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A Look at NHL Playoff Droughts Part 1: New Jersey Devils, Anaheim to Buffalo

How long must a team suffer? How long has a team suffered? This is the first of several posts looking into the playoff droughts of 30 of the 32 active NHL franchises to figure out what went wrong. This post covers the New Jersey Devils, Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, and Buffalo.

New Jersey Devils v Buffalo Sabres
Lindy Ruff: Coach of the Devils in their current playoff drought, last coach of Buffalo as they began their longest - and current! - playoff drought.
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Not everyone can make the postseason. Every season sees teams end their season with their final regular season game. Some teams miss it more than others and for some long periods of time. The New Jersey Devils, for example, have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons now. Some of the People Who Matter claim that this is necessary. The result of a rebuild; a price to pay now for setting up a team for future prizes. Is that really true though? And how does this current drought for the Devils compare with other NHL teams? What can we learn from other droughts in NHL history? To answer these questions and more, let us take a deeper dive into playoff droughts among the NHL franchise.

Scope & Acknowledgments

In order to answer those questions and provide more context about the Devils’ current state of affairs, we need to look back at a lot of history. This is too much to cover in just one post. As you can see from the headline, this is Part 1. This specific post will cover Our Favorite Team, the New Jersey Devils; and begin a look at the other NHL franchises in alphabetical order, which means Anaheim through Buffalo today. Part 2 will cover the ‘C’ located teams: Calgary through Columbus. Part 3 will go over the Dallas franchise to Los Angeles. Part 4 will include Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville, and the two active New York teams. Part 5 will deal with Ottawa through St. Louis. Part 6 will wrap things up with Tampa Bay through to the current Winnipeg franchise (the Neo-Jets?). Should there be enough to conclude and summarize at the end, there may be a Part 7.

For the purposes of this post, I am looking at almost all active NHL franchises. This means the Oakland Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Montreal Maroons, Montreal Wanderers, Hamilton Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, the original Ottawa Senators, and the New York Americans (sorry, Maven) are excluded. I am not considering any WHA or NHA seasons. Sorry to Quebec, Hartford, Edmonton, and original Winnipeg; no details for missing the Avco Cup Playoffs. Which, between the four of them, only missed a combined five times (Quebec in 1972-73 and 1973-74; Edmonton in 1972-73 and 1974-75; Winnipeg in 1974-75). I am also excluding the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken as both teams just missed the playoffs for the first time in their franchise’s history. Also, Seattle literally just entered the league. This means I am looking back at 30 different franchises.

I am using Hockey Reference to identify how long a team has missed the playoffs and how many times they missed it for that long. I am acknowledging that making the playoffs in this current era of the NHL is more of an achievement than in past eras. There was no salary cap, very different or non-existent free agency, or even a draft or player’s union depending how far back you go. The league was considerably smaller, and so missing out meant being really, really awful instead of just below mediocre. The 16-team format began in 1979-80 when the league had 21 teams, so it was common for below-average teams to still get into the postseason. For the Return to Play format in 2020, I only counted teams that won their Qualifying Round as making the playoffs as the losers ended up in the Draft Lottery. I am acknowledging these wrinkles ahead of going into detail about each franchise’s misses.

Let me use the New Jersey Devils as an example of how I intend to go over each team. First, a chart for this part - which will also be explained with the Devils.

The Playoff Drought Chart - Part 1

Playoff Drought Frequency for NHL Franchises - Part 1
Playoff Drought Frequency for NHL Franchises - Part 1
Hockey Reference

The New Jersey Devils

Also Known As: Kansas City Scouts, Colorado Rockies

Playoff Misses and Proportion: 24 misses out of 47 total seasons; 51.1% missed.

Current Situation: Playoff drought of 4 seasons: 2018-19 to 2021-22. It could continue if certain things do not work out and those things not working out lead to more leadership changes. Note: If the number is highlighted in yellow, then that is the current drought for that team.

The Chart Explanation: The first three columns are self-explanatory. The remainder is a frequency chart. Each number is the count of how many times the franchise missed the playoffs by the top row. For the Devils, here is how it breaks down:

Missed the playoffs one season: 3 times: 1988-89, 1995-96, 2010-11. This means the Devils made the playoffs in the next season.

Missed the playoffs two straight seasons: 0 times. Hence, it is left blank.

Missed the playoffs three straight seasons: 1 time: 1974-75 to 1976-77

Missed the playoffs four straight seasons: 1 time: 2018-19 to 2021-22. This is the current playoff drought.

Missed the playoffs five straight seasons: 1 time: 2013-14 to 2016-17.

Missed the playoffs nine straight seasons: 1 time: 1978-79 to 1986-87. This is the longest drought in Devils franchise history.

That is how you should read the chart. Your mileage may vary if you prefer more short droughts than one long one. As it does for the various franchises. At a minimum, it will show how often or rare a particular drought has been.

A Summary of a Notable Drought: Typically, this is usually the longest drought in the franchise unless there is something else that I think is worth highlighting instead. The 2013-14 to 2016-17 drought has been well documented on this very site with posts from those days as well as about half of a decade retrospective. The current drought is, well, current. So here is a summary of that much longer, nine-season drought. Which turned out to be among the longest in NHL history. Only one other franchise had a nine-season long drought, and only three franchises have had longer droughts. One of those three will be covered later in this post. The other two will be in Part 3.

The nine-season drought for the Devils franchise began in 1978-79 when they were the Rockies. The 1977-78 team that made the playoffs absolutely stunk. They finished second in a Smythe Division that consisted of a decent Chicago team and four teams having bad seasons. By comparison, the other division in the old Clarence Campbell Conference was the Patrick Division and all four of their teams made the playoffs: the two New York teams, Philly, and Atlanta. The Rockies just beat out Vancouver for the final playoff spot in the Campbell Conference to earn it with just 19 wins and 59 points out of 80 games. Their reward was to get dusted 2-0 in a best-of-three to Philly.

What followed were four seasons of instability. General Manager Ray Miron gave way to Bill MacMillan in 1981. Head coach Pat Kelly was fired during 1978-79 for Aldo Guidolin’s one and only head coaching job. He was replaced by Don Cherry - yes, that Don Cherry - for a season. Cherry ended his coaching career at the end of the 1979-80 season, so he was replaced by Bill MacMillan for the 1980-81 season. After he got kicked upstairs, Bert Marshall took over - only for him to be replaced by Marshall Johnston later on. The team’s points in each season: 42, 51, 57, and 49 points. Even ownership changed as Jack Vickers sold the team to Arthur Imperatore Sr., who initially paved the way for a move to New Jersey. Except he never did as he sold the team to Peter Gilbert in 1981 - whom then sold the team to John McMullen, who actually did bring the team to New Jersey. When the Wikipedia section for the Rockies’ history includes “Continued Struggles,” you know it was bad.

Sure, there were some notable players in those four seasons. Wilf Paiement, Lanny MacDonald, and Rene Robert made their way through the team. Rob Ramage and Barry Beck got their starts here. But the franchise was bereft of talent, anything resembling goaltending, and the constant changes behind the bench and even with ownership translated to a lot of losing.

While McMullen provided the organization the stable ownership it badly needed, the Devils were still lost in the proverbial sauce. Being moved to a Patrick Division in the re-organized Prince of Wales Conference with Philly, the Islanders, the Capitals (who figured out hockey at this point), the Rangers, and Penguins (who were struggling mightily then) did not help at all. There were still plenty of changes off the ice. MacMillan returned to the head coaching job in 1982-83, was replaced as a GM before 1983-84, and was fired 20 games into the 1983-84 season. The new GM was Max McNab and the new coach was Tom McVie. McNab would be in charge until the fateful and crucial hiring of Lou Lamoriello in 1987. McVie was just a short-term replacement as Doug Carpenter took over for the 1984-85 season. Carpenter provided coaching stability as he was the first coach in franchise history to make it to two full seasons. Between that and some prospects coming through like Kirk Muller, John MacLean, Pat Verbeek, and Aaron Broten, the team started making some small gains from its low point in 1983-84 (41 points, 25.6% point percentage). It took until 1985-86 for the team to match its 1977-78 point total of 59 points. Which still meant missing the playoffs by 19 points, but it was still progress. The final season of the drought, 1986-87, was the Devils’ best season in franchise history at 29-45-6 for 64 points. Which was still a playoff miss, but, again, a sign of improvement.

