Just How Bad is Buffalo?


For years now, the Sabres have been unable to find a formula to become a winning team again. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The 2015 NHL Draft will go down in history regardless of what happens in Jack Eichel’s career. The Buffalo Sabres’ tank job leading up to it only to lose out on McDavid was the crown jewel of the last 10 years of terrible hockey. Ever since hockey fans have marveled at the excellence of Connor McDavid. Fans have called out Peter Chiarelli and the rest of the Edmonton front office for wasting away the first five years of McDavid’s career. 

But what about Jack Eichel? The Boston University product was supposed to be rallied behind heading into World Cups and Olympics for years to come. And although Auston Mathews has grabbed that title by the horns, Eichel still is forgotten by American hockey fans as a superstar being wasted away. 

Let me preface my argument: Jack Eichel is not Connor McDavid. He wasn’t back in the pre-draft process six years ago, and he is not now. But that does not mean that Jack Eichel has been wasted in Buffalo. The league would be better and a lot more fun if the Sabres were a competent franchise. Between the hardcore fan base, sweet uniforms and the eternity of mediocrity the team has endured, they would be the ultimate feel-good story if they ever became relevant.  

However, they are not. Since Terry and Kim Pegula took over in 2011, they have made the playoffs only one time. That first season saw Buffalo nab the seven seed and lose to Philadelphia in seven games. The playoffs were held on Versus. Jack Eichel was 15. A 22-year-old Sergei Bobrovsky backed up Brian Boucher for Philly.

You get it. It was a long time ago. Since then, every single team in the National Hockey League has gotten into the 16-team tournament. Ever since that game seven, they have not even been close to getting back. 

Four years later, the lottery only decided one spot on the draft board. So, the team with the worst record in the league could get no worse than the second overall pick. The 2014-15 Sabres were horrible and earned the worst record in the league and they lost the lottery. McDavid headed to Edmonton and one of the more interesting and important bounces of a ping pong ball had concluded. Now, as we discuss the potential trade of Jack Eichel, we have to look at how the world would be different if the balls had bounced differently. This could be one of the more interesting trades in all sports. 

What if Ewing doesn’t go to the Knicks? The second overall pick in 1985 was Indiana, who landed Reggie Miller two years later. Crosby to Pittsburgh? Anaheim won the Stanley Cup two seasons later. Ovechkin to Washington? 2004’s second overall pick was Evgeni Malkin. The list could continue, but the point is that the teams who lost some of the most important and iconic draft lotteries in NHL and NBA history were able to turn it around soon after. Buffalo is the exception: they got one of the greatest consolation prizes in draft history and were never able to turn it around. 

In a sport that preaches and breads parity- where an expansion team in Las Vegas becomes a powerhouse from day one, where a team from Nashville can go to the Stanley Cup, where small market teams thrive and hardcore fan bases can make a team in an otherwise unusual market successful- Buffalo can’t figure it out. With one of the biggest hockey fanbases in the country, they still cannot get to the playoffs. 

Buffalo consistently ranks among the top cities in viewership for the Stanley Cup Final, despite their team being 22 years removed from their last trip. They host the World Juniors with great crowds when it comes to America. The first Winter Classic is one of the best hockey events ever. Everything points towards Buffalo having the pieces to put together a good team. But terrible signings, awful coach hirings and sometimes just poor luck have kept Buffalo out of any sort of playoff contention for many years. And there is no reason to believe that any of this would be different if Connor McDavid ended up in Buffalo.

There is an alternate universe out there where McDavid headed where everyone thought he would and that sigh of relief he let out on television never comes out at all. I would love to live in that universe for just a day. 

But, as I’ve thought about it over the past few days, I truly do not believe it would make a difference. Even though Edmonton is hardly the most talented roster in the league, there are some great pieces there offensively, including last season’s MVP Leon Draisaitl. Buffalo has nothing.

So, there’s the answer: Buffalo is so bad that not even Connor McDavid could possibly fix them. It is a sad reality for Buffalo’s fanbase. NFL fans have seen how passionate Bills fans are for the past few seasons and who knows what that would be like with a successful Sabres team. One day we will find out. Hopefully.