Early years and the French Connection (1970–1981)
The Sabres, along with the Vancouver Canucks, joined the NHL in the 1970–71 season. Their first owners were Seymour H. Knox III and Northrup Knox, scions of a family long prominent in Western New York and grandsons of the co-founders of the Woolworth's variety store chain; along with Robert O. Swados, a Buffalo attorney. On the team's inaugural board of directors were Robert E. Rich, Jr., later the owner of the Buffalo Bisons minor league baseball team; and George W. Strawbridge, Jr., an heir to the Campbell Soup Company fortune. Buffalo had a history of professional hockey; immediately prior to the Sabres' establishment, the Buffalo Bisons were a pillar of the American Hockey League (AHL), having existed since 1940 (and before that, another Bisons hockey team played from 1928 to 1936), winning the Calder Cup in their final season.
Wanting a name other than "bison" (a generic stock name used by Buffalo sports teams for decades), the Knoxes commissioned a name-the-team contest. With names like "Mugwumps", "Buzzing Bees" and "Flying Zeppelins" being entered, the winning choice, "Sabres", was chosen because Seymour Knox felt a sabre, a weapon carried by a leader, could be effective on offense and defense.[A][B] The Knoxes tried twice before to get an NHL team, first when the NHL expanded in 1967, and again when they attempted to buy the Oakland Seals with the intent of moving them to Buffalo. Their first attempt was thwarted when Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney persuaded his horse racing friends James and Bruce Norris to select Pittsburgh over Buffalo, while the 2nd attempt was due to the NHL not wanting an expansion market to give up on a team so soon. At the time of their creation, the Sabres exercised their option to create their own AHL farm team, the Cincinnati Swords. Former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager and head coach Punch Imlach was hired in the same capacity with the Sabres.
The year the Sabres debuted (1970) was an important year for major league sports in Buffalo. In addition to the Sabres' debut, the Buffalo Bills officially joined the (NFL), and the National Basketball Association's Buffalo Braves (NBA) also began to play, sharing Memorial Auditorium with the Sabres. The city of Buffalo went from having no teams in the established major professional sports leagues to three in one off-season, a situation that proved to be unsustainable. Between the Braves and the Sabres, the Sabres would prove to be, by far, the more successful of the two; Paul Snyder, the nouveau riche Braves owner, publicly feuded with the old money Knoxes and the local college basketball scene, eventually losing those feuds and being forced to sell his team in 1976. Subsequent owners of the Braves, in a series of convoluted transactions tied to the ABA–NBA merger, moved the team out of Buffalo.
When the Sabres debuted as an expansion team they took the ice to Aram Khachaturian's Armenian war dance, "Sabre Dance". The song has been associated with the team as an unofficial anthem ever since. It is often played between periods and after goals.
The consensus was that first pick in the 1970 NHL Amateur Draft would be junior phenomenon Gilbert Perreault. Either the Sabres or the Canucks would get the first pick, to be determined with the spin of a roulette wheel. Perreault was available to the Sabres and Canucks as this was the first year that the Montreal Canadiens did not have a priority right to draft Quebec-born junior players.
The Canucks were allocated numbers 1–10 on the wheel, while the Sabres had 11–20. When league president Clarence Campbell spun the wheel, he initially thought the pointer landed on 1. While Campbell was congratulating the Vancouver delegation, Imlach asked Campbell to check again. As it turned out, the pointer was on 11—effectively handing Perreault to the Sabres. Perreault scored 38 goals in his rookie season of 1970–71, at the time a record for most goals scored by a NHL rookie, and he received the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. Despite Perreault's play, the Sabres finished well out of playoff contention.