The improvement was not enough. McNab stepped down from being a GM in September 1987. Lou was his replacement. Things would be very different - and immediately for the better. More than just an improved season and closing the gap towards a playoff position, the Devils finally did it when MacLean scored in overtime against Darren Pang (yes, him) and his Chicago Blackhawks in 1988.

Any Other Thoughts: The Devils were lost for a while before they became even good enough to qualify for a 16-team playoff in a 21-team league. That does provide some credence to the idea that a team has to suffer for a while before being good. Except the story of the Devils does not really follow that fully. The end of the Rockies had no bearing on how the Devils made the playoffs in 1988 beyond the team moving to New Jersey. While the team had some burgeoning talent acquired and some actual stability in the organization before 1987-88, it is telling the team improved by 18 points in just the one season. While they slipped out in 1988-89, they returned to that level for what would be a six-season run of postseason play ending in their first Stanley Cup. Which also did not have a ton of influence from those late 1980 teams. This kind of undercuts the idea that suffering before success is necessary. The nine-season drought was suffering, more suffering, some progress amid suffering, and then taking a big step forward. I do not think that is the intended idea. Or that it is something the Devils fans should want to go through amid their current drought.

OK, this is the longest summary I intend to write; I will try to be more brief with the other nine teams in this part. In alphabetical order, we begin with Anaheim.

The Anaheim Ducks

Also Known As: The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Playoff Misses and Proportion: 14 misses out of 28 total seasons; 50% missed.

Current Situation: Playoff drought of 4 seasons: 2018-19 to 2021-22. This is the longest drought in franchise history. Could it get worse before it gets better? Maybe.

A Related SBN Site: Anaheim Calling, who may have a thing or two to say about the early 2000s.

A Summary of a Notable Drought: Since the team’s current drought is part of a rebuild, one that is entering a new era under new GM Pat Verbeek, it is more interesting to look at one of their three-season droughts. Their first one was from their expansion season, which is just a result of a team figuring things out. The second one followed two out of three playoff appearances - and ended with a Cinderella run to the 2003 Finals. Let us look at that.

After getting into the postseason with 83 points in 1998-99 under Craig Hartsburg, the Ducks missed out with 83 points in 1999-2000. They missed out on the playoffs by just four points. A couple of breaks here and there and they would have been in. The team was around the middle of the league in terms of goals scored and goals allowed. The offense was then led by Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, with the goaltending led by Guy Hebert. The issue came in 2000-01. The offense dried up as Kariya and Selanne produced less than they did in the prior season (Selanne was traded to San Jose by the deadline); and the rest of the roster struggled to score as the team combined for just 188 goals - 27th most in the NHL in that season. Worse, Hebert struggled more and his backup Dominic Roussel was not better. While this opened the door for a young Jean-Sebastien Giguere to take over, this increase in GA and decrease in GF led to a lot more L’s for Anaheim. Hartsburg was fired mid-season for Guy Charron, who was not retained for 2001-02. Longtime coach and executive Bryan Murray took over behind the bench in 2001-02. The good news is that Giguere and the defense locked things down; Giguere posted a 92% save percentage in all situations as the team allowed just 198 goals. The bad news is that the offense was basically Paul Kariya, some contributions from Matt Cullen, Jeff Friesen, and Mike Leclerc, and that’s it. Even in the then-low-scoring NHL, finishing next to last in scoring with 175 goals would not yield a lot of wins. And so the Ducks won just 29 games under Murray. I think the expectation was to improve by more than 3 points.

The drought would end in the following season. Murray would be moved to the front office and act as GM, replacing Pierre Gauthier. Murray hired Mike Babcock for his first season as a NHL head coach. He swapped Friesen for Petr Sykora, who put up 34 goals for the Ducks in 2002-03. Steve Rucchin had a hot/rejuvenated season and put up 20 goals. A tandem of Giguere and Martin Gerber was even better than Giguere and Steve Shields. A 40-year old Adam Oates still had enough juice to assist on 36 goals. Babcock absolutely had the goods as a coach as Anaheim improved by 28 goals scored, still allowed few, and improved by nearly 30 points in the standings. They finished second in the Pacific Division and Giguere went from very good to nuclear hot in a playoff run to the Finals. Wherein they lost to the far more deserving and superior New Jersey Devils.

Any Other Thoughts: The Ducks’ short drought featured plenty of changes on and off the ice. It is notable that finding an exceptional goaltender in Giguere alone did not fix their issues. The lack of offense really held the team back even when Giguere and Shields or Giguere alone kept them in games. Contrast this with Colorado and New Jersey where the multiple changes upstairs and on the bench hurt. It is a credit to Murray for taking over as GM, getting a kind of replacement for Selanne so Kariya literally did not have to carry the offense, and taking a chance on a young head coach in Babcock, who got a lot out of that roster. Finding the right personnel and putting them in the right places is the goal of all of such changes. When it does not work out, then droughts can be extended.

The Arizona Coyotes

Also Known As: Winnipeg Jets (original), Phoenix Coyotes

Playoff Misses and Proportion: 22 misses out of 42 total seasons; 52.4% missed.

Current Situation: Playoff drought of 2 seasons: 2021 to 2021-22. Beating Nashville in the qualifying round in 2020 is why the drought is not much longer.

A Related SBN Site: Five for Howling, who knows a thing or two about teams achieving futility.

A Summary of a Notable Drought: Had the John Hynes-coached Predators beat Arizona in 2020 to qualify for the proper playoffs, then the Coyotes would be right behind Buffalo for the longest playoff drought in the NHL. The history of the franchise is not as strong as those advocates of the old Jets would suggest. While they may have been great in the WHA, the Jets were the definition of “mid” in the NHL. They never went beyond the second round of the playoffs and their best season in Winnipeg was a 96-point season in 1984-85 wherein they got swept by Edmonton in the second round. The Coyotes’ best season in 2009-10 was far better. Dave Tippett replaced Wayne Gretzky behind the bench for 2009-10, Ilya Bryzgalov was utterly fantastic in the net, and a collection of dudes were more than the sum of their parts. They won 50 games and earned 107 points for a franchise record. GM Don Maloney even got an award for it. Sure, they lost in the first round in a 7-game epic with Detroit. But it set the stage for two more strong seasons, including a division title in 2012 and a run to the Western Conference Finals. One I wish they won, but no one was stopping that Los Angeles team. Unfortunately.

I have to start with all of that before going into their seven-season drought. Unlike a lot of these droughts, Tippett was the head coach and Maloney was the GM for the majority of it. A lot of attention paid to Arizona in the last decade has been about their ownership issues and their arena concerns. One that came to a head last season as the team is going to hang out on Arizona State’s campus while trying to get a new building built. Perhaps because of all of these issues at the top of the organization and with where there were playing, management kept rolling with the head coach and GM responsible for their three most successful seasons - 2011-12 had 97 points, Winnipeg’s 84-85 had 96, stay mid Winnipeg - as they kept the team mostly cheap on the salary cap. Maloney was involved for four of them; 2013 to 2015-16. He was replaced by John Chayka, who oversaw things into 2020 until his infamous ousting. Tippett was the head coach for five seasons, 2013 to 2016-17, of the seven-season drought. He was replaced by Rick Tocchet, who was replaced after the shortened 2021 season.

The first two seasons of the drought were not so terrible as the team broke the 53% points percentage mark. The bottom fell out in 2014-15 and the team did not even reach 50% points until the 2018-19 season, which was Tocchet’s second. There was not a ton of consistency among the roster outside of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the ageless Shane Doan, as the Coyotes took chances on players, took bad contracts, and drafted not-so-successfully. Seriously, look at the drafts after 2009 and tell me which years have been good for Arizona since then. Maybe 2013 with Max Domi? Maybe 2016 with Keller and Chychrun? Their last two drafts maybe? Sure, not spending a lot on a bad team is good cap management but staying on the low end over and over limits any potential progress along with unexceptional drafts. And the progress Arizona made in 2018-19 and 2019-20 did not lead to any major steps taken forward. They bottomed out in 2021 and decided to rebuild, which is where they are now.

