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BUFFALO Victor Hedman Jersey , N.Y. (AP) Former defenseman Mike Weber is all too familiar with the Sabres‘ lean years while spending a majority of his eight NHL seasons in Buffalo.There were high-priced free agents who failed to pan out and one draft-pick bust after another. Weber made the playoffs just twice, with Buffalo eliminated in the first round both times.And then there was the so-called ”tank season” in 2014-15, when Sabres fans openly rooted for the team to finish last for the right to draft either now-Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, or Buffalo’s eventual pick, Jack Eichel.As it happens, Weber also enjoyed a glimpse into what could well be the Sabres’ more promising future following an eight-week stint with Frolunda, Sweden, last fall. Weber had an opportunity to play alongside defenseman Rasmus Dahlin , the highly touted 18-year-old projected to be selected by Buffalo with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.Perhaps, Weber said, things might finally be looking up in Buffalo.”I really, truly believe you guys are going to be getting a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent,” said Weber, now an assistant coach with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.”This first overall pick puts a stamp on it, put whatever happened in the past in the past Yanni Gourde Jersey ,” he added. ”Hopefully, it’s something you guys can look back on at the suffering and rebuilding and tanking and all of this stuff where you can sit there and kind of laugh about it.”Though ”suffering” might be overly dramatic, it resonates in Buffalo because that’s the word former general manager Darcy Regier repeated numerous times during an end-of-season news conference in April 2013 where he braced fans for a top-to-bottom roster overhaul.Five years, two GMs, four coaches and three last-place finishes later, the Sabres remain stagnant while in the midst of a franchise-worst seven-year playoff drought.The team has not topped 35 wins in each of the past five years. And forward Ryan O’Reilly closed last season by suggesting a losing culture has crept into the locker room.Dahlin has the potential of injecting hope in Buffalo with his exceptional skating and play-making abilities. Weber compares Dahlin’s speed to that of Senators captain Erik Karlsson, and shiftiness to former Red Wings star forward Pavel Datsyuk.”I still bleed blue and gold,” Weber said, referring to Sabres colors. ”And the possibility of him being a cornerstone going forward and helping the organization and the city win a championship is pretty special.”Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who maintains a home in suburban Buffalo, can sense the buzz Dahlin has generated.”Buffalo needs a boost, and the fans have been waiting a long time for it,” Bowman said. ”People I know that have had tickets for a long time are excited.”The Sabres have been in freefall since losing Game 7 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Carolina. Some of Buffalo’s bleakest moments:BLACK SUNDAYThat’s what Sabres fans refer to July 1, 2007, when Buffalo lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in free agency. Days later, rather than losing yet another star Auston Matthews Jersey , the Sabres matched the Oilers’ qualifying offer to Thomas Vanek by re-signing the forward to a seven-year, $50 million contract. Buffalo has not won a playoff series since.MONEY FOR NOTHINGIn 2011, the Sabres made splashes by acquiring defenseman Robyn Regehr in a trade with Calgary, and signing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract and forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal. Regehr played just 105 games in Buffalo before being traded to Los Angeles. Leino and Ehrhoff played three seasons before the Sabres bought out their contacts.TRADE WINDSFormer GM Tim Murray’s most significant trade in his rebuilding plan came on Feb. 11, 2015. He dealt defenseman Tyler Myers, forwards Drew Stafford, Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick to Winnipeg to acquire forward Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf. Kane is now in San Jose. Kasdorf played just one game in Buffalo. Bogosian has combined to miss 108 games due to an assortment of injuries over the past three seasons.POOR DRAFTSOf the 15 players selected by Buffalo in the 2010 and `11 drafts, only four made the NHL and combined to play 144 career games for Buffalo. Of the 23 players Buffalo drafted from 2005-’07, only nine played in the NHL and none topped 400 games.BAD BREAKSAside from losing the NHL draft lottery after finishing last in both 2014 and `15, the Sabres lost out to Toronto in the Mike Babcock coaching sweepstakes in May 2015. The Sabres thought they were closing in on a deal before Babcock announced he was going to take an extra day to reconsider. Babcock signed with Toronto and the Sabres hired Dan Bylsma, who was fired after two seasons.FRANCHISE LOWSIn finishing last in 2013-14, Buffalo scored 150 goals, the fewest in the NHL’s post-expansion era. The following season Connor Brown Jersey , the Sabres scored 153 goals and were shut out a franchise-worst 14 times. This past year, the Sabres won 11 home games, matching their fewest in any season.—AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.— SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) With the top three teams in the Eastern Conference all coming out of the Atlantic Division, there’s a good chance the second and third best teams in the East will play in the first round for the second straight year.That imbalance has led some to push to abandon the division playoff format and go back to seeding teams one through eight by conference. Why stop there?The minor league that brought 3-on-3 overtime to hockey more than a decade before the NHL followed suit is adding a new innovation this season for the playoffs.The Southern Professional Hockey League will use a ”pick your opponent” playoff format, with the first-place team choosing its first-round opponent from the teams that finished from fifth to eighth place, then the second- and third-place teams makes their choices before the final two teams get matched up. In the second round, teams will be matched by regular-season points.SPHL President Jim Combs said he decided to bring this format to his 10-team league after a conversation with an executive from Austria’s Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, which already uses it.”I immediately knew this was the greatest idea I’d ever heard,” Combs said. ”The person at the top earns the right to pick the weakest of the bottom four. He can base it on travel, he can base it on difficulty of opponent, how the guy has been playing the past three or four weeks. A lot of times, you don’t want the eighth-place team because that’s the guy who has hustled and played hard and put the team together the last two or three weeks of the season. That’s the hot team.”Combs said most teams started the year with thoughts of following the old format of picking the team with the fewest points as the opponent. But as the season has gone on, Combs said teams seem more open to picking what they believe is best matchup.Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said if the format was used in the NHL, he’d probably make it known he’d pick the lowest seed available in any case.”The first thing that comes to my mind is all of us coaches are paranoid,” Gulutzan said. ”So to actually have to pick somebody Frederik Andersen Jersey , you think immediately we’ve given them some fuel in a playoff series, right, like: `Oh yeah, they picked us.”’To add even more intrigue, the SPHL will broadcast the selection show at the end of the season so fans and teams can watch live as the matchups are chosen and the extra motivation is created for whoever is picked as the most desirable playoff opponent.”I think there would be some bulletin board material,” said Columbus defenseman Ian Cole, who won the Stanley Cup the past two seasons with Pittsburgh. ”I think that would certainly fire a team up if you’re picking them because you think you could beat them.”Dallas general manager Jim Nill agrees with that sentiment, saying ”it might be great for their league, but it’s not something I’d encourage our league to do and I couldn’t see it ever happening.”Others are more intrigued by the idea, pointing to the unfairness last year that had Pittsburgh and Columbus matched up in the first round despite finishing with the second and fourth most points in the league, respectively.”It sounds like a great idea,” Buffalo backup goalie Chad Johnson said. ”I mean, why not if you’re in first place you should have that choice of who you want to play? It gives you that advantage regardless, because sometimes the eighth-place team, you might have struggled against them, right?”Combs said he has heard from executives from other minor leagues Womens Jake Gardiner Jersey , NHL teams and a few people from the NHL league office about the new format and hopes it will become more widespread after people see the added drama it creates even if there is some initial hesitation.”In 2004, when we started 3-on-3 overtime, everyone laughed at us and said `Hey this will never happen at the top level,”’ Combs said. ”We played it for 10 years and the NHL adopted it, they’re playing it, they revamped the All-Star Game. They have totally embraced it. Will the NHL take this? They might. I don’t know why after all this excitement every sport wouldn’t do it.”GAME OF THE WEEKPittsburgh at Toronto on Saturday. Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews has been sidelined since Feb. 22 with an apparent shoulder injury but could be ready to return this weekend for a showdown against Sidney Crosby and the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Even if Matthews can’t go, this is still an intriguing game between two Cup contenders.LEADERSThrough Tuesday’s games: Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 40; Assists: Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia) and Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg), 57; Points: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 86; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 39; Goals-against average: Carter Hutton (St. Louis), 2.02; Save percentage: Hutton, .934.—AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.—

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