This evening the Buffalo Sabres host the Boston Bruins in what will be the fifteenth game of a forty-eight game season. With the season nearly a third complete, they find themselves tied for not the division, not the six seed, not the eight-seed, but for dead last in the Eastern Conference. I have watched the “L”s string along on the schedule I keep on the wall at work, next to schedules of other teams with their own impressive collections of losses. We’ve all grown accustomed to the Sabres being a fairly “streaky” team with no shortage of peaks and valleys throughout the seasons, of a team that will run out to commanding division lead only to go .500 the rest of the way and get bounced in the first round (09-10), or a team that will piss all over themselves like a bro after his first night out in Canada for four months and then become the hottest team in the league on the valiant run to eighth place (10-12). They are four points away from eighth at the moment, could conceivably find themselves there by the time I return to the office on Monday. But they won't, and that's why I'm here.
I don’t apologize often, for what I’d like to think are two reasons. The first is that in recent history, the words coming from my mouth that I regret the most have been apologies, apologies that were not warranted or deserved, even in abstract form. The second is related and offered with a grain of salt- I just believe I’m wrong less often than other people. Many fields demand that from those they employ, mine is no different.
So it is with gritted teeth but sincere repentance that I apologize for ever believing that this team, with these players, with this coach could ever put together a shortened season that could be described as anything other than a soul-sucking death march to the draft. We’ve spent many words here at the deeg eviscerating Ralph for not firing Jauron when it was called for, not firing Gailey when it was called for. I called him a “villain from a Dickens novel” and published it right after he had fired the coach I was ripping on him for not firing.
The eeriness of the similarities is becoming disconcerting and I wonder if Ted Black follows Buffalo’s other hapless franchise enough to see those similarities, or if he is too busy digging through his thesaurus for new ways to explain “Terry’s” dedication to winning a Stanley Cup. We all love a good orator; myself probably more than most, and we cannot deny- especially in light of the last occupant of the owner’s box- that money talks. Throwing godfather offers at Richards and Doan, upgrading the arena, putting up the Harbor Center if for no other reason than we don’t have to watch Carl Paladino erect some lifeless structure only a 1970’s East German architect could love, mean something. But “something” is as far as I’m willing to go anymore.
Ted Black has emerged as Russ Brandon 2.0, with a wardrobe upgrade and a new fan interaction feature. The talk remains about the brand, about how dedicated the owner is, how they communicate daily, how passionate he is to win and how distraught they are about the losses. Now I fully believe that Brandon is shoveling shit while Black is being at least more sincere, but the similarities of listening to these two men offer red herrings and parlor tricks to a disgruntled and desperate fan base is insulting. I’ll enjoy the Harbor Center as much as anyone, but Pegula can take the flaming tap water from “Gasland” and turn it into the fucking Bridal Veil Falls if it means there’s a parade down Delaware. I won’t fault this owner for not dealing with the Buffalo media given their current bullpen of hacks and has-beens, but that silence, pious as it may be, has a consequence to the fan base and that consequence is assumptions.
I think Lindy’s been a great player, a great ambassador of this region, has proven that he can be a great X’s and O’s guy as well as a locker room voice during his tenure. The fact that that has grown stale may not be entirely his fault; it may be the steady progression of time, of the game changing before the man. Most of the greatest coaches across all sports have been fired, some at the pinnacle of their success. The reason is not an indictment of their ability, but an indictment of the status quo. Over the past several years this team has had nearly a complete turnover in their roster and a full turnover in ownership. The fan base has grown on little more than attention and optimism while the product on the ice continues to falter. Ted Black’s last employer was a franchise that nearly moved to Kansas City before their savior came in to save the day. The Penguins were playing for and hoisting cups before the fan-base began to ask themselves “now what?” For whatever reason, that grace period has expired here.
Ted Black said to WGR on Wednesday that he read the blogs; well, he said “message boards,” but since this isn’t 2003, I’m going to assume he meant blogs. Banishment from blogger summits aside, it would be smart for him to read this:
We are not the whiner line callers, we are not the “Miller for Kane” crowd, but we’re not a fan club either- we are a fan base. We’re fans who formed the season ticket waiting list you are so quick to cite, the fans who bought more than a million dollars of merchandise over a week last month and consistently produce some of the best local TV ratings in the league for games. We buy nine dollar beers and four dollar peanuts because most of us watched our parents and grandparents do it and have soaked up enough knowledge and passion when it comes to this team that we could go toe-to-toe with your boss, whose knowledge and passion you constantly assert. We’re not proposing silly concepts like fan approval of the general manager, free jerseys or any other gimmicks. You have this fan base and I believe you when you say you are aware how lucky the team is to have that fan base.
The earliest job-related note in your profile on the Sabres website is from 1999, two years after the current coach was hired. The third year of your boss’ “three year plan” is quickly approaching and despite a level of talent to a man indisputably higher than it was when you were brought here, this team shows no hope of putting it together. You are right when you say change should not be made because of change’s sake. It should be made because a franchise has not won a playoff series in six seasons, with only one division title and a seven-seed to show for the effort.
It should be made because that “silent majority” you alluded to this week doesn’t exist, unless you are referring to fans who don’t attend or watch the games, who don’t follow this franchise to the level of the fans who comprise those attendance, sales and ratings figures the PR office is so quick to email out. It should be done because to not do so will prove your rhetoric as empty and meaningless as the shit pushed our way every year from the other local franchise, the one that can now be described as nothing more than irrelevant.