Almost 50 years ago, a spin of the wheel earned the Buffalo Sabres the right to draft Gilbert Perreault first overall. Acquiring the transcendent talent was a seminal moment for the expansion franchise.
Rick Martin and Rene Robert soon joined Perreault to form the French Connection. The franchise's first decade brought elation and heartbreak, including the 1975 Stanley Cup Final. The 1980s were mostly first-round playoff losses and the 1990s were an emotional ride for fans with the move to what is now called KeyBank Center. "No Goal" prevented the Sabres from hoisting their first Cup in 1999.
Daniel Briere and Chris Drury brought better days after bankruptcy. Each successful team in Sabres history is beloved for different reasons. They also won for different reasons.
So, which team deserves to be crowned the best? You settle the debate with the Sabres Stanley Cup playoffs: a 16-team bracket of the best in franchise history. You vote on each first-round winner – this is which team you think is more talented; it's not a popularity contest – and we will write about the results. We'll then have you vote on the second round, conference finals and the championship.
The two conferences will be called Darling and Jeanneret, in reference to the Sabres' legendary broadcasters.
Here are the first-round matchups on the Darling side of the bracket: 1974-75 vs. 2000-01, 1979-80 vs. 2009-10, 2005-06 vs. 1983-84 and 1998-99 vs. 1977-78.
And here are the first-round matchups in the Jeanneret Conference: 1975-76 vs. 1992-93, 1997-98 vs. 1980-81, 1976-77 vs. 2006-07, 1996-97 vs. 1989-90.
Voting for first-round games is open and will close at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The quarterfinals will begin Wednesday morning and voting will close at 2 p.m. May 8. The semifinals start May 9 and end at 2 p.m. May 12. The finals will be May 13-15 and the winner will be announced May 17.
You likely will see a matchup where the two teams have one or more of the same players, but use your imagination. Who would have the advantage in goal? Is there an advantage on special teams? How would one team's speed compare to the other?
Here are the eight individual game polls that will require your vote:
Led by eight players with at least 25 goals, the 1974-75 Sabres tied for the NHL's best regular-season record before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The 2000-01 team finished second in the Northeast Division with a 46-30-6 record and lost in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on a Game 7 overtime goal by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis.
Danny Gare's league-leading 56 goals in 1979-80 helped the Sabres earn the NHL's Prince of Wales Trophy, which was awarded to the team with the best record in the Prince of Wales Conference. Perreault then scored a team-best 21 points in a playoff run that ended with an Eastern Conference final loss to the New York Islanders, who went on to win their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups.
Backed by Ryan Miller's first Vezina Trophy season, the Sabres won the Northeast Division in 2009-10 with 100 points, the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, and were upset in six games in the first round by the Boston Bruins following an injury to leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek in Game 2.
The 2005-06 season was the beginning of what could have been a dynasty in Buffalo. The Sabres suffered only eight regulation losses over their final 50 regular-season games to earn the franchise's first 100-point season in 23 years and they reached the conference finals, where injuries on the blue line led to a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
A post-French Connection roster in 1983-84, led by Perreault and with rookie Tom Barrasso in goal, finished one point behind the Bruins for first place in the Adams Division. The Sabres were swept by the Quebec Nordiques in a first-round playoff series.
Dominik Hasek's Vezina Trophy-winning performance and Miroslav Satan's 40 goals helped the Sabres secure the Eastern Conference's seventh seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1998-99. Buffalo then marched through the playoffs, eliminating the Senators, Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs en route to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1975. The Sabres then lost Game 6 to the Dallas Stars on the infamous controversial overtime goal by Brett Hull, a game now referred to as "No Goal."
In 1977-78, the Sabres had six 25-goal scorers, including a team-high 41 by Perreault, and won a best-of-three first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers before falling in the second round to the Philadelphia Flyers, four games to one.
Perreault's 39 goals in 1975-76 led the NHL's second-highest scoring offense to a second-place finish in the Adams Division and the Sabres were eliminated from the playoffs by the New York Islanders in six games of a second-round series.
Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny combined for 129 goals and 275 points during a 38-win regular season in 1992-93. The Sabres swept the Bruins in the first round before encountering the same fate in the second round at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, a series in which LaFontaine and Mogilny suffered injuries.
Donald Audette scored a team-high 24 regular-season goals and Hasek won the Vezina Trophy for the 1997-98 Sabres, who became the first team in NHL history to complete a sweep of the Canadiens in Montreal. Buffalo was eliminated by the Washington Capitals with an overtime goal by Joe Juneau in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.
The 1980-81 Sabres won the Adams Division despite an injury limiting Perreault to only 56 regular-season games. Gare scored a team-high 46 goals and Tony McKegney added 37, but Buffalo lost in the second round to eventual conference champion Minnesota North Stars.
The Sabres were swept in a second-round playoff series by the New York Islanders in 1976-77, following a regular season in which Perreault's 39 goals led Buffalo to a second-place finish in the Adams Division.
Briere and Drury led the franchise to its first Presidents Trophy in 2006-07 before the Sabres went on to lose to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference final.
Hasek won the Hart Memorial Trophy and Vezina Trophy following a 1996-97 regular season in which he won 37 games and posted a .930 save percentage. The Sabres defeated the Senators in the first round of the playoffs on an overtime goal by Derek Plante. Buffalo lost in the second round to the Flyers.
The 1989-90 Sabres did not win a playoff series following a 45-win regular season, but the roster included Mogilny, Audette, Dave Andreychuk, Pierre Turgeon, Phil Housley, Christian Ruuttu, Rick Vaive, Mike Foligno and Mike Ramsey, among others.