The Buffalo Sabres always seem to get lost as a rival for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is true even though they are in a closer proximity than Montreal; who is considered to be the number one rival for most Maple Leaf fans.
Buffalo doesn’t have the sexiness of the Canadiens, recent playoff history like the Boston Bruins, or even located in the same province like the Ottawa Senators, so it’s easy to forget about them as a rival. Nonetheless, after this draft weekend the Buffalo-Toronto rivalry appears to be sparking up again. Both clubs appear poised to climb out of the basement and back to respectability.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres Look to Revitalize Rivalry
Sabres take Alexander Nylander at eighth overall, Leafs prospect William Nylander‘s brother. This rivalry is going to be something.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) June 25, 2016
For most Maple Leaf fans the Sabres are an afterthought. They are not front of mind when it comes to Lefs rivals but within the last year, Buffalo and Toronto have had a lot of off-ice moments that can lead to revitalizing the rivalry. This came to the forefront once again, with the Sabres pick of Alex Nylander.
The Babcock Effect
Prior to the beginning of last season, the Sabres believed to have had their guy; Mike Babcock was coming to Buffalo to coach a young rebuilding team. He was expected to lead them to the promise land once the rebuild would be complete. However, this would not be the case as Brendan Shanahan and the Maple Leafs would come in at the last minute and swoop Babcock up by offering a him $50-million contract, which he would accept.
So with the Maple Leafs snatching Babcock from the Sabres, the seeds of revitalizing this rivalry were planted.
Kadri and Eichel
During the season, the seeds of the rivalry would begin to grow when Nazem Kadri had some passive aggressive criticism of Jack Eichel when it came to describing the play of the young center, but Eichel didn’t stay quiet as he replied with his own remarks.
This decade is going to be pretty great for Sabres/ Leafs https://t.co/88W75MCwa6
— Matthew Coller (@MatthewWGR) June 25, 2016
Fast forward to the draft, and the incoming crowd was going to be a mixture of Maple Leafs and Sabres fans, which isn’t something Sabres fans like to see. With Toronto having the 1st overall pick, the Buffalo fans made sure that their boos would be loud and clear, but these same boos were countered by the cheers of the Maple Leaf fans that were in attendance.
Clash of American Centers
With two young American centers now headlining both teams in Auston Matthews and the aforementioned Eichel, plus the the plethora of young talent on these teams will help fuel this rivalry for a very long time. Two of these young players are a set of brothers in Alex and William Nylander, so there’s a fun twist to add to the rivalry and it will allow for both fanbases to boast about which brother is better.
Someday soon, it’ll be Eichel & Alex Nylander against Matthews & William Nylander in the Sabres/Leafs rivalry. #NHLDraft
— Steve Mears (@MearsyNHL) June 25, 2016
These same two teams will clash over two players over the off-season. Both are reportedly trying to pursue the services of Steven Stamkos. They are also both reportedly after soon-to-be college free agent Jimmy Vesey. With the Babcock saga leaving a bad taste in their mouths, it would mean so much to Buffalo if they could sign Stamkos. It is the opportunity to stick it to the Maple Leafs for prying away their assumed coach last year.
This rivalry seemed to die down over the last few years with both teams being in the basement, but within the last year there has been some revitalization of the rivalry with so many off ice moments leading the way. Here’s hoping some on-ice playoff moments can lead to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres being a thing again.