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Title track: 81
Fan relations: 54
Stadium experience: 39
Bang for the buck: 108
Change from last year: +13
How is it that a team that finished dead last in the Eastern Conference two straight seasons gained 13 places in our franchise rankings? The Sabres articulated their vision for building a winner through the draft, then executed the plan, losing lots of games, hoarding picks and landing can't-miss prospect Jack Eichel at No. 2 overall in the 2015 draft. More than 17,000 fans turned out to see Eichel play. In a scrimmage. In July.
The Sabres rate 16th in affordability, an improvement from 24th in 2014. The average ticket price of $49.72 is almost $13 cheaper than the NHL average. That's important for the Sabres' blue-collar fan base and makes sense for a team that has missed the playoffs six of the past eight seasons. September saw the grand opening of a new Marriott in the recently completed HarborCenter complex, which took two years and cost the team owners more than $200 million to build. The facility, which connects to First Niagara Center, also includes restaurants and shops. As a result, Buffalo's stadium experience ranking has climbed into the top third of all sports.
Of course, cheap beer and places to eat before the game only go so far, and the Sabres rank a lowly 108th in bang for the buck, one of only two categories in which the team fell since last year. (The other, at 54th, is fan relations). How does that bang rank square with rating 16th in affordability? Well, the team went 44-108-12 the past two seasons. Affordability is fun -- but winning is more fun. This metric will improve when the team does.
The Sabres jumped 15 places in title track (81st) and 19 in players (91st). That's largely owed to general manager Tim Murray's moves to restock the roster, culminating on draft day when he landed Eichel and traded for center Ryan O'Reilly. Eichel and Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 overall pick in 2014, are expected to join O'Reilly, winger Evander Kane and promising third-year players Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen, and there is potentially more help in the developmental pipeline. It's too soon to plan a Stanley Cup celebration at Niagara Square, but it's no wonder owner Terry Pegula's rating jumped to 35th from 62nd last year.