In the team's second season, 1971–72, rookie Rick Martin, drafted fifth overall by Buffalo in 1971, and Rene Robert, acquired in a late-season trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, joined Perreault and would become one of the league's top forward lines in the 1970s. Martin broke Perreault's record at once with 44 rookie goals. They were nicknamed "The French Connection" after the movie of the same name and in homage to their French-Canadian roots. The Sabres made the playoffs for the first time in 1972–73, just the team's third year in the league, but lost in the quarterfinals in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
After a subpar year in 1974 that saw them miss the playoffs (as well as aging defenseman Tim Horton's death in a DUI-induced car accident), the Sabres tied for the best record in the NHL in the 1974–75 regular season. Buffalo advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in team history to play against the rough Philadelphia Flyers (who had been recently nicknamed the "Broad Street Bullies"), a series which included the legendary Fog Game (Game 3 of the series). Due to unusual heat in Buffalo in May 1975 and the lack of air conditioning in the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, parts of the game were played in heavy fog that made players, officials, and the puck invisible to many spectators. During a face-off and through the fog, Sabres center Jim Lorentz spotted a bat flying across the rink, swung at it with his stick, killing it. It was the only time that any player killed an animal during an NHL game. The Sabres won that game thanks to Rene Robert's goal in overtime. However, Philadelphia would wind up taking the Cup in six games, winning the series 4–2.
The French Connection, joined by 50–goal scorer Danny Gare, continued to score prolifically for the Sabres in 1975–76, but the team lost in the quarterfinals to the New York Islanders. The Sabres had success through the late 1970s behind Gare and the French Connection (Perreault, Martin and Robert), but they were unable to return to the Finals despite a Wales Conference championship in 1980 and being the first team to beat the Soviet Olympic Team when they toured the United States. The French Connection era ended with Robert's trade to the Colorado Rockies in 1979 and Martin's trade to the Los Angeles Kings in 1981, by which time Martin's career was essentially finished as the result of a devastating knee injury in 1980.
Adams/Northeast Division rivalries (1981–1996)
In 1981–82, the NHL realigned its conferences and adopted an intra-divisional playoff format for the first two rounds. It was the beginning of an era in which the Sabres would finish in the middle of the Adams Division standings with regularity, and then face the near-certainty of having to get past either the Boston Bruins or Canadiens to make it to the conference finals. Aside from first-round victories over Montreal in 1982–83 and Boston in 1992–93, the era saw the Sabres lose to division rivals Boston, the Quebec Nordiques and Montreal in the Adams Division semi-finals (first round) a combined eight times, and miss the playoffs altogether in 1985–86 and 1986–87—only third and fourth times out of the playoffs in franchise history. Perrault reached the 500-goal mark in the 1985–86 season and retired after playing 20 games in 1986–87, 17 years after joining the Sabres as their first draft pick.
The Sabres drafted Pierre Turgeon with the first pick in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft, and he quickly made an impact with the team. During his rookie season in 1987–88, he helped the Sabres reach the playoffs for the first time in three years. He was joined in 1989 by Alexander Mogilny, who – with the help of Sabres officials – became the first Soviet player to defect to the NHL, and cleared the way for all other Russian players to follow. In the 1989–90 season, the Sabres would improve to finish with 98 points – third-best in the league – but the playoff futility continued with a first-round loss to Montreal. The Sabres traded Turgeon to the New York Islanders in 1991 as part of a blockbuster seven-player trade that brought Pat LaFontaine to Buffalo.
In 1992–93, Dominik Hasek joined the team in a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. In the 1993 playoffs, the Sabres upset the Bruins in a four-game sweep in the Adams Division semi-finals, their first playoff series victory in 10 years. Brad May's series-winning goal in overtime of Game 4 in Buffalo was made famous by Rick Jeanneret's "May Day!" call. However, the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens swept the Sabres in the division final, with the Sabres losing all four games by a 4–3 score (the last three games in overtime).
