BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Sabres are banking on their new $172 million hockey and entertainment complex to lure the NHL’s pre-draft scouting combine to Buffalo.
Team President Ted Black told The Associated Press on Friday that the Sabres formally submitted their proposal to replace Toronto as the annual event’s host for at least the next three years.
The move was expected, and comes in advance of a deadline Monday for bids to be submitted. It’s unclear how many teams will make proposals or when a new host will be announced, but the Sabres are considered the immediate front-runners.
The Sabres prompted the NHL to open the bidding process to host the May event, which has been traditionally held at a convention centre outside of Toronto.
The Sabres began lobbying the league for a chance to take over as hosts about two years ago, when they began construction on HarborCenter. Paid for by Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, HarborCenter is scheduled to open this year, and is regarded as a one-of-a-kind facility that will feature two rinks and a full-service hotel connected to the team’s downtown arena.
“We’re very confident that this is where it should be,” Black said, referring to the combine. “I believe that we’ve probably put in the most work and are the most prepared to host this in less than a year.”
HarborCenter, Black said, has numerous advantages that haven’t been available in Toronto at a facility that provides no on-ice testing, and has little room for fans to attend.
The Buffalo facility also features a training centre, meeting rooms and offers the potential for teams to conduct both on- and off-ice testing under one roof.
Buffalo is also centrally located to a large number of NHL teams. And it’s also regarded as one of the United States’ strongest hockey markets.
Black envisions the move to Buffalo having the potential to expand the combine’s profile by drawing fans interested in attending the event to an actual arena — much like the NFL’s annual combine does in Indianapolis.
The NHL sought a minimum three-year commitment from teams to host the combine, and Black said the Sabres’ proposal covers at least three years.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman first raised the possibility of having Buffalo host the combine during an interview discussing HarborCenter in January. Rather than award the Sabres the combine outright, the NHL elected to open the host rights to its 30 teams.
Next year’s combine will have a Sabres focus to it as well. The rebuilding team has spent the past season stockpiling draft picks, and is scheduled to have three first-round selections next year.
“HarborCenter, to our bid, is really the lynchpin,” Black said. “And landing events like the combine really represents the additional dividends we get from Kim and Terry’s investment in the community. And this would be a really big win for Buffalo.”
The facility has already started attracting several hockey events.
Last month, USA Hockey announced that the facility will host both the Under-18 women’s and sledge hockey world championships next year. Buffalo will also play host to USA Hockey’s annual All-American Prospects game over the next two years, and is considered a strong contender to host the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships.