There was hope, optimism and excitement for the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres when they entered the league back in 1970.
51 years later, it’s impossible to call these franchises anything but cursed.
No two teams that have yet to win a Stanley Cup have a longer drought than both the Canucks and Sabres. Not only will either team fail to win a Cup in their 51st season, but there’s a decent chance that neither of them even make the playoffs.
Both teams have been two of the worst teams in hockey over the past five years, with both franchises failing to build around legitimate star players.
That shouldn’t be a surprise though, since Vancouver and Buffalo have fumbled away their chances of success multiple times over the last half-century.
Playoff series records
- Buffalo Sabres: 21-29
- Vancouver Canucks: 17-28
It’s silly to believe that these franchises are cursed… until you look at the overwhelming evidence.
So, are these franchises incompetent, or are they cursed? You decide by checking out this timeline of unfortunate events.
Canucks cursed before even playing a game
The Vancouver Canucks were the first of the two franchises to suffer the curse. They thought they won the initial draft lottery, and the chance to draft Gilbert Perreault.
Vancouver would have won if the wheel landed on an even number. When the wheel stopped spinning, NHL President Clarence Campbell announced that the wheel landed on 12, and that the Canucks won the draft lottery.
As everyone at the Canucks table jumped for joy, Sabres general manager Punch Imlach pointed out that the wheel had actually stopped on 11.
He was right, and the Sabres would go onto win the draft lottery. To rub it in, Perreault wore the number 11 throughout his NHL career.
No Canucks luck in the 1970s
The Canucks were also put in the East Division, along with Buffalo, to begin their NHL existence. Chicago was bumped to the West, leaving the Canucks stuck in a division with Montreal, Boston, Toronto, New York, and Detroit.
There were 18 teams in the league by the time the 1974-75 season rolled around. Because of the new additions, new divisions were formed and it automatically favoured the Canucks. They would win their division and get a first-round playoff bye, skipping the preliminary round.
Who would they ultimately face in their first playoff appearance? The mighty Montreal Canadiens, who dismantled the Canucks in five games.
Buffalo’s Cup jinx and “batty” luck
Thanks to the French Connection line of Perreault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert, the Sabres weren’t as sad as the Canucks in the ’70s. During the same year that the Canucks made their first playoff appearance, the Sabres made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
There’s a chance they were doomed before the series ended.
A popular song was created by Sabres fans during that postseason run called “We’re gonna win the Cup…”
They lost in six games to Philadelphia and never got back there during the Perreault era.
Then, during Game 3 of the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals, in a cloud of dense fog, Sabres centre Jim Lorentz spotted a bat flying through the arena, and he swatted it out of the air with his stick. Fans cheered it at the time, but it was considered a “bad omen” once the Sabres lost the series.
Sabres’ curse of Taro
Another oddity that adds to the Sabres cursed lore is the selection of Taro Tsujimoto in the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft… a player who didn’t exist.
This was done as a protest to the slow drafting process via telephone in the ’70s.
During that same year, the Sabres made it to their first Cup Final, lost, and haven’t won the Cup since. Was the imaginary Taro part of the Sabres curse?
Most cursed franchise of the 1970s: Despite some weird and wacky Sabres lore, there’s no doubt that the Canucks were hampered by bad draft lottery luck and terrible division alignment. At least the Sabres were able to enjoy some moderate success, led by Gilbert Perreault.
Not even Scotty Bowman could help Buffalo
The legendary Scotty Bowman became Buffalo’s head coach during the 1979-80 season. While the team continued to win, the roster aged and the team failed to rebuild.
They had regular-season success, but didn’t win a playoff series from 1983 up until 1993.
Of Bowman’s coaching stops in St. Louis, Montreal, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Detroit, Buffalo remains the only of those teams that the six-time Stanley Cup winner failed to bring to the Final.
McCarthy misses Canucks’ miracle run
The Canucks did win their first ever playoff series in the 1980s, on a magical 1982 run where they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. However, the team still wasn’t immune to some bad luck.
Defenceman Kevin McCarthy was the Canucks best offensive weapon on the back-end during the 1981-82 regular season. After sitting out the final game of the regular season, McCarthy decided to attend an optional skate the following day. He got into a wrestling match with teammate Curt Fraser on the ice, broke his ankle, and missed the entirety of the playoffs.
The curse of Cam Neely
If there was one moment that defined the terrible Canucks teams of the 1980s, it was the trade of Maple Ridge native Cam Neely in 1986.
Neely never surpassed 40 points in three seasons with the Canucks, but he hit another gear in Boston, scoring 344 goals in 525 career games.
