The Buffalo Sabres are a professional ice hockey team based in Buffalo, New York. They are members of the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL).
The Sabres, along with the Vancouver Canucks, joined the NHL in the 1970-71 season.
Their first owners were Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox, scions of a family long prominent in Western New York. Buffalo had long been a hotbed for hockey. The Buffalo Bisons had been one of the pillars of the American Hockey League (AHL), winning the Calder Cup in their final season.
Wanting a different name other than "bison" that was so common among Buffalo sports teams, the Knoxes immediately commissioned a name-the-team contest. The winning choice, "Sabres", was chosen because Seymour Knox felt a sabre was a weapon carried by a leader. He also noted that a sabre is swift and strong on offense as well as defense.
The Knoxes had tried twice before to get an NHL team, first when the NHL expanded in 1967, and then unsuccessfully attempting to buy the Oakland Seals with the intent of moving them to Buffalo. At the time of their creation, the Sabres exercised their option to create their own AHL farm team, the Cincinnati Swords.
The Sabres, playing their first of many seasons at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, got off to a good start before they even hit the ice when they, despite being disputed by the Vancouver Canucks, and by spinning a roulette wheel, won the NHL draft lottery, and picked future Hockey Hall of Fame center Gilbert Perreault first overall in the 1970 NHL Amateur Draft.
Perreault was available to the Sabres, as this was the first year that the Montreal Canadiens did not have a priority right to draft Quebecois junior players. Perreault scored 38 goals in his rookie season of 1970/71, at the time a record for most goals scored by a rookie in the NHL, and was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Despite Perreault's star play, the Sabres did not make the playoffs.
In the team's second season, 1971/72, rookie Richard Martin, drafted fifth overall by Buffalo in 1971, and Rene Robert, acquired in a late-season trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins, joined Perreault and would become one of the league's top forward lines in the 1970s. Martin broke Perreault's record at once with 44 rookie goals. They were nicknamed "The French Connection" after the movie of the same name and in homage to their French-Canadian roots.
The Sabres made the playoffs for the first time in 1972/73, just the team's third year in the league, but lost in the quarterfinals in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. Game 6 at the Aud ended with the fans serenading their team in a chant of "Thank you Sabres! Thank you Sabres!", a moment many consider to be the greatest in team history.
After lengthy, and failed, negotiations with their star goaltender, the Sabres traded Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2001. Without Hasek and Peca, the Sabres missed the 2002 playoffs.
In the summer of 2002, John Rigas and his sons were arrested for bank, wire, and securities fraud for embezzling more than $2 billion from Adelphia (Rigas eventually was convicted and presently is appealing a sentence of 15 years in prison). The league took control of the team, though the Rigas family remained owners on paper.
The affair came as something of an embarrassment to the NHL. Only five years earlier, it had tightened its standards for vetting prospective owners after seeing John Spano buy the New York Islanders only to discover he had grossly inflated his net worth and committed massive bank and wire fraud.
For a while, there were no interested buyers. Attendance sagged, and it looked like the Sabres would either move or fold. The leading candidate was Mark Hamister, a local businessman who owned the Arena Football League's Buffalo Destroyers. Hamister was the personal choice of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
However, over time it became obvious that Hamister's financial assets were highly suspect and that his bid was heavily dependent upon government financing. It also became known that Hamister had won an expansion af2 team in Dayton, Ohio and got numerous concessions from local government, but moved them to Cincinnati before they had ever played their first game in Dayton. He was also considering moving the Destroyers (and as it turned out, did to Columbus, Ohio).
Under pressure from fans concerned that Hamister might move the Sabres, state officials scuttled a critical incentive package, effectively killing his bid.
Another group who showed interest in the Sabres was headed by Sherry Bassin, co-owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters, and included Alain Maislin, a Montreal trucking magnate, and Frank DuRoss, owner of the Rochester Raging Rhinos USL soccer team.
Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan was a friend of Bassin, and there was speculation that he would be rehired as Sabres coach if Bassin assumed ownership. However, this partnership dissolved without ever making a formal offer to the NHL.