With the NHL adopting a conference playoff format for the 1993–94 season, the Sabres faced the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference playoffs' first round. Despite Hasek winning a 1–0 (4 OT) goaltending duel with the Devils' Martin Brodeur in Game 6 – the Sabres' longest game ever, which went into quadruple overtime – Buffalo would lose the series in seven games. Another first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the lockout-shortened 1994–95 season was followed by a fifth-place finish in the Northeast Division in 1995–96, as the team missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years. It was the first season under coach Ted Nolan and the last for the Sabres at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. Nolan brought an exciting brand of hockey to Buffalo. During his coaching tenure, Buffalo was referred to as the "hardest-working team in hockey." This season also featured the debut of "walk-on" veteran Randy Burridge, who earned a spot on the roster after he attended training camp on a try-out basis. He scored 25 goals that season and was second in team scoring to Pat LaFontaine. Burridge also earned the Tim Horton Award for being the unsung hero and was voted team Most Valuable Player.
The final game in Memorial Auditorium was played on April 14, 1996, a 4–1 victory over the Hartford Whalers. Sabres principal owner Seymour Knox died a month later, on May 22, 1996.
The black and red era (1996–2006)
In 1996 the Sabres' changed their logo as well as their color scheme to red and black. The logo was used until 2006.
Ted Nolan and the Sabres rebounded in 1996–97, their first at Marine Midland Arena, by winning their first division title in 16 years, with Nolan winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach, Dominik Hasek winning both the Hart and Vezina Trophies (the first goaltender to do so since Montreal's Jacques Plante in 1962), Michael Peca taking home the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL and general manager John Muckler honored as Executive of the Year.
However, the regular season success was overshadowed by what had taken place during the playoffs. Tensions between Nolan and Hasek had been high for most of the season; after being scored upon in Game 3 of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, Hasek left the game, forcing backup Steve Shields to step in. Hasek claimed he felt his knee pop, and the team doctor pronounced him day-to-day. Buffalo News columnist Jim Kelley wrote a column that night for the next day's newspaper that detailed the day's events, which irked Hasek. After the Senators won Game 5, Hasek came out of the Sabres' training room and attacked Kelley, tearing his shirt. Despite the fact Hasek issued an apology, things went downhill after the incident. Shields starred as the Sabres rallied to win the series against Ottawa. But before the next series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the NHL announced Hasek had been suspended for three games – with the Sabres informing the league Hasek was healthy (Hasek most likely would not have been suspended had he not been cleared to play). Set to return in Game 4 with the Sabres down by three games to none, Hasek told the Sabres' coaching staff he felt a twinge in his knee and left the ice after the pre-game skate. Shields turned in another season-saving performance as Buffalo staved off elimination with a win in overtime. Again before Game 5, Hasek declared himself unfit to play and Buffalo lost 6–3 and the series.
Team president Larry Quinn fired general manager John Muckler, who had a noted feud with Nolan. Hasek, who supported Muckler, openly told reporters at the NHL Awards Ceremony he did not respect Nolan, placing new GM Darcy Regier in a tough position. He offered Nolan just a one-year contract for a reported $500,000. Nolan refused on the grounds his previous contract was for two years. Regier then pulled the contract off the table and did not offer another one, ending Nolan's tenure as Sabres coach. Nolan was offered several jobs from the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, which he turned down, and was out of the NHL until June 2006 when he was named coach of the Islanders. Former Sabres captain Lindy Ruff was hired as head coach on July 21, 1997, agreeing to a three-year deal. The Sabres organization, after having their most successful season in nearly two decades, had fired both the reigning NHL Executive of the Year (Muckler) and Coach of the Year (Nolan).
New owners and return to the Finals
During the 1997–98 season, the Sabres, which had lost $32 million over the previous three seasons and nearly missed payroll in December 1997, were sold by Northrop Knox to John Rigas, owner of Adelphia Communications. Shortly thereafter, Quinn was dismissed and replaced by John Rigas's son, Timothy Rigas. Behind Hasek, left-winger Miroslav Satan (who led the team in scoring), right-winger Donald Audette, center Michael Peca and several role-playing journeymen including Matthew Barnaby, the Sabres reached the Eastern Conference Finals that season, but lost to the Washington Capitals in six games.
