You're not my real dad dammit.
As for our local teams, up until about 9:15 this morning, what could really be said? Our Bills weekly previews and reviews capture this season's varying degrees of optimism and hopelessness, especially now that we just got clocked with the 2x4 of reality watching the Pittsburgh game. The best Sabres forward of the past fifteen years got traded and the team has embarked on a journey that many fan bases have endured but virtually no one who has ever watched this team has had to witness: the laughingstock year. The year of catching shit from every friend or coworker who roots for other teams or generally enjoys the despair of others; the season of watching them in numb resignation, too indifferent to yell at the television, not because the team didn't look terrible but because you knew that they simply couldn't do any better. They're a cast of guys who may be perfectly likable and able to contribute to the right team (except Stafford, fuck him), but to watch them skate around for two and a half hours chasing their own tail just simply wasn't a good use of our time.
The constant theme to make us want to tear our hair out- those of you with any considerable remaining scraps anyways- was the decision-making of the coach regarding lines, scratches and ice time, really the only things that a coach does that are pretty easy and straightforward. A coach watches the players and puts the best ones on the ice, with the most offensively skilled players matching up with others of their like. It's literally the only thing that someone playing NHL '14 can do as well as a real coach. And somehow, someway, this team managed to place a man in this position who could not even be passable at this task. These are not mistakes - as Doug Marrone, for instance, freely admits to making when they appear - it was a failure of philosophy; a flaw in Ron Rolston's hockey DNA that poisoned the entire franchise in a matter of months and has at the very least set back the development of young talent and possibly derailed it permanently. It's easy to not care about who wears the "C" when they're in the rightfully earned position for their skill set. It is much harder to ignore when that same player is being double shifted in the third period of a game you're being outshot by thirty.
So where did this get us, or me more specifically? I was offered tickets to last night's game and had not even the slightest bit of interest because there was a UB FOOTBALL game on television. Tickets were hovering in the low teens and I didn't even consider heading down to the FNC to take in the carnage. The overhead of attending a game (traffic, new security measures, parking, a late bedtime on a weeknight) had become too much to see what has been my favorite local team since well before I was a teenager. I've spent thirty bucks on weeknights just to yell at Patrick Lalime about how much he sucks, but I could no longer be bothered. A 3-7 Bills team appeared light years ahead of their NHL counterpart and it wasn't close. Any optimism for the future, be it trades, draft picks or free agents could be dismissed simply by mentioning those who were in charge of acquiring talent and developing talent. I am confident in saying there has not been as dark a time regarding the cumulative future of our professional teams, and while the Bills have had bright spots in the midst of an objectively dismal record, what did we have to look forward to regarding the hockey team? The jersey retirement of a guy who hasn't played for them in a dozen years? The failure of the young kids to ultimately develop and trigger the long overdue firing of Rolston some three years down the road? The hope that maybe the third time the seemingly immovable General Manager failed at rebuilding a team from the ground up, it would be his curtain call?
Over six years removed from their last playoff series victory that distant hope for the future was too far off for many, including myself.
In hindsight it is remarkably peculiar that THAT detail was the one that got leaked out first, the creation of a new position. Given the slow leaks that followed, progressively revealing that yes, this is as "major" as anything that's happened to the team since they were bought, I must wonder if they are savvier at this communications thing that I had been giving them credit for. Also, sure, it might have been with less than fifteen minutes to spare and practically impossible to not notice given the people in (and to a greater extent, NOT in) the building, but hey, it was local guys who broke the true scope of what was happening today. Being a critic of anything can only be respected when credit is given where due and it was a couple of folks at our one newspaper and largest sports radio station that got shit done today, so a golf clap for them.
There are two quotes that come to mind at the close of Darcy's 16-year reign. "Our long national nightmare is over" from President Ford following Nixon's resignation, and "a sad end to a sorry episode" from MLB Commissioner Giamanti upon the banishment of Pete Rose from baseball. Except nothing about today was sad, perhaps outside of those who aren't satisfied unless they have something to be dissatsifed about. The mantra for the past several years, both pre- and post-Pegula, has been that nothing about this team will change unless and until the General Manager is canned. The paper trail of evidence that can be levied against him from his tenure could extend to the farthest reaches of the Solar System. Everyone knows the three or four trades that worked out because they're the only transactions that can be cited to refute the litany of horrors that have fallen upon this franchise during his reign. There is nothing to criticize regarding Regier's departure and I think it says something that, with a such a fractured fanbase regarding everything else, there is unanimity regarding his departure and what it means for the franchise. When he was hired I had a full head of hair, had never kissed a girl or sipped a drop of alcohol and was still three years away from having a computer at home. I turn thirty in May. There is nothing to lament regarding this man's departure, he has made a fortune on a yearly basis that few of us will every accumulate in our lifetimes, and done it through the slow destruction of our favorite hockey team and subsequent building it up to the cusp of mediocrity before destroying it and trying again once more.
The end of this sorry episode is not sad, it is joyous.
Are Lafontaine and to a lesser degree Nolan the right people for their jobs? There is little we can do but wait and see, but what we can be sure of is that this is not simply a paycheck, a 9-to-5 for either of them. The greatest weakness about these hirings, their ties to the team, is also the greatest asset. The owner has faced criticism for running his team too much like a fan, and to some degrees this is warranted. But it is unavoidable if we want all the good that comes with it, the alumni nights, the French Connection statue, the arena district revitilazation. If you want the pride you have to accept the fact that passion may occasionally blur your vision. This is the second full season with current ownership at the helm and after years of complaints about a guy who ran his team like a business, I can accept that ownership took too long to see that the foundation of the franchise was busted.
Regarding specific complaints I've seen about today's hirings, they seem to hinge on arguments that can be proven fallacies on their face. First, there are those that criticize Lafontaine for inexperience, because as we know, all success in the league comes from rotating the same seven guys from team to team for the last hundred years. The second argument regarding this hire seems to be that stupid fans and Bucky Gleason wanted it, and if this is your argument, good for you, you strawman spinning contrarian jerkoff. You must be a hit at parties. (To the fanbase's credit, most seem to respect, understand and are at least hopeful regarding this move. For the most part those whose opinion's I respect are quite reasonable about this.)
I'm not going to hate on a Jack Adams winner who got blackballed by the league coming back to coach an offensively anemic team on an interim basis. For some of you, that's your thing today but I can't. I don't need a guy to bring this team to the playoffs - that guy doesn't exist. I'd just like a guy who makes the young players believe in their future in a Sabres uniform and maybe make the veterans believe that what may be the darkest hour of their career is also an opportunity. Oh and a guy that doesn't bench Grigorenko for an entire third period after he scored two goals the previous game.
When the only thing to fear is the unknown, I say full steam ahead. It beats the fuck out of where we've already been. Today was a very good day for the future of this organization more because of who isn't involved at this moment than who is. Enjoy it, I implore you. The future of this organization may be starting later than we anticipated three years ago when a billionaire Sabres fan dropped $150 million on his alma mater, but this is the situation that "better late than never" was coined for. For the first time, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel isn't simply hopeless optimism but reasonable, even if reason and objectivity are parts of our psyche that atrophy when rooting for the teams we love, especially the ones with a Buffalo on the helmet or crest.
Now where can I procure tickets for Friday?