The date is April 26th, 2011. The Sabres have just been defeated, 5-2, by the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
A year in which the Sabres finished with 96 points and completed the regular season on an 8-1-1 run ended with a disappointing loss in Philly. The Sabres had a 3-2 lead in the series, and had a chance to end it in overtime in Game 6, but failed. Then, a game 7 loss on the road ended their season.
That playoff loss was a few months after Terry Pegula officially bought the team from Tom Golisano for just under $200M. Fans were excited for a new owner and Pegula was shocked when The French Connection surprised him on the ice during his pre-game introduction. He took ownership and watched the Sabres make it to the playoffs in his first couple of months with the team.
Since that Game 7 loss, Sabres fans haven’t been able to see their team appear in the playoffs for nearly a decade. It was extremely relieving to see the Buffalo Bills end their 17-year drought in 2018 (with help from Andy Dalton), but now the attention turns to the Sabres, who have gone a franchise-worst 9 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs.
The NHL has never had a team surpass 10 straight without a playoff appearance:
|Team||Drought Length||Drought Ended|
|Florida Panthers||10 seasons||2011–12|
|Edmonton Oilers||10 seasons||2016–17|
|Buffalo Sabres||9 seasons||???|
|Colorado Rockies / New Jersey Devils||9 seasons||1987–88|
|Carolina Hurricanes||9 seasons||2018–19|
|Golden Seals / Cleveland Barons||8 seasons||N/A|
|Boston Bruins||8 seasons||1967–68|
|Washington Capitals||8 seasons||1982–83|
|Detroit Red Wings||7 seasons||1977–78|
|New York Islanders||7 seasons||2001–02|
|Calgary Flames||7 seasons||2003–04|
|New York Rangers||7 seasons||2005–06|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||7 seasons||2008–09|
|Toronto Maple Leafs||7 seasons||2012–13|
|Atlanta Thrashers / Winnipeg Jets||7 seasons||2014–15|
|Arizona Coyotes||7 seasons||2019–20|
We’ve compiled a list of everything notable that has happened over that span, and it’s broken down into each season. Some of it is positive, but the majority of it is more negative.
Scroll back to the top of this page, and select the tabs for different years to review what has happened since Buffalo’s last playoff game.
Also, be sure to check out the Top 10 Most Unbelievable Stats of the Pegula Era.
If there’s anything we missed, or that you think should be added to this page, let us know in the comment section.
6/30/11 – Ehrhoff signs 10-year deal
The Sabres traded their 2012 4th Round Pick (turned out to be Loic Leduc) to the New York Islanders in exchange for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff. The Islanders had done the same thing (their traded pick turned out to be Josh Anderson) to get his rights from Vancouver earlier, so they saved face by getting a similar pick back.
The Sabres are the ones who gambled but really didn’t lose much other than the draft pick.
Ehrhoff found success with the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks early in his career. He had his two best seasons with the Canucks, scoring 44 and 50 points, respectively. To top that off, he was coming off an excellent playoff performance with 12 points in 23 games.
The Sabres were set to pay a premium for a defenseman who had 226 points in 500 games, which isn’t bad at all. The problem was that Ehrhoff was going to turn 29 years old in a few days…and the organization signed him to a 10-year, $40M deal.
That’s not a bad cap hit, but that’s paying a defenseman through his age 39 season. 3 years after this signing, the Sabres started the buyout process and the defender will remain on the Sabres payroll through 2028.
7/1/11 – Leino signs 6-year deal
Maybe even worse than the Ehrhoff signing was this one. Leino had a career year with the Philadelphia Flyers, scoring 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists). Prior to that, he had 20 points in 68 career games.
The Sabres took a massive gamble and signed Leino to a 6-year, $27M deal. Leino had 46 points in 137 games with the Sabres before they decided to buy him out. He finally came off the books after the 2019-20 season.
10/18/11 – Sabres start 5-1
The Sabres and their newly signed players (Ehrhoff, Leino, and Robyn Regehr) helped the team get off to a 2-0 start in Europe and a 5-1 start overall.
11/8/11 – Lucic runs over Miller
This is where everything changed. To this day, it seems that the Sabres never recovered from this. It wasn’t the Game 7 loss in Philadephia that anchored Buffalo into an incredibly deep drought. It was Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins running over one of the league’s best goaltenders and a critical part of the Sabres core:
Lucic ended up getting a 2-minute penalty for that hit, which appeared to be intentional. But that wasn’t the problem. The bigger issue is that nobody stood up for Miller after the hit despite the fact that Lucic weighed in at 6’3″ and 230 pounds. Lucic took a few shoves in the corner and laughed his way to the penalty box.
