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Buffalo Sabres History

Founded: In 1970 along with the Vancouver Canucks, in the second expansion of the NHLís modern era which brought the league from twelve to fourteen teams.
Home Arena: HSBC Arena
Jersey Colors: Black, Red
Logo Design: Black and white cartoon buffalo head with red eyes
Seasons: 34
Division Titles: 4
Playoff Appearances: 25
Stanley Cup Final Appearances: 2
Stanley Cups: 0
All Time Record: 2706 games, 1257 wins, 1022 losses, 409 ties, 19 overtime losses

Through the tireless efforts of Seymour Knox III and his brother, Northrup, who had been trying to bring a team to Buffalo since 1965, the Sabres came into the league along with the Vancouver Canucks in 1970, finding a home at the old Memorial Auditorium. The Knox family were, and still are, an institution in upstate New York; the brothersí father was renowned for being the primary benefactor behind a new wing for the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, and his sons, with their pursuit of an NHL franchise, seemed just as likely to leave a lasting impression on the community.

The Knox brothers wasted little time in making the nigh-legendary George ďPunchĒ Imlach the teamís first coach and GM. Imlach made a name for himself as coach-GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1960ís, and he would manage the team for nearly ten years, though a heart attack forced him to give up coaching in just his second season. Perhaps just as important as the hiring of Imlach was the acquisition of another future Hall-of-Famer, center Gilbert Perreault, whom the Sabres selected with the first overall pick in the 1970 entry draft. Perreault led the team in goals (38) and points (72) as a 20-year-old and won the Calder Trophy as the leagueís best rookie, but the team missed the playoffs itís first year, amassing 24 wins and 63 points in the 78 game season.

The Sabres were even worse the next season, when Imlach was replaced behind the bench by Joe Crozier midseason, but the selection of winger Rick Martin in the 1971 entry draft and the addition of winger Rene Robert near the end of the 1971-72 season would make the season worthwhile. Martin scored 44 goals and tied linemate Perreault for the team lead in points with 74 in his rookie season, and the addition of Robert to their line created one of the most dominating trios of the decade, a line dubbed The French Connection.

The Sabres would make the playoffs the next season, in part thanks to a revamped defense anchored by young draft choice Jim Schoenfeld and newly-acquired veteran Tim Horton, but were eliminated by Montreal in the first round. In 1973-74 expectations were high, but an injury to Perreault that limited him to 55 games hurt the team on the ice, and the death of Horton in a car crash in late February damaged the team further. Crozier was let go once the season ended, and under new coach Floyd Smith, the rapidly-maturing young Sabres squad posted franchise records in wins (49) and points (113) in 1974-75 that still stand today. The Sabres then went on to dispatch Chicago and Montreal to make it to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to a Philadelphia team led by Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish and Bernie Parent in six games.

That run to the Final began a string of eleven straight seasons which saw the Sabres make the playoffs, but except for an appearance in the semi-final in 1980, the Sabres never again advanced past the second round during this stretch, despite having some superior teams. Smith coached the team to 105 and 104 point seasons in 1975-76 and 1976-77, primarily on the strength of strong seasons from his burgeoning superstar Perreault, but was let go after limited playoff success. Marcel Pronovost took over behind the bench in 1977-78, but for the third straight season the team soared to over 100 points in the regular season and lost in the second round of the playoffs.

The team took a step backwards the next season, finishing with 88 points and losing in the first round to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 1979 Imlach took the fall for the Sabres continued playoff woes, and for the 1979-80 season the team hired a new coach-GM who would later join Imlach in the Hockey Hall of Fame: Scotty Bowman. Bowman had just come off a string of four straight Stanley Cups as coach in Montreal, but left because of the teamís reluctance to give him a greater role in player personnel decisions.

Bowman wasted little time in making his mark on the team. Robert was dealt to Colorado before the opening of the 1979-80 season. By the end of 1980-81, Martin was gone as well, ending the days of the French Connection. Despite Robertís loss, Bowman coached the team to a 47-win season in 1979-80 and a third round playoff loss to the eventual Cup-champion Islanders. In 1980-81 he turned the team over to associate coach Roger Neilson to concentrate on his managerís duties, but he returned to coach the next season after Neilson left for Vancouver. Bowman would turn over the coaching duties to his assistant (this time Jim Roberts) once more before beginning a string of three uninterrupted seasons as coach-GM in 1982-83. While the teamís head coach changed often, the results were the same: regular season success, followed by a playoff loss no later than the second round. Meanwhile, while Bowman relied on Perreault and his veterans for the teamís present, he was creating a core of young players for the future. This included Sabre legends Phil Housley, Mike Ramsey, Dave Andreychuk, Mike Foligno, and the 1984 Calder and Vezina trophy winner, Tom Barrasso.

