The Buffalo Sabres incompetence is second only to the Cleveland Browns. And they aren’t far behind them.
The Buffalo Sabres own the longest playoff drought in the NHL. They haven’t been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 2010-11 season and haven’t been out of the first round since 2006-07. Throughout their failures, there has been one common element – Kim and Terry Pegula, who have been the majority owners since February of 2011. On the day they bought the Sabres, Terry said, “Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup.”
Instead, their reason for existence appears to be being the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. The Browns are the joke of the NFL. They’re incompetently run and everybody knows it. Likewise, the Sabres lack of accountability and success is mind-boggling.
Much like the Browns, the Sabres have had their chances. They tanked for Connor McDavid in 2015, but ultimately got the second overall pick. Jack Eichel is no McDavid, but he’s one heck of a consolation prize. Since entering the league, only 18 forwards have more points per game than Eichel. Worth mentioning – those 18 forwards have a much better supporting cast around them than Eichel does.
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It’s not a stretch to say he would be in the Hart Trophy conversation if he was on a good team. Despite Eichel’s excellence, he has yet to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is an indictment of how inept the Sabres have been over the last nine seasons.
Their postseason chances are virtually non-existent. According to Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic, the Sabres have a zero percent chance of making the playoffs after their 4-3 shootout loss to the historically awful 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings. MoneyPuck is a tad bit more optimistic, as they list the Sabres as having a 1.3% chance of making the postseason.
How Did They Get Here?
It all starts with the Pegulas. They’re interesting owners because they care a lot about the Buffalo Bills (who they also own), yet they’re virtually invisible when it comes to the Sabres. Not only that, the Pegulas have proven they don’t know how to be effective owners in the NHL. Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Dahlin are the best things the Sabres have going for them right now. All three were slam dunk top-two picks.
However, general manager Jason Botterill deserves a lot of the blame as well. He has done very little to improve the roster despite taking over when the Sabres were one of the worst teams in the league in 2017. Three years later, they’re still one of the worst teams in the league. Botterill traded a star in Ryan O’Reilly and currently has nothing on his NHL roster to show for it.
He’s also been way too conservative. Botterill knew he had too many defensemen going into the summer of 2019. So what did he do? He acquired more defensemen while trading none of his surplus blueliners. And it’s not like Botterill didn’t have opportunities. The Winnipeg Jets were scouring the market for defensemen and he didn’t take advantage of it. That’s simply inexcusable.
If you want to go further back, Tim Murray deserves a lot of the blame as well. After all, he’s the one who left the Sabres in such a mess. Murray’s the one who engineered the infamous 2014-15 Sabres tank, which set the team back several years. He’s the one who prematurely traded for O’Reilly at the 2015 draft and gave up a first-round pick (which turned into Colin White) for Robin Lehner.
To sum things up, there is virtually no accountability in the Sabres organization. Incompetence has reigned through the past nine seasons and very little has been done to fix that. Ultimately, the onus falls on the Pegulas for enabling the incompetence.
How Can They Fix It?
First of all, the Pegulas need to be more involved. It’s humiliating how rare their appearances and interviews are. This shows how out of touch with the Sabres fanbase the Pegulas truly are. If they were paying attention, they’d notice the booing after periods and realize how fed up fans are becoming with the team.
The Sabres should also probably part ways with Botterill. Sure, they could hire a President of Hockey Operations and put him in a role like the one Brendan Shanahan has with the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, that would prove the Sabres have no faith in Botterill to make the right moves. So why not fire him anyway?
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Next, they need a plan. One thing that’s easy to tell about the Sabres is they never really have a plan. They sort of make things up as they go along. The loyal fans of the Sabres deserve better. Most fans would have given up completely by now. But the Sabres fans are still there. Who knows how much longer they will be, though? And frankly, who can blame them if they stop supporting a team that has done very little to return the emotional and monetary investments they put into them?