The wizardry of Jack Eichel kept the Sabres in contention during the season's first half and solidified the 23-year-old captain as an early Hart Trophy candidate in his fifth NHL season.
Eichel's blend of effortless skating, remarkable passing and devastating shot produced an 18-game individual point streak, and he was selected an All-Star for a third consecutive season. He needs only three goals to surpass his previous career high, and his artistry could produce one of the best individual seasons in 50 years of Sabres hockey.
Eichel is on pace for 51 goals among 107 points, the highest totals by a Sabre since Alexander Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine combined for 275 points in 1992-93. Mogilny's 76 goals and LaFontaine's 148 points remain franchise records, a transcendent offensive display that still mystifies those who witnessed that historic season.
"It was pretty magical," Sabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret said. "Patty seemed to know where Mogilny was at all times, which was amazing because I’m not sure Alex knew where he was at all times. The two of them together, they worked so well together. You didn’t even think of a third member on that line, and I’m not downplaying anyone that did play over there on that side. It wasn’t one person over there all year long anyway, but it was basically the two of them carrying the load."
The offensive eruption was partially the product of a well-executed plan by former General Manager Gerry Meehan, who rebuffed other teams' offers to acquire Mogilny. In October 1991, Meehan acquired LaFontaine, a future Hall of Famer, from the New York Islanders in a seven-player trade that sent former first overall pick Pierre Turgeon, among others, to Long Island.
LaFontaine had the skill set to complement Mogilny's elite speed. Though Mogilny scored 30 goals in 1990-91, his second season since defecting from Russia, the Sabres thought he was capable of producing more.
Though LaFontaine and Mogilny combined for 85 goals in 1991-92, the Sabres lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Though it was the franchise's ninth straight season without a playoff series win, the dynamic forwards' chemistry created a considerable amount of hype.
Mogilny was finally "coming out of his shell," as former Sabres defenseman Grant Ledyard recalled, and LaFontaine was settled into his role in Buffalo after spending eight years on Long Island. Signs of potential greatness emerged in the preseason and were confirmed during a season-opening loss to Quebec, when Mogilny had his first of seven hat tricks that season and LaFontaine had one goal among four points.
"Obviously being on the ice with them was great," Ledyard recalled. "Having Alex right from the beginning -- I was involved when he got here, he was in and out of my house a lot – and then when Pat got here that was quite the complement. It kind of brought Alex out of his shell, and whenever you were on the ice with them you made sure you looked around and got them the puck right away because it was just magical to watch from the backside. It was a fun time. Very fun."
Mogilny helped form what former Sabres assistant John Tortorella, now coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, still refers to as one of the NHL's all-time best power plays.
LaFontaine, Mogilny and Dave Andreychuk each scored at least 20 power-play goals. The trio played on the same line until Andreychuk was traded with goalie Daren Puppa to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for goalie Grant Fuhr in February 1993, preventing each member of the Sabres' top line from reaching the 50-goal plateau.
Mogilny had 13 goals during a five-game span from Dec. 23 through Jan. 3, and he didn't go more than three games without a goal until he encountered a six-game scoring drought late in the season.
Mogilny had four goals twice in a six-game span, scored 27 times on the power play and finished the regular season with 11 game-winning goals. His 76 regular-season goals tied then-Winnipeg Jets rookie Teemu Sellane for the league lead and were the fifth-highest total in NHL history. Mogilny also set a career-high with 127 regular-season points.
"He was making $185 grand – you can do your homework on this – if I’m not mistaken," former Sabres forward Brad May recalled. "When he scored his 40th goal, he got $5,000 a goal from 40 to 45 and after 45 he got $10,000 a goal. He scored 13 goals in a week and bought himself a car, like a Mercedes that was special ordered or whatever it was. True story.
"If Alex Mogilny was paid 10 grand a goal at that time, he would have scored 100. That's how good he was. Why did he not score some nights? It’s not easy to do this for 84 games. Al Mogilny is one of the best players. He’s not in the Hall of Fame today, which is an absolute joke. Alexander Mogilny is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. One hundred percent."
LaFontaine, meanwhile, had 24 multi-point games, including a stretch in which he had 11 points in three games over a four-day span. He had a season-high five assists during an 11-6 win over the New York Rangers.
LaFontaine, then 27 years old, scored 53 goals with 95 assists for a career-best 148 points, which is a single-season Sabres franchise record and then the most by an American-born player. He was a finalist for the Hart Trophy and finished second in the league scoring race behind Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux.
"It was fantastic," former Sabres defenseman Doug Bodger said. "The thing about those days was our power play was probably one of the best in the league and if you still ask John Tortorella today, he’d say it was the best with (Dale) Hawerchuk, Mogilny, LaFontaine, Andreychuk. There were some great memories and we had a great team that year. We should have beat Montreal, and I’m still mad about that. That’s when we were going for it. It was a pretty special year."
Relying on two players proved to be the Sabres' downfall. They swept the Boston Bruins in a first-round series, capped by the classic "May Day" goal, and were on the wrong end of the same result during a second round loss to the Montreal Canadiens in which Mogilny broke his leg during a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 3, and LaFontaine sustained a knee injury. They combined for 22 playoff points, and Andreychuk was the only Sabre with more than 10 in the team's eight games.
Mogilny and LaFontaine never replicated their magic together. LaFontaine played only 16 games the following season, and Mogilny scored 51 goals over the next two seasons before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks.
LaFontaine was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 and is one of seven Sabres to have his number retired by the team, while Mogilny was inducted in the Sabres' Hall of Fame in 2011. They did not experience the playoff success achieved by others in franchise history, however, their 1992-93 individual records are unlikely to ever be broken and etched their names in Sabres lore.
"You think about the guys we had and how much fun we had and they were a big part of it," former Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik said of Mogilny and LaFontaine. "It was pretty wild seeing those guys score goals every game. They made unbelievable plays flying down the ice. You knew how good they were and everybody else did too, but they were still able to score. You'd be on the ice watching and they'd make amazing plays."
Rasmus Ristolainen won the hardest shot event to lead Team Campbell to victory at the Sabres' Skills Challenge in KeyBank Center on Sunday. Ristolainen registered a shot of 105 miles per hour to defeat fellow defenseman Colin Miller in a tiebreaker after both were clocked at 102.5 mph.
Additionally, Conor Sheary won the accuracy showdown by hitting four targets on four shots, and Scott Wilson took first in the one-timer challenge by scoring seven times. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin dazzled in the shootout by stickhandling the puck between his legs and knocking it out of midair.
Players wore custom jerseys in recognition of the 1978 NHL All-Star Game, which was held at Buffalo's Memorial Auditorium.