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Where do the 2021 Sabres rank among the worst teams of all-time?

Arun Srinivasan
·Writer
·8-min read

The phrase "historically bad" has become a regular part of sports parlance and gets used far too often, but the 2021 Buffalo Sabres fit that description to a tee. Buffalo lost its 18th consecutive game on Monday, blowing a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers before falling 4-3 in overtime. 

We've covered the Sabres' descent to rock bottom pretty extensively, and it's been quite a ride. The Buffalo News intentionally ranked the Sabres 32nd in a 31-team league, Eric Staal could barely hide how relieved he was to be traded to the Montreal Canadiens, Jeff Skinner has been inexplicably benched for portions of the season, head coach Ralph Krueger was fired 12 games into the current losing streak, a month after he was placed on the COVID-19 list. Jack Eichel, the team's best player, underwhelmed when he was healthy and is out indefinitely due to injury, top prospect Dylan Cozens left Monday's game due to injury and could join Eichel for an extended stay, while Taylor Hall is on the trade block, looking nothing like the player who captured the Hart Trophy in 2017-18. 

Did we miss anything? 

As the self-appointed nerd among my Yahoo Sports NHL comrades, it's time to do an investigation into where the 2021 Sabres rank among the worst teams in NHL history. For the purposes of this exercise, intentionality matters – it's far worse to slip to the bottom when it's unexpected, as opposed to being an expansion team, or a team that is actively tanking. We're also cutting off any pre-Original Six era teams. Sorry for the all the fans who can still remember the 1943-44 New York Rangers.

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 29: Rasmus Dahlin #26, Casey Mittelstadt #37, Taylor Hall #4 and Riley Sheahan #15 of the Buffalo Sabres react to the overtime loss after an NHL game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 29, 2021 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Flyers won in overtime, 4-3. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
The 2021 Buffalo Sabres are among the worst teams in NHL history, amid an 18-game losing streak. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

2019-20 Detroit Red Wings

OK, so we don't have to dig that deep to find a contemporary for the Sabres. Last year's Red Wings stumbled out of the gate to a 4-8-1 record in October 2019 and once the new year begun – like all of us, in a sense – things quickly went further downhill. 

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Detroit went a month and two days without a win in regulation (Jan. 7-Feb. 9) then followed up by losing 10 of its next 11 games. It is admittedly way too small a sample size to jump to conclusions, but Detroit appeared to be finally turning a corner, going 2-2 in March before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the Red Wings' season.

The Red Wings finished with a .275 points percentage, the 38th-worst mark in league history and frankly, that may make this team look better than they were, which was a hapless outfit that was the NHL's worst team from start-to-finish. Detroit finished dead last in goals for (145), goals against (267) and their ghastly minus-122 differential stands out by itself. This was all by design, however. 

We're not taking shots at general manager/vice president Steve Yzerman's acumen, as he built most of the infrastructure for the current Tampa Bay Lightning, a perfect hockey team aside from their hideous goal song. Yzerman knew all too well what he was getting into when he accepted the Red Wings job, and 2020 was a planned rebuilding year for the team. 

Are the Sabres worse? Yes, albeit not by much. Detroit finished with a .275 points percentage, whereas Buffalo is at .250 and falling. Buffalo projects to have a minus-106 goal differential extrapolated over 71 games, which isn't as bad as Detroit's record last year. But considering the Sabres deluded themselves into thinking they were one or two quality forwards away from a playoff spot and grabbed a former Hart Trophy winner in the offseason, they never saw this coming, whereas the Red Wings knew what they were in for. That counts for a lot, and therefore, the Sabres are worse.

2016-17 Colorado Avalanche

Considering this year's Avalanche are the NHL's most fun team, are a leading Stanley Cup contender and have proven to be the best shot-creation team in the league by some distance, it's easy to forget that it wasn't always roses and sunshine for this group. 

