Physicals were taken today at the First Niagara Center. Bodies were examined, measured, and worried over – for once, not to measure potential or promise, but just to make sure that the kids are OK and ready for their first days together at Sabres U.
In a weird sort of way, it was also to make sure that these kids are real. After the wasteland of The Suffering, the elite talents showed up to snowy Buffalo. They had their pulse taken, and there was a concurrence that they were alive, and were all here, willingly. Pictures were taken, so we have proof. You could see it in the smiles. There was no hint of regret in any of the new pickups that they were now snowbound in hapless Buffalo.
In a series of quick pressers, the youngsters exuded excitement. They were happy. There was confidence in each other, in what the future holds, for this team, for this town, and for its long suffering fans. Smiles all around.
It’s easy to smile now, unless you’re Tim Murray. He arrived here with a meaningful scowl on his face, but this shrewd personality and insight of his have paid off. He