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Lighting the Lamp: Buffalo Blues

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured every home game day.

Ryan Miller memorabilia: signed Sabres jersey circa 2011 and McFarlane figure
Rick Ackerman

Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman

Put what happened from November 8-12 last week completely out of your mind, okay? It was a horrible, depressing week since the St. Louis Blues played lackluster, ineffective hockey, resulting in three lamentable losses to Chicago, Nashville and Columbus. Yikes!

Since the day after Halloween, the Blues have been haunted, winning only two of seven games against the Avalanche and Blue Jackets, while losing five to the Rangers, Stars, Blackhawks, Predators and Blue Jackets. Three of those clubs are division rivals. Ouch!

Goaltending and team defense were pretty good in October, but then November happened. The Blues allowed 26 goals against in the seven games, 19 in the three losses to the Rangers, Stars and Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, the offense was even worse as the Blues scored just 15 goals in that span. Over the entire season, St. Louis has managed one goal or fewer eight times and two goals or fewer ten times. And the Note has scored more than four goals only three times this season.

The Note can begin to steady the ship on course again with a better performance tonight against the visiting Buffalo Sabres. Quick quiz: what’s the biggest difference between Blues fans and Sabres fans? Blues fans have suffered three years longer than Buffalo fans without a Stanley Cup championship. Otherwise, the fans of both cities bleed blue and gold, enjoy eating copious amounts of meat and potatoes (and/or pasta) and drinking lots and lots of beer.

Both hockey clubs entered the league as expansion teams, the Blues in 1967 and the Sabres in 1970. St. Louis made several trades with Buffalo before the Sabres even played a game in the NHL, acquiring defenseman Roger Lafreniere and goaltender Gary Edwards from the new NHL team, both for cash in October 1969. Lafreniere played ten less-than-memorable games for the Blues without a point and then faded into the minor leagues without even a cup of coffee from another NHL team. Edwards later starred for the Los Angeles Kings and five other NHL teams, including the Blues, to whom he returned in 1981. St. Louis also acquired winger George Morrison from Buffalo for cash in December 1969. Morrison played two seasons for the Blues and was then traded back to Buffalo for Chris Evans in 1972. Instead of reporting to the Sabres, he signed with the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA.

Another swap happened in October 1970 when winger Craig Cameron traveled west to St. Louis while winger Ron Anderson went east to Buffalo. Cameron played parts of three seasons for the Blues, potting 32 goals in 182 games, while Anderson lasted two seasons with the Sabres with 14 goals in 111 games. And diminutive center Bill Sutherland, a five-year veteran with Philadelphia and Toronto, was acquired from Buffalo that October for cash. Sutherland played parts of two seasons in St. Louis before being shipped out to Detroit in 1971.

Older veterans at the end of their hockey careers traded places, as Bobby Baun briefly joined the Blues in November 1970, although he never played a game wearing the Bluenote, and Jean-Guy Talbot and Larry Keenan, who scored the first goal in Blues’ history, became Sabres. Baun, a long time All-Star for Toronto, had been selected by the Oakland Seals in the expansion draft of 1967, but upon request was traded to Detroit in May 1968. He was eventually placed on waivers by the Red Wings in 1970 and then claimed by Buffalo. After the trade to St. Louis, Baun refused to report and the Blues were able to trade him back to Toronto for winger Brit Selby.

In all, there was a total of six separate deals between St. Louis and Buffalo in 13 months.

Over the course of the next 37 years, the Blues and Sabres made five trades, none worthy of serious attention. Familiar names going to St. Louis included defenseman Charlie Huddy and goaltender Gilles Gratton, who respectively played twelve and six games for the Blues. Defenseman Bobby Hess left St. Louis to play 33 games in one season in Buffalo.

Most Blues fans will remember that Brad Boyes was traded to the Sabres in February 2011 for a second-round draft pick, yet they will have forgotten that St. Louis used that pick to select defenseman Joel Edmonson. And two years later, defenseman Jordan Leopold left Buffalo to become a Blue in exchange for two draft picks. Leopold was later traded to Columbus for a fifth-round pick in 2016, which turned out to be center Nolan Stevens, currently playing for the NCAA Northeastern Huskies.

And then came the deal that many thought would finally get the Blues a Stanley Cup. In February 2014, St. Louis acquired goaltender Ryan Miller and pesky winger Steve Ott for goaltender Jaro Halak, wingers Chris Stewart and amateur Will Carrier, along with two draft picks, including a first-rounder. Alas, Miller was a bust and the parade on Market Street never happened. Miller later signed as a UFA with Vancouver. Ott signed with Detroit. Halak now plays for the Islanders (though reportedly is on his way out) and Stewart is employed by the Minnesota Wild. Carrier has currently played five games for Buffalo without a goal or point. Finally, the Blues helped the Sabres out this past July by trading goaltender Anders Nilsson to Buffalo for a fifth-round draft choice in 2017.

Buffalo may currently be last in the Atlantic Division, yet it shouldn’t matter to the beleaguered Blues, who better bring their A game tonight so they can show they aren’t really as bad a hockey team as they have been so far this month.