Barry Pederson, the player the Canucks acquired in return, had two good seasons. However, he was already regressing after two major shoulder surgeries before the age of 25. Neely is now in the Hall of Fame, and the draft pick Boston also acquired in the trade turned into Glenn Wesley, who played 1457 NHL games in his career.
Otto kicked it in…
The Canucks did start to turn their fortunes around in the late 80s, with a thrilling series against the Flames in 1989. However, Stan Smyl missed on a breakaway in Game 7, and Joel Otto “scored” a goal that was maybe, perhaps, possibly kicked in.
Most cursed franchise of the 1980s: This one easily goes to the Canucks. The Sabres were at least good or middling. The Canucks shot themselves in the foot, and even ended the decade with a sour taste in their mouths thanks to Joel Otto.
Two superstars, but no playoff success for Buffalo
Buffalo had two of the league’s best players in the ’90s in Alex Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine.
They were at their peak in 1992-93. Lafontaine’s 148 points were second in the league to Mario Lemieux. Mogilny was ninth with 127 points.
The Lafontaine, Mogilny-led Sabres won their first playoff series in 10 years against the Boston Bruins in 1993. However, they were swept in the second round by the Canadiens after losing four one-goal games, and three in overtime.
By the time the 1995 offseason rolled around, Mogilny was traded to the Canucks because the Sabres wanted to spend their money re-signing Lafontaine and Dominik Hasek.
Lafontaine would go onto have one more good season in Buffalo before running into concussion problems. Because of that, the Sabres failed to find success despite having two of the NHL’s best players in the ’90s.
Lafayette hits the post
Say the name Nathan Lafayette, and any Canucks fan over the age of 35 will grimace in pain.
With the Canucks down one goal in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, Lafayette snuck into the slot and beat Rangers goaltender Mike Richter cleanly, only to ring his shot off the post.
The Canucks failed to score for the rest of the game and the New York Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
The worst captain in Canucks history
The Canucks cursed nature might be defined by their actions in 1997.
Three years after the 1994 Final, the Canucks signed former Rangers captain Mark Messier, and former Rangers head coach Mike Keenan.
Trevor Linden resigned his captaincy, was later traded, and the Canucks would absolutely suck for the three years that Messier was in Vancouver.
Buffalo suffers heartbreak in triple overtime
Despite losing Mogilny and Lafontaine, the gritty Sabres still made the Stanley Cup Final in 1999.
Playing against an equally gritty and defensive Dallas Stars team, they were eventually beaten by the “infamous” Brett Hutt triple-overtime winner.
Hull’s foot was in the crease, which was thought to be a black-and-white rule at the time. Still, the goal counted.
The Sabres haven’t made it back to the Final since.
On top of that, Hasek would leave Buffalo in the early 2000s, only to go on and win the Stanley Cup immediately after with Detroit.
Most cursed franchise of the 1990s: This one is the toughest to figure out, but the edge has to go to the Canucks. Only the most cursed team would sign the captain of the team that defeated them in the Final, and proceed to suck.
Three cursed blows to the West Coast Express era
The Canucks began a rise back to relevance in the early 2000s, but three events cursed the franchise for the rest of the decade.
In 2002, the Canucks were up 2-0 in a series against the powerhouse Red Wings in the Western Conference quarter-finals. They went back to Vancouver brimming with confidence until this Nicklas Lidstrom scored on Dan Cloutier from centre ice late in the second period of Game 3.
Vancouver failed to win a game the rest of the series.
The following year, the Canucks would win their lone series of the West Coast Express era, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the St. Louis Blues in the first round.
They ended up with a 3-1 series lead in the second round before Todd Bertuzzi reportedly told a Wild fan “not to buy tickets to Game 6.”
The Wild would storm back to win the series.
Of course, that wasn’t the only infamous moment for Bertuzzi in a Canucks uniform. His knockout, blindside punch of Steve Moore effectively signalled the end of the West Coast Era (even though they played in one season post-lockout together).
Buffalo’s dynasty suffers back-to-back upsets
Through their first 40 years of existence, even though both the Sabres and Canucks made the Stanley Cup Final twice, the Sabres had a longer run of sustained success.
Their last realistic shot at the Cup came immediately after the 2004-05 lockout.
The Sabres were one of the best teams in the league in 2005-06, but multiple injuries, including a key one to leading defenceman Jay McKee in the Eastern Conference Final against the Hurricanes, led to Buffalo starting a back-end full of rookies in Game 7. Buffalo lost that series and the Hurricanes would go on to beat the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
Buffalo was arguably even better the next year, winning their first Presidents’ Trophy with a 113-point season. They made it back to the Conference Final where they faced the Ottawa Senators, a team they smoked 4-1 the previous year’s playoffs.
