The Buffalo Sabres just can’t catch a break.
Despite making the playoffs in 20 of their first 25 seasons, the Sabres only made it past the second round twice in that span, falling short of the Stanley Cup on both occasions.
Later, backstopped by Dominik Hasek, arguably the best goaltender of all time, the Sabres of the late ‘90s and early 2000s had great success…but are best remembered for their part in revealing the utter incompetence of the National Hockey League.
In the 1998 playoffs, it was the NHL carrying on the proud tradition of refusing to protect its players by giving Hasek a penalty for being hit from behind by Peter Bondra. In 1999, it was Brett Hull’s still-disputed Stanley Cup-winning goal, a controversy which would never have arisen if not for an ill-conceived, sloppily written, poorly-executed rule (see also: puck-over-glass rule, offside reviews). And in 2000, it was the NHL Situation Room forgetting goals don’t count if the puck goes through the side of the net.
Even the 2004-05 lockout could not solve the Sabres’ woes, as Buffalo’s 2005-06 entry was done in by the idiotic puck-over-the-glass rule. Brian Campbell took a delay of game penalty late in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Final, providing the Carolina Hurricanes with the power play they used to score the series-winning goal.
The gradual disintegration of this juggernaut team, precipitated by the departure of stars like Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, culminated in a last-place finish in 2014-15. Despite having the worst overall record, even then the Sabres couldn’t catch a break, losing the NHL Draft Lottery to the Edmonton Oilers.
Unfortunately for Sabres fans – and players, for that matter, they haven’t exactly been gifted the nicest of wearables, either. But it wasn’t always this way.
Buffalo Sabres’ Royal Debut
Entering the NHL in 1970-71, the Sabres debuted in royal blue trimmed with gold. A royal colour scheme truly befitting a team named after the curved, single-edged blades used by cavalry units of monarchical Early Modern Europe.
The inaugural Sabres kit, which would remain largely the same until 1996-97, borrowed a lot from that of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the era. Notable similarities include the gapped, slim-thick-slim three-stripe design on the sleeves and tail of the jersey, a pattern triplicated on the socks.
Not that copying the Maple Leafs was a bad idea. The striping worked well, perfectly balancing the team’s colour palette against the primary colours of the kits. The contrasting shoulder yoke (on the white jersey) and contrasting, lace-up collar (on the dark jersey) were also welcome carryovers from Toronto’s uniforms, design choices which helped their respective kits pop with visual appeal.
Framing a contrasting, gold-trimmed logo (two crossed sabres below a charging buffalo), these jerseys were the essence of NHL uniform best practice. I wasn’t around in the ‘70s, but looking back at the other uniforms of the time – many of which are now revered as classics, Buffalo’s would not have looked out of place in the least.
Being taken seriously is an ongoing issue for NHL expansion teams, especially considering the lack of talent at their disposal and, most often, a corresponding lack of on-ice success. From the looks of things, the Buffalo Sabres did not have this problem.
Sabres Seldom Satisfied
As mentioned, these Sabres kits stayed relatively the same for over a quarter-century. However, they were tweaked a few times along the way.
Starting in 1978-79 for example, the Sabres began featuring their primary logo on their shoulder. Not only did this interrupt the cleanliness of a once-timeless design – particularly on the white jerseys, which already had a shoulder yoke, but the crest which muddied the look was literally the exact same as on the chest. Imagine, for instance, the Detroit Red Wings trying to do the same thing.
Also in 1978, Buffalo got rid of the lace-up neckpiece, replacing it with a pedestrian V-neck. Then, after 1982-83, the team changed its name and number font to a slimmer, less-aggressive typeface.
But not all the alterations were negative.
For 1983-84, the Sabres thickened their kits’ striping, which helped to really fill out the uniforms.
Even with all the fiddling about, the colour scheme is still fantastic and the uniforms as a whole are nothing short of spectacular. It’s no surprise Sabres fans still pine for them to this day.
