First and foremost, a major Thank You to Melissa Burgess at our sibling site, Die by the Blade, for making this article possible. Melissa also wrote about the 2005-06 season for the Best Teams to Never Win a Championship series, and you can find her article here. And if you missed Silver Seven’s entry then check it out here. In all of our wistful reverie about the 2000s Senators, we may have forgotten just how deep our division rival’s roster was coming out of the 2004-05 lockout. While we lament what should have been for the Senators of yore, Sabres fans have their own claim to make. So without further ado, enjoy this Q&A!
S7S: Returning to hockey after the 2004-05 lockout, the league looked very different. A lot of young goaltenders, like Ray Emery and Ryan Miller, stepped in to a new NHL that had lots of opportunities for athletic, aggressive netminders. Offence went up and teams started to move away from the older, “goonier” style of hockey. The implementation of the salary cap also had fairly immediate impacts. At least in Ottawa, the cap created a very ephemeral feeling about the team. Do you think the parameters of the post-lockout NHL shaped the 2005-06 Sabres? In your article you allude to injuries as the primary culprit in their disappointing end. And given that Buffalo had a VERY young roster, other than Teppo Numminen, the number of key injuries seems unfathomable. A young team with tonnes of firepower like the Sabres seemed set to take the hockey world by storm in the new NHL.
DbtB: Yes, I think the ‘05-’06 Sabres were definitely shaped by the parameters of the post-lockout NHL. You look at how different the team after the lockout was, compared to the team before. They hadn’t made the playoffs in three seasons. They finished last in the division three years in a row - and then the lockout hits. Obviously, when something like that happens, it throws everything off course. You lose some players, but it gives other players the chance to step up. Then, the NHL comes back and the Sabres have their best season in years and cross the 100-point threshold for the first time since 1984. The Sabres of that season were built for speed, and the adjustments made in the NHL as a result of lockout played in their favor. The injuries in the postseason were just killer, and everyone says if all of those injuries didn’t happen at once, it could’ve been something great. If the lockout doesn’t happen, does Ryan Miller get the chance to make such a big leap into more of a starter position? Does Max Afinogenov’s point total more than double? And of course, the Sabres wouldn’t have had three lottery balls in the draft, and who knows what would’ve happened from there? (Of course, the Sabres picked Marek Zagrapan, who never played a game in the NHL, so.... yeah.)
S7S: Dominik Hasek had a very brief stint in Ottawa. And while he put up an admirable 92.5 save percentage as a Senator, his mysterious injury in 2006 and his abrupt departure left him with a legacy somewhere between disappointment and acrimony among Senators fans. Hasek also departed from Buffalo amid injury and playoff disappointment. Did this affect his legacy in Buffalo? On the one hand, he was the best netminder in Sabres history. On the other hand, I did come across articles like this while researching for my 2005-06 article.
DbtB: Personally - I don’t think it did. He’s still quite highly regarded by most here in Buffalo, even though there have been other goalies (like Ryan Miller) who have stepped up and are most prevalent in fans’ minds (hello, recency bias). The circumstances under which he left Buffalo after the 2000-2001 season, to go to Detroit (for the first time) were undoubtedly disappointing for the Sabres, but it was also about giving him a chance to go to a contender. That’s exactly what happened; he had a career-best season in Detroit, the Red Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup. As much as that leaves a sour taste in a fan’s mouth, you can’t be too mad when such a high-caliber player gets what he deserves, even if it happens elsewhere. The Sabres retired Hasek’s number 39 in 2015, and it was certainly a well-deserved honor and well-received by the fans.
S7S: I feel like a vulture asking about 2006-07 but I have to do it. For fans in Ottawa, defeating the Sabres in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals felt like real vindication for players like Ray Emery, Daniel Alfredsson, and Wade Redden who had gotten burned on the infamous Jason Pominville shortie in 2006. Despite making the cup finals, I chose not to write about that 2007 Senators team as The Best Team to Never Win. Buffalo also had an incredible team in 2007 though! They won the Presidents Trophy and had home-ice advantage in that series against the Senators. Can you give us some perspective on why the Scary Good Sabres of 2005-06 top the 2006-07 Presidents Trophy winners in the minds of Sabres fans?
DbtB: I think it’s a really close draw between those two teams. Even when I was writing my piece, it was a toss-up between those two seasons. I do think part of what made that ‘05-’06 team so special was that we were coming out of a lockout. Everyone was starved for NHL hockey, starved for Sabres hockey, and that team was special, even though it didn’t seem like it at first. Things just progressed over the course of the season, and all of a sudden, the Sabres were “scary” good. I think the fact that it wasn’t necessarily expected from the team is what makes it more special, and to get as far as they did when no one was expecting that - that’s what makes it so special.
The next season’s Sabres won the first ten games of the season and didn’t lose until a month into the season. They were good from the start, good throughout the season and won the President’s Trophy. But in contrast to the previous season, I think having a strong season was more of an expectation, and that’s why the ‘05-’06 team narrowly edges out the next season’s team in the minds of Sabres fans.