With the Sabres nine points out of a playoff spot and riding a 11-game road losing streak, Buffalo News scribe John Vogl is wondering if this team is as bad as the one he started covering 10 years ago.
“I’ve been covering the Sabres for a decade,” he writes. “The worst team was the first team. This year’s squad is giving that one competition.”
The 2002-02 Sabres went 27-37-10-8, good enough for 12th in the East and 26th in the NHL.
The current Sabres are 19-23-5, good enough for 11th in the East and 23rd in the NHL.
Vogl goes on to highlight several similarities between the two teams. Both had troubles scoring goals and equal trouble preventing them; both lacked, as Vogl puts it, an “embraceable player to latch on to, the kind you believe can carry a team by himself.”
Another similarity between the 2002-02 and 2011-12 Sabres is the reliance on minor league call-ups. The 02-03 Sabres featured appearances from the likes of Norm Milley, Jason Botterill, Jaroslav Kristek and Doug Houda (okay, Houda only played one game) while the 11-12 Sabres have been forced to call up the likes of Derek Whitmore, Joe Finley, Colin Stuart and Paul Szczechura due to a myriad of injuries.
That said, there is one key difference between the two teams. Owner Terry Pegula spent big bucks assembling the current Buffalo squad and expectations were sky high coming into the year.
The bar for the 2002-03 team was set much lower.
There was little hope. Bankruptcy was coming, and no one knew who’d be in control of the team.
At least in 2002-03, the Sabres knew they were bad. They traded Chris Gratton, Stu Barnes, Vaclav Varada and Rob Ray to try and build for the future. One prize was Danny Briere, who did indeed help the future.
This year’s squad keeps saying it will be better when healthy. There’s no talk of building for the future.
Vogl warns of what’s to come should the Sabres fail to improve when they get healthy.
“If they don’t,” he writes, “the question of the worst team in a decade becomes a no-brainer.”