The Buffalo Sabres got to celebrate the announcement of another big event coming to HarborCenter next year on Monday afternoon, but they’re not resting on any laurels already built up by the $172 million complex that will open in October.
That’s because they’re looking for more things to lure to Buffalo - including some big catches of the hockey world.
“Fill in the blanks. That’s what we’re interested in,” Sabres President Ted Black said after the team and NHL announced the league’s annual scouting combine will be here the next two years during a news conference in First Niagara Center.
Specifically, Black revealed the Sabres have already put in a bid to host the 2016 NHL Draft and will be inquiring with the league to host a future All-Star Game, something Buffalo has not done since 1978.
He also reiterated the organization’s plans to bid on the 2018 World Junior Championships when that process opens in the coming months.
Next year’s draft will be at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers. Many teams are lobbying the league for the chance to host the festivities, which brings all of the league’s executives and media together in one site and usually includes close to a full house of fans watching the first round.
The draft itself would be held on the floor of First Niagara Center, as it was in 1998. But ancillary events could now be held in HarborCenter, and the new complex will include restaurants that are just a few weeks away from opening and a 20-story Marriott hotel that will be completed next June.
“We have 170 million-plus reasons right in front of us where we’re going to use those competitive advantages,” Black said, referring to HarborCenter. “Maybe the NHL comes in and looks at it and says, ‘A three-rink campus, we’ve never had before … think of all the wonderful things we can do for fanfests.’ We have Canalside there too. There’s just so many opportunities.”
“We’ve targeted certain events. Events have targeted us,” added HarborCenter President John Koelmel. “We’re working hard to ensure there’s a good marriage.”
Aside from a slate of high school, college and amateur games, HarborCenter will also host the Under-18 Women’s World Championships in January and the World Paralympic Ice Sledge Championships in April.
The Sabres’ new facility was chosen over a bid by the Pittsburgh Penguins to host the combine here in late May of 2015 and 2016. It has been in Toronto since 1999. Physical testing of more than 100 prospects will be done on a Saturday and will be preceded by 4-5 days of interviews with prospects and meetings of team officials.
“It just seemed like a natural fit with what Terry and Kim Pegula are doing now with this location,” said Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice president of hockey operations. “It’s certainly opening up the eyes of people in the National Hockey League.”
The testing itself will take place on the floor of one of the HarborCenter rinks, which will have the ice removed. The combine has been at a suburban Toronto convention center but the NHL does not plan to let players skate here.
The Sabres say they may stage some sort of fanfest with public access to the prospects. Next year’s meeting will be of particular interest here because of the presence of potential superstar centers Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel at the top of the draft, where the Sabres appear likely to land.
Campbell said hosting the draft is a highly competitive process and he was unaware of a timeline for a decision on 2016 by commissioner Gary Bettman and John Collins, the league’s chief operating officer.
“Buffalo is always a happy place for our scouts to come to,” Campbell said. “It’s easy to get to, convenient, and a lot of our amateur scouts are based in the New York-Ontario-Michigan area because of the hockey that’s played here.”
The World Juniors were last here in 2011 and are slated to return to the United States in 2018. Tampa is also known to be interested in hosting the event.
Campbell said the league hosted a four-day officiating seminar in Buffalo last week and is exploring establishing a permanent Center for Officiating Excellence here. He said the league is also considering holding its officials’ training camp in Buffalo next year.
“Colie was teasing me that before the next thing what we really want to do is host the Stanley Cup final,” Black said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a bid process for that.”
Campbell said the NHL has finalized minor changes in the draft lottery and a league spokesman told The News they should be made public in the next day or two. NHL general managers voted to increase the odds of winning the lottery and securing the No. 1 pick during meetings at the June draft in Philadelphia, but the actual odds for all non-playoff teams remain a mystery.