Ryan Miller wasn’t thrilled with the hit either:
The Sabres didn’t have many options for enforcers that could match Lucic’s size, but they had players like Cody McCormick, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, and Steve Montador who would drop the globes. None did on this night.
But it was Gaustad who was an assistant captain.
“I’m embarrassed that we didn’t respond the way we should have. It falls on myself. I look at myself first and I wasn’t good enough. – Paul Gaustad
A couple of weeks later, the two teams met again and it was clear that he was going to challenge Lucic, who was more than ready for it.
Gaustad didn’t want to do this and had no emotion going into it. It was too little, too late, and didn’t get nearly the same message across.
11/12/11 – Jeanneret inducted into HOF
The longtime Sabres broadcaster had the honor of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had a heartfelt speech prior to the game against the Winnipeg Jets:
2/27/12 – Gaustad & Hodgson Trade
The Sabres traded away Paul Gaustad and a 2013 fourth-round pick for a first-round pick in the upcoming draft. That pick would be sent to Calgary, who selected Mark Jankowski. The Sabres used Calgary’s first-rounder to select Zemgus Girgensons.
The Sabres sent Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Cody Hodgson, who was planned to be a core piece of the Sabres for a long time.
Hodgson had 34 points in the lockout-shortened season and 44 the year after. He would eventually be bought out in June of 2015, and then retired at the age of 26.
4/3/12 – Rally vs. Leafs
The Sabres weren’t having a good season, but they managed to put together a five-game winning streak in late March to put them back in the playoff picture.
Then, they took on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game of desperation and this game had it all.
Marcus Foligno came out with a huge hit on Carl Gunnarsson to get things started:
The Sabres quickly fell in a hole early on, and it seemed like their playoff hopes would be dashed by a divisional rival. But they kept battling back and overcame a three-goal deficit and managed to tie the game in the 3rd in a massive melee in front of the net.
Derek Roy and the Sabres finished off the Leafs with a power-play goal in overtime to keep their playoff hopes alive:
4/7/12 – Late-Season collapse
After an exciting 6-5 win over the Leafs, there was a small shot at making the playoffs. They had to take on the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins in their final two games and ended up losing both by a goal. They missed the playoffs by three points.
6/22/12 – Girgensons & Grigorenko Drafted
The Sabres had overall picks 12 and 14 in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. They drafted centers Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons and those two were expected to be key pieces of the team’s future.
Other drafted players in the top 20 who were available to Buffalo at those slots included Tom Wilson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Teuvo Teravainen.
The General Manager at the time, Darcy Regier, received assurances from several people and Grigorenko, that the center would plan to play in North America.
“Those are all strong indicators…We’re very confident he’ll have a good, long NHL career.” – Regier
Grigorenko played 68 games for the Sabres over the span of three seasons, scoring 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
7/2/12 – Roy/Ott Trade
The Sabres traded away another centerpiece of their team in Derek Roy, sending him to the Dallas Stars in return for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy.
Ott would spend two seasons in Buffalo, scoring 44 points in 107 games and serving as the team’s captain.
Roy went on to play for five different teams over the next four seasons, but never really found the success he had earlier in his career with the Sabres.
9/15/12 – Lockout Begins
The owners of the league’s teams and members of the NHLPA could not reach an agreement before their current contract had expired, resulting in a 113-day lockout and a shortened 48-game schedule.
1/21/13 – Sabres start 2-0
The lockout finally ended and a shortened season began with two wins in two nights for the Sabres. They defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-2, on National TV and then went to Canada and knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1. #HockeyIsBack
1/31/13 – Vanek enjoys strong season
Although it was a shortened season, the 2012-13 campaign could arguably be considered Vanek’s best year. He finished with 41 points (20 goals, 21 assists) in 38 games.
He had a great game against the Boston Bruins in January, scoring a hat trick in a high-scoring affair in Beantown:
You can extrapolate those stats over a full season and they’d be career highs in goals, assists, and points.
2/20/13 – Lindy Ruff Fired
That 2-0 start didn’t really look good just 15 games later. After a 6-10-1 stretch to the shortened season, the Sabres finally relieved Head Coach Lindy Ruff of his duties and promoted Ron Rolston. There were 170 NHL coaching changes during the time since Ruff was hired back in July of 1997.
4/2/13 – Pens historic streak snapped
With the Penguins in the middle of a historic 15-game winning streak, Buffalo’s April 2nd visit to Pittsburgh was likened to a tune-up match for a champion prizefighter, the Sabres being the proverbial “can” to the vastly superior Penguins.
The Sabres chose to follow a different fight plan. They came out swinging as Kevin Porter netted his first goal as a Sabre while on the penalty kill. The then-newly-acquired Jarome Iginla evened things up for the Pens, but it ended up being the only goal they could muster on 20 shots against Miller.
The Sabres, meanwhile, struck while the iron was hot. Ott and Hodgson added goals while Porter secured his second on the night. The Sabres four goals came on only their first 13 shots of the game; enough of a flurry to make Pittsburgh throw in the towel on netminder Tomas Vokoun before the second period even concluded.
4/11/13 – Ott Licks Halpern’s Visor
Steve Ott had ways of getting inside his opponents’ head, but not like this. He liked Jeff Halpern’s visor during a faceoff:
4/26/13 – Sabres raise ticket prices
What better way to cap off a season with Fan Appreciation Night than raising the ticket prices by four percent. That’s what Sabres President Ted Black announced before the Sabres eventually finished off the New York Islanders in a 2-1 shootout victory.
The Sabres did finish the season with an 8-4 record, showing a glimpse of hope that maybe this was just a year of growth with some rough patches.
4/30/13 – Pominville Traded
The dismantlement of the Sabres core begins. The organization traded Jason Pominville and a 2014 4th round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett, a 2013 1st round pick and a 2014 2nd round pick.
With the picks acquired, the Sabres drafted Nikita Zadorov and Vaclav Karabacek.
4/30/13 – Let the Suffering Begin
General Manager Darcy Regier says that the team’s plan “may require some suffering.”
“Terry Pegula is in search of creating a Stanley Cup championship. That has not changed. In fact, it’s been reinforced. It’s stronger than ever. It may require some suffering.” – Darcy Regier
9/4/13 – The Turdburger Arrives
The Sabres had been giving fans sneak peeks of what the new jersey would look like, but Steve Ott revealed it and it was hideous.
— Steve Ott (@otterN9NE) September 4, 2013
9/22/13 – Preseason Brawl
The Sabres and Leafs got together for a game that would end up with 209 penalty minutes, 11 fighting majors, 14 10-minute misconducts, a suspension, and fines.
Corey Tropp and Jamie Devane had a regular hockey fight, but right at the end, Tropp’s head slammed into the ice. He ended up with a concussion and a broken jaw.
On the ensuing faceoff, John Scott tried to engage with Phil Kessel and a line brawl happened in a matter of seconds, including goaltender Ryan Miller fighting Jonathan Bernier:
10/2/13 – New Season, New Divisions
Ron Rolston returned as the head coach and Regier removed his “interim” tag.
10/25/13 – Regulation Win #1
The Sabres went 1-9-1 before finally earning their first regulation victory of the season, a 3-1 win over Florida.
10/27/13 – Vanek Out, Moulson In
A 2-10-1 start to the season didn’t help anybody’s job status in Buffalo. The Sabres sent a centerpiece of their team to the New York Islanders. In return, they received Matt Moulson, a first-round pick in 2014, and a second-round pick in 2015 (Brendan Guhle).
That first-round pick (Colin White) was eventually traded to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Robin Lehner and David Legwand.
11/5/13 – The Centipede
During a game against the San Jose Sharks, three Sabres players went after the puck and created this memorable cenitpede-like formation:
— Lindy Ruff’s Tie (@LindyRuffsTie) November 6, 2013
11/13/13 – Rolston & Regier Fired
It didn’t last long, but it wasn’t exactly intended to. Rolston was there to see what he could do, but mostly be a stopgap until the Sabres found a more long-term coach. Except, the Sabres started a franchise-worst 4-15-1 and it was time to dismantle the organization.
After chants in the Sabres arena of “Fire Darcy”, it finally happened.
Ted Nolan was named the interim head coach and Pat LaFontaine returned to the organization as President of Hockey Operations.
12/23/13 – The Butt Goal
There wasn’t a whole lot of excitement during a game betweent the then Phoenix Coyotes and the Buffalo Sabres on this night. Martin Hanzal scored 19 seconds into the game, and Tyler Ennis tied it late in the 3rd period, sending the game to overtime.
Mark Pysyk would get credit for one of the most unique overtime goals a player will ever score.
2/28/14 – Ryan Miller Traded
The Sabres traded away their franchise goaltender to help with the rebuild. Miller and Steve Ott were sent to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier, a 2015 1st round pick, and a 2016 3rd round pick. One pick was traded away and the other turned out to be Cliff Pu.
The Sabres would lose Carrier in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights.
3/5/14 – Moulson traded
After acquiring him toward the beginning of the season, the Sabres parted ways with Moulson after he scored 29 points in 44 games.
Buffalo traded him and Cody McCormick to the Minnesota Wild for Torrey Mitchell, a 2014 2nd-round pick (Vaclav Karabacek), and a 2016 2nd-round pick (Chad Krys).
3/5/14 – Sabres Pay for Fasching
The Sabres took a bit of a gamble by acquiring forwards Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers from the Los Angels Kings. They gave up Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parker, and a pair of 2nd round picks.
The picks ended up being Alex Lintuniemi and Erik Cernak.
Fasching played in a total of 22 games for the Sabres over the span of three seasons, scoring a goal and two assists.
4/13/14 – Brutal Season Ends
The Sabres finished last in the NHL with just 150 goals, which was the fewest amount by any team in a full season since 1956.
6/27/14 – Sabres Draft Reinhart
For a team that was clearly tanking and was 14 points behind the 29th placed team, getting Sam Reinhart was almost a consolation prize. The Florida Panthers won the draft lottery and selected Aaron Ekblad. The Sabres went with Reinhart, and the Oilers took Leon Draisaitl right after him. Other notable players from that first round were Dylan Larkin (15th overall) and David Pastrnak (25th).
6/29/14 – Ehrhoff & Leino Bought Out
The Sabres put an end to two failed and incredibly costly moves. Ehrhoff had signed a 10-year deal in 2011, and Leino signed a 6-year deal a day later. These two contracts were a huge blow to any success the Sabres had hoped for.
Apparently, Ehrhoff had no idea the buy-out was coming:
“We had never discussed a possibility of a compliance buyout,” Richard Curran, Ehrhoff’s agent, told the Times Herald by phone. “So was I surprised this morning when I woke up and realized that was the solution to their problem? Yeah, certainly.”
7/1/14 – Sabres Sign Moulson
After getting a couple of draft picks back in the trade with the Wild earlier in the season, the Sabres signed Moulson as a free agent, giving him a five-year, $25M contract.
11/1/14 – Let The Tanking Begin
Not only did Buffalo begin 2-9-1 start to the season, but they were shut out five times during that stretch. That number would increase to 14 by the end of the season…
11/28/14 – Ennis’ Sweet Goal
Tyler Ennis scored on a very difficult type of shot after gathering his own rebound and back-hading one into the net against the Montreal Canadiens:
1/13/15 – Hasek #39 Retirement Ceremony
The greatest goaltender in Buffalo (and arguably NHL) history had his number retired on January 13th.
Hasek put up legendary numbers throughout his career. In 1997-98, he had 13 shutouts, a 2.09 GAA and a .932 save percentage. In 1998-99, he led the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final with a 1.87 GAA, a .937 save percentage and nine shutouts. These are just some of the many incredible stats he had, and he was very deserving of this honor.
1/30/15 – The 0-for-January
There wasn’t much hiding of the fact that the Sabres were tanking this season, but when it came to January, they didn’t see a single win. They didn’t even earn a single point in the standings during the entire month and were outscored, 51-18.
A string of 14 consecutive regulation losses started December 29th in Ottawa and went through January 30th before they finally earned a win against the Montreal Canadiens a few days later.
2/11/15 – Evander Kane Trade
The Sabres made a blockbuster trade with the Winnipeg Jets to acquire Evander Kane, who had an injury and wouldn’t be able to play until the next season. Kane also had voiced his displeasure for his time in Winnipeg and Buffalo was willing to get him for the following season.
Kane was acquired along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf. Buffalo traded away Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers, and a 2015 1st round pick (Jack Roslovic).
3/26/15 – The Basement Battle
The Sabres played the Coyotes toward the end of the season in what was ultimately a battle for last place in the league.
Sabres fans actively cheered at First Niagara Center as the Coyotes won the game in overtime, all but sealing Buffalo’s top odds at #1 overall.
4/3/15 – Toews to the Rescue
With just a handful of games remaining, Buffalo had great odds of being the top lottery team, but it wasn’t a guarantee just yet.
On April 3rd, they hosted the Chicago Blackhawks and had a 3-2 league with 1:48 remaining in the third period.
The Sabres had earned back-to-back wins leading up to this moment, so fans started to get a little concerned that the team was playing too well.
But Jonathan Toews showed up and scored two goals in 47 seconds against Anders Lindback to give Chicago a regulation win:
5/20/15 – Babcock Chooses Toronto
It seemed all but official that Mike Babcock was going to be the new Head Coach of the Sabres. They had a long-term contract lined up and were preparing to have a press conference to announce the news.
But, the Buffalo News’ Tim Graham reported that the organization was shocked at the turn of events and that they were livid about how Babcock had handled the past few days.
Shortly after, he signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They had a rough season in 2015-16, but then put together seasons with 40, 49, and 46 wins, respectively, but were bounced in the 1st round all three times (once to Washington and twice to Boston).
The Maple Leafs struggled out of the gate in 2019-20, and Babcock was fired after the team’s 9-10-4 start.