In 1998–99, Miroslav Satan scored 40 goals. The Sabres would add centers Stu Barnes from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joe Juneau from the Capitals. Michal Grosek had the best season of his career, and the team finally returned to the Stanley Cup Finals, this time against the Presidents' Trophy winner, the Dallas Stars. In Game 6, Stars winger Brett Hull's triple-overtime goal ended the series, and the Stars were awarded the Cup. In 1999, it was illegal to score a goal if an offensive player's skate entered the crease before the puck did. NHL officials, however, maintained that Hull's two shots in the goal mouth constituted a single possession of the puck since the puck deflected off Hasek. The rule was changed for the following season, allowing players to be inside the goaltender's crease as long as they do not interfere with the goalie.
The next year was a disappointing season. The team struggled in the regular season, due to injuries to Hasek as well as other tired and discouraged players. Doug Gilmour was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline and sparked the Sabres to a playoff berth. However, Gilmour was stricken by stomach flu during the post-season, and even the Hasek's return could not prevent a first-round playoff series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Like the previous season, there would be an officiating controversy. In Game 2, Flyers left wing John LeClair put the puck in the net through a hole in the mesh. While replays appeared to show the puck entering through the "side" of the net, the goal was allowed to stand. The Flyers would win the game 2–1 and go on to win the series 4–1.
Captain Michael Peca sat out 2000–01 due to a contract dispute, and was later traded to the New York Islanders in June 2001 for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt. Even so, the Sabres still defeated Philadelphia in six games in the first round of the playoffs (with a resounding 8–0 victory in the series-winning game). In the second round, they faced the underdog Pittsburgh Penguins, led by rejuvenated superstar Mario Lemieux and captain Jaromir Jagr, who had won his fifth Art Ross Trophy that season, losing on a seventh-game overtime goal scored by defenseman Darius Kasparaitis. After lengthy and failed negotiations with their star goaltender, the Sabres traded Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2001, bringing a five-year era of playoff success to a close. Without Hasek and Peca, the Sabres missed the 2002 playoffs.
The first third jersey of the Buffalo Sabres was created in 2000. The primary color was Sabre red, with black and gray stripes on the sleeves. It also featured the word "Buffalo" written on a black stripe outlined by gray near the waist. The logo was a black circle with two sabres crossing each other. The third jersey ran from 2000–2006 when the red jersey was retired.
Ownership turmoil and lockout
In May 2002, John Rigas and his sons were indicted for bank, wire and securities fraud for embezzling more than $2 billion from Adelphia. Rigas was later convicted and presently is appealing a sentence of 15 years in prison. The league took control of the team, though the Rigas family remained owners on paper. For a while, there were no interested buyers. After the two-year period of uncertainty, including rumors of relocating to another city or even straight out folding, the team was sold to a consortium led by Rochester, New York, billionaire and former New York gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano and former Sabres president Larry Quinn, whose bid included no government funding. Golisano was introduced as team owner on March 19, 2003.
With the 2002–03 season having started under league control, general manager Darcy Regier could make only minimal moves. However, with the consultations of impending new ownership, the team began their rebuilding process around the March 2003 trade deadline by clearing out veteran players. The first to go was winger Rob Ray, who was sent to the Ottawa Senators. The team then sent center and team captain Stu Barnes to the Dallas Stars for young winger Michael Ryan and a draft pick.
A third deal sent center Chris Gratton to the Phoenix Coyotes with a draft pick for Danny Briere and a draft pick, adding a player who would play a key role in the Sabres' resurgence in later years. The 2003–04 season saw the team emerge from its financial struggles and, though the Sabres narrowly missed the playoffs, the development of prominent young players. Although the 2004–05 NHL season was canceled due to a labor dispute, the league and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) were able to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement in the summer of 2005, thus enabling NHL hockey to return for the 2005–06 season.