Again, this drought could have been a ten-season and counting run had it not been for just getting into the Return to Play tourney with 74 points in 70 games in 2019-20 and upsetting Nashville. It has been a tough time since 2012 for the Coyotes fans. Good luck to Bill Armstrong and Andre Tourginy for putting some pieces together.

Any Other Thoughts: Arizona is a great example of how ownership and even arena stability can have impacts downstream. Why spend to make a team better if you’re not sure about the rink or if the ones at the top can even spend a lot? It is also an example of how standing pat with a coach or a GM based on past success may not be the move as the team did not appreciably get better as Tippett and Maloney were retained. This is an organization that is badly screaming out for a bold direction to even get back to its “mid” status. The seven-season drought is what you may get without one.

The Boston Bruins

Playoff Misses and Proportion: 20 misses out of 97 total seasons; 20.6% missed.

Current Situation: Six straight playoff appearances with a peak of making the Finals in 2019.

A Related SBN Site: Stanley Cup of Chowder, who has not seen a rebuild or a long run of failure - and hopes Don Sweeney will ensure that.

A Summary of a Notable Drought: The Devils under Lou were often seen as a team that did not rebuild, but reloaded. I would like to think Lou picked up that lesson from Boston and Montreal. Sure, both Boston and Monteal had the advantage of playing a lot of seasons in leagues where only the very worst missed it. However, if Boston missed the playoffs, it was never more than two seasons outside of their one excessive playoff drought. Which was way back in the late 1950s and 1960s. Here is a fun fact: Boston has missed the playoffs just seven times since their eight-season playoff drought. Talk about a team that constantly reloads.

The eight-season playoff drought was particularly rough, though. After two straight Finals losses and a seven-game loss to Toronto in the 1959 playoffs, head coach Milt Schmidt and general manager Lynn Patrick must have thought the next season would go well. It did not. They went 28-34-8 and finished three points behind Detroit to miss the playoffs. The 1960-61 season went even worse and would begin a run of pain for the organization. They went 15-42-13 in 1960-61 and would go on to win no more than 21 games until the fated 1967-68 season. Schmidt was fired after the 1960-61 season, replaced by former Rangers coach Phil Watson, and then Schmidt came back to replace Watson during the 1962-63 season. Patrick would remain as GM until 1965 and was replaced by Hap Emms. That lasted until 1967 as Schmidt, who was still the head coach under Emms, took over as GM in 1967. Schmidt hired a then unknown and eventual Boston legend Harry Sinden to take over as head coach. Which did not yield immediate success, but it would soon.

Without a draft (it started in 1963) or free agency in some or all of those days, it really fell to management and ownership to ice a competitive team. I do not know what happened with Boston in this decade, but the team was short on talent. Sure, the teams back then featured forward John Buyck, defenseman Leo Boivin, (eventually) goaltender Eddie Johnston, goaltender Gerry Cheevers, and eventually a kid named Bobby Orr. But the team was definitely short on talent to continually finish fifth or sixth out of six teams.

