A look at the Buffalo Sabres’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. 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 full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: Buffalo Sabres (1990-91 to 1999-00)
346-319-121, .517 WIN PCT, 2,443 GF vs. 2,247 GA, +196 Diff, 9/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The Sabres were a consistently competitive team during the 1990s: they never only had two sub-.500 seasons, and only missed the playoffs once. They even had a decent run of success in the playoffs: between 1997 and 1999, they played in nine playoff series, culminating in a run to the Finals in 1999 (where they lost to the Dallas Stars on a Brett Hull overtime goal that still has Sabres fans fuming). They were never an “elite” team (they maxed out at 95 points in ’93-94), and they were eliminated in the first round five times (including four times in five years from 1991 to 1995). But they were always in the mix, which is impressive over a 10-year period. Buffalo’s overall win percentage was middle-of-the-pack; at 51.7%, they ranked 13th out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. They were held back largely by their offense; they averaged 3.11 goals for per game, which ranked 12th. But their defensive game was excellent, ranking 6th during the decade while averaging 2.86 goals against per game. Ultimately their solid differential of +196 ranked 7th, which makes it all the more surprising that their win percentage ranked 13th. Playing in a small market without a salary cap meant that they struggled at times with talent retention: by the end of the decade, they lacked the star power they had previously had. But they were always competitive, which is more than a lot of teams can say.
Left Wing: Dave Andreychuk (212 GP, 106-115-221, -6, 151 PIM, 8 GWG)
One of the greatest wingers in the history of the Buffalo Sabres, and an absolute beast on the powerplay. Andreychuk had a 36-goal, 69-point season to open the decade, with 13 powerplay goals. He then improved the following year (’91-92) to 41 goals and 91 points, with a staggering 28 PPG. He was scoring at a similar pace in ’92-93 (29 goals, 61 points, 20 PPG) when he was traded to Toronto in the Grant Fuhr deal. Of Andreychuk’s 106 goals for Buffalo during the 1990s, 61 came on the powerplay. Disappointingly though, just 8 came as game-winners. And he had a -6 +/- rating (+11 in ’90-91, -17 the next two). But as far as talented goal-scoring goes in Buffalo, Andreychuk was the gold standard despite only playing 2+ seasons for the Sabres in the 1990s.
Centre: Pat LaFontaine (268 GP, 158-227-385, +3, 207 PIM, 22 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Dale Hawerchuk
Dale Hawerchuk never quite lived up to his Winnipeg Jets pedigree, but that is not to suggest he wasn’t a quality player for Buffalo: had had four seasons in the 86-98 points range, and a pair of 30+ goal seasons. But Pat LaFontaine was in a class all on his own. He was acquired from the New York Islanders prior to the start of the ’91-92 season. Thanks to Calgary’s Jamie Macoun, LaFontaine missed some with a broken jaw (which in turn led to a bench-clearing brawl when the teams met again in December 1991). But LaFontaine still registered 46 goals and 93 points in 57 games. The following season has his finest: 53 goals and 148 points in 84 games, a full 43 points higher than his next-best season (105 in ’89-90). Unfortunately, LaFontaine was never able to maintain his health; he played just 38 games combined over the next two seasons, scoring 45 points. He rebounded for a 40-goal, 91-point performance in 76 games during ’95-96, but he was held to just 13 games in ’96-97 (scoring 8 points). He was traded to the New York Rangers for a 2nd Round Pick, and managed to play one final season (67 games, 62 points) with the Rangers before retiring due to a concussion suffered in March 1998. LaFontaine only had two full seasons in Buffalo, and played just 268 games out of a possible 500 or so. But he managed an impressive 385 points in those 268 games. In addition, 14% of his goals were game-winners, and 66 were on the powerplay. He actually had back-to-back 20+ PPG seasons to open the 90s. It’s a shame about his health issues, as he was an exciting player to watch, and he was one of the most talented U.S.-born players in NHL history.
