Thursday, March 11, 2021

After 50 years and no Cups, whose fans have had it worse: Sabres or Canucks?

One of my favorite movie characters is Count Rugen from The Princess Bride. He’s the creepy bad guy who’s trying to write the definitive work on the subject of pain. He’s fascinated by how much can be endured, and just how bad it can get. The sports fan side of me kind of gets where he’s coming from. Misery is interesting to me.

I’m also a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. These two facts may be related.

With three decades of Maple Leafs pain under my belt, I’m getting close to self-appointed expert status on the subject. But these days, there isn’t a ton of Leafs-related agony to be found. Toronto is leading the North division, and has a shot at the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history. They’ve been mostly… what’s the word for it? The one that’s the opposite of bad. It will come to me eventually, I’m a little rusty here.

But while my own team might be pain-deprived these days, at least temporarily, there’s still plenty to go around. And it’s possible that no two teams have experienced worse than the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres.

The two franchises are forever linked, expansion cousins who entered the league together in 1970 and have been experiencing the ups and downs of NHL existence ever since. Both have come agonizingly close to Stanley Cups without ever winning one. Both have seen stars come and go. They’ve both made some, uh, questionable fashion choices.

And right now, both teams are terrible. Despite the season opening with significant optimism in Vancouver and at least a little in Buffalo, both teams are already all but out of the playoff hunt. And last Friday, on what was for both franchises their 18,721st day of existence, the two teams that started together found themselves arriving in the exact same spot at the same moment: With a GM facing the media, offering answers and asking forgiveness for a season going down the drain.

Players are frustrated. Jobs are in jeopardy. Vultures are circling. And fans are miserable.

But which fan base is most miserable? And which one should be?

Like my pal Count Rugen, I had a deep and abiding interest in finding out. But I couldn’t do it on my own, because true NHL misery is the sort of thing you need to see up close to really understand. So I asked two of our beat writers, John Vogl of the Sabres and Thomas Drance of the Canucks, to help me understand. I came up with ten categories of NHL suffering, and asked Vogl and Drance to make the case that their fan base has it worst.

Remember, this is for posterity, so be honest. Sabres fans, Canucks fans… how do you feel?

Stanley Cup final scars

Let’s start with the big one. Both teams have had near-misses but no championships. Whose close call(s) hurt most?

Vogl’s case for the Sabres

It’s June 1999. With more than 20,000 fans gathered at the foot of City Hall, Lindy Ruff steps to the microphone with the final two words of the season.

“No goal!”

Those words still echo around town. Brett Hull put his skate in the crease and can’t show his face in Buffalo. His controversial triple-overtime goal in Game 6 ended the Cup final but merely started the misery. Sabres fans will forever believe they were cheated. Making it worse is Hull, Mike Modano and other Stars were so injured they might not have skated in a Game 7, giving Dominik Hasek and Company a real chance to celebrate.

Drance’s case for the Canucks

If you think Stanley Cup Final pain is your ally in a misery duel with Vancouver Canucks fans, you’re wrong. Canucks fans were born in the darkness.

Fun fact: no franchise in NHL history that hasn’t previously won a Stanley Cup has ever lost in the Stanley Cup Final more than twice. Except the Canucks.

Fun fact #2: No franchise in NHL history that hasn’t previously won a Stanley Cup has ever lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Except the Canucks. And the Canucks have done that twice. Twice!

Sean says: This one really comes down to what type of pain hurts worse. The Canucks have come closer to the Cup, getting within one win in both 1994 and 2011. But the Sabres have that single defining play that they can probably still see when they close their eyes at night. This one’s too close to call, and also I’m already sad. This may have been a bad idea.

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