On January 19, 2005, the Sabres lost their main cable television broadcaster, as the Empire Sports Network (which had been on the air since 1991) ceased operations in a cost-cutting move during the Adelphia scandal and reorganization. (Like the Sabres, Empire had been owned by Adelphia prior to the NHL's seizure of the franchise.) Adelphia sold their rights to Sabres telecasts and for the 2005–06 campaign Madison Square Garden Network (MSG), a New York City-based channel which broadcasts New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils games, took over the rights to broadcast Sabres games to television viewers in western New York, with the Sabres controlling all aspects of the broadcast. The agreement was later extended through 2017, then again through 2027.
In 2005–06 the Sabres took off, finishing with their best record in over twenty years and clinching their first playoff berth since the 2000–01 season. The team finished the regular season with 52 wins, surpassing the 50–win mark for the first time in franchise history. They also finished with 110 points, their first 100-point season in 23 years and tied the 1979–80 club for the second-best point total in franchise history. The Sabres tied the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes for the most wins in the Eastern Conference. They finished with the fifth-best record in the league, behind Detroit, Ottawa, Dallas and Carolina.
Buffalo defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in the first-round of the 2006 playoffs in six games and top-seeded Ottawa in five games. The Sabres advanced to play Carolina in their first Eastern Conference Final since 1999. However injuries began to mount. They were forced to play without four of their top defensemen (Teppo Numminen, Dmitri Kalinin, Jay McKee and Henrik Tallinder), and their top powerplay scorer, Tim Connolly for much of the series. Despite this the Sabres forced the series to seven games before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres impressive season was recognized on June 22, 2006, at the NHL Awards Ceremony, when Lindy Ruff edged Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette to win the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in the closest vote in the award's history. Ruff was the second Sabres coach to win the award.
Return to blue and gold (2006–2010)
On September 16, 2006, the Sabres unveiled new home and away jerseys featuring midnight blue, maize (gold), silver and white colors. The new logo, a stylized bison, was widely reviled, drawing unfavorable comparisons to a banana slug. Despite the criticism, five of the top 10 player jerseys sold in the first two months of the 2006–07 season were Sabres "slug" designs.
The Sabres started the 2006–07 season 10–0, setting a new franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season, and becoming just the second team in NHL history (after the 1994 Toronto Maple Leafs) to open a season with a ten-game winning streak. They also set a new league record for consecutive road wins to start a season (eight), which was extended to ten games (tying the team record for consecutive road wins) with a 7–4 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on November 13, 2006. The team reached the 50-win plateau for the second time in franchise history. The Sabres won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history, giving them the home ice advantage for their entire run in the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs. They also tied the 1974–75 team's franchise record for points in a season. The team defeated the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers to reach their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. On May 19, however, they were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators after five games.
In the April 9, 2007, issue of ESPN the Magazine, the team ranked first of 122 major professional sports franchises in North America. The Sabres were cited for their player accessibility, low ticket prices and exciting brand of hockey.
The Sabres lost both co-captains, Daniel Brière (who went to the Philadelphia Flyers) and Chris Drury (who went to the New York Rangers) during the free agency period. The Sabres nearly lost Thomas Vanek to the Edmonton Oilers, who offered him a seven-year, $50 million offer sheet, but the Sabres matched the offer on July 6. After these events, the team changed its policy of not negotiating contracts during the regular season. Long-time Sabres broadcast color commentator Jim Lorentz announced his retirement during the preseason. Hockey Night in Canada's Harry Neale took over the position in October 2007.
Post Brière-Drury era
During the 2007–08 season, the Sabres hosted a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 1, 2008, which was played outdoors at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the 's Buffalo Bills. Officially, the game was called the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic, known colloquially as the "Ice Bowl" due to it taking place at the same time as bowl games. The Sabres lost 2–1 in a shootout. The Sabres failed to qualify for the playoffs and became only the third team in NHL history to go from finishing first overall in the regular season standings to finishing out of the playoffs the following year.