Jared Bednar is considered one of the league's best coaches but his first year with the Avalanche was rough as the club finished 22-56-4 with a minus-112 goal differential – the next-worse team finished with a minus-63 goal differential, for comparison. Nathan MacKinnon led the team with 53 points before finally breaking out with the first of three consecutive 90-point plus seasons the following year. Colorado's 166 goals are tied for the 23rd-fewest in NHL history among teams that played a minimum 70 games. The final year of the Avalanche's rebuild, it was a tough season for all involved while the young core of MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, all under 25 at the time, underwent some growing pains. This was Jarome Iginla's final season, too, and we'll choose to forget he was ever part of this group.

Are the Sabres worse? They sure are. Colorado's star forward trio weren't the problem and showed signs of development all season, and the club had scheduled the 2017 campaign as the final pillar of the rebuild. After trading a disgruntled Matt Duchene in exchange for a package that featured star defenseman Sam Girard, the franchise's trajectory immediately changed. Suffice to say this year's Sabres are nowhere close to that.

2013-14 Buffalo Sabres 

We're not here to pick on the Sabres necessarily, but history doesn't lie. The 2013-14 Sabres finished with a hideous minus-91 goal differential, and their 150 goals ranks as the fifth fewest ever among qualifying teams. Cody Hodgson led the team with 44 points, Tyler Ennis finished second with 43, and the rest of the roster's output is frankly depressing

What's worse is that the team benefited from quality starting goaltending. Ryan Miller posted a .923 save percentage and a 13.6 goals saved above average (GSAA), but he was mercifully shipped to the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. We're sure that current members of the Sabres are hoping for the same fate. This was a hapless ship, largely devoid of talent. 

Are (this year's) Sabres worse? Yes. Intention matters and the 2013-14 Sabres debuted four teenagers in their lineup, with no real aspirations of contending for a playoff spot. Not only that but Buffalo's 2014 ghastly differential projects to be better than this year's group. If the 2014 group squared off against the 2021 group, they wouldn't necessarily be the favorite, but considering how badly each of the 2021's group's key pillars (Eichel, Skinner, Hall and Rasmus Dahlin) have underperformed, this year's team probably loses. 

1992-93 Ottawa Senators

O, Canada. When the nation's capital finally received a new franchise, bearing the same name as the now-defunct club that won 11 Stanley Cups, they arrived with a 10-70-4 record, with their .143 points percentage tied for third-worst in NHL history. Norm Maciver, a relatively unassuming defenseman, led the team with 63 points, as the rest of his teammates failed to find the net. This team simply didn't have any talent while expansion pick and future pillar of the franchise, Alexei Yashin, elected to stay with Dynamo Moscow for one more year. Good call. 

Are the Sabres worse? Well, no. But the Senators knew they'd be terrible and prepared for Alexandre Daigle mania. For those of you who forgot, Daigle was considered well worth the wait. Some even believed the Senators were intentionally losing games in order to secure the uber-prospect, who posted 137 points during his final major junior season. As it turns out, Daigle was a spectacular bust, and though it took five seasons to make the playoffs, the 1993 Senators flat-out sucked. 

1992-93 San Jose Sharks

See above. It's more complex than that, obviously, but the Sharks shared the same fate as the Senators, taking a step back during their second professional season. San Jose finished with a 11-71-2 record, tying Ottawa with an identical 24 points and .143 points percentage while allowing 414 goals, the third-worst mark in NHL history. The Sharks also posted a 17-game losing streak during this season. Talk about a sophomore slump. 

Are the Sabres worse? No, but c'mon, you should be better than a second-year team in any event. 

1974-75 Washington Capitals

The 1974-75 Washington Capitals are widely considered the worst team in NHL history and for good reason. Washington's 446 goals allowed is the worst mark in league history and like Usain Bolt's 9.58 or Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak – not like them at all, quite the opposite in fact – this dubious record may never be topped. The Capitals finished with a 8-67-5 mark, a .131 win percentage, a mere 181 goals scored, and a minus-265 goal differential. That's right, minus-265! Granted, this was Washington's inaugural season but there is a certain level of futility that is inexcusable. 

Are the Sabres worse? No, but the fact that they are even drawing comparisons to this historical monstrosity is enough of an insult. 

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