EDIT: So if you're reading this you already know. The season's been boarded up. The doors, the locker rooms, everything. We're staying in the Comfort Inn, room 112. I love you.
Or, alternatively you can read what I wrote before the news Eichel will be out 4-6 weeks (say 8 to be safe) because really, truly, it changes little about the enthusiasm or really what your expectations should be.
In every article, book, quote, post I’ve ever read about writing, the one piece of advice that is nearly universal is this: keep writing. Write every day, write something. For many years I did; I wrote in college classrooms during lectures, wrote during work hours in Vermont and Buffalo, wrote at home with the sound of a game in the background. If I wasn’t working on some story (which, from age 12-26 I almost always was), I was working on papers, about the death penalty, the Dred Scott decision, Vatican II, the influence of the frontier on early American Literature (gleamed almost entirely from SparkNotes), or the impact personality had on the Good Friday Agreement.
Point is I can tell you that when it comes to getting words to flow onto the paper/screen, nothing can replace the simple act of beginning to write. You can think about your post while in the car, search your tweets for a coherent #narrative, smoke a blunt and watch a Ken Burns series; nothing is going to help as much as sucking it up, closing the door and starting to type shit out until it clicks.
I say this because for the last few months I’ve had absolutely NO idea what I wanted to say about the upcoming Sabres season. There’s no longer a goal that’s bigger than the game; with the first year of development behind Eichel and Reinhart, and the first year of playing together behind nearly everyone, the shift as gone from “let’s just hope they’re fun and we see improvement” to “okay well now let’s try to make the playoffs.”
The fact that this takes some getting used to is by itself a testament to how shitty the past three seasons have been. The fact I can barely remember what it’s like to be a fan of a team that had expectations and potential makes me want to open my window and scream “what the fuck have we been doing!?”
Then I watch Jack Eichel (EDIT: in 4-8 weeks), Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly and I’m like, “oh yeah.”
Anyways, there are many previews across the Sabres interwebs that will go in-depth with you on line selections, player production, schedule impact (seriously though, only NINE Friday night games?!) and coaching to get you up to speed for tomorrow. I know, because that’s the stuff I read to just refresh my memory on last season despite watching nearly every game.
Luckily, there have been a bevy of other previews out there from both print sites and independent sites using a litany of formulas to best forecast how the league’s 30 teams are going to shake out come April. So I’m going to try to put this as gently as I possibly can.
The analytics people have gone too far. I say this as a friend to those who immerse themselves in both the analysis of others and those who crunch their own numbers as part of just a hobby on the side. You have helped turn meathead coaches into an endangered species in baseball and now, compounded with spectacular and hilarious failures like Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey, have managed to amplify the failures of dinosaurs such as Torts. It wasn’t long ago I was driving to work in Buffalo and I heard Paul Hamilton dismiss someone’s argument because “I don’t need numbers I haven’t my eyes.” It wasn’t nearly as long ago as it feels that Ted Nolan was spitting out corporate powerpoint gobbledygook like “grit” and “compete” to justify stiffs like Mike Weber and John Scott. I am saying this as a appreciative friend.
During the summer I listened to a podcast series on the French Revolution; it’s one of those topics that despite a long appreciation for history and a history minor, I never cared to give even a shallow dive to. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend the series, though it’s not as good for the gym as say, the Washington Post’s Presidential podcast series.
The Revolution did not start out as many do, with intentions of throwing off the yoke of the ruler in charge. It started off with benevolent intentions to eliminate the long-ingrained class system, obtain greater economic and representative equality and even maintain the Monarchy. But for reasons we need not get into here (seriously, the podcast series has like 56 episodes), things quickly got out of control. The Bastille gets stormed, folks march on the Palace of Versailles, a bunch of Swiss Guards are butchered, the Royal Family flees, fails and eventually of course loses their heads. The Jacobins, the radical leftists who had professed to be driven by reason, by equality and fairness now control the power structure, they declare a Republic.
But then a funny thing happened. They got so caught up in reason, equality and fairness that they started indiscriminately trying and executing anyone they perceived as not sufficiently devoted to the purity of these ideals. The leader of this faction, Robespierre, then starts turning on his allies like a paranoid, bloodthirsty psycho and those who weren’t smart enough to flee the country soon find themselves on the guillotine as well. The Revolution eats itself and creates a void for Napoleon, but that part is inapplicable here.
The more dogmatic proponents of the analytics revolution have become so convinced of the infallibility of the almighty number that any criticism of the very methodology used to reach their conclusions is dismissed as ignorant or homerism. They’ve become power hungry chefs throwing together a metric shit-ton of incompatible ingredients because they’ve become so convinced of their own genius that they believe any result will be worthy of praise. They come up with their conclusion and believe its soundness to the point that they simply write their justifications around that figure instead of objectively taking a second to decide if that figure makes a damn bit of sense. It’s like your Excel spreadsheet formula claiming you expensed 3.8 billion dollars last month, then you handing it to your boss and simply saying “gas must be going up.”
Their devotion to the almighty figure has led them to turn against their own supporters and in certain cases even fellow analytics enthusiasts. They’ve begun demanding a level of devotion, a level of formulaic purity that many people can’t or won’t provide simply since I don’t know- they’re reasonable folks who enjoy watching the sport. To reach a conclusion that the Sabres will finish 30th based on overvaluing the years the team was purposely trying to be awful while undervaluing development and roster turnover, then brushing it off with either 1) a lame disclaimer (titled “weaknesses” so you feel like a real mathematician) or 2) writing yourself in circles to justify that they really will be that bad is obtuse, and disingenuous.
Stick to telling me that Ristolainen sucks, or get busy eating yourselves like the Jacobins. By the end of this, @IneffectiveMath will be the proverbial Robespierre, waiting for the guillotine while trying to keep his jaw connected to his face.
A More Conventional Preview (EDIT: LOL)
Then again, people were picking the Sabres to win the cup six years ago.
Then again, Sports Illustrated had the Sabres 28th eleven years ago, before they spent two seasons skating other teams out of the building.
This is all conjecture. But believing your team will finish higher than others do isn’t exactly homerism when you’ve watch every game, every year and consume the stats with some nuance and understanding about development and the men who dragged this team down for years on and off the ice- which was the whole damn point to begin with.
So let’s see, why should the Sabres be expected to be better this year?
Well, the goalie isn’t skating around on one leg anymore. He’s also dropped considerable weight and looked great in preseason action. He looks quicker moving laterally which is a thing when you consider Chad Johnson’s pace last year. By the way, it recently came to light that Johnson LOVES Papa John’s pizza which is the greatest tragedy from his time here. How did no one teach him there were other ways? Anyways, Nilsson has also looked good.
Kyle Okposo is here although it’s entirely possible his knee exploded from an errant shot during practice so I mean, we’ll see. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of Stamkos being anywhere near my hockey team, so I was just hoping he wouldn’t land a couple hours up the QEW. There’s reasonable (chemistry, age) and unreasonable (Tampa is trash and no one who spends years there can survive in the rest of society) justification for this but point is, Okposo was both who I felt was the most logical choice and the best fit. If his knee didn’t actually explode it’s pretty hard to see his impact hurting them- as in it’s impossible.
Jack Eichel is still not old enough to drink but he’s going to be taking dozens of shots from the slot on the power play which will go down smoother than fireball. He’s very good and we need to stop getting antagonized every time some troll ends up on your timeline when McDavid does something neat. Our guy does neat stuff too, it happens. Also I hope Matthews is a bust because Toronto fans are only good at wearing neutral jerseys at Bills games and ruining weekend traffic in Amherst.
EDIT: Obviously the team's best player being gone for four weeks (best case) or two months (worst case) is bad, and not fun. First, the Sabres social media team has to figure out a whole new slew of hashtags (RIP #AppleJack) and pictures to use, but that's actually the only good thing about this. Second, we should all exhale after we automatically assumed the worst, that the season would be over. Seriously, I have never, ever seen my timeline so distraught, upset, and genuinely freaking the fuck out before. We had folks who seemed giddy to point out their tanking arguments like an injury to a 19-year old kid is 1) something to boost an argument 2) something that is influenced by the team, fans and city he plays for and 3) a season ender. All three of these were points made right after he went down. Frankly it was repulsive, and if the tank was a moral thing for you, you have fucked up morals anyways.