On June 10, the Sabres officially announced their new American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, beginning in the 2008–09 season, would be the Portland Pirates from Portland, Maine. This ended their 29-year affiliation with the Rochester Americans. They signed with the Pirates for two seasons, with a parent club option for a third. The Sabres entered the 2008 free agency period quietly, but on July 1 signed goaltender Patrick Lalime to a two-year contract. Three days later, the Sabres acquired Craig Rivet from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a second round draft pick in each of the next two drafts. The Sabres also extended the contracts of three players: Paul Gaustad (four-year extension), Ryan Miller (five-year extension), and Jason Pominville (five-year extension). Miller was slated to become an unrestricted free agent following the upcoming season while Pominville was set to become a restricted free agent.
On October 8, the Sabres named defenseman Craig Rivet team captain, the first single full-time captain since Stu Barnes's term from 2001–2003. The team was also active at the trade deadline. First, they signed Tim Connolly to a two-year extension worth $4.2 million. They also acquired Mikael Tellqvist from the Phoenix Coyotes for a fourth round pick in the 2010 draft. Then Dominic Moore came from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a second-round pick in the 2009 draft. Finally, they received a second-round pick in the 2009 draft from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Ales Kotalik. On April 9, the Buffalo Sabres were eliminated from the playoffs.
was acquired by the Sabres on March 4, 2009. He was their backup goaltender for the remainder of the 2008–09
General manager Darcy Regier announced on the first day of free agency for the following season the Sabres had signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Steve Montador to a two-year contract. They also signed free agent defenseman Joe DiPenta to a one-year contract on July 11. They also extended contracts with three other players: Andrej Sekera to a multi-year deal, Clarke MacArthur to a one-year contract, and Mike Grier to a one-year contract. Grier, having played two seasons with the Sabres, returned after playing the last three with the San Jose Sharks.
At the beginning of the season, the Sabres announced the Buffalo Sabres Road Crew, which saw appearances by the Sabres' coaching staff, GM Darcy Regier and broadcasting crew for charity. Four stops were scheduled throughout the season in Tampa, Florida, Washington, D.C., Raleigh, North Carolina, and Atlanta at established Buffalo fan clubs. Many native Western New Yorkers live in those four cities; Sabres fans have been known to have large contingents in attendance, rivaling those of the home teams when playing in Raleigh and Tampa.
After only playing two games with Buffalo that season, Daniel Paille was traded to the Boston Bruins on October 20, 2009, for a third round and a conditional fourth round draft selection. Paille's move to Boston marked the first ever trade of a player under contract between the two division rivals in their common 39 years in the NHL. On January 1, the Sabres became the first team to win consecutive games when trailing by three or more goals since the Dallas Stars did it in 2005–06. Buffalo beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4–3 in overtime. It was Buffalo's second straight win in a game it trailed 3–0, following a 4–3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. On March 3, the day of the trade deadline, the Sabres made two deals. The first was with the Columbus Blue Jackets, which sent them Nathan Paetsch and a second round draft pick in exchange for Raffi Torres. The Sabres' second and final deal sent Clarke MacArthur to the Atlanta Thrashers for third and fourth round draft picks. On March 27, the Sabres clinched their first playoff berth since 2006–07 with a 7–1 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning. On April 6, the Sabres clinched the Northeast Division title by defeating the New York Rangers by a score of 5–2. On April 26, the third-seed Sabres were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins in six games.
The Sabres unveiled new jerseys on September 18, 2010 that readopted the classic 1970–1996 logo, with a third jersey having an alternate throwback arrangement that pays homage to the AHL's Buffalo Bisons, complete with the team's 40th Anniversary insignia (essentially the original royal blue version of the current logo with the year "1970" inside). The roster did not have many significant changes; one of the most notable was the team's decision to waive center Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo native, to avoid paying the award he won in arbitration. Defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman were allowed to leave as free agents, while the team signed veterans Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn to replace them. Additionally, center Rob Niedermayer was added as a Stanley Cup-winning, veteran presence.
