The 2021 Buffalo Sabres are one of the worst hockey teams of the 21st century. But how do they compare to the worst teams of all time?
Though they finally won Wednesday night, ending a streak of 18 consecutive losses (0-15-3) that tied the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins for the longest losing skid in NHL history, they went right back to their losing ways Thursday night with a 3-2 overtime setback against the New York Rangers.
The Sabres wake up Friday with a 7-23-6 record, their ,276 points percentage the worst in franchise history – worse than their 2013-14 (21-51-10, .317, 1.91 goals per game) and 2014-15 (23-51-8, .329, 1.96 goals per game) teams, squads that were more or less openly tanking under former general manager Tim Murray. They struggle to score – they’re last in the NHL with 2.14 per game – and don’t defend particularly well – sitting 29th at 3.44 allowed per game) – placing them last in the league in goal differential at -47.
But as a look through NHL history shows, some truly horrendous teams have taken the ice over the years. How do these Sabres compare to teams of old?
Here’s a look back at some of the worst seasons among active franchises, starting with the Sabres’ recent contemporaries:
2019-20 Detroit Red Wings: Full-scale teardowns can bring pain and few teams experienced more of that than these Red Wings. They were an appalling 17-49-5 when the onset of the coronavirus pandemic ended their season with 11 games remaining. It’s possible they would have fallen even further, but they ended their campaign with a .275 points percentage, third-worst in the franchise’s 95-year history. They finished last in goals for (145, 2.04 per game) and goals against (267, 3.76). Worse, because of bad luck in the draft lottery, they picked fourth.
2016-17 Avalanche: Coach Patrick Roy surprisingly resigned shortly before the season, but the team got off to an OK start (9-9-0) under coach Jared Bednar. Current stars Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen all played at least 70 games, but they were still young, developing players. They weren’t able to stem the tide as the Avs started to go into free fall with six different losing streaks of at least five games. The team finished last in goals scored (166, 2.02 per game) and against (278, 3.39) and finished with a 22-56-4 record (.293).
2003-04 Penguins: Actually just the fifth-worst Penguins team all-time by points percentage (.354, 23-47-8-4 record), this group lands on the list for what they represent. This franchise completely cratered in the early 2000s and this team marked the nadir. The lowlight was losing 18 consecutive games (0-17-1) in January and February. After the 2004-05 lockout-canceled season, they won the lottery and picked Sidney Crosby. The worst Penguins team is the 1983-84 squad, which went 16-58-6 (.238) as they may or may not have been tanking for Mario Lemieux.
1999-2000 Atlanta Thrashers: Atlanta got a team for a second time and the Thrashers promptly went 14-57-7-4 (.238) in their first season, finishing last in goals scored (170, 2.07 per game) and goals against (313, 3.82).
1992-93 Ottawa Senators: The early success of the Vegas Golden Knights may have made people forget just how bad NHL expansion teams used to be. The Sens went 10-70-4 (.143) in their first season, their 24 points the second-fewest in NHL history in a season of at least 70 games. They scored the fewest goals in the NHL (202, 2.4 per game) while giving up 395 (4.7 per game). That was actually only second-worst in the league, thanks to the…
1992-93 San Jose Sharks: The Sharks got lit up in their second season in the NHL, conceding 414 goals (4.93 per game), the third-most allowed in league history. They scored 218 (2.6), eclipsing only the first-year Sens. The result was matching Ottawa in points (24) while recording the most losses in NHL history with a 11-71-2 record (.143).
1989-90 Quebec Nordiques: As the 1990s arrived, this former Adams Division contender officially bottomed out. This Nordiques team began the year with three future Hall of Famers – and even one current one, Guy Lafleur having been inducted in 1988 before his return to hockey – but even a 100-point season from second-year pro Joe Sakic couldn’t save Quebec from posting a 12-61-7 record (.194), the result of a league-low 240 goals for (3 per game) and 407 against (5.09). Longtime stars Peter Stastny and Michel Goulet, the team’s second- and third-leading scorers, were traded before the season was through and the team ended up using seven different goalies during the season.
1985-86 Detroit Red Wings: After two consecutive playoff appearances, the (winged) wheels completely came off in 1985-86. Detroit gave up 415 goals, the second-most in NHL history (5.19 per game), while also scoring a league-low 266 (3.33). That produced a 17-57-6 record (.250) that stands as the worst in the proud franchise’s history.
1980-81 Winnipeg Jets: These Jets won their third game of the season on Oct. 17 and then didn’t win again until Dec. 23, posting a 30-game winless streak (0-23-7) that stands as the NHL record. The team didn’t get much better from there, going 9-57-14 (.200), while finishing last in goals for (245, 3.08 per game) and against (400, 5.0 per game).
1975-76 Kansas City Scouts: In their second season in the NHL, the Scouts experienced a 27-game winless streak, the second-longest ever, on their way to a 12-56-12 record (.225). That would turn out to be their final season in Kansas City, as they moved to Colorado for six more bad seasons as the Rockies before moving to New Jersey. The 1983-84 Devils submitted the low-water mark for the team’s time in the Garden State with a 17-56-7 record (.256); most famously, Wayne Gretzky said the Devils were “running a Mickey Mouse organization” after his Oilers beat that squad 13-4. The franchise founded in 1974 would not win a playoff game until 1988.
1974-75 Washington Capitals: This expansion squad is regularly cited as the worst team in league history and it’s easy to see why. These Caps set futility marks across the board: an 8-67-5 record that marks the fewest wins, points (21) and worst points percentage (.131) a team has ever produced in a season of at least 70 games. They also hold the all-time record for most goals against in a year (446, 5.58 per game) and scored just 181 times (2.26 per game), giving them a -265 goal differential that will never be touched.
1972-73 New York Islanders: The Islanders had some horrible teams in the 1990s but they all paled in comparison to the first team in franchise history. The 1972-73 group went 12-60-6 (.192), finishing last in goals for (170, 2.18 per game) and against (347, 4.45). The 1970s were a brutal time for expansion teams.
1943-44 New York Rangers: In a 50-game season during the height of World War II, the Rangers experienced their worst season in franchise history. The Blueshirts gave up an astounding 6.2 goals per game, the second-worst ever only to the 1919-20 Quebec Bulldogs (who played 24 games). While giving up 310, the Rangers scored just 162 (3.24 per game) and finished 6-39-5 (.170).
1928-29 Chicago Blackhawks: The 1927-28 squad had a worse record (7-34-3, .193) but the third team in franchise history deserves special recognition as the only team in NHL history to fail to average a goal a game, scoring just 33 times in 44 contests. Shockingly, they went 7-29-8 (.250).
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Buffalo Sabres: How 2021 team compares to worst squads in NHL history