6/26/15 – Sabres land O’Reilly
I’m sure you know what happens to Ryan O’Reilly later, but the Sabres were able to acquire him and Jamie McGinn from the Colorado Avalanche on this day. Looking back, they didn’t give up much, trading away Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher and a 2015 2nd round pick.
6/26/15 – Lehner traded for 1st
General Manager Tim Murray was known for his connections to the Ottawa Senators, so it wasn’t a surprise that he was a big fan of Robin Lehner.
Lehner was a very young and up-and-coming goaltender for the Senators, but fans quickly disliked him during his three years in Buffalo. His inability to stop pucks in the shootout got ridiculous, but he seemed to decline in overall stats each year as well.
6/26/15 – “Buffalo Selects Jack Eichel”
The Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery in 2015 and selected Connor McDavid, but the Sabres were lucky enough to have a generation talent available at the 2nd overall spot.
6/26/15 – Hodgson Bought Out
Hodgson never turned out to be the player the Sabres had hoped for, but he certainly showed those signs early on.
His best season came in 2013-14 when he scored 20 goals and 24 assists, but a dreadful follow-up year to that led to a buyout.
Hodgson scored 13 points in 78 games that following season. The forward would go on for a last-ditch effort with the Nashville Predators in 15-16 but scored just eight points in 29 games.
But the issue wasn’t really tied to hockey. Hodgson had been diagnosed with malignant hyperthermia, which affected his muscular system, specifically when exercising for long periods of time. Hodgson discusses all of that and how he would blackout and feel his body shaking and tensing up. It was recommended that he retire, and so he did.
7/13/15 – O’Reilly hits Tim Horton’s
Just a few weeks after trading for him, the future Stanley Cup Winner was charged with imparied driving after hitting a Tim Horton’s in Ontario.
He would be acquitted of those charges eventually, but it wasn’t the greatest start to his career in Buffalo. Luckily, everyone was okay.
10/8/15 – Eichel’s 1st Goal
During the season opener against the Ottawa Senators, Jack Eichel scored his first career goal:
It would be the Sabres only goal of the game as they ended up losing, 3-1, but the start of Eichel’s career.
2/9/16 – 3 fights for Kane
It isn’t often that you see one player get three fights in a game, but how about all three against the same opponent.
In a 7-4 loss to the Florida Panthers in February, Kane provided some much-needed excitement at First Niagara Center, dropping the gloves with Alex Petrovic throughout the night:
3/12/16 – Eichel’s last-second Winner
The Sabres went 7-4-4 in the month of March including a 5-1-3 home record. This success is highlighted by a 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes where Eichel scores the game-winning goal on a breakaway with a second remaining:
While Buffalo is still eliminated from the playoffs before they reach April, they showed major improvement in the standings going from 23-51-8 (54 pts) to 35-36-11 (81 pts).
6/24/16 – Leafs Get Matthews in Buffalo
The Sabres hosted the 2016 NHL Draft and their division-rival had won the draft lottery a couple of months earlier. Without question, the Maple Leafs selected Auston Matthews in front of many Toronto fans inside KeyBank Center:
A few picks later, the Sabres selected Alex Nylander, brother of Leafs’ William and son of former NHL player Michael.
6/25/16 – Sabres trade for Kulikov
GM Tim Murray traded away Mark Pysyk, a 2nd round pick (Adam Mascherin), and a 3rd round pick (Linus Nassen) for Dmitri Kulikov and a 2nd round pick (Rasmus Asplund).
Kulikov was viewed as the missing piece on defense to help Buffalo moving forward.
6/29/16 – Buffalo loses Stamkos Sweepstakes
Steven Stamkos was easily the biggest name that was going to hit the market this offseason. The Sabres met with him, but couldn’t get him to sign.
Some say they just used the Sabres for leverage, but if Stamkos really wanted to sign, that was up to him. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, because Stamkos signed an 8-year, $68M deal to stay in Tampa Bay. The Sabres would have had to pay something similar, if not more, to get the superstar.
7/1/16 – Sabres sign Okposo
After losing out on Stamkos, the Sabres signed arguably the best forward on the free-agent market at the time, getting Kyle Okposo on a 7-year, $42M deal.
This was viewed as an incredibly strong addition as Okposo had been averaging over 20 goals and 60 points a year.
He was making around $2.8M a year on Long Island, but would see that jump to $6M a season in his new contract with Buffalo.
10/12/16 – Eichel’s Ankle Injury
In a preseason practice right before the season opener, Jack Eichel went down awkwardly with an injury and would end up missing 21 games that season.
Eichel still finished the year with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 61 games.
1/7/17 – McCabe’s Big Hit
This one was wild. The Sabres didn’t get off to the most inspired start, falling down 3-1 to the Jets during the second period and offering little resistance of their own.