When all was said and done, however, the team still had next to no playoff success to show for Bowmanís tenure. In 1985-86 Bowman once again took over the bench mid-season from his coach, this time former Sabre Jim Schoenfeld, then the next season turned over the reigns after a slow start to another former Sabre, Craig Ramsay, but the team missed the playoffs both seasons. By the end of 1987, Bowman was gone, replaced as general manager by former Sabre captain Gerry Meehan. The most difficult departure, however, was that of Gilbert Perreault, who retired in November of 1987. Perreault, who spent his entire career in Buffalo, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990, and continues to be the Sabres all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, and points and remains perhaps the most beloved figure in Sabres history.

With Meehan at the helm and new coach Ted Sator behind the bench, the Sabres began a new era post-Perreault by drafting center Pierre Turgeon first overall in 1987. Andreychuk was the player who stole the spotlight in 1987-88, however, leading the team with 78 points while he, along with Barrasso and Housley, guided the team back to the playoffs, where they were defeated in the first round. Satorís next season behind the bench featured the same level of success, but with significantly more turmoil. While Turgeon emerged to lead the team with 88 points, captain Lindy Ruff (who later would return as the teamís head coach) was dealt to New York, promising young defender Calle Johansson was traded to Washington for goaltender Clint Malarchuk, where he would become a mainstay of that franchise for over a decade, and the teamís crease became a game of musical goaltenders. Barrasso was dispatched to Pittsburgh early in the season, and four years later he was a two-time Stanley Cup winner. The teamís new starter, Darren Puppa, broke his arm in later January. Backup Jacques Cloutier carried the load until the team acquired Malarchuk, but Malarchukís season ended shortly after his arrival due to a freak accident wherein a skate blade cut the jugular vein in his throat. Malarchuk narrowly avoided death due to the quick actions of Sabre trainers. In all, six goalies played in net for the Sabres that season, and while the team did manage to make the playoffs, they very quickly bowed out to Boston in the first round.

Another former Sabre player, Rick Dudley, succeeded Sator as coach the next season. He presided over the best Sabre showing in six years as the team finished just three points back of first overall on the strength of 40-goal seasons by Andreychuk and Turgeon, who also surpassed the 100-point plateau. Puppa and Malarchuk both returned to handle the teamís goaltending, and a young Russian named Alexander Mogilny defected from the USSR to join the team that drafted him. The team was a playoff flop, however, losing in the first round to Montreal.

Big changes were in store for the team shortly thereafter. At draft day in 1990 the team dealt Housley and two journeyman players to Winnipeg for center Dale Hawerchuk. Captain and longtime Sabre Mike Foligno was dealt midseason to Toronto. The Sabres made the playoffs again as Hawerchuk led the team in points, but were quickly eliminated by Montreal. That off-season John Muckler was hired as the teamís Director of Hockey Operations, and less than thirty games into the season the former Oiler bench boss and five-time Stanley Cup champion had replaced Dudley as coach. In October of 1991 Turgeon was dealt to the Islanders for center Pat Lafontaine, who scored an incredible 93 points in just 57 games in a Sabre uniform, beginning a very fruitful partnership with Mogilny. Along with Hawerchuk and Andreychuk, those two gave the Sabres one of the most feared power plays in the league, but the Sabres barely made the playoffs and for the fifth straight year lost in the first round. The next season Mogilny tied for the league lead with an incredible 76 goals, and Lafontaine scored an astonishing 148 points, with only an unbelievable late-season run by Mario Lemieux preventing him from the leagueís scoring title. Despite these heroics, along with 96 points by Hawerchuk and the acquisition of future Hall-of-Famer goaltender Grant Fuhr from Toronto for Andreychuk, the Sabres finished fourth in their division. Though they upset the favoured Bruins in the first round with an improbable sweep, they were in turn swept by the eventual Cup-champion Canadiens. However, the teamís goaltending troubles, which had to that point held back a squad already bursting with offensive talent, were about to become a thing of the past, not because of the late-season acquisition of Fuhr, but because of an unheralded trade made in the previous off-season that landed the team a 27-year-old goaltender who spent his first season in Buffalo as a backup. That goaltenderís name was Dominik Hasek, whoís goaltending style was indescribable, his flexibility unbelievable, and many of his saves incomprehensible.

In November of 1993, Lafontaine suffered a season-ending knee injury. A short time later, Fuhr needed a knee operation that would keep him off the ice for six weeks. Most predicted the Sabreís season was over. Instead, Hasek began a run of dominance in a Sabre uniform that would last for the better part of eight seasons and see him win a remarkable six Vezina trophies and two Hart trophies as league MVP. That season, without Lafontaine, Hasek led the team to a 43-32-9 record, but the Sabres would bow out of the playoffs in the first round to the eventual Cup-champion Devils, though they managed to push the series to seven games. Hasek again captured the Vezina in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, but the team lost in the first round to Philadelphia. Fuhr was dealt to Los Angeles for Alexei Zhitnik, who would become a mainstay on the Sabres blueline for almost ten years. Lafontaine again spent much of the season on the sideline due to injury, as did Hawerchuk, and the team changed from an offensive machine to a more defensive squad, though one that still relied heavily on Hasek. Hawerchuk was let go as a free agent, Mogilny was traded to Vancouver for center Mike Peca, and Muckler stepped aside as coach in favor of Ted Nolan while he concentrated on the teamís new direction from the GMís seat. Lafontaine was back in the lineup full time in 1995-96, but by then he was the teamís only offensive star. Hasek stumbled to a mere .920 save percentage, average numbers by his standards, and the team missed the playoffs.