Sabres’ New Look for a New Arena
The Sabres, in true Buffalo sports fashion, closed out the old Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in 1995-96 by missing the playoffs. Over the summer, coinciding with the team’s relocation to the then-Marine Midland Arena, the Sabres completely overhauled their much-loved jerseys and logo, switching to a black-dominated colour scheme, trimmed with red and silver.
This kit gets a lot of flack, probably perhaps because it replaced such a classic set in such a complete fashion. However, considering all the garbage hanging in NHL locker rooms during the 1990s, I feel the Sabres’ stab at modernisation, unnecessary as it might have been, actually turned out rather well.
Sharp, angled stripes on the jersey, along with the introduction of a stabby secondary logo on the shoulder, make it clear that the Sabres are indeed named after a pretty serious weapon. The primary logo has been reduced to a buffalo’s head, symbolising the team’s fair city but seemingly leaving out the team’s moniker altogether. I will contend, however, that the aggressive secondary logo and sword-like striping communicate “Sabres” just fine.
It’s not the cleanest kit. The jerseys are very modern and busy, while the socks are very traditional – even plain. There is too much of an emphasis on silver (read: grey). The unnecessary “Buffalo Sabres” wordmark on the pants sticks out like a sore thumb. But, somehow, it all comes together so nicely that I just can’t bring myself to hate it.
The Buffalo Sabres Come to Dinner
The red, “dinner plate” alternate jerseys – that say “BUFFALO” on the waist striping, just in case you forgot who was playing and decided to check out some crotches to find out – were an ill-advised departure from the (new) norm.
Yes, using red as a primary colour was a good idea and yes, most of the jersey is relatively traditional.
But you’re an NHL team, for goodness’ sake. You have millions upon millions of dollars at your disposal and that’s the logo you come up with? Why was a new logo needed for the third jersey anyway? Why not stick with the buffalo head? Why not give the Stabbed-B shoulder patch a chance to shine? Why expose the world to this monstrosity?
The dumb logo, stupid wordmark, weirdly shaped collar and insistence on using grey make this third jersey a complete dud.
But, alternate kit aside, these very ‘90s uniforms were – and still are – thoroughly enjoyable. From the non-traditional striping to the interesting font, these Sabres entries were one of the few attempts at NHL uniform modernisation that resulted in success.
Enter the Buffaslug.
Oh…oh dear. A tiny, limbless, possibly demonic – note the red eyes – buffalo surrounded by a drab colour scheme and psychedelic striping. Yikes. Now, framed properly, the jersey, while still centred by a terrible logo, would at least approach respectability. Unfortunately, the finished product was the complete opposite of respectable.
Again, Buffalo, what is your fascination with grey? Since when does grey brighten up anyone’s day? The wavy vertical piping dividing the body of the jersey from the sleeves makes it look like someone is putting on a coat. Yes, the gold trim is back and yes, navy as a primary colour is not necessarily a death knell, but the grey (and the white, for that matter) accents cancel out the brightness of the gold, resulting a drab uniform that is thoroughly sickening to behold, much less wear.
There wasn’t even a good reason for the redesign; Reebok Edge was still a year away. The Edge uniform system brought vertical patterns and the removal of tail striping to much of the NHL. Maybe the Sabres were just trying to get ahead of the game. But they’d gone vertical with great success with their previous jerseys; how on Earth did they manage to screw things up so badly here?
Thankfully, the team threw their fans a bone with a throwback third jersey…which was promptly removed from their wardrobe the following year. Meanwhile, the Buffaslug lived on for three more stomach-churning seasons. Simply put, the Buffaslug jersey is truly one of the most revolting pieces of apparel the world has ever seen.
Buffalo Sabres Nuke Nod to History
In 2008, the Sabres introduced an alternate jersey that paid homage to their original kits, though swapping royal blue for navy. By 2010, this iteration was the team’s full-time home uniform, with a white jersey being introduced for away games. Largely unchanged, this setup endures to the present day.
The overall design is similar to that of their inaugural season, albeit with thicker striping on the jerseys and simplified striping on the socks – one big batch of three stripes, instead of a smaller, Leafs-esque three-by-three. Simple, classic and punchy, there are some real good ingredients here.
