Earlier in September, Buffalo Sabres fans saw the opening of Alumni Plaza outside of the First Niagara Center with an impressive statue honoring the hallowed French Connection.
It goes without saying that the line of Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert was one of the most impressive in NHL history, never mind Sabres history. Each player finished their Sabres career with at least 200 goals and better than a point per game.
Gilbert Perreault was easily the most talented of the three, with his smooth skating and soft hands leading the way for the Sabres for the better part of two decades. Perreault is the franchise leader in both goals (512) and assists (814). Those marks are likely to stand for many years to come.
Perreault was also the first Sabre to have his number retired, with No. 11 raised to the rafters of the Memorial Auditorium in 1990.
Perreault was recognized on the NHL level as well with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990. He currently sits 25th on the all-time list for assists, 31st for points and 37th for goals.
Rick Martin, like Perreault, essentially played his entire career with the Sabres, except for four games over two seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. Martin was the Sabres’ first sniper, scoring 40-plus goals in five different seasons and twice scoring 52.
Martin benefited from the vision and skill of Perreault and Robert, but was an excellent player himself. After his death in 2011, the Sabres painted two No. 7’s behind each goal to honor Martin. Martin’s No. 7 was retired by the Sabres in 1995.
Yet his arrival in 1972 sparked the creation of the French Connection and launched one of the most exciting eras in Sabres history.
Robert was more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but was adept at both, notching a 60-assist season and two 40-goal seasons. Robert is one of only five Sabres to score 100 points in a season, together with Perreault, Pierre Turgeon, Alexander Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine.
So, with the French Connection memorialized in Alumni Plaza, who will be the next group to join them?
While statues will certainly not be the norm, look for nods to Scotty Bowman, Punch Imlach, Pat LaFontaine, Dominik Hasek, Alexander Mogilny, Dale Hawerchuk, Dave Andreychuk and Phil Housley.
Once hockey starts again, Alumni Plaza will be a great place for Sabres fans to honor their greats, before and after the game.