The Sabres and Hurricanes are playing historically bad hockey, lapping the field in the race for Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
The before: my summer conversation with Buffalo Sabres right winger Chris Stewart.
“You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly. There’s nothing we can do now. We can worry about the future. I hear everybody talking about tanking for Connor McDavid. That’s not in my DNA, personally.”
The after: my conversation with Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers after Tuesday’s humiliating loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It didn’t go our way because we didn’t work. That was an embarrassing effort, top to bottom, from our group, including myself. We hung out our goalie (Michal Neuvirth). He battled as much as he could, and we didn’t give him any help.
“Something’s got to change. This is probably the worst we’ve had it.”
It’s not like optimism in Buffalo was sky-high entering 2014-15, but there was a glimmer of hope the team would improve. General manager Tim Murray brought back Matt Moulson and added a cadre of veterans, including Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros. Maybe, just maybe, the Sabres would trudge their way up the basement stairs.
But, goodness, Tuesday in Toronto was a sight to behold. The Sabres’ 10 shots set a 44-year franchise low. They’ve been shut out four times in six games and are on pace to double the record for the most donuted team in one NHL campaign. They average 1.1 goals per game. After posting an NHL-worst 41.0 Corsi Close percentage last season, they sit at 36.6 percent after 10 contests.
The Sabres are so spectacularly awful that they made a highly mediocre Toronto team look like the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night. They’ve all but locked up a 20 percent chance at Connor McDavid – higher if the Isles manage to slip out of the playoff picture.
If Buffalo is the champion of bad teams, however, there’s a challenger. In the other corner, we have the Carolina Hurricanes, proud owners of 0.0 victories in eight attempts this season. The Canes have been chomped by the injury bug, having lost Eric and Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner, but goaltending has been their biggest bugaboo. The Canes rank 28th in Corsi Close, but a league-worst 86.0 save percentage has really sunk them. They already have a minus-18 goal differential.
We picked Buffalo for the bottom of the Atlantic in our pre-season predictions, and we had Carolina last in the Metropolitan. This is another horrible hockey club. In Carolina’s case, the goaltending should correct itself, but defense is a problem. The Hurricanes have struggled for years and years and years to field a competitive blueline. After Justin Faulk, they rely on three defensemen the Leafs of all teams deemed unworthy: Tim Gleason, John-Michael Liles and Jay Harrison.
With each passing game, it looks more and more like Buffalo and Carolina belong in their own tier. They’re lucky the NHL doesn’t have relegation. They look like they’d have a devil of a time against a top American League or Kontinental League squad at the moment. Especially if Carolina trades Eric Staal, these could be the worst two teams coexisting since 1992-93. Remember when the expansion Ottawa Senators and sophomore San Jose Sharks combined for 21 wins? In 168 games (on an 84-game schedule)?
Consensus No. 1 and No. 2 picks Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, or Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid, should start scouting out places to live in Buffalo and Carolina. It’s a virtual guarantee at least one of them ends up on one of these two teams, and there’s an decent chance each pitiful team lands one.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin