Now that Defector has sold out its principles to the wacky maritime incident lobby (thanks loads, Yeoman McKinney), we are now contractually bound to frame all our blogs, pods, Zooms and Slack conversations in terms of hilarious, disastrous boating events. We’re the Andrea Doria with trivia, a desert island with 23 Gilligans and no Howells.
Thus, we begin our new era by examining the garbage scow wedged sideways into the Erie Canal, the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres are a profoundly awful hockey team, swaddled as they are in a cocoon of defeat over their last 17 consecutive games. In fact, their record since the end of January is a mudslide 2–21–7, with the seven in that line being COVID-19 postponements. They traded Eric Staal to Montreal for a goat, are believed to be offering in trade anything more expensive than the skate sharpener, lost star Jack Eichel, benched second-highest paid player Jeff Skinner and have gotten just two goals from major offseason signing Taylor Hall. They have fired coach Ralph Krueger, infected his replacement, Don Granato, and forced general manager Kevyn Adams to not only spell his first name with a “y” but to coach the team while Granato was out Thursday night.
The Sabres lost, 4–0.
As a result, the Canadian radio show Over Drive, with Bryan Hayes and former players Jeff O’Neill and Jamie McLennan (known on the show by their Christian names, O-Dog and Noodles), decided to devote a segment the other day to the notion that the Sabres are already the worst team in NHL history, after only 33 of their scheduled 56 games. This is, of course, embarrassingly poor analysis and slanders the good names of radio, analysis, hockey, hockey analysis, dogs and pasta-based comestibles. Also the 1975 Washington Capitals, who finished 8–67–5 in their first season and are currently the undisputed champs of yearlong suck. Remember Yvon Labre!
What they, generally agreeable folks that they are, could have and should have said is this: The Sabres can BECOME the worst team ever if only they can manage to muster the gumption to lose the rest of their games. And trust me, they can do it.
Never mind the fancy maths from those professional shut-ins at FiveThirtyEight. Just consider the simply possible.
First, the Sabres need to hunker way down low and lose those last 23 games, starting Monday night by tying the NHL record for most consecutive losses, a record currently held by the 2003–04 Pittsburgh teams that lost deliberately (here’s how deliberately) to get Sidney Crosby. All they have to do is get to Philadelphia on time Monday, play the game and let nature take its course.
Second, they have stay the course by vomiting all over it. Not just to get the first pick the draft (Owen Power and Matthew Beniers of the University of Michigan stand tall here) but to finish the year with a euphonious record of 6–46–4. That extrapolates over an 80-game season (which is the total those Caps played) to 9–66–5 if you round up.
Next is goals scored, and they get into the debate there too. Over 82 games, these Sabres would be on pace to score 168 goals, the eighth-lowest over a full 82-game season. I mean, the Caps scored 181 in 1974–75, so you could extend the case that we could see the true north of excrescence.
Where the Sabres’ crusade fails is in goals allowed. The ’75 Caps allowed a monumental 446 goals, 265 more than they scored, and the average score of their games was Other Guys 5.5, Us 2.2 (Buffalo’s is a much more modest 3.2–2). Their goals-against average was a preposterous 5.66, and their goals saved above average is a deity-awful minus-107. Nobody has ever allowed goals at that rate, and the Sabres won’t, either, not unless they allow 194 in their final 23 games.
But I can see we’ve caused your eyes to glaze over because, truth be told, you haven’t thought about these Sabres, those Capitals or any point between those two. We only brought this up to point out that the Sabres, as hideous as they’ve been, have to be twice as hideous between now and season’s end, plus 10 percent, to even threaten to be the worst NHL team ever, let alone the HMS Suez Canal.
Just goes to show you: Always be leery of superficially reasonable claims made by an adult professional named Noodles.