Since Thursday night - a night I spent at church, mostly, only to catch the inevitable Sabres collapse on a radio feed as I headed home - I've been struggling with how to approach my own inevitable cathartic mess of a season wrap-up post here at the Deeg. As optimistic as I have been about this team and the imagined universe of possibilities for them if they could just find a way into the postseason, what we ended up with was a whimper of a death rattle. A mere glimmer of hope at the end of a season that cannot be called anything other than abject failure, leaving us all feeling even worse than we did before.
After all the emotion I've given this team, the last thing I want to do is get all fucking weepy about them (so what if I've been known to cry over sports?!?!), since they've all but established they simply aren't worth the effort. In the end, I just don't want to feel feelings for a while. Good thing I came prepared.
But first, some parting words.
When I was a kid, The Neverending Story was one of my favorite movies. There was a palpable sense of infinite possibility at the end when Bastian realizes his own impact on the story and when we viewers realize the true meaning of the film's title. Despite being kept in the pages of a finite collection of pages, bound between two covers, the story could continue and change and live on beyond that which was originally written. Nothing was ever complete. Nothing totally final. And even if Jonathan Brandis (R.I.P.) did have to ruin the franchise with his "I'm a pussy who's afraid of heights" sequel, the feeling of endlessness still remains at the end of the first installment.
We're not fucking done yet.
I'm not entirely sure that this half-baked metaphor is even the most appropriate. Sure, my inclination away from strong emotions may bear some resemblance to "The Nothing" that Atreyu was trying to stop in the movie - implying I may be on a track towards self-oblivion in sport-consumption - but I'm really only interested in the movie's theme of continuation and fluid possibility. That theme is really the only place we can find hope after a season like this, and even if that hope is foolhardy and admittedly lacking in any real basis in reality, what else do we have?
What then of the Sabres next steps? Do we blow up the core - finally letting the perennial underachievers like Roy, Stafford and Vanek (gasp!) - float out to sea, or do we restructure management first and allow new guys to reevaluate and reform the roster as they see fit? Both? Neither?
Listening to Paul Hamilton this morning on WGR (I know, I know... He's a noob. Deal with it. Dude's got access to the room while I've got access to internet porn, craft beer and a thesaurus, so he wins), it's apparent that the problems with the franchise are way more multi-faceted than many of us really knew (though, many suspected and feared things like it). Hearing him talk about how the players are getting tired of Lindy, how Lindy doesn't want a "strong Captain" in the room who might pose a challenge to his authority, and how neither Lindy nor Darcy are likely to be fired, it's difficult to avoid getting too depressed at the likely (at least short-term) outcomes of the continuation of this Sabres story. Trading Derek Roy (whose locker clean out day comments certainly hinted he wouldn't oppose such an idea), for instance, doesn't fix these problems, even if it is a step in the right direction. Little tweaks to the roster or to the organizational philosophy - the kinds that we got last summer and this year at the deadline - are all well and good, but they seem more and more like the proverbial drop in the bucket rather than the kind of thing that steers the team to a championship.
As stupid as it seems, I like this team. I like the players, with only a few exceptions, and I want them to succeed. I also like the coach and want him to succeed. But, more than that, I - along with all Sabres fans - want the franchise to succeed and finally give something discernible to the City of Buffalo. After all, the story of the Sabres isn't just a story of a hockey team, it's a story of a City and its pride. And it certainly doesn't exist in a vacuum, separate and apart from the history of industrial collapse and poor urban planning, of failed budgets and underachieving schools. Not to mention the failures of other sports franchises in the area. The story of the Sabres is wound tightly within the bigger story of Buffalo itself, where dated politics lay entrenched, guarding against fresh calls for progress and innovation. Where print media desperately clings to its credibility and market share while bloggers and readers alike put their sights on revolutionizing the landscape of our community of shared thought. As an expat, I'm sure I'm overstating this a bit, but it seems that the story of Buffalo is lately one of potential schisms within previously tight-knit communities, and the story of the Sabres - overlaid onto that greater story - is the one many turn to for a possible moment of shared achievement and celebration. A moment where we don't have to feel so fractured and at odds with each other, if only for a short while.
For now, all we can hope for, I suppose, is that the team's owner - our very own (supposed) hero who bought his way into a place where he can influence this storyline in very real ways - can see the big picture and realize that an FA signing or two, a traded underachieving forward or two, may not be enough to actually put this franchise on a path towards its stated goal. Though, as expected, here comes that sadness... Because, as much as I want to believe that Pegula has the stones to make the hard choices and take up the mantle as savior of Sabreland, a big part of me suspects he may still be the fan-boy reading the Sabres' story passively, not realizing that the characters - fans, players, coaches and management alike - are calling out for him to step in and make a huge change, no matter whose heads have to roll. Sure, whatever those choices end up being, some will gripe, some will be left on the outside looking in, but everyone is desperate for them all the same.
In the meantime, distant from Pegula's throne of actual influence, I'll just hang here with a little bit of hope, a lot of craft beer, and an inclination to give up caring so much about this team for a few months. Let them figure it out themselves while I watch my Mets and Red Bulls and Blitzers tear through the summer months in sports that somehow don't make me feel quite so miserable as Sabres hockey.
Ugh. Let's Go Buffalo.