also won four championships in Buffalo.
Even though Tavares is now retired, he will remain with the Bandits organization as an assistant coach for the upcoming season.
9.) Embarrassment in London
It was a week seven matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London, England that was, arguably, the turning point of the Bills season.
After a week six loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills went to London with no Tyrod Taylor at quarterback with a knee injury. Buffalo would have to turn to E.J. Manuel at quarterback, and try to get a win to move up to 4-3 on the season.
Buffalo also went into the game without Marquise Goodwin, Percy Harvin, Seantrell Henderson, John Miller, Sammy Watkins, Karlos Williams, and Kyle Williams.
The Bills got out to a 3-0 lead to start the game in the first quarter, but the wheels came off the wagon in the second quarter.
It began with a Blake Bortles touchdown pass to Allen Robinson to put the Jaguars in front 7-3. Then a Manuel fumble was returned for a touchdown to put Jacksonville up 14-3. On the first play of the next drive, Manuel was intercepted and it was returned for a touchdown to put the Jaguars up 21-3. Next drive, Manuel was pick-off once again, which later resulted in another Jacksonville touchdown.
The Bills would tack a touchdown before going into the half down 27-10.
The Jaguars would eat up half of the game clock in the third quarter, and the Bills would eat up the other half before getting a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Buffalo would get a huge touchdown pass from Manuel to Marcus Easley to get back within three points.
Later in the fourth, the Bills managed take a 31-27 lead with 5:21 left in the game, thanks to a Corey Graham pick-six.
However, a very questionable pass interference call on a third down late against Nickell Robey gave the Jaguars another chance at the endzone. Two plays later, Bortles found Allen Hurns for a 31-yard hook-up to give Jacksonville the lead again.
Manuel and the Bills had one more chance, but failed to move the football past mid-field. Buffalo lost 34-31, and went into the bye week at 3-4 needing little to no room for any more errors.
As we now know, the Bills would end up with more injuries, and more frustrating losses to miss the playoffs for a 16th consecutive season. However, the downfall to the season began with the loss to Jacksonville in London.
8.) A Pointless January
The 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres season was a complete train-wreck.
As part of one of the worst season’s in the team’s history, Buffalo went on a franchise record, 14-game losing streak, in which they failed to register a single point in that stretch of games. 12 of the those 14 games the Sabres lost were in the month of January.
The Sabres managed to go the entire month of January without winning a game, or even getting a point in those games.
In the month of January, the Sabres managed to score just 18 goals, while giving up 51 goals against. Buffalo was out-shot in the 12 games by a total of 406-263, and went from 28th place in the standings and seven points ahead of 30th to last place and four points behind 29th place.
January was certainly a turning point in the Sabres season, and a turning point in the race for last place in the NHL standings. But more on that in a little bit…
7.) #BabWatch / Sabres hire Dan Bylsma
After the 2014-15 Sabres season was over, it was expected that general manager, Tim Murray would fire head coach, Ted Nolan. From the time Nolan was fired, fans began to salivate at the idea of a new, and good head coach coming to coach the Sabres for years to come.
Mike Babcock was option number one, as he was on the final year of his contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Once the Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the speculation swirled as to what Babcock would do.
In May, the Sabres were pressing hard for Babcock to be the next head coach in Buffalo. At one point, it was reported by many that Babcock was in contract negotiations with the Sabres
— Shawn Stepner (@StepnerWKBW) May 19, 2015
Yeah, about that…
The next day, Babcock did not choose the Sabres, instead he chose the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that, you could have sworn that Buffalo was set a blaze with rage and anger.
Instead, a week later, the Sabres announced they hired former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma as the 17th head coach in team history.
Bylsma, before accepting the job with Buffalo, had spent the past six seasons as the Penguins’ bench boss, and had won a Stanley Cup with the franchise in 2009.
Bylsma had taken the entire 2014-15 year off from coaching, and spent time being a broadcaster, and doing other hockey-related activities in his time away.
Today, we can say that the future looks bright with Bylsma as the head coach in Buffalo. It seems like every player in the Buffalo locker room has bought in to Bylsma’s system, and the team has drastically looked better from last season.
6.) Bills acquire LeSean McCoy
It was a Buffalo Sabres game night in March, and the Bills seemed like they were on the back burner until OTAs and other football activities began after hockey season.
Until general manager, Doug Whaley pulled off one of the more surprising trades in the National Football League. Whaley had went out and acquired star running back, LeSean McCoy from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for linebacker, Kiko Alonso.
McCoy, who was the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher, and was the league’s leading rusher in 2013, was coming to Buffalo to be part of an already great running team. Yes, the Bills gave up a promising, young linebacker but were getting faster on the ground.
From there, it has been a ride with McCoy. From inviting people to a private, unique party on Instagram, to not shaking Chip Kelly’s hand, and much more, McCoy’s first season with the Bills has been a fun one.
In his first season with the Bills, he has been plagued by the injury bug, but has managed to rush for 895 yards in 12 games played this season, and has rushed for an average of 4.4 yards per carry to boot.
Hopefully, the Bills can get to have more contributions from McCoy in the future, and hopefully he can also stay healthy.
If so, Buffalo’s run game could be even better than it was this season.
5.) Emergence of Tyrod Taylor
Coming into the 2015 season, not too many people knew who Tyrod Taylor was or where he came from.
After spending his first four seasons in the NFL as a backup to Joe Flacco in Baltimore, Taylor was brought in by the Bills to compete for a starting role for the 2015 season. In his time with the Ravens, many people were impressed by his athleticism, his work ethic, and his arm strength.
In training camp and the preseason, fans were blown away at the potential of Taylor becoming a special player with the Bills and being the future at quarterback. However, he was in, apparently, a tough, three-way competition with E.J. Manuel and Matt Cassell for the starting job.
In the end, Taylor was announced as the week one starter, and he made his presence known against the Colts. Taylor’s first touchdown pass of the season was a 50-yard bomb to Percy Harvin, and he helped lead the Bills to an upset win over the Colts at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Even though Tyrod did suffer a knee injury and missed two games, Taylor has led the Bills to a 6-6-0 record in 13 games started, has thrown for 2.853 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, and has completed 63.6-percent of his passes. It was far from what most expected from the 26-year old quarterback who had never started an NFL game before coming to Buffalo.
The Bills will expect more from Tyrod going into the 2016 season, but Taylor is, and has always been, up to the challenge. Buffalo may sign a better backup than Manuel, or may draft a quarterback in the draft to develop alongside Taylor and maybe contend with Taylor down the road.
Taylor has been a bright spot for the Bills this season, when the team has failed to make the 16th straight season. Many hope he can be the quarterback this team has been longing to have since Jim Kelly retired years ago.
4.) Sabres acquire Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian
Evander Kane was in the middle of a major downfall in Winnipeg, as he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and he had his track suit get thrown into the shower by his teammate Dustin Byfuglien.
Whatever the reasoning was, Kane was shipped out of Manitoba, and on his way to Buffalo in February.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 11, 2015
It was the perfect scenario for Tim Murray and the Sabres: acquire a play-making forward who can score goals, but not have him available until the 2015-16 season.
In addition, Buffalo would acquire Zach Bogosian, who was from Upstate New York and in need of a change in scenery from Winnipeg.
Buffalo ended up shipping out Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford, who were both on the chopping block from the start of the 2014-15 season.
Since then, Bogosian has been a nice addition to the blue line. Like in Winnipeg, he has struggled at times, but has shown that he can be a physical force on the ice while providing some offense to his game.
As for Kane, he has stayed relatively healthy and has played pretty well in his early tenure with the Sabres. This season, Kane has eight goals and five assists in 27 games this season. Kane did miss time with a knee injury, but has consistently shown his effort and teams take his skill into account every night.
Oh yeah, and we had this too…
Sabres would love Evander Kane to start delivering. Soon. https://t.co/IvPdiyTLf4
— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) October 21, 2015
We can only hope that Kane can continue to improve this season, and continue to produce for the Sabres down the road. Kane will be a Sabres for, at least, a few more years, and we should enjoy the ride while we can.
3.) Bills hire Rex Ryan
At the time, it was the biggest hiring of the entire NFL. The Buffalo Bills were making all the main headlines in the NFL: “Bills hire Rex Ryan as head coach.”
It was a pipe dream. Ryan decided to come to Buffalo, and said he wanted to lead the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 15 season. Get ready, we’re going!
But at the time, the hiring made so much sense for the Bills. Buffalo had one of the best defenses in the entire NFL, and Ryan was a defensive-guru. Also, the Bills had just come off of a 9-7 season under Doug Marrone, and many of the players from that team were coming back to stay with the team for 2015.
Ryan talked up his opening press conference, and talked up the season during training camp and the preseason. Ryan was truly confident in his team’s ability to be a bully and contend for a playoff spot come January of 2016.
However, his words did not come through this season, and the Bills will miss the playoffs for a 16th consecutive season. While the Bills offense has had a remarkable turn-around, the defense did not live up to expectations and fell off the map.
Rex has said that he let his mouth get too far ahead of him, however people need to jump off the “Fire Rex” bandwagon. It’s the first year of a new system, a new scheme, and the players need time to adjust to the changes.
Either way, looking back to January, the hype from when Ryan was hired was one of the more exciting moments of 2015. Maybe Rex and the Bills will have better luck come 2016.
2.) The Quest for McEichel
It was something that many Sabres fans had been looking forward to since 2013 when Darcy Regier said the team would have to go through some “suffering”.
Connor McDavid was the top-rated, and consensus number one pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. More importantly, he was highly regarded as the next coming of Sidney Crosby, or a generational player that can change the course of a franchise.
But there was a twist to the 2015 NHL Draft, a second generational type player.
In any other year besides the 2015 NHL Draft, Jack Eichel would have been the consensus number one pick in the Draft. Like McDavid, Eichel had the credentials of being a player to lead a franchise to glory for many years to come.
And with the NHL Draft Lottery format still with putting up the first overall pick for grabs, why not lose out and be the worst team to guarantee a generational player? That is what the Sabres did. Intentionally? Well, no one will ever know.
It began with the, previously mentioned, 14-game losing streak from December to February, and it continued to snowball from there. Buffalo traded away players at the trade deadline for future assets, Buffalo calling up players from Rochester due to injuries, and other factors that made Buffalo an atrocious product on the ice.
But the Sabres were not the only team in the race for last place in the standings.
Enter the Arizona Coyotes, who completely bombed the later portion of the season and put Buffalo in major jeopardy of missing out on either McDavid or Eichel.
For the final 25 games of the season, it was a constant checking of the standings, running the Draft Lottery simulator, and also seeing what team the Sabres or Coyotes were likely to lose to upcoming to heighten its chances of landing one of the two players.
Even both the Sabres and Coyotes would meet up not once, but twice in the span of just a few days. The game in Buffalo was a showmanship of fans wanting to lose while wearing the Sabres blue and gold. The matchups were the closest to “on the edge of your seat” action, as we wanted the opposing teams to score and beat the Sabres every night.
The game that may have officially helped the fate for the Sabres in the late part of the season was the game against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 3. The Blackhawks had stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Buffalo would eventually find themselves in front 3-2 halfway through the third period. In the dying seconds of the game, Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews scored two goals to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead, and Buffalo another regulation loss towards the Quest for McEichel.
On April 10, the race ended when the Sabres lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Cam Atkinson was the guy who officially sealed Buffalo’s spot in 30th place, and the spot where they were guaranteed to draft McDavid or Eichel.
The whole race was a hair-pulling, nail-biting, and stress-filled time where many were screaming at their televisions, radios, and computers at the Sabres to just finish last. Once it was all over, jubilation and relief was felt as the city of Buffalo knew that the only way now was up.
1.) “Buffalo selects Jack Eichel.” / Sabres acquire Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie McGinn
It was a day that we may never forget in Buffalo sports history. June 26, 2015.
It was almost certain that Jack Eichel was coming to Buffalo after the Edmonton Oilers had won the NHL Draft Lottery. Eichel, projected to be a franchise center years down the road, was going to be selected by the Sabres with the second overall pick. American born kid, Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s Most Valuable Player, and the future of the Sabres organization.
But before the pick was ever made, Tim Murray was working on something as impactful as drafting Eichel. He was working a trade with the Colorado Avalanche to acquire a top-line center for his team. That was forward, Ryan O’Reilly.
Reports were swirling that the Sabres were looking to acquire the 24-year old center, who was looking for his first chance to break out as a top-line player. Murray had pulled off the trade just moments before going up to the podium at the NHL Draft at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, and saying the four word sentence that changed the franchise forever:
“Buffalo selects Jack Eichel.”
Finally, we see Eichel in a Sabres uniform, wearing the number 15 that he wears on a regular basis on the ice now. He stands alongside Murray and Sabres owner, Terry Pegula for pictures, and the dream is now a reality.
But that is not all folks, NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman stepped back to the podium to announce the trade that made waves throughout the league.
Ryan O’Reilly, along with Jamie McGinn, were on their way to Buffalo. In exchange, the Sabres gave up Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, and the 2015 second round pick.
Buffalo was in a state of euphoria, shock, awe, whatever word you want to describe it as. It was one of those moments where one day, someone will ask you, “Where were you when the Sabres drafted Eichel, and also traded for O’Reilly?”
And do not forget, Murray had traded away his other first round pick in the draft to the Ottawa Senators for goalie, Robin Lehner and forward, David Legwand. And while Lehner has only played 27-minutes this season due to a high ankle sprain, the possibility of having a number one goalie is here too.
So far this season, Eichel is having a very good rookie season with eleven goals and eleven assists in all 37 games played this season. And while Eichel’s season may not be a Calder Trophy caliber season right now, he has shown that he could become one of the most electrifying players in the NHL in the next few years.
As for O’Reilly, he is having quite the season as the Sabres’ top forward. O’Reilly has put up 14 goals and 18 assists in all 37 games played this season. O’Reilly has been, arguably, Buffalo’s best player this season and has left many people asking, “Why did Colorado trade O’Reilly?!”
While 2015 had its ups and downs in sports, 2016 is bound to be just as crazy. What we do know is that for both the Bills and the Sabres, we hope to see both franchises continue to climb out from under the rubble of their respected sport. It may take another year or two, but it sure looks like there are much greater things to come in Buffalo.
From all of us at BLTD Sports, we wish everyone a safe, and happy 2016!