A look at the Buffalo Sabres’ All-Decade team for the 1980s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1980s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three seasons between 1980-81 and 1989-90) during the regular season. A complete list is available here.
Team: Buffalo Sabres (1980-81 to 1989-90)
387-303-110, .553 Win PCT, 2,993 GF vs. 2,735 GA, +240 Diff, 8/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
Buffalo was a solid team during the 1980s: their 55.3% win percentage ranked a healthy eighth. They made the playoffs eight times, and were .500 or better nine times. Their worst season was Scotty Bowman’s last as head coach, ’86-87. Fortunately for Buffalo, even during their ordinary seasons, they could usually count on Quebec or Hartford finishing behind them in the Adams division. Buffalo’s strength was its defense: they allowed 3.44 goals against per game, fifth best in the league. And while their offense (3.74 goals per game) ranked thirteenth, the goal differential (+240) put them eighth. Unfortunately for Montreal, the downside of playing in the Adams division was that they usually had to contend with Montreal or Boston in the playoffs, two of the more dominant teams in the Wales Conference during the 1980s. As a result, Buffalo won just two playoff series (on each in ’81 and ’83). Still, they were never a team to take lightly, although they were much stronger in the first half of the decade (59.3% win percentage) than the second half (51.3%).
Left Wing: Dave Andreychuk (551 GP, 242-308-550, +34, 413 PIM, 26 GWG)
Virtually a slam dunk. After a half-season (scoring nearly a point-per-game as a rookie) in ’82-83, Andreychuk was a mainstay on Buffalos’ left wing for the rest of the decade. He never scored fewer than 25 goals in a season, and was always a point-per-game threat. He scored 40 goals in ’89-90, and cleared the 30-goal mark on four other occasions. He was defensively responsible, with just one negative +/- rating in eight seasons (-4 in ’84-85). He was a master of the powerplay, scoring 10+ PPG six times. Big, strong, with a wicked shot and a tough-to-move crease presence. Fantastic player for Buffalo in the 80s.
Centre: Gilbert Perreault (438 GP, 172-285-457, +28, 238 PIM, 24 GWG)
Although Perreault’s best days were behind him as the 70s drew to a close, he was still quite productive in the first half of the 80s. He posted four consecutive seasons of 30-31 goals, which were book-ended by a pair of 20-goal seasons. He averaged better than a point-per-game, and peaked at 90 points in the ’83-84 season. His two-way game suffered slightly, as he was negative for +/- in three of his seven seasons. But he was still a leader and an offensive talent, and chipped in 24 game-winning goals. There’s a reason why he is considered by many to be the greatest positional player in Buffalo history.
Right Wing: Mike Foligno (633 GP, 243-259-502, +111, 1,408 PIM, 43 GWG)
Mike Foligno was the kind of player every team needs to win: a hard-nosed, heart-and-soul type who put the team above himself and wasn’t afraid to mix it up. While not an offensive dynamo, he was a consistent threat for Buffalo. He posted eight consecutive seasons of at least 20 goals, including a 41-goal peak in ’85-86 and a pair of 30-goal seasons. He hit 80 points once, and the rest of the time he fell in the 49-63 point range. He was also strong defensively; He had three seasons where his +/- was above +20, and he was positive in seven of his nine seasons in Buffalo. And he was clutch: 18% of his goals were game-winning goals. And he was definitely tough, getting 135+ PIM in every season except his final year (where he still managed 99).
Defense: Phil Housley (608 GP, 178-380-558, +3, 386 PIM, 25 GWG)
Housley is quite possibly the best American-born offensive defenseman in history. He is also likely up there with Paul Coffey as the defenseman caught offsides the most in their NHL careers. Housley was an offensive force on the blueline for Buffalo. He never scored fewer than 15 goals or 62 points, and he only once dipped below 44 assists. He scored 20+ goals five times, including a 31-goal season in ’83-84. His defensive game, unsurprisingly, was suspect: he was barely positive (+3) in his career for +/-, and he was negative in four of his eight seasons in Buffalo. He did however run an effective powerplay, scoring 61 PPG as a Sabre. He also cleared 200+ shots four times, and never had less than 178 shots on goal in a season.
Defense: Mike Ramsey (728 GP, 61-214-275, +146, 785 PIM, 11 GWG)
Honourable Mention to John Van Boxmeer
Mike Ramsey was the consummate defensive defenseman for Buffalo, the perfect complement to a rushing defenseman like Housley. He played all ten seasons for Buffalo in the 1980s. Like the team itself, Ramsey was at his best in the first half of the decade: he was +16 to +31 in his first five seasons, and he was never negative during the decade (his lowest was +1). He was +146 overall, to go with a rather chippy 785 penalty minutes. He didn’t light the lamp a lot, but he still chipped in: he scored 7-9 goals six seasons in a row, and cleared the 30-point mark five times. And while he only scored 61 goals in Buffalo, 11 of them were game-winners. Plus he had arguably the greatest ‘stache in Sabres’ history.
Goalie: Tom Barrasso (266 GP, 124-102-28, 13 SO, 3.29 GAA, 0.888 PCT*)
*Save Percentage is for ’87-88 and ’88-89 seasons only
Barrasso started his career off by winning both the Vezina (as top goaltender) and the Calder (as top rookie) and he never looked back. He won 25+ games in four of his five full seasons in Buffalo. He also managed a 3.29 GAA in a very high-scoring era, including an amazing 2.74 during his first two years. He also posted a respectable 13 shut-outs. He was above .500 in four of his five full seasons. He was struggling with Buffalo in the ’88-89 season before the traded him to Pittsburgh, where he ended up winning two Stanley Cups. He may have been cocky, but more often than not his play justified his opinion of himself.