The turnaround came in 1967-68 as a result of a bunch of changes working out. First, the NHL expanded and so Boston did not need to spend most of their 70-game seasons getting wrecked by Montreal, Chicago, or Toronto. Having six expansion teams to face meant an easier schedule and an opportunity for more results. (Although letting Bernie Parent go in the expansion draft may have blown up a bit in Boston’s face.) Second, Bobby Orr turned out to be a special player. Despite only playing 46 games that season, he won the Norris, was named to the NHL All-Star First Team (the first of eight straight honors), and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting in 1968. He was just 19 then too. Third, Cheevers ultimately took over for Johnston and posted a better season than he did in 1966-67. Fourth, a prospect named Derek Sanderson emerged to have his first full season in 1967-68. He put up 49 points and won the Calder over Jacques Lemaire. A lot of positives in Boston’s way.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, Schmidt swung one of the biggest trades in Boston Bruins history. The 1966-67 team included a young center named Pit Martin, who led the team with 20 goals that season; a young defenseman named Gilles Marotte; and a minor league goalie named Jack Morris. Chicago, for some reason, wanted these players and decided to take those three in exchange for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield. Esposito alone made it a winning deal for Boston. He immediately became Boston’s top scorer, a superstar in the 1970s, and emerged one of the greatest scorers in NHL history. The other two players were no scrubs. Hodge and Stanfield were consistent producers, adding quality to an offense that was leaning just too much on an aging Buyck. Stanfield was a consistent 20-25 goal guy for Boston and finished his six season with 409 points in 448 games. Hodge was even more prolific with three seasons of at least 43 goals, two seasons above 100 points, two NHL All-Star First Team honors, and 674 points in 652 games. I cannot stress enough how good these players were for Boston as they led the charge up front to take a team that won 17 games in 1966-67 and have them win 37 in the following season. They would make the playoffs, get swept by Montreal, and then continue to make the playoffs in every season until 1996-97.

Any Other Thoughts: While the NHL is very, very different today from what it was in the 1960s, the big lesson that I took away was how valuable some bold moves can be for a franchise’s fortune. As an outsider looking back at history, it seemed to me that the Bruins felt things would work itself out as the team just stunk throughout the 1960s. Sure, the B’s benefited from a better season from Cheevers and an Expansion Six to pick on, but that trade with Chicago was absolutely massive. One could have argued against the B’s giving up on a young Martin and Marotte. Schmidt, for all of his faults, recognized the value Chicago was offering and won big. Sometimes, that is what is needed to get out of a rut.

By the way, the draft did become a thing in this drought, but it was still a new thing and Boston only found one future NHLer in their first four drafts. That one player was the Ken Dryden, who didn’t even play for Boston. The B’s didn’t get any value from their drafting until the 1966 draft, which really came into form after their turnaround season. Even then, it took a while before they (and the NHL) figured it out.

The Buffalo Sabres

Playoff Misses and Proportion: 22 misses out of 51 total seasons; 43.1% missed.

Current Situation: Playoff drought of 11 seasons: 2021 to 2021-22. This is not only the longest drought in Buffalo franchise history, but the longest drought in NHL history. And it is still ongoing. It could very well continue.

A Related SBN Site: Die by the Blade, who knows a lot about pain. And coincidentally is now asking if they have enough to end this drought.

A Summary of a Notable Drought: For most of their franchise history, even from their expansion roots, the Sabres were generally in the mix. Like Boston, they may have not been contenders. They may have benefitted from a playoff system that took more than half of the league at times. But they were never truly awful. They never missed the playoffs for more than three seasons straight - until this current drought.

This drought is special in that it encompasses everything you would expect and more in a long run of futility. Coaching instability? Check, as the team is on their seventh coach since it all began in 2011-12. The low point was Ted Nolan’s return to the league with the infamous 2014-15 season, although Ralph Krueger’s 2021 came close to that. Management changes? The drought began under what would be the end of Darcy Regier era and has since gone through Tim Murray, Jason Botterill, and Kevyn Adams, who is the current GM. Ownership problems? There is something called that Matt Morris at The Hockey Writers recently penned called the “Curse of the Pegulas.” Coincidentally (or not?), the Sabres’ playoff drought began when Terry and Kim Pegula bought the team. They have been involved from the beginning and not in a constructive way. Bad drafts? Look, the Sabres have found NHL players but hardly the kind you would expect where they did get drafted. Outside of Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Eichel, Jack Quinn (for now), Dylan Cozens (for now), Owen Power (for now) and maybe Sam Reinhart, Buffalo’s drafting history is not a pretty sight and it more than caught up to them. Bad decisions at spending? That can be its own series from the infamous Ville Leino contract to the infamous Kyle Okposo contract to Buffalo’s infamous 2018-19 team where they spent $76.6 million for a team that earned 76 points in the standings and missed the playoffs by 22 points to Jeff Skinner’s $72 million extension. Bad transactions? The Jack Eichel trade is part of its own paragraph. The Ryan O’Reilly one did not go so well either. It’s got it all.