Also, players get hurt. Crosby is hockey's version of the Eggshell Skull rule, Stamkos snapped a leg on the post once, McDavid missed half his rookie season in a way that would have caused Buffalo to burn down. TBN columnists are probably just WISHING this injury had happened last fall so they could reinvent the POWER TAKE. As it stands now I'm sure they're going to get as much milage out of it as they can.
Finally, and most importantly. If losing your best player for 1/5 of the season is what keeps you from ending up where you want to be- your team probably weren't ready to make the leap anyways. If Eichel spraining his ankle decimates your enthusiasm gap, maybe you aren't enthusiastic enough of a fan anyways. If you won't tune in, then don't bother when he comes back. You deserve your fake jersey and all the ire that comes along with it.
Okay, back to our regularly scheduled preview:
Sam Reinhart- also good at things! Like playing the tip game. I’m still not entirely sure why he was left off of Team North America but whatever, he looks rested, fantastic and sure to be remembered consistently throughout the season by just about everyone except the Sabres twitter account. Please don’t get hurt or have any roommate issues with Jack. #HeLikesHockey
Ryan O’Reilly is good and I hope he gets every Buffalo Masterson vote forever after last season’s pearl clutching. Legal PSA- if no one can actually place someone at the scene of the crime maybe don’t press charges because you’ll end up looking pretty stupid during a 30 minute bench trial. His beard is outstanding, he shows up in all the right places and my girlfriend has a ridiculous crush on him which is inapplicable to how he is on the ice but warrants mentioning.
So the defense isn’t good, but it’s at least improved, as it couldn’t help but being after noted nice guy and shitty hockey player Mike Weber got shipped to Washington to sabotage their season. I was in Pittsburgh for a work conference and watched that overtime at the hotel bar with a couple Pens fans- I didn’t know it was Weber until I discreetly checked my phone and was overcome with joy. New Weber (Franson) may be bad at times but he will never engender the disgust that Old Weber did. Pour one out for Old Weber.
If it seems like I’ve forgotten someone, that’s intentional. Evander Kane is going to be unavoidable because he’s unfortunately kind of a piece of shit but pretty good at hockey. I’m going to feel gross when he scores and excoriate him incessantly with every stupid penalty or backchecking miscue. I support the team’s decision to not suspend him (not that he doesn’t deserve it but the precedence it sets for those who truly find themselves in a mess not of their own doing e.g. McCoy) but wish the trade market for him wasn’t non-existent. I hope he’s exposed at the expansion draft if he can’t be traded and we can forget about him forever. That’s it.
The rest is the equivalent of the “other 54 games” in the baseball quip about each team winning 54, losing 54, and making the other 54 count. Gionta’s old which is likely irreversible. Can Ennis be what he was before the tank and a concussion appeared to suck the life out of him (and if not is he worth anything on the trade market)? Can Moulson put last year behind him because it might be fun to join in on the scoring once in a while? What about Fasching and Larsson? Has Girgensons topped out? Will we finally see an end to #MooseMondays?
(Btw please read Chris’s piece at Two in the Box for the Sabres social media drinking game. I wish I had something like this in college)
I think we might be on the cusp of a complete realignment similar to what was seen in 2006. Despite Bettman’s entrenchment and NBCSN’s desire to maintain a programing schedule revolving around the Blackhawks, Bruins, Flyers, Pens and Red Wings for eternity I feel the bell might be about to toll. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be a matter of which team will make the jump but that a slew of them will. Just because they have a neat Twitter account and Aaron Ekblad doesn’t mean the Panthers are going to become the darlings you think they will any more than a division title got their fans to show up.
A Few Other Thoughts
No, this probably isn’t the year the Capitals finally make it out of the second round.
Boston is going to sink to the bottom of the sea like an elderly man into a nice warm bath.
The Pens title was the final majestic groan from a team that has reached their life expectancy.
The Rangers? Ottawa? New Jersey? Philadelphia? Detroit? Lol.
Toronto can get to fifth place if everything goes right and then they get lucky. Neither of those will happen.
Buffalo only needs a couple things to go right to make the playoffs. I predict that’ll happen because we’ve watched this team and it just makes sense. It’s reasonable, it’s time, and it should be a lot of fun.
Then we’ll draw the Lightning and my face will melt off. Here We Go Now.