The tide quickly turned in their favor early in the third with two goals from Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons, just twenty-six seconds apart.
The energy inside KeyBank Center swelled to a high shortly after the tying goal by Girgensons when Jake McCabe leveled Winnipeg rookie sensation Patrik Laine with a clean but crushing open-ice check that knocked Laine out of the game.
The Jets–understandably–responded aggressively, but it was Buffalo that would strike again, as Brian Gionta drove home his eighth goal of the season en route to a Sabres 4-3 comeback victory.
1/21/17 – Sabres Stun Habs
The Sabres travelled to Montreal to face the rival Habs, and the result was a game that managed to top the thrills of the previous. These thrills didn’t come so much from the scoring, however. It instead came from perhaps the best displays of goaltending this year.
On the opposite end of the ice, Carey Price impressed even the most staunch Sabres supporters with a point-blank, windmill glove save on Rasmus Ristolainen just as regulation drew to a close.
Shortly into overtime, Robin Lehner got his own moment in the spotlight with a save that deserves to be in highlight reels for years to come.
Montreal neatly threaded the Sabres’ defense to allow Alex Galchenyuk a slapshot that seemed destined to find the back of a yawning Sabres net. But somehow, someway, Lehner hurled himself through the crease, arm outstretched, and snagged the puck in mid-air, simultaneously fooling and stunning those in attendance at the Bell Centre.
Lehner’s incredible save was rewarded 17 seconds later during a Sabres rush when Zach Bogosian employed the basics and blasted a slapshot past Price to give Buffalo their second overtime win in as many nights.
1/24/17 – Eichel’s OT Winner vs. Preds
The Sabres completed an overtime trifecta during their annual visit to Music City. This night, there was little to celebrate for defense or goaltending, aside from Robin Lehner being credited with an assist on the eventual game-winning goal.
This game was a brawl from start to finish, as both teams traded a total of eight goals across regulation. The Predators seemed to take command in the third period as they built a two-goal lead with just under ten minutes left to play, but the Sabres soon commenced an unthinkable comeback.
Captain Brian Gionta pulled them to within one with under six minutes left, and Kyle Okposo even things up with just over a minute remaining in regulation. A little bit past the midway point of Overtime, Jack Eichel took it upon himself to complete the rally. He glided through every Nashville’s defense and unleashed a thunderous wrister that beat Nashville netminder Juuse Saros, giving Buffalo arguably their signature win of the season.
February 2017 – Downward Spiral
By February 18th, the Sabres were 26-23-10 and just two points out of the playoffs. They went on to lose eight of their next 10 games, including two to the bottom-feeding Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. That essentially removed them from the playoff race.
The Sabres finished the season with 78 points while Matthews and the Maple Leafs were headed to the playoffs.
4/20/17 – Murray, Bylsma Fired
It was time for another full change. GM Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma were both relieved of their duties.
Bylsma was given two seasons behind the bench, which was a very short leash, but the collapse in the most recent season was too much. Buffalo went 68-73-23 under him.
6/15/17 – Housley & Botterill Era Begins
The organization brings in two new names to try and turn things around. Jason Botterill gets his first shot as a GM, and Housley returns to Buffalo as the Sabres continue to attempt to end the drought.
6/23/17 – Mittlestadt Drafted
The Sabres got what looked like a steal at the draft given Casey Mittelstadt’s play in the World Juniors. They selected him at No. 8 overall, but a lot of the National media made fun of the fact that a professional athlete couldn’t do a single pull-up.
6/30/17 – Pommers Returns
The Sabres helped the Minnesota Wild in cap space by getting back Jason Pominville, along with Marco Scandella and a 2018 4th round pick (Linus Lindstrand Cronholm). Buffalo sent Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, and a 2018 3rd round pick (Jack McBain) to the Wild.
Pominville played two seasons before finishing out his contract in 2018-19.
Oct/Nov 2017 – Optimism Vanishes Early
With Eichel, O’Reilly and Reinhart entiner their 3rd season together, the Sabres appeared ready for a strong start. They also had a new head coach in Housley, but got out to a 3-7-2 start in October.
November didn’t go much better as the Sabres went 6-15-4 and dug themselves into a deep hole that they could never get out of this season.
12/15/17 – Hats Off For Jack
The Sabres battled back from a two-goal deficit in the third period thanks to a pair of goals from Jack Eichel:
Buffalo was on the losing end of this game, though, as the Carolina Hurricanes got a goal from Jaccob Slavin in overtime.
2/26/18 – Kane Traded Away
Evander Kane’s career in Buffalo lasted three seasons. He posted 20+ goals and 35+ points in each of them, but the organization elected to move on.
The Sabres traded Kane to the San Jose Sharks for Daniel O’Regan, a 2019 1st round pick (Brayden Tracey), and a 2020 4th round pick (Carter Savoie).
Kane had a couple of his best seasons with the Sharks afterwards, which helped him land a 7-year contract extension worth $49M.
3/31/18 – Big Hearts in Nashville
If there was any game out of 82 where the Buffalo Sabres looked like a true, passionate team, it was this. Against the Predators, the #1 team in the entire NHL, on the road inside the Bridgestone Arena, where Preds fans are as boisterous as they come, the Sabres faced just as much adversity as one would expect.
After surrendering an early lead and falling down 3-1, Buffalo battled back to tie the game, only to then allow Nashville to jump ahead once again. When Scott Hartnell leveled Victor Antipin against the boards, leaving Antipin motionless on the ice for a duration and having to be carted off, it galvanized the Sabres to play with a kind of pride that had rarely been seen previously in the season.
Buffalo assailed Nashville on the ensuing 5-minute major power play, scoring three times to take a firm lead. A seventh tally–which earned Sam Reinhart a hat trick–came later in the night, cementing a game where the Sabres played their hearts out to defend the honor of their teammate.
April 2018 – More Regression
The Sabres finished the season with a horrendous 25-45-12 record, good for just 62 points as they regressed badly from the growth shown the previous two years to dead last in the NHL. The only positive is the Sabres win the NHL draft lottery guaranteeing they can draft Swedish phenom Rasmus Dahlin in June.
6/22/18 – Dahlin Drafted
Finally, the Sabres get the first overall pick and they waste no time getting Rasmus Dahlin, the first Swedish player to go that early since Mats Sundin in 1989.
7/1/18 – The O’Reilly Disaster
The Sabres finally moved on from Ryan O’Reilly, sending him to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 1st round pick (Ryan Johnson), and a 2021 2nd round pick.
O’Reilly had three decent seasons in Buffalo but admitted that he lost his love for the game among all the losing and frustration.
“We’re stuck in this mindset of just being OK with losing…It’s disappointing. It’s sad. I feel throughout the year I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times. It’s just eating us up, and it’s tough.”
He went on to St.Louis and became nearly a point-per-game player, took his game to a new level and won the Stanley Cup.
8/2/18 – Skinner Arrives
After a horrendous O’Reilly trade a month earlier, the Sabres manage to land Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes in a great deal. Buffalo traded Cliff Pu, a 2019 2nd round pick (Pyotr Kochetkov), a 2020 3rd round pick, and a 2020 6th round pick.
11/3/18 – The Rout of Ottawa
It couldn’t end in a better way with the scoreboard reading Ottawa 2, Buffalo 9. It was a nice note to Pommers’ #29.
Jeff Skinner and Pominville scored two goals and an assist each, and Jack Eichel had three assists on the day.
It was the first time the Sabres scored nine goals in a game since January 27th, 2009.
11/27/18 – The 10-Game Winning Streak
The Sabres put together one of the most exciting (and lucky) winning streaks in franchise history. A slow 7-6-2 start to the season was quickly forgotten as the Sabres rattled off 10 straight victories.
Nine of those wins were by one goal and seven of them were by way of overtime or a shootout.
On November 27th, Jeff Skinner helped Buffalo make it 10 straight with an overtime goal to defeat the San Jose Sharks, and the arena was rocking:
11/28/18 – Epic Collapse Begins
A 10-game winning streak catapulted Buffalo to the top of the standings with a 17-6-2 record, but they slowly slipped down the latter throughout the rest of the season.
Since the end of that winning streak, they went 16-33-8 and finished 22 points out of a playoff spot.
That’s incredibly difficult to do. All they needed to do was play about .500 hockey the rest of the way and the entire team played some of their worst hockey in years.
2/12/18 – One Final Push?
The Sabres defeat the New York Islanders, 3-1, to get back to just one point out of the playoffs. They had a chance to still sneak in despite their underwhelming performance since December.
Instead, the Sabres ended up losing 20 of the next 23 games to sink themselves toward the bottom of the standings again.
3/4/19 – Pommers Stops His Own Shot
During his final season with the Sabres, Pominville appeared to have one of the easiest goals of his career. Except, he mistakenly prevented his own shot from going in, which would have tied the game at 4.
4/4/19 – Pommers’ Final Goal
Pominville scored 293 goals during his career (2 of them were against Buffalo) and he got a standing ovation from the home crowd at KeyBank Center on April 4th when he tallied his last.
4/6/19 – Skinner hits 40 goals
Jeff Skinner caps off a terrific season with 40 goals and 23 assists over 82 games, setting himself up for a massive payday.
4/7/19 – Housley Fired
Phil Housley has a good argument that he needed more time, but the organization just couldn’t take it. Two more disappointing seasons had the club looking for a replacement already.
7/9/19 – Nylander/Jokiharju Trade
The Sabres saw enough of their 2016 8th overall pick, Alexander Nylander. He had scored 6 points in 19 games over the span of three seasons in Buffalo and was then traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju.
Nylander finished his first season in Chicago with 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games. Although a defenseman, Jokiharju chipped in 15 points in 69 games for the Sabres in his first year with the club.
10/22/19 – Off to a Great Start
Jack Eichel pounded home the overtime-winner against the San Jose Sharks for another win, improving the Sabres record to 8-1-1 to start the season.
Things were looking good for first-year Head Coach Ralph Krueger after the team decided to move on from Phil Housley.
11/16/19 – Eichel’s 4-Goal Game
The Sabres hosted the Ottawa Senators on November 16th, but they only needed their captain to do the scoring.
Jack Eichel scored all four goals for Buffalo in a 4-2 victory. This game was the start of Eichel’s long point streak and really got him going over the next couple of months.
11/19/19 – Eichel Fights Eriksson Ek
It’s easy to sense Eichel’s frustration because he wears it on his sleeve. In a game against the Minnesota Wild, Eichel took matters into his own hands and got a rare fighting major:
12/19/19 – Eichel’s Point Streak Ends
Jack Eichel was on an absolute tear during that winter but saw his 17-game point streak officially come to an end as he was scratched before a game due to an injury.
He had 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) over that 17-game span. The streak tied Dave Andreychuck for the second-longest in franchise history.
12/31/19 – New Year’s Collapse
About halfway through a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on New Year’s Eve, Jack Eichel scored a shorthanded goal to put Buffalo up, 4-1.
They must have started celebrating the assumed victory too early because Tampa Bay came back with five unanswered goals to hand Buffalo a regulation loss.
We’ll talk more about this below, but hanging on for this win could have been the difference in Buffalo finally ending the drought.
1/4/20 – 90’s Night Goes Wrong
Many fans were hoping the Sabres would hit the ice while donning a jersey from the past, but it never happened. They did have a really nice video tribute to the 90s teams prior to the game, but couldn’t wear past jerseys because someone in the organization missed a deadline.
What did happen was that fans noticed misspelt jersey names on the back of former players.
You can read more about why they were misspelled here, but most of it was intentional.
“The truth is Mike Robitaille has had that jersey for a long time and he’s worn it out multiple times. He showed up that day and put it on. It wasn’t something we gave him that night, but he wore it.” – A representative within the Sabres organization
They mentioned that Dave Andreychuk’s jersey was a mistake, though. If the team had been winning of late, this wouldn’t have ever been a big deal. But with consistent losing for nearly a decade, this blew out of proportion.
3/7/20 – Knocking Themselves Out
Nobody knew it at the time, but the NHL regular season was about to end. The Sabres dropped their sixth consecutive game and continued their pathetic slide to the bottom.
They weren’t a good team this season. But the knockout punch came when the NHL was ready to resume with a playoff tournament, taking in the top 24 teams in the league.
Buffalo was 25th.
Montreal was 24th and had played 2 more games, but had a higher points percentage, which made the difference. The two teams were scheduled to play on the night that the league paused the season.
While it may not be the same “playoffs”, the Sabres had a great chance to make it into the expanded tournament. Blowing a three-goal lead on NYE looks that much worse, but you could also point to several other games throughout the season.
General Manager Jason Botterill was focused on playing meaningful games in March, but the Sabres came out of the Trade Deadline and got wallopped by the Ottawa Senators, 7-4.
5/26/20 – Botterill Will Return…
Kim Pegula told the AP on May 26th that Jason Botterill would remain the General Manager and return for his fourth season.
“I realize, maybe it’s not popular with the fans, but we have to do the things that we feel are right. We have a little bit more information than maybe a fan does, some inner workings that we see some positives in.” – Kim Pegula
5/28/20 – Eichel Voices Frustration
During the end-of-season press conference, Jack Eichel spoke up about how his first five years have gone in the NHL. It brought up rumors and ridiculous trade possibilities and scenarios articles from other teams sites:
“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing & I’m frustrated… It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years… I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season… I’d be lying if I said I’m not getting frustrated with the way things are going.” – Jack eichel
6/16/20 – Actually, Botterill Has Been Fired
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Sabres announced that they had relieved Jason Botterill of his duties and hired Kevyn Adams as the new (not interim) GM.
For the most part, this was what fans wanted, but the ownership group had just said the opposite thing a few weeks ago.
Terry Pegula mentioned that there were too many differences in opinion with Botterill, and implied that the former GM was not looking forward enthusiastically to the success of the franchise.
To be continued…