It feels weird to even pay a shred of attention to the Buffalo Sabres - what with the apparent revival of football fever in Western New York - but I felt it necessary to weigh in on the topic of Buffalo professional ice hockey. The preseason has started and, even if it appears otherwise, the DGWU Crew has, in fact, noticed. And as happy as the Bills make me, we all know that it might be simply a matter of time before football stops being as much fun and our collective attention shifts to the bread and butter of the Buffalo sports scene.
What can I say, I still think these Bills are an 8-8 team, and these Sabres are much more. I hope.
If you've been paying attention to the summer goings-on of our Sabres, you know full well that there have been a LOT of changes. Blockbuster deals, at least by Buffalo standards; cosmetic refurbs of team facilities, including the de-slug-ifying of the newly named FN Center (a name which I HATE, btw...saved only by the easy joke it enables); an overhaul of team PR and use of media - both traditional, internet and social. There's been tons of new stuff for us to have discussed as the summer marched on. Though, as you may have noticed, while these things garnered attention throughout the Sabres blogosphere, we at DGWU have been largely silent on these subjects. Perhaps it's a cautious skepticism of the fancy bells and whistles that have come with a new billionaire owner; an uneasy feeling of hypocrisy that accompanies this new role as hockey club; or maybe just the discomfort with my hockey team being run with the profits of arguably horrific assaults on the environment. HYDROFRACKING IS AWFUL BUT MOST OF US ARE OK WITH PEGULA AND THIS IS WEIRD.
It's a confusing ass time, this is for sure.
Yet, as much as I may still battle with my own expectations for this season, preseason has shocked me back into focus to at least start hashing those expectations out here and weigh in with some potentially incoherent rambling. After the jump, check out the five questions kicking around in my muddled excuse for grey matter, and my baseless speculation on how things may end up playing out.
#1: Will the market-setting deals pay off on the ice?
For fans of this small-market, previously thrifty team, the elephant in the room - though, certainly an elephant who has been discussed, but not yet resolved - is whether this transition to "big spender" will blow up in our faces as has happened in other cities with big spending teams. After thriving off our snarky superiority over big spending clubs when they fail, Sabres fans (and to an extent, the franchise as well) must be aware that we may soon become what we've mocked and loathed: a cap-busting flop. Sure, we want Ehrhoff to play well, but what we really want is to avoid the buyers remorse and league-wide ridicule that would come with a sub-par first season from him. And, of course, we hope that Ville Leino scores 25 or so and settles into a role as the center of the second scoring line, but we also don't want WGR to have an excuse to dig into Pegula, Ted Black and Regier about the wisdom of spending big on relatively unproven players.
Those kinds of criticisms, if they follow poor play, will likely be deserved, but they'll also be a distraction. Honestly, is there anything that sucks the fun out of Sabres hockey more than WGR having a legitimate reason to bitch? As if they need one.
Of course, any one of the Sabres' big money signings could be a bust and the team still successful in spite of that, and that might soften the blow of a long term contract that proves dead weight. Yet, for all the criticism we, as a fan base, have lodged at awful deals in the league (see: DiPietro, Rick), it will be especially painful to have to watch Darcy dig himself out of one of these new contracts in a year or two.
This all said, I am optimistic for the personal success of Leino, Ehrhoff, Regehr and Myers (gotta throw him in... his deal is great, I think, but not without big risk), and the likelihood that they can collectively stave off any criticism of this team being a hot mess of overpriced parts.
#2: Will Ryan Miller play fewer than 65 games?
I'm sure the stats end up bearing this out, or maybe they don't, but I don't think anyone would begrudge giving Miller more nights off, so long as they don't automatically mean that we lose. Finally, in the diminutive frame of Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres have a netminder with the apparent ability to go out and win, as well as the apparent confidence of his head coach. With Enroth being the #2, particularly after the homestretch run he put together to put the Sabres into the playoffs, fans have every reason to expect that Miller will start around 60 games, and that he'll be better prepared for a long playoff run.
The big question is whether Lindy sticks with this ideal plan, or buckles under the pressure of a short stint of losses from the young Swedish goalie. Enroth has proven himself capable, so I hope that Lindy gives him a long enough leash for the kid to prove his worth to the team - both in terms of saving Miller and getting wins.
#3: Will Drew Stafford Regress?
So, contract signed, the question is whether Stafford will perform his side of the deal and give the team a level of production commiserate with the money he's now making. We saw greatness from Stafford over the course of last year, and with Derek Roy out, I think its fair to say that Drew was the most consistent Sabre on the team. Sure, TV Party carried the team on many, if not most, nights, but Stafford was a steady hand and producer on the ice. And those things matter.
Finally, you may remember that, at the start of last season, reports came out that Stafford had been working out with Zach Parise during the off-season, which I saw to be a positive sign of things to come from #21.We now know that his commitment to physical excellence has continued, thank God....
#4:Will the Sabres' strides in social media and web access continue?
I'm not sure this even merits a spot on the list, given the meager significance it has for some fans. Indeed, this is less of a team issue, for sure, and will certainly not matter a lick to how the team performs on the ice, but I think it could be a seminal issue for fans and how they consume the Sabres brand over the next year. I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised with the things the Sabres have done to interact with fans via social media and live chats and, more recently, invitations to the public season ticket deliveries last week. All signs point to the team getting social media and its utility for the franchise, though our sample size is largely limited to off-season events and not games. With the season starting and the issues for immediate discussion broadening towards actual results on the ice, I wonder how the team will either increase or scale back these kind of live chat initiatives.
I don't have much of an opinion on how this will play out. Yet, for a City and a fan base starving for a greater swath of opinions and analysis than is currently produced by the tandem of WGR and TBN, I amconscious of my hope that the product of any team-blogger interactions is of high quality and does not amount to a lost opportunity.
#5: How long will it take for me to unleash hell on Derek Roy's Twitter feed?
That said, DEREK ROY IS HORRIBLE ON TWITTER. Some of you may find it endearing, or may casually find it amusing, but his fucking twitter feed is really less about giggles and more about face palms for me. I'm not sure if the dude is serious, but it seems pretty fucking likely that he is. Despite the many moments of sheer bewilderment at the stupidity of his tweets this summer, I have thus far refrained from lashing out at him. Again, I like the guy as a player and increasingly veteran presence on the team, but I wonder how long this exercise in self-restraint will last.
When my rage becomes too much, I'll probably lash out here, rather than directly to him on the tweet machine, and I highly doubt that any of you want to watch me self-destruct so very completely. What am I saying? YOU ALL WANT THAT. In any event, this will be tough for me. Sure, I've pissed on Tim Connolly and the clowns at WGR, but those are easy targets - I don't like any of those guys. Again, Derek Roy is our center, and I want to like him. I don't want to dish out a plate of "you're a small-minded midget who can't possibly comprehend how much of an ass bag you appear in your tweets." But, he's seriously pushing me to that place, and it's anyone's guess how long I can last before I open a bottle of whiskey and see what kind of drunken disaster I drop here.
Upside is that, when that day comes, it is going to be FUN.
So, wrapping up this post, it bears mentioning that, in the end, I'm absurdly pumped for this next journey of Sabres hockey to begin. Lots of questions to be answered, and the DGWU Crew will be breaking it down one poorly constructed post after the other. You know you're impressed.
Oh, and shit! The Sabres play tonight. Against the Leafs and Tim Connolly. HILARIOUS.
Let's Go Buffalo