50 Years Later: Canucks and Sabres Heading in Opposite Directions

When the NHL expanded to 14 teams in 1970, two cities on opposite sides of North America were awarded professional hockey teams. As the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres celebrate 50 years of existence, both franchises are still searching for their first Stanley Cup.  

Stanley Cup Losses

Vancouver and Buffalo have both had their fair share of opportunities to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Canucks have had three separate trips to the Finals, the most recent of those being the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. 

Many think back to the 2011 Final due to the riots that took place in the city of Vancouver after the Game 7 loss. It goes to show the passion and thirst Canucks fans have for a championship. The franchise has not been back to the Final since and has found themselves in a major rebuild in the past few seasons.

Raffi Torres
Raffi Torres scores during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final (Icon SMI).

For Buffalo, their last appearance in the Stanley Cup Final was way back in 1999 against the Dallas Stars, who infamously defeated the Sabres in overtime when Brett Hull buried a loose puck while having a skate in the crease. At the time, the rule should have disallowed the goal, although as everyone knows, that did not happen. 

The Sabres have not been back since, in fact only appearing in the playoffs six times since that loss to Dallas. The franchise currently is in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought, with six different head coaches during that span. 

Who Breaks the Drought?

You read the gruesome statistics above and you begin to wonder when the time will come for either one of these franchises. Based on recent progressions, Vancouver has shown the better promise when it comes to taking the next step towards a championship.

The Canucks are a team that has intrigued me this year, with such promising young talent to complement the emergence of Jakob Markstrom in between the pipes.

Rookie Quinn Hughes has helped Vancouver become a playoff team this season (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images).

Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes highlight a bright cast of characters that Vancouver has built around through the draft. That’s right, none of these players were acquired in free agency – they were introduced to the Canucks through smart drafting.

Speaking of free agency, you bring in J.T. Miller and ex-Sabre Tyler Myers into the fold, and you get a solid foundation that has allowed Vancouver to take a great step forward this season. 

Buffalo Lagging Behind

Compare that to a Buffalo team that has been on the same rebuild cycle as Vancouver in recent years. It begs the question of where things went differently for the Sabres. For starters, many called into question the abundance of defenseman on the roster. Consequently, the hammer has been beaten to death on why a quality forward has not been brought into the picture.

It’s a complicated situation, but it ultimately boils down to the forward depth, or lack thereof for this Sabres team. The Canucks have gotten significant contributions from depth pieces such as Jake Virtanen and Tanner Pearson. In fact, Virtanen and Pearson are two of seven players on the Canucks roster that have eclipsed the 30-point threshold this season. 

Casey Mittlestadt with Jason Botterill and Terry Pegula.
Buffalo has fallen under immense pressure of late as their rebuild continues to show lackluster results (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports).

Compare that to the Sabres roster that has three players above that mark, one of those being Victor Olofsson who has missed the better half of a month due to injury. It’s difficult to comprehend the lack of scoring that has come from players other than Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart, but it helps us get to the root of the problem that has plagued Buffalo. 

50 Years of Waiting

Judging by the mood of this article, you’d think the Canucks’ wait won’t last that much longer. Even though that may be true, only time can tell. From a Sabres perspective, how can we logically believe that the 50-year wait is soon to end?

50 years later, it’s funny to think that these two franchises have been on a similar trajectory. Success in the 90s, sprinkled in with some playoff appearances in the 2000s, and here we are. Two cities still waiting. 

With that being said, this season has seen the 1970 expansion teams take different paths down the two-lane road – one certainly destined for a return to the playoffs, while the other hopelessly waits as a nine-year playoff drought stares them straight in the face.