Since the start of March the Buffalo Sabres have been playing their best hockey of the season, going 10-4-3 over their past 17 games and beating a number of playoff teams and Stanley Cup contenders.
It is obviously a case of too little, too late, because they are still far down the NHL standings.
Even though they were not in action on Wednesday they were still officially eliminated from playoff contention thanks to the Washington Capitals’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. That is significant because it means this will be the 11th consecutive season the Sabres have failed to qualify for the playoffs, setting a new NHL record for futility.
It’s been 3,999 days since their last playoff game.
Entering 2021-22, the Sabres had been tied with the Florida Panthers (2000-01 to 2010-11) and Edmonton Oilers (2006-07 to 2015-16) for the longest drought. Technically speaking Florida’s drought also covered 11 years, but that only included 10 seasons because of the 2004-05 lockout.
It has been quite a stretch for the Sabres.
A few of the things that have happened for the team during this run.
- They are on their fourth different general manager (Darcy Regier, Tim Murray, Jason Botterill, Kevyn Adams).
- They are on their seventh different head coach (Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley, Ralph Krueger, Don Granato).
- They have picked in the top-two of the NHL draft four different times, including No. 1 overall picks Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, as well as No. 2 overall picks Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel.
- The highest they have finished in the league standings: 19th, in the first year of the streak.
- They have finished with the worst record in the NHL four different times.
- Their 301 wins during that time are 30th out of 32 NHL teams. The only two teams below them are Vegas and Seattle, two teams that did not enter the NHL until the past five years. Vegas is only 89 wins behind the Sabres despite playing in 455 fewer games.
The bigger concern for the Sabres and their fans has to be when this actually ends.
As well as the Sabres have played for the past month, and against some really good teams, this is still a team that has a lot of holes and a lot of areas that need fixed, and a lot of ground to make up against teams that are way further ahead of them. This is still probably not a playoff team next season, and even if everything in its latest rebuild goes perfectly, it still might be another year or two until they get back.
The good news: There are at least some positive signs here. Tage Thompson has finally had a breakout season. Dahlin looks to be back on track and Power is on the way. Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch look like a really strong return for Eichel. That all at least gives them some pieces to build around. But there is still a very long way to go.