Since 2013, the Buffalo Sabres have seen six different head coaches take a spot behind the bench. For many players, causing a coaching change is nothing new, and for some it’s become a nearly annual ritual. What is new to every player on the current roster is being the cause for the termination of an opposing coach.
On December 3, the New Jersey Devils announced the termination of head coach John Hynes. The decision came on the heels of a 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Sabres, who have been working through their own struggles. Buffalo scored five goals in the first period, causing goaltender Louis Dominguez to snap his stick over his leg on the way to the bench. It was heartwarming for a Sabres crowd that had seen its team’s offense drop drastically in November.
It was a commanding win over a flailing team that is grasping at straws. The Devils dropped the scapegoated Cory Schneider to the AHL weeks ago, convinced that goaltending was the issue. It was not.
Hynes was not he first NHL coach let go in the 2019-20 campaign. The Leafs relieved Mike Babcock of his duties 10 days ago, and we are all aware of the Bill Peters fiasco.
It has been a long time since a Buffalo route caused a coach’s firing. Eight years, nearly to the day, in face. The last occurrence was November 29, 2011, when the Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau, handing the reins of the team to Dale Hunter.
General manager George McPhee did not mince words at the announcement. According to the Washington Post article from that time, McPhee stated, “The reason for the change was we weren’t winning, obviously, and this wasn’t a slump. You can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce.”
The Sabres status at the time was eerily similar to its position now. Injuries had torn through the lineup. That 2011 squad was seventh in the conference at the time, with a 13-10-1 record. This iteration is 13-10-5…which is eighth in the conference. The 2019 Sabres are 4-4-2 in their last 10. The 2011 club was also 4-4-2.
Lindy Ruff’s 2011 Sabres were a plucky group. The team struggled to score – the 5-1 win over the Capitals was only the third time that year that Buffalo had scored five or more goals in a game. They relied on goaltending that was performing above league average. They were top-heavy in scoring; the three best goal-getters contributed 36 percent.
The 2019 Sabres aren’t much different. The 7-1 win over the Devils was their fourth time scoring five or more this year. They are getting better-than-average goaltending, while their top three forwards have 44 percent of the team’s 84 goals.
The 2011-12 team missed the playoffs by three points, finishing with 89. Projecting out, it seems like that’s about where this season’s squad will land – mid-to-high 80s and missing out on the playoffs by a few.
This 50th anniversary is an opportunity to look back on some of the great things that the Buffalo Sabres have accomplished; or some of the most noteworthy, at least. It’s interesting to find odd parallels such as this in their history. Imagine if Pominville had signed on for another year! He could have been the only player to have been on the team for both of these occasions. If nothing else in this last decade of futility, at least the Sabres can hang a horned, fuzzy blue hat on the fact that their stellar performances caused coaches to be fired twice.