By Budd Bailey

I knew if I looked hard enough, I’d find something for the Sabres to brag about. And I did.

They were at the best in the NHL at avoiding penalty minutes.

The Sabres checked in at 6.1 penalty minutes per game – 157 penalties (tied for the league low) for 342 minutes in the 56-game schedule. Chicago was second in this category at 6.6 PIM per game, just behind the New York Islanders (6.6), New Jersey (6.7) and Toronto (7.0). Tampa Bay finished as the most penalized team in the NHL at 10.7 minutes per game.

How does that compare with previous Sabre teams in recent years? We can find out:

Team – Year (Rank)
2020-21 – 6.1 (31st)
2019-20 – 6.9 (27th)
2018-19 – 7.0 (29th)
2017-18 – 8.2 (20th)
2016-17 – 9.0 (18th)
2015-16 – 9.1 (21st)
2014-15 – 10.4 (8th)
2013-14 – 11.0 (12th)
2012-13 – 13.1 (5th)
2011-12 – 11.0 (16th)
2010-11 – 11.7 (17th)

It’s not a straight line downward, but it’s rather close. That’s reflective of the direction of the entire league. Buffalo’s average from 2013-14 would have led the league a mere seven years later. Back then it was only 12th.

How good is 6.1 minutes per game? Let’s compare it to recent league lows in PIM, going back all the way to the summer of 2000:

Team – Year – Number
Carolina – 2016-17 – 5.8
Buffalo – 2020-21 – 6.1
Toronto – 2018-19 – 6.1
Columbus – 2018-19 – 6.2
Carolina – 2017-18 – 6.2
Arizona – 2019-20 – 6.5
Columbus – 2019-20 – 6.5
Chicago – 2020-21 – 6.6
N.Y. Islanders – 2020-21 – 6.6
Minnesota – 2015-16 – 6.6

The 2008-09 season had only one team that averaged under 10 penalty minutes a game, the Carolina Hurricanes (9.8). For comparison’s sake, the Sabres led the league in penalty minutes per game in 1995-96 at 26.8. They really were the toughest team in hockey.

Let’s look at the league’s best at avoiding penalties in 10-year intervals:

Team – Year – Number
Buffalo – 2020-21 – 6.1
Florida – 2010-11 – 8.7
Nashville – 2000-01 – 11.5
Montreal – 1990-91 – 17.8
Winnipeg – 1980-81 – 14.9
Los Angeles – 1970-71 – 9.9
N.Y. Rangers – 1960-61 – 8.4
Detroit – 1950-51 – 8.1
Boston – 1940-41 – 5.1

I think I see a trend there. Let’s find the top ten in most penalty minutes per game since 2013:

Team – Year – Number
Philadelphia – 2013-14 – 14.4
St. Louis – 2013-14 – 14.2
Pittsburgh – 2014-15 – 13.7
Vancouver – 2013-14 – 13.6
Ottawa – 2013-14 – 13.3
Winnipeg – 2014-15 – 13.0
Montreal – 2013-14 – 13.0
Toronto – 2013-14 – 12.7
Anaheim – 2015-16 – 12.5
N.Y. Islanders – 2013-14 – 12.4

A few new teams will crack this top 10 each year as we go back deeper into the history books. I think the point has been made.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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