The Sabres introduced new uniforms before moving into the new HSBC Arena in September of 1996, abandoning the classic blue and yellow look for a sleeker black and red scheme and a new, angry-looking buffalo head logo. Lafontaine missed all but 13 games in 1996-97 due to a concussion, but Peca won the Selke Trophy as the leagueís top defensive forward and Hasek bounced back, claming the first of his two Hart trophies. However, the post-season was marred by a bizarre turn of events, which began with Hasek injuring his groin. Backup Steve Shields played admirably, but after defeating Ottawa the team lost to Philadelphia in the second round. Many questioned just how injured Hasek was, questions which led to a confrontation between Hasek and Jim Kelly during which Hasek allegedly assaulted the reporter. Questions were raised about the relationship between Hasek and coach Nolan, as well as that between Nolan and Muckler. In May, Muckler was fired as GM amidst reports that his relationship with Nolan was so fractured that the two men could no longer work together. After receiving the coach of the year award in June, Nolan was offered a one-year contract by the teamís new management. After he refused to sign, desiring a long-term deal, he was released. Nolan has not worked in the NHL since.

Left standing after the chaos were new GM Darcy Regier, new coach Lindy Ruff, and of course, Hasek. Miroslav Satan, who had been acquired late the previous season from Edmonton, became the teamís top offensive threat. Zhitnik further established himself as a top-flight NHL defender. Hasek took home his second straight MVP award as he and Ruff led the Sabres to the third round of the playoffs. The next season, Hasek and Ruff took their team of largely no-name skaters right to the Stanley Cup final, a magical run that ended bitterly on a controversial goal by Dallas winger Brett Hull, whoís foot was, according to NHL rules at the time, illegally in the crease when he scored the overtime winner in game six.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, they would not attain that level of success again. Hasek spent more than half the next season on the sidelines with a groin injury. Although backup Martin Biron performed admirably, and although Hasek returned late in the season, the Sabres were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Hasek would win the Vezina trophy again the next season, but despite a nicely balanced offence to support their star goalie, the Sabres lost in the second round to Pittsburgh. That off-season, the Sabres cleaned house. Peca, who had sat out the entire 2000-01 season in a contract dispute, was dealt to the Islanders for two younger players. Veterans Doug Gilmour, Steve Heinze, Donald Audette and Dave Andreychuk, the latter two of which were on their second tour as Sabres, were allowed to leave as free agents. And in the summerís biggest move, Hasek was moved to Detroit, where he would win the Stanley Cup which had so eluded him to that point in his career the very next season.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, since the end of the Hasek era in Buffalo the team has been competitive at times but has not made the playoffs. Hasekís heir apparent, Biron, has been inconsistent at best and will face serious challenges for the teamís starter role from Mika Noronen and Ryan Miller. While Satan has continued to consistently lead the offence, his support has been lacking for the most part. The Sabres offence does seem to be shaping up nicely with a core of Satan, Daniel Briere, Jochen Hecht, J.P. Dumont, Chris Drury, Ales Kotalik and youngster Thomas Vanek. But with the likely departure of Zhitnik as a free agent and the lack of development of their young blueliners beyond Dmitri Kalinin, the Sabres may have a hard time defending the turf in front of whichever goaltender does secure the starting position. Luckily for Buffalo fans, who remain among the most ardent and loyal in the league, the team survived a bankruptcy scare during the 2002-03 season and finally appear to be on solid financial footing under billionaire Thomas Golisano.

Greatest Players

Goaltenders: Dominik Hasek (1992-2001), Don Edwards (1976-1982)
Defensemen:
Phil Housley (1982-1990), Bill Hajt (1973-1987), Alexei Zhitnik (1994-2004), Mike Ramsey (1979-1993)
Forwards:
Gilbert Perreault (1970-1987), Rick Martin (1971-1981), Rene Robert (1972-1979), Craig Ramsay (1971-1985), Dave Andreychuk (1982-1993, 2000-01), Mike Foligno (1981-1991)

Major Award Winners

Gilbert Perreault (Frank Calder Trophy 1971, Lady Byng Trophy 1973)
Ted Nolan (Jack Adams Award 1997)
Tom Barrasso (Georges Vezina Trophy 1984, Frank Calder Trophy 1984)
Craig Ramsay (Frank Selke Trophy 1985)
Mike Peca (Frank Selke Trophy 1997)
Dominik Hasek (Hart Memorial Trophy 1997, 1998; Georges Vezina Trophy 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001)

(All information compiled by Brian Pike, MOP Squad Sports Hockey Editor)