A Decade Of Frustration

As we glide into the 2020 decade, it’s time for one final look at the Sabres and how they did during this decade. Spoiler – it hasn’t been good!

By the numbers, this was the worst decade for the Sabres in their history. Just a single divisional title if you include the 2009-10 season and two playoff appearances. The Sabres finished with the worst record in hockey three separate times.

The Sabres roared into 2010 with a strong team defensively, led by Ryan Miller’s Vezina-quality play and a young rookie defenseman named Tyler Myers who was a force on defense. Miller went to the Olympics and led team USA to a silver medal. The Sabres won their only divisional crown but fell in the playoffs to Boston in six games.

In 2011, the Sabres started slowly in the first half of the season, but the big news which came out in November was that Terry Pegula, an unknown billionaire, wanted to by the Sabres and was in talks to complete the deal with then team owner Tom Golisano.

The team was sold in February to Pegula and the Sabres rode the wave of this deal to the playoffs. Pegula re-honored the legendary French Connection soon after the purchase of the team which ended up being the final time they were together as Rick Martin died tragically three weeks later of a heart attack.

On the ice, the Sabres entered the playoffs against the rival Philadelphia Flyers. Despite winning Game 5 in overtime and holding a 3-2 series lead, Buffalo fell in seven games marking this the last playoff appearance of the decade.

The offseason headed into the 2011-12 season was one of the most exciting in recent memory. Fresh with a new owner who was loaded with money and a good solid team on paper the Sabres were very active acquiring defenseman Robin Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Flyers center Ville Leino to strengthen their roster. After a strong 10-5 start to the season, Ryan Miller was run into by Bruins forward Milan Lucic on November 12th.

That seemed to shake the team the rest of the season as injuries and poor play during the middle of the year prevented Buffalo from making the playoffs despite a strong finish.

The NHL had a lockout which wiped out half of the 2012-13 season reducing it to 48 games. The Sabres came out flat-footed with a 6-10-1 record, leading to Darcy Regier firing long-time head coach and fan-favorite Lindy Ruff. The Sabres again were eliminated from the playoffs with four games to go in the season. The only real highlight was Thomas Vanek’s 20-goal 41-point season in 38 games played.

The 2013-14 season saw the Sabres get rid of the last pieces of their President’s trophy team and clean house. GM Darcy Regier was fired with head coach Ron Rolston on November 13th after the Sabres started 4-15-1. Rolston was replaced by former Sabres head coach Ted Nolan and Sabres legend Pat LaFontaine as team president. The Sabres hired Tim Murray to become GM of the team in January 2014 and Pat LaFontaine went back to the NHL then in March.

The Sabres had a very young lineup led by teenagers Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Nikita Zadorov. Vanek was traded to the Islanders early in the season and as the Sabres neared the trade deadline, Miller was traded along with Steve Ott to St Louis. A new era for the Sabres was coming for better or worse… it was mostly worse. The Sabres were rewarded in the draft with Sam Reinhart as the second overall pick.

The 2014-15 season could only be described as the Great Tank. With Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel headlining a dynamite draft class, the Sabres tanked for the 1st overall pick along with a few other teams. Buffalo managed to go 0-12-0 in January, something which is still remarkable to this day. On March 26th the Sabres and Coyotes played for dead last with the Coyotes winning in overtime to the cheers of Sabre faithful. Buffalo finished the season dead last, but the lotto balls pushed them to 2nd overall where they selected Jack Eichel.

Led by top draft picks Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, along with recently acquired forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane, the Sabres hoped to turn a corner in 2015-16. Former Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma helped the Sabres emerged from a league low 54 points to 81 points. O’Reilly led the Sabres with points and was selected to the All-star game as Eichel made the All Rookie team for the NHL.

Going into 2016-17, the expectations were the Sabres would finally break their playoff drought as they added Kyle Okposo to strengthen their forward crop and Dimitri Kulikov on the back end. The season didn’t start as planned as Eichel sprained his ankle in practice and missed the first 20 games of the year. Despite this, the Sabres rebounded and were on the door step of the playoffs on February 18th when they defeated St Louis at home 3-2. With the Sabres regressing that season the organization again cleaned house, firing head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray.

As the 2017-18 year started, the Sabres needed a new head coach and general manager. Former Sabres star Phil Housley was brought in as head coach and front office executive Jason Botterill from Pittsburgh as GM. The Sabres tried improving their roster by accruing back Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella from Minnesota, but the season was in general a massive disappointment. The only positive that came out of the season was when Buffalo won the draft lottery giving them the rights to the 1st overall draft pick, which was led by defensive star Rasmus Dahlin.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Sabres traded Ryan O’Reilly to St Louis for draft picks and prospects while getting Jeff Skinner for a draft pick and prospect Cliff Pu. With Dahlin in the lineup the Sabres started on fire, reaching 1st overall in the NHL by the end of November. Unfortunately, they ended up being a paper tiger and the team cratered to 13th in the conference by the end of the year missing the playoffs again. Jason Botterill fired head coach Phil Housley as the team clearly stopped responding to his coaching and looked rudderless the back half of the year. The one highlight was Jack Eichel exploding for 28 goals and 82 points.

This season has been more of the same with the Sabres starting strong only to fail back down by the midpoint of the year. We shall see if perhaps the Sabres write a new script as they enter 2020.

Craig Mazuchowski
Craig Mazuchowski
SUNY Oswego Alumni. Self-taught guitarist. I've been a Sabres and hockey fan since birth. I've also refereed youth hockey and play in a men’s league. My tombstone will be in the shape of pizza.
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