Right Wing: Alexander Mogilny (316 GP, 196-205-401, +36, 187 PIM, 27 GWG)
Alexander Mogilny was a dynamic talent, and an incredibly prolific scorer. He spent five seasons in Buffalo during the 90s, scoring 30+ goals four times. The fifth season was shortened by the lockout, and he still managed 19 goals in 44 games. Without question, his finest season was ’92-93: he scored an astounding 76 goals: 27 came on the powerplay, and 11 were game-winners. Mogilny also added 51 assists for 127 points. He had a positive +/- four times, and his worst was an even rating in ’94-95. He was good for 200+ shots on goal in a full season. He had durability issues (he missed 15+ games three times in five seasons), but there was no denying his talent. He had four seasons of double-digit PPGs, and his 27 game-winning goals represented 14% of his goals for Buffalo during the 90s. He was a sublime talent during time in Buffalo.
Defense: Doug Bodger (347 GP, 35-157-192, +6, 390 PIM, 2 GWG)
Doug Bodger was arguably Buffalo’s best offensive defenseman during the 1990s. His +/- was inconsistent, going negative twice in five full seasons (and also in 16 appearances during the ’95-96 season). Bodger had five consecutive seasons of 20+ points, and a three-year run in the 39-54 points range. He would likely have had another season in that range, as he scored 20 points in 44 games during the lockout-shortened season of ’94-95. While not a primary weapon on the powerplay, he was an option: 19 of his 35 goals came with the man advantage. He was also good for 150+ shots on goal in a full season. Buffalo never had a wealth of offensive talent on their blueline, but Bodger was consistently a solid option for them.
Defense: Richard Smehlik (473 GP, 41-117-158, +70, 373 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Jason Woolley
Jason Woolley was a solid two-way option for Buffalo in the late 90s, after Bodger was gone: he had three seasons in the 33-43 points range, and he was a combined +38. But Smehlik was rock-solid in his own end, and still able to chip in offensively, so he gets the nod. He scored at least 11 points each seasons over a seven-year period, including a high of 41 points in ’93-94 and two others in the 30-31 range. He twice posted double-digit goal totals, and had four seasons in the 17-27 assists range. He had a positive +/- six times in seven years, and had a +/- between +9 to +22 five times. He was disciplined, never getting more than 69 PIM in a season. He also helped bridge the gap from the LaFontaine/Mogilny era to the Hasek/Peca era. Smehlik was a class act in Buffalo.
Goalie: Dominik Hasek (424 GP, 197-146-66, 44 SO, 2.24 GAA, 0.927 PCT)
Hasek is one of the all-time great trade acquisitions for the Sabres: they got him out from under Ed Belfour’s shadow in Chicago, and all it cost them was Stephane Beauregard and a fourth-round pick (which turned into Eric Daze). Hasek suited up for 28 games in ’92-93, but took a backseat in the playoffs to newly-acquired Grant Fuhr. But Hasek wasn’t to be denied, taking the #1 role from the future Hall-of-Famer in ’93-94: Fuhr went 13-12-3 with a 3.68 GAA and .883 PCT, while Hasek was 30-20-6 and led the league in both GAA (1.95) and save percentage (.930). Hasek was a first-team all-star, won the Vezina as the top goaltender in the NHL, and shared the Jennings with Fuhr for having the best lowest team goals-against total in the league. In the 90s, Hasek won the Vezina five time between 1994 and 1999; the only year he missed it was 1996, when one-hit-wonder Jim Carey burst onto the scene. Hasek was also a first-team all-star five times, won the Hart as league MVP in ’97 and ’98, won the Lester B. Pearson (most outstanding player as voted by the players themselves) in ’97 and ’98, and played in four straight all-star games from 1996 to 1999. And those were just his ACCOLADES. He guided the Sabres to the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, where they fell two wins short of a championship.
His numbers were incredible: he had four 30+ win seasons, and posted 5+ shut-outs five times (including an incredible 22 shut-outs combined between ’97-98 and ’98-99). He only once had a losing record, and he had a save percentage of .919 or better seven times in eight years. In fact, his save percentage was .930 or better five time, and he led the league in save percentage for six straight seasons. He was without a doubt the greatest goaltender in Sabres history (apologies to Ryan Miller), and one of the best goalies of his era (along with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy). He also had the best “Cold Steel” pose of any player in NHL history.