It even had more. The Sabres nakedly tanked the 2014-15 season and all involved knew it. Even fans were booing the Sabres for winning a game that season at times. The prize was Connor McDavid; second place was Jack Eichel, who would go to the non-lottery winner with the worst record. (Note: This led to changes to the NHL Draft Lottery.) Buffalo got Eichel. Was the easiest to work with? Not necessarily, but he had the talent to make dealing with him more than worth it. Buffalo tried to build the team around him, make him happy, failed miserably, and everything went so awry that he was traded to Las Vegas after disagreements on how his neck surgery would be done. Eichel is legitimately a great player and someone to build a franchise around. Buffalo got him and still botched it beyond anyone’s expectations.

The team is still rebuilding from that rebuild and it remains to be seen how much time the Pegulas will give to Adams and Don Granato for improvements. After all, the team has not even come close to the 2011-12 team that finished at 39-32-11 for 89 points and a point percentage of 54.3%. The first season of this 11-season-and-counting drought. Goodness, what a mess.

Any Other Thoughts: A bunch of lessons can be learned here. Buffalo is an ongoing example that selling out a team for a stud is not the cure-all it could be. It is proof that success in an organization does come from the top and even if the owner does nothing or knows nothing, they have the power to ruin it from the top too. It is representative of how failing at the draft, free agency, and internally can just cripple a team’s possibilities for success. When will it end? I cannot possibly tell you. Not likely in 2022-23 short of the stars aligning and a miracle or two.

This is also the saddest point of this whole series. I do not know a lot of Buffalo fans personally, but I had the pleasure of one Buffalo-based fan explain what the culture is like up there. It is a city and fanbase that takes a lot of pride in the team being competitive. Whether it is the Bills or Sabres or whomever, they just want to see a competitive team put in a good effort. They do not expect championships, although that would be nice. They just want a team that will go out there, work hard, and get some results. I was reminded of that in writing up this part of the post. The Sabres, for much of their franchise history, has done that. Even if they were never contenders or never aimed to go for it all in the past, they have done right by these modest expectations. Then the Pegulas came and everything changed, ultimately for the worst. I feel bad for Sabres fans.

My biggest takeaway is that despite the malaise the Devils are in and my increasing cynicism about Our Favorite Team not progressing, the Buffalo Sabres are living proof that it can always be worse. A team can always find ways to fail, falter, and foul it up. The result is the longest playoff drought in NHL history and arguably the worst run of any active NHL franchise.

Your Take So Far

While this is the first part, there are some major takeaways. Ownership issues can absolutely impact the team on the ice and how they perform. It may be indirect in terms of how much or how little they invest in the team. It may be direct in ordering management to make certain moves. But it does play a big role. It happened to the Rockies before their move to New Jersey; it is happening to Arizona although that may be a little more stabilized; and it is a cause of Buffalo’s ongoing woes. Sometimes, a long playoff drought is a result of not making big moves and sticking with the status quo, which contributed to Boston’s old drought and Arizona’s longest. And as much as goaltending can kneecap a team, so can a lack of offense as it happened to the Anaheim drought I highlighted - which can be more than just a general level of talent or lackthereof (see the rest of this group, even the pre-Lou Devils). Bad drafting, bad decisions with players and contracts, and other such drops just add to the pain.

There will be more to come and many more different situations. The next part will be all about Calgary, Chicago, Carolina, Colorado, and Columbus. Learn which team has never missed the playoffs for just one season in history. Learn which team has been more successful than you may think, especially recently. Learn about another team who got a MVP-caliber season and didn’t even make the playoffs, but did after acquiring another important player. Learn about a squad that had a playoff drought as long as the Devils’ longest drought. Which teams are those and what those stories are will be covered in Part 2.

In the meantime, what have you learned from this look back at the playoff droughts for the Devils, Ducks, Coyotes, Bruins, and Sabres? What did you takeaway about those various situations in terms of how they got there and how they did (or did not) get out of them? Did I miss any important details about each of these team’s droughts that have significantly contributed to their struggle or how it ended? If so, what were they? Are you looking forward enough to Part 2 that it could be coming sooner than you think? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about these playoff droughts in the comments.