The National Hockey League announced it will be moving its pre-draft combine to Buffalo, N.Y., for the next two years. The event will be held at the First Niagara Center, home arena of the Buffalo Sabres, as well as the HARBORCENTER, a multi-purpose facility, which will open this fall.
The NHL combine is a weeklong event that gives all 30 teams a chance to meet with the top prospects eligible for that year's NHL Entry Draft. The players go through medical, mental and physical testing and often are called to a series of interviews with NHL teams.
Considering that there is an NHL arena, a full training center and hotel all in the same cluster, essentially, makes Buffalo somewhat of an ideal destination for an event like this. The teams and players won't have to move around much, which will keep the combine moving as efficiently as possible.
The league had been hosting the combine in Toronto, so it won't be moving very far geographically either. So why would the NHL want to move it at all? Allow Sportsnet's John Shannon to answer:
NHL has operated the Draft Combine at a loss...Buffalo Sabres have agreed to fund the Combine...Win for NHL...Win for new Harbor Center.— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) August 18, 2014
The combine is a valued event, but it's not valuable financially to the league. No stunner there as it's not open to the public. To get some budget relief from Buffalo on this one certainly doesn't hurt.
For Buffalo, the return is basically bringing the hockey world to their city for a week, filling up hotel rooms for their new property and helping to generate more buzz about hockey even when the Sabres aren't particularly good.
The Sabres as an organization has been awfully aggressive in trying to acquire high-profile events and has successfully done so in the past, even before owner Terry Pegula took over.
Buffalo was the site of the 2011 World Junior Championship, Since Pegula bought the team, the Sabres hosted USA Hockey's inaugural All-American Prospects game in 2012 and will do so again in 2014 and 2015. The HARBORCENTER will also play host to the 2015 IIHF World Women's Under-18 Championship and 2015 IPC World Sledge Hockey Championship.
Pegula's influence and investment in hockey is starting to show with the Sabres' ability to acquire these events with somewhat stunning regularity. They are also expected to bid on the 2018 World Junior Championship, which is to be hosted in the United States.
While the product on the ice has left little to be desired for Sabres fans, the market has remained very loyal to the game of hockey. That shows in annually terrific television ratings and fans remaining engaged with the Sabres despite the lean years.
Buffalo seems to want to be known as a hockey town and Pegula's company has been seeing to it that every effort is made to make that label stick.