Sabres break losing streak, remain among worst of salary cap era

Don Granato talks with the media about the Buffalo Sabres snapping their 18-game losing streak.

You might’ve woken up this morning, turned on a pot of coffee, and laughed as you recalled a crazy dream about the Buffalo Sabres winning a hockey game.

By the time you sit down to have a sip of that daily grind, reality sets in. It’s not a dream, Buffalo finally won a game after losing 18 straight. It actually happened.

It looked like the Sabres would break the streak on Monday night when they had a commanding 3-0 lead over the Philadelphia Flyers heading into the third period, then the Flyers scored twice to make it 3-2 and pulled the goalie.

Forward Tage Thompson had the chance to ice the game with an empty-net goal but put the puck just wide of the cage on a one-handed attempt.

And just as fate would have it, the Flyers tied the game on the ensuing play and scored in overtime to snatch the coveted victory from the hands of the Sabres, sending the internet into a frenzy.

On Wednesday night, a rematch.

After a great start to the game, Buffalo was once again in winning position with a three-goal lead heading into the third period.

This time, the Sabres stared their 18-game winless streak dead in the eye and said, ‘not today,’ adding two more goals to secure their first win since Feb. 23.

All jokes aside, the Sabres have suffered this season. After an inconsistent start playing in perhaps the NHL's toughest division, COVID-19 spread through the team in February, and they’ve never really recovered. It doesn’t help that captain Jack Eichel has missed 14 games with a back injury.

Buffalo is 7-23-5 with a points percentage of .271 – the lowest of any team in the salary cap era (since 2005-06). Are they the worst team since 2005-06?

Let’s see how the rest of the season plays out, but they’re certainly one of them.

Here are some of the other lowly teams that might give the Sabres a run for their money for that prestigious title:

2005-06 St. Louis Blues (21-46-15)

There was little for St. Louis Blues fans to cheer about even in 2003-04. That season, they finished with 91 points, but it was worlds better than the post-lockout version of the team. By the time the 2005-06 season rolled around, captain Al MacInnis was retired and Chris Pronger had been traded.

Who was left? Keith Tkachuk, 33, Doug Weight, 34, and Dallas Drake, 36. It’s safe to say the older guys couldn’t keep up in a post-lockout season with young guns like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin jumping on the scene.

The Blues finished with 57 points and a minus-95 goal-differential. Weight was traded mid-season, the team suspended Tkachuk for showing up to training camp overweight before completing an injury-riddled season, and a 38-year-old Scott Young led the team in scoring with 49 points.

Curtis Sanford, Patrick Lalime, Jason Bacashihua, and Reinhard Divis (who?) split the goaltending duties – and three of them posted save percentages below .900.

Draft Lottery Reward: First overall pick Erik Johnson. The following four selections? Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel.

2013-14 Buffalo Sabres (21-51-10)

Jump forward a few years, past a terrible Philadelphia Flyers team and a couple lottery wins for the Edmonton Oilers, and we find ourselves in familiar territory. The Sabres being bad is hardly new.

This rendition of the team finished with 52 points and only scored 157 goals over 82 games – that’s 1.83 goals-per-game, the lowest of any team in the salary cap era.

Cody Hodgson led the way with a career-high 44 points and Tyler Ennis chipped in 21 goals. Only four players on the team reached over 30 points or double-digit goals.

Worst of all, Ryan Miller posted a solid .923 save percentage in 40 games and Jhonas Enroth had a respectable .911 percentage in 28 games. Can you imagine if their goaltending situation resembled the 2005-06 Blues?

Draft lottery reward: Second overall pick Sam Reinhart – selected one spot before Leon Draisaitl.

2014-15 Buffalo Sabres (23-51-8)

The Sabres again? Are you kidding me?

Buffalo somehow followed up 2013-14 with an arguably worse season, although they improved from 52 to 54 points and scored 1.87 goals-per-game (still bad enough for second-worst in the salary cap era).

The 2014-15 team finished with a minus-113 goal-differential and a shocking 11.4 shot-differential per game – 24.2 shots for, 35.6 against.

At one point, they lost 14 games in a row, which might seem like nothing compared to 18, but those 14 games were all lost in regulation – at least the 2020-21 Sabres picked up a few points from overtime losses.

But the 2014-15 team didn’t even want the points. Several teams tanked that season to increase their odds of landing the rights to Connor McDavid in the draft. Buffalo went as far as trading away seven regulars on the team.

Draft lottery reward: Second overall pick Jack Eichel. It’s not McDavid, but you can’t ask for a much better piece than Eichel to start building a team around.

2016-17 Avalanche (22-56-4)

It’s hard to believe that a team with a star-studded cast of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen is one of the worst teams of the last 15 years, but the numbers are irrefutable.

This Avalanche were last in both goals scored and conceded and finished with 48 points -- the lowest total in an 82-game season during the salary cap era. They suffered several miserable stretches throughout the campaign, including losing streaks of five (three times), seven, and nine.

How do you explain it? In a nutshell, head coach Patrick Roy abruptly quit less than a month before training camp, the talented core under-performed, they faced bad luck with injuries to defenceman Erik Johnson and goaltender Semyon Varlamov, and the rest of the team consisted of mostly fringe NHLers.

Draft lottery reward: Fourth overall pick Cale Makar. Selecting fourth is not what you’d hope for after a season like that, but it worked out for Colorado.

2019-20 Detroit Red Wings (17-49-5)

The Detroit Red Wings were the class of the NHL during their 25-season playoff streak and rank 10th in points accumulated since 2005-06, but the last few years haven’t been pretty.

With a .275 point percentage in 2019-20, the Red Wings were historically bad. Until the 2020-21 Sabres lost 18 consecutive games, it seemed pretty clear that this was the worst team of the salary cap era.

To put things in perspective, the Sabres would have a better points percentage than the 2019-20 Red Wings if they win their next game. That says a lot.

Detroit scored 2.00 goals-per-game and allowed 3.73 for a nearly two-goal differential. Much like the Avalanche, it was terrible enough for last place in the league in both categories. Their total goal differential of minus-122 was 70 goals worse than the next-worst team.

Draft lottery reward: Fourth overall pick Lucas Raymond.

Dishonourable mention: 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers, 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers, 2012-13 Florida Panthers, 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes

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