The Sabres’ organization views itself as “Hockey Heaven,” a first-class NHL destination. The reality is Buffalo’s peer group includes traditionally woebegone clubs such as Calgary, Phoenix and Minnesota.
Few fans, if any, would characterize those as elite franchises.
The Sabres will formally wrap up another disappointing year today when team President Ted Black and General Manager Darcy Regier conduct an end-of-season news conference at 1 p.m. in First Niagara Center.
Based on recent comments by both, Buffalonians can expect to hear of the NHL being a cyclical place where teams go up and down.
In some ways, that’s true. But the Sabres’ down cycle has lasted longer than most teams. In fact, during the past 11 years, only five teams have been stuck in a deeper rut.
The Sabres have made the postseason just twice in six seasons and only four times in the last 11. They are in the bottom nine of the NHL during the 11-year slide, and they are in the bottom 13 of the league during the last half-dozen seasons.
Here’s how it breaks down:
• During the past 11 seasons, only five teams have made fewer postseason appearances than the Sabres – Columbus, Florida and Winnipeg/Atlanta (one each), Edmonton (two) and Carolina (three).
The Sabres’ four visits are equal to Minnesota, Phoenix and Toronto.
• During the past six seasons, only seven teams have made fewer postseason appearances than Buffalo – Edmonton (zero) and Carolina, Columbus, Florida, the New York Islanders, Toronto and Winnipeg/Atlanta (one each).
The Sabres’ two visits are equal to Calgary, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
Based on those sets of numbers, the Sabres’ perfect match as an organization is Minnesota. They’ve both appeared in two of six and four of 11.
A difference is playoff victories. The Wild, who made the postseason this year, haven’t won a series since going to the Western Conference finals in 2003. The Sabres went to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and ’07 but haven’t won a round since.
“Teams build up, and they tear down,” Black said recently. “Teams build up, and they tear down. It goes for just about every sport. It really emphasizes the importance of when you’ve got that team and you’re in the conference finals, that’s your opportunity. Don’t lose it because you can go from conference finals to 3½, four, five years later of not making the playoffs.”
The Sabres have missed the postseason for two straight seasons. This season’s misfire resulted in a 23rd-place finish in the 30-team league.
They will find out tonight what spot they’ll have for the NHL entry draft in June. The league is conducting the draft lottery at 8 p.m., and it will be televised live on NBC Sports Network.
For the first time since the lottery was instituted in 1995, all 14 teams that missed the playoffs have a chance to earn the top overall draft pick. The Sabres will select either first, eighth or ninth in the opening round. They currently hold the eighth spot. They have a 3.6 percent chance of winning the lottery and moving up to the No. 1 selection. They also have an 8.7 percent chance of dropping to ninth based on the lottery odds for the six non-playoff teams that finished with a better record.
Florida, which finished last overall, has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery. Colorado, which finished 29th, has an 18.8 percent chance.