Unfortunately, the Sabres chose to stick with Reebok Edge ideals, adding vertical piping (grey) on the sweaters, and weird blotches under the neck (grey) and arms (grey).
For the love of all that is good and pure, STOP WITH THE GREY. Sabres players – and fans – wearing these pit-stained jerseys looked like they were perpetually drenched in sweat. It must be tough to score when none of the players want to raise their arms…
Sabres Designers in Alternate Universe
(Logo) Size Does Matter
The Buffalo Sabres decided to rejoin the NHL’s alternate jersey programme in 2010, producing a tribute to Buffalo teams past.
If we’re being historically accurate here, the Sabres started out with a single, tri-stripe design on their sleeves, tail and socks. But this jersey bumped the design down to two stripes (which had been done before on Sabres socks), but also added a second set. These changes make the jersey a little crowded for my taste, but they nevertheless produced an intriguing update to the Sabres’ adored original threads.
But just as you thought the Sabres were drunkenly staggering towards uniform respectability, you notice they made the logo the size of a dime and wrote “BUFFALO” across the front in WordArt. I’m not a fan of script logos in general – why tell your fans what they already know? – but they are especially tacky when they dwarf the team’s actual logo (see also: Flames, Calgary).
Yes, I know the script logo paid homage to the American Hockey League’s Buffalo Bisons, but did it really have to be front and centre? Why not pop it on the shoulder?
The contrasting nameplates look great on the royal (hooray!) blue of the jerseys, and the quilted numbers are kinda cool. I might even be able to get used to the two-by-two striping on the jerseys and socks. But the logo just ruins it for me.
The Turd Burger
And then there’s this one, released in 2013. The Sabres’ then-President, Ted Black, publicly acknowledged it as a “turd burger.” And you know what? He’s not wrong.
Seriously. Looking at it from the front (yellow) and back (blue), one would be hard-pressed to identify it as the same jersey. It looks like one of those paint-by-numbers pictures gone horribly awry; like someone whose friends have drawn on them after they’ve passed out at a party.
Moreover, millions of television sets found themselves prematurely discarded after hockey fans couldn’t understand why much of the picture had suddenly gone grey.
It looks like the wearer has donned a cape and is about to fly off into the night, like so many Buffalo free agents of years past. To be fair, if I had to wear that thing, I’d want out, too.
Oh, but it’s not all bad: it says “BUFFALO” in tiny letters on the front. Just in case you forgot. I mean, how thoughtful is that?! The Sabres were just so considerate to their fans.
Buffalo Sabres Current Jerseys
Thankfully, with the ADIZERO redesign for 2017-18, the Sabres have ditched the grey piping and pit stains, cleaning up their uniforms immeasurably and allowing the navy blue and gold to truly flourish.
NHL teams have, generally, a pretty brutal history of creating dark-themed jerseys. Buffalo, however, has pulled this one off rather nicely. The gold accents are bright and bold enough to offset the navy blue, though a vertical gold stripe on the pants would be welcome.
As for negatives, grey can still be found here and there (trimming the gold striping, for example). A poor design choice, to be sure. But it’s not enough to ruin the uniform altogether. Nor are the player numbers on the top-right of the chest. A holdover from the Buffaslug days and once popular with more than a few NHL teams, they are not particularly offensive to the eye, though they do break up the cleanliness of the look.
Overall though, it’s a fairly simple, relatively polished design. No shoulder logo? No problem. The Buffalo Sabres appear to finally want to do right by their fans. That said, it’s a shame they won’t just bring back the originals and call it a day.
Buffalo Sabres Breaking Hearts
Sabres fans…I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry.
You’ve endured decades of disappointment, from soul-crushing mediocrity to unconscionable heartbreak. Your rebuild, if you can even call it that at this point, is proceeding far, far slower than expected. Your goaltender’s a nutjob. Your best player isn’t signed past this year. And team management just flat-out refuses to give you what you want, even with something as simple as a jersey.
Here’s hoping things get better – and soon. You deserve it.