Throughout the history of the Buffalo Sabres, the organization has been fortunate with the goaltending position. They’ve had some of the biggest names that have played the position don the blue and gold, as well as the red and black at one point.
Thinking back on the history of goalies that have played for the Sabres, one recalls players like Bob Sauve, Don Edwards, Grant Fuhr, Roger Crozier, Clint Malarchuk and Darren Puppa. As impressive as that list seems, three other goaltenders rise to the top as the best to ever command the crease in Buffalo.
The first one should be a surprise to nobody, as he is not only a Sabres great, but an all-time NHL great: Dominik Hasek. The Dominator was the rock of the team from the 1992-93 season through the 2000-01 season. In 491 games with the club, he won 234 games, had a .926 save percentage and a 2.22 goals-against average. While with the Sabres, the Czech native was a six-time NHL All-Star, six-time Vezina Trophy winner and two-time Hart Trophy winner as the league’s most valuable player.
Throughout the late ’90s, Hasek was the Buffalo Sabres. Any time a team or fan talked about the club his name came up in the conversation. Hasek led the Sabres to an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final in back-to-back years and the franchise’s second Stanley Cup appearance in 1999 against the Dallas Stars, which all know how that ended.
The team appeared primed for another run in 2001, but the Hasek era with the Sabres ended on a shot from Darius Kasparaitis in double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. That summer, Hasek was traded to the Detroit Red Wings after the two sides could not agree on a contract extension in a messy divorce that lasted until just a few years ago.
New owner Terry Pegula welcomed Hasek back into the organization, along with many of the Sabres’ alumni when he purchased the team in 2011. In 2014, the same year he was elected the NHL Hall of Fame, they inducted the greatest goaltender in franchise history into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame and retired his jersey number.
The next goalie here shouldn’t be a surprise either: Ryan Miller. The former fifth-round pick of the Sabres in 1999 was the face of the franchise for the better part of 11 years. He took over as the full-time starter in the 2005-06 season and backstopped the Sabres to a surprising appearance in the Eastern Conference Final. Miller was the man again who tended the goal for the 2006-07 season for the Presidents’ Trophy team that again fell short in the Conference Final.
After the 2006-07 season, the club was never the same after losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency that summer. Miller became the star and leader of the team from that point on. He appeared in 540 games for the Sabres, winning 284 with a .916 save percentage and 2.60 goals-against average. His career year came in the 2009-10 season when he won the Vezina Trophy with a .929 save percentage and 2.22 goals-against average. That was also the same season he was the tournament MVP in the Olympics, leading Team USA to a Silver Medal in Vancouver.
Like Hasek, Miller was the player many in the hockey world first thought of in connection with the Sabres. He solidified the position in Buffalo and gave his teams that were not much better than average for the majority of his career a chance to win games. He also wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind, which rubbed some people the wrong way. His trade to the St. Louis Blues at the end of February of 2014 signified the end of an era that brought so many fans back to loving the hockey team.
The last pick was a tough decision, but ultimately I landed on Tom Barrasso. He may be most known for his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, Barrasso was the Sabres’ fifth overall pick in the 1983 NHL draft. After being drafted he made the decision to skip college and became the first goaltender to come right out of high school without playing major junior hockey. As an 18-year-old rookie, Barrasso became the youngest player ever to win the Vezina Trophy. He would of course also pull in the Calder Trophy that season as the top rookie.
In his six years with the Sabres, he played in 266 games, recording 124 wins with an .884 save percentage and a 3.28 goals-against average. Now, compared to today’s stats those numbers look pretty bad. Barrasso played during a much different era than both Miller or Hasek. In his Vezina-winning season, he had an .893 save percentage and a 2.84 goals-against average, which were exceptional numbers during that time.
Barrasso was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in November of 1988 along with a third-round pick in the 1990 draft for Doug Bodger and Darrin Shannon. Like the aforementioned Miller and Hasek, during his time with the franchise, he was consistently one of the better goaltenders in the league.
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The two players who were in the conversation with Barrasso for the third spot were Sauve and Edwards, thus making them your honorable mentions on this list. They each earned a Vezina Trophy while playing for the Sabres.
The Sabres’ history is filled with solid goaltending that led their respective teams to playoff appearances and was the best at the position among their peers. As the organization transitions through another goalie era, if history is any indication, the team is in store for another top-flight goalkeeper.
* originally published in Feb. 2017