The Pegula era (2010–present)
On February 18, 2011, the sale of the Sabres franchise to Terrence Pegula
On November 30, 2010, Ken Campbell of The Hockey News reported a story that billionaire Terry Pegula had signed a letter of intent to purchase the Sabres for US$150 million. Pegula was the founder, president and CEO of East Resources, one of the largest privately held companies in the United States before he sold the company. After the report was released, Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn claimed it was "untrue" but refused further comment. The $150 million was later determined to be an undervalued amount, as Forbes magazine had valued the team at just under $170 million in 2010. In December, Pegula officially expressed interest in buying the Sabres for $170 million and submitted a letter of intent to the NHL. In January, Golisano reportedly issued a counteroffer with an asking price of US$175 million. Pegula and Golisano reached an agreement to sell the team on January 29, 2011, with Pegula buying the team for $189 million ($175 million with $14 million in debt included) with the Sabres and Golisano officially making an announcement in a press conference on February 3, 2011. League owners approved the sale on February 18.
In the conference, it was stated that an unnamed bidder submitted a much higher bid than Pegula's, but made the bid contingent upon moving the team. The description is consistent with that of Jim Balsillie, who has made public his efforts to move a team to Hamilton, Ontario, a move that the Sabres have actively opposed. Terry Pegula named former Pittsburgh Penguins executive Ted Black to be the team president. Pegula was introduced as the Sabres' owner in a public ceremony at HSBC Arena on February 23, accompanied by what would be the final appearance of all three members of The French Connection before Rick Martin's death three weeks later. Around the 2010–11 trade deadline, the team attempted to trade Craig Rivet, but was unsuccessful. After initially clearing waivers, Rivet entered re-entry waivers and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Late on February 27, the team acquired Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues for a second round draft pick. This was the Sabres' sole trade of the deadline. After Pegula's official takeover of the team, the Sabres finished the regular season 16–4–4, never losing two consecutive games in that span, and landed the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Pegula's approach was credited by players, fans, and the public with bringing new energy to the team, sparking a run to the playoffs that seemed improbable only months earlier. On April 8, the Sabres clinched a playoff berth for the second consecutive season, beating the Philadelphia Flyers 4–3 in overtime. The Sabres clinched the seventh seed and faced Philadelphia in the first round. The Sabres had a three games to two lead but lost the series in seven games.
The Sabres began the 2011–12 season in part of the NHL premiere series for the first time, playing games in Finland and Germany. The team was particularly well-received during a game against Adler Mannheim in Mannheim, the hometown of Sabres forward Jochen Hecht; a contingent of 65 Adler fans traveled from Germany to Buffalo in February 2012 to witness a Sabres game against the Boston Bruins. Prior to the first game, Lindy Ruff named Jason Pominville the Sabres 13th full-time captain in team history. The Sabres began the season relatively strong but collapsed after a Boston Bruins game in which Bruins forward Milan Lucic hit and injured goaltender Ryan Miller; the subsequent months saw the Sabres collapse to last place in the Eastern Conference. Despite a two-month rally that began in February along with the emergence of rookie forward Marcus Foligno, the Sabres lost the last two games of the regular season and fell three points short of a playoff spot.
The 2012–13 NHL lockout eliminated the first part of the 2012–13 season, which ultimately began with a scheduled 48 games. After a 6–10–1 start to the season, long-time coach Lindy Ruff was relieved of his duties by GM Darcy Regier on February 20, 2013, ending 16 seasons as head coach. He was replaced by Ron Rolston, first on an interim basis, then permanently after the season ended. Due to the lockout shortened season, the trade deadline was moved to April 3, 2013. In the days leading up to it, the Sabres were active in trades. On March 15, the Sabres' first trade sent T. J. Brennan to the Florida Panthers for a fifth round pick (originally owned by the Los Angeles Kings) in the 2013 draft. On March 30, the Sabres traded Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a second round pick and a conditional fifth round pick in the 2013 draft. On April 1, the Sabres traded Robyn Regehr to the Los Angeles Kings for two-second round draft choices (one in 2014 and the other in the 2015). The final trade came on the day of the trade deadline, April 3. The Sabres sent Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild for and Matt Hackett. The official announcement came after the 3 p.m. deadline. At the time of the official announcement, it was not clear if there were other parts of the deal as the trade was still pending league approval. It was later revealed draft picks were also involved in the deal. The Wild would receive a fourth round pick in 2014, and the Sabres would receive first round pick in the 2013 draft and a second round pick in 2014.
