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NHL

Meet The Sabres, Whoever They Are

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 01: Drake Caggiula #91 of the Buffalo Sabres reacts during the second period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on May 01, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Ottawa Senators have long been a delightful comedic foil for hockey fans and content-starved bloggers everywhere. They were once good but over years of careful, artful, and crafty mismanagement, led by an owner in Eugene Melnyk whose people skills could be matched only by a lice-infested C. Montgomery Burns, became a competitive atrocity. You know how rancid they were? We gave them a full week.

But now, hard on the outside and closing fast, are the Buffalo Sabres, and not just because they can’t figure out either how to fix their best player, Jack Eichel, or trade him to anyone else for anything else. These were the line combinations for practice Monday ahead of Thursday’s opening game against Montreal:

If you know five of these people, you live in Buffalo and hate the Bills. If you know 10, you’re head coach Don Granato. If you know 15 or more, you’re Elliotte Friedman. If you’re anybody else—well, strap in for Sabres Week, kids. It’s coming as sure as Comrade McKinney’s next mud hut or yurt.

But if you are a casual fan and know only the one Sabre worth knowing, Jack Eichel, you see why we’re paying attention to them. Lots of teams possess the gift of anonymity, but the Sabres have something more—the ability to be worse this year than the worst team last year, which was also them. And in an expansion year to boot. We have watched and listened patiently as hockey pundits everywhere (mostly Friedman) try to be sympathetic to the plight of general manager Kevyn Adams as he tries to trade Eichel to someone who wants a fine player whose first move for his next team will be to get surgery on his neck.

Indeed, the Sabres are going to be sneaky bad, in that their badness will be mostly unheeded. Tampa could well become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since 1983, people are ginning up Alexander Ovechkin’s chances of catching Wayne Gretzky’s goals record (only 33 a year for the next five years; you can just feel the tension), the Kraken burn with that new-team smell of optimism’s flame, and even the Senators have announced that their rebuild is over.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the galaxy, the New York Rangers just signed Mika Zibanejad to a new eight-year deal that (a) made him one of the team’s six alternate captains and (b) essentially removes the most likely taker for Eichel, leaving the Sabres slightly more doomed than ever. The only team that might be worse off right now is Arizona, and that’s only because the Coyotes are still scheduled for eviction by the people who own their arena.

So if you want hope, here is how hard you need to squint:

11:47 AM Maitreyi Anantharaman my hot take is they will be decent this year
i’ll almost certainly be wrong but i’ll feel so wise if i’m right
11:48 AM Barry Petchesky what is “decent”
11:49 AM Maitreyi Anantharaman not last in the division
11:50 AM Barry Petchesky the only other potential candidate for that is…detroit?
anyway i would put $1 on buff finishing last, if you’re willing
11:52 AM Maitreyi Anantharaman sure 🤝
11:52 AM Barry Petchesky 🤝

So there you have it. One lonely soul is willing to put one American dollar on the Sabres not finishing last. If that isn’t the start of Sabres Week, then Defector has abandoned its mission—to comfort the afflicted, afflict the comforted, and marvel at the horror that is modern life. Besides, from the start of Senators Week last year, the Sens won three of their last four games and assured themselves of finishing 23rd rather than 31st. Frankly, the dollar aside, we are Buffalo’s only hope. You’re welcome in advance.