However, a completely healthy Sabres team choked against a lesser Ottawa squad. This time, the Senators beat the Sabres in five games to make it to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.
Buffalo hasn’t made it to the Cup Final since.
Most cursed franchise of the 2000s: Buffalo gets the slight edge in this decade. They watched their star goaltender go win a Stanley Cup elsewhere, before they lost in consecutive years in the Conference Finals to lesser teams.
If that’s not the sign of a cursed franchise, I don’t know what is…
2010s and present-day
Canucks cursed by injuries and heartbreak
The late 2000s and early 2010s represented the best stretch in Canucks history.
Of course, because it’s Vancouver, it ended in heartbreak.
Boston was the better team in the 2011 Cup Final, but injuries ravaged the Canucks. That’s something that you can blame on the hockey gods and their curse over Vancouver.
Manny Malhotra was having a Selke-worthy season in 2011, but an errant puck hit him in the eye, forcing him to miss most of the playoffs.
Dan Hamhuis decided to unleash a hip check on Milan Lucic in Game 1 of the Final, which injured himself on the play.
Hamhuis never returned to the series.
Finally, an awkward hit from Johnny Boychuk broke Mason Raymond’s back, knocking him out of the Final as well.
Despite the 2011 heartbreak, the Canucks were once again a powerhouse in 2012. They won their second straight Presidents’ Trophy, but a key injury would prematurely doom the Canucks.
Duncan Keith delivered a dirty elbow to Daniel Sedin’s head towards the end of the regular season, knocking him out of the line-up. By the time he returned, the Canucks were in a 3-0 series hole to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. They won Game 4, but bowed out in overtime of Game 5.
That was basically the end of an era for Sedin-led Canucks.
Tortorella’s worst year ever
The Canucks’ firing of Alain Vigneault and hiring of John Tortorella was another nail in the Sedin-era coffin. Tortorella has found success in Tampa Bay, New York, and Columbus as a head coach, but he was a disaster in Vancouver. That was highlighted by his ferocious attempt at taking out Bob Hartley against the Flames in 2014.
Not only would Tortorella go on to find success in Columbus, but assistant coach Mike Sullivan would lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to two Stanley Cups shortly thereafter.
Lack of success in the Benning era
Under general manager Jim Benning, a member of the Bruins management team that beat the Canucks in 2011, Vancouver has made the playoffs twice in seven seasons.
While there was some draft success in the form of Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Elias Pettersson, Benning has failed to build around them.
Maybe the Canucks shouldn’t hire or sign people from organizations who have destroyed the hearts of fans in the past?
Sabres epitomize failure in the 2010s
No NHL team has been more incompetent or cursed than the Sabres over the past decade.
The 2010s started for Terry and Kim Pegula buying the Sabres with the promise of building a Stanley Cup winner. However, Buffalo is further away from a Cup than they’ve ever been before.
Buffalo made the playoffs in 2010-11, but they were defeated in seven games by the Philadelphia Flyers. Former Sabres forward Daniel Briere had six goals in seven games to knock his former team out of the playoffs.
Buffalo hasn’t made it to the playoffs since. They currently have the longest playoff drought in the NHL.
Armed with a new owner with deep pockets, the Sabres went on a spending frenzy in the summer of 2011. They signed former Canucks defenceman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year deal, $40 million deal and Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal. Both players were bought out three years into their contracts.
After three years outside of the playoffs, the 2014-15 season would only get worse. Buffalo got into the ultimate tank battle with the Arizona Coyotes, and “won,” finishing with the worst record in hockey.
Despite winning the tank battle, they lost the draft lottery to the Edmonton Oilers.
They did draft Jack Eichel, which is good. However, just like the Canucks, Buffalo has failed to build around their star centre. Over the last decade, they finished last in the division five times, and only the Edmonton Oilers had fewer points.
Most cursed franchise of the 2010s to present day: Despite the Canucks’ terrible heartbreak and brutal stretch of play over the latter half of the 2010s, this one has to go to Buffalo and their decade-long streak of futility.
The most cursed franchise in NHL history is…
Despite the Sabres suffering through heartbreak, bad decisions, unlucky injuries, and wacky scenarios, they have had more sustained success than the Canucks.
But don’t let recency bias fool you. The Canucks have been the most cursed franchise in NHL history. It’s just an eerie coincidence that their expansion cousins in Buffalo are a close second.