The following season, on November 13, 2013, the team dismissed Regier and Rolston. Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season (he later signed a three-year contract extension) and Pat LaFontaine was named president of hockey operations. On January 9, 2014, Tim Murray was named general manager. On February 28, 2014, Murray made his first major trade, sending star goalie Ryan Miller and forward Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues for goalie Jaroslav Halak, forwards Chris Stewart and William Carrier and two draft picks. After just over three months as president of hockey operations, Pat LaFontaine resigned from the Sabres to return to his previous position with the NHL on March 1, 2014. Among highlights in the otherwise bad 2013–14 season included the "butt goal" in which a severely short-staffed Sabres won their December 23 contest against the Phoenix Coyotes when Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith backed into his own goal with the puck lodged in his pants, and the lone NHL appearance of former Lancaster High School goalie Ryan Vinz, who was working as a videographer in the Sabres organization, to suit up as a backup goaltender in the wake of the Ryan Miller trade. The Sabres finished the 2013–14 season last in the league, and again missed the playoffs.
Despite winning two more games than the previous season, the 2014–15 season was much like the previous one, with the team sitting near the bottom of the standings the entire season, and finishing last in the league. On March 26, 2015, during a 4-3 overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes, spectators at the game, ostensibly fans of the Sabres, cheered after a game-winning goal by Coyotes centre Sam Gagner. Said fans were more eager to see the team lose (the Sabres and Coyotes were 29th and 30th in the standings at the time) in the hopes that it would ensure the team would deliberately lose to finish in last place and guarantee a top-two pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, which included two extremely highly touted prospects, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. These spectators' "embrace the tank" philosophy led to criticism from the media and Sabres players for how the fans reacted. However, some praised the fans for how they reacted, saying that they "did the right thing." The Sabres clinched last place, and thus a top-two pick, with a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 10 (this was later confirmed to be a number-two pick after the team, for the second year in a row, lost the draft lottery); the team used the pick to select Eichel. Murray fired Nolan at the end of the season, citing a lack of chemistry and lukewarm relations between them. On May 28, 2015, Dan Bylsma was hired as the 17th head coach in franchise history.
The hiring of Bylsma, the drafting of Eichel and 2014 second overall pick Sam Reinhart, the acquisition of star centerman Ryan O'Reilly in the offseason, and the rising performance of youngsters Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen resulted in an improved season in 2015–16. Even though the Sabres again missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, the team managed to finish just under .500 in points percentage while fans and critics have praised these rebuilding efforts by Sabres GM Tim Murray.
In summer 2016, the team announced that its television broadcasts would be spun off to their own regional sports network, MSG Western New York. The new network continues to operate under the MSG banner but under Pegula Sports and Entertainment control and features additional programs centered around the Sabres and the Buffalo Bills, which the Pegulas purchased separately in 2014. The team failed to make significant progress, and in fact slightly regressed, in 2016–17, missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, leading to the firings of both head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Tim Murray on April 20, 2017.
During the 2017 offseason, the Sabres hired two of their former players as head coach and general manager; Jason Botterill was hired as general manager while Phil Housley will serve as head coach. Among the more notable roster changes for this season was the return of former scoring leader Jason Pominville to the team in a trade that brought him and defenseman Marco Scandella to Buffalo in exchange for sending forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to the Minnesota Wild.
The 2017–18 season finished in last place in the league for the third time in five seasons and won the draft lottery to select first overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft for the first time since 1987. With the pick, the Sabres selected Rasmus Dahlin from Frölunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League.