When I tell people I’m a Buffalo Sabres fan, I get one of two extreme reactions: A look of shock, or one of disappointment. Everyone knows that being a Sabres fan is a merciless and unforgiving job, one that breaks you down until you find yourself cheering for any ounce of success they can hold on to. The only thing the Sabres are leading the NHL in right now is the longest-consecutive record for missing the playoffs at 11 years and counting.
For Sabres fans, it feels like we will never get a moment of reprieve from the endless cycle of lacklustre seasons. Despite making the playoffs in 2010-11, the Sabres have been on a steady decline since losing to the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. Between 2012 and 2018, Buffalo finished last in their division in five out of six seasons. The team desperately needed a rebuild but a few faulty decisions, like trading Ryan Miller and Steve Ott and picking up Evander Kane, who only brought controversy, left the team no better than where it started.
In 2015, hope arose in the form of superstar Connor McDavid, whom many Buffalo fans pegged as a sure future Sabre who could save the franchise. Things didn’t go as planned, however, and Buffalo ended up with second pick Jack Eichel who, despite being one of the league’s top stars, amounted to nothing for the team. After failing to make the playoffs for Eichel’s first five seasons, his patience began to wear thin. As Buffalo continued to decline, drama arose surrounding a disagreement between Eichel and the team about how to handle an injury, leading him to publicly request a trade and be stripped of the captaincy.
Looking at the Sabres’ losing culture is painful, to say the least. The 2017-18 season ended in complete misery with yet another last-place finish, but spirits began to rise after drafting Rasmus Dahlin first overall in the 2018 Draft. That’s one thing the Sabres have going for them at least––last-place finishes turned first-round draft picks, with 10 in the past five years.
Are the Buffalo Sabres just cursed? On paper, there is no practical reason for the Sabres to be this bad, especially this season. Tage Thompson, a former St. Louis Blues first-round pick, whom the Sabres acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, has had an incredible season so far with 28 points. Dahlin and Alex Tuch, a highlight of the blockbuster Eichel trade last season, have held their own with 23 and 21 points, respectively. Owen Power, the first overall pick in 2021, is having the breakout season you dream about for a young player, with some even calling him the best defenceman in the game. Goaltender save percentages are hovering around average, Sabres stars are consistently putting up multi-point nights, and Buffalo’s roster of young, talented players are populating the top of NHL stat lists. Despite all of this, Buffalo still sucks.
To rub salt in the wound, O’Reilly won a Stanley Cup in his first season with the St. Louis Blues and Eichel has continued to taunt Sabres fans, scoring a hat trick in his most recent appearance in Buffalo.
All this leads me to the conclusion: Something is broken in the Sabres’ culture, and it’s time to fix it. With just a few tweaks, and by continuing to develop a promising young core, the Sabres may finally emerge from their decades-long slump. Not to sound like a broken record, or worse, a Leafs fan, but maybe next year really will be the season for the Sabres. If all scandals are avoided and if off-season moves live up to their promise, maybe, just maybe, the Sabres can sneak into the playoffs and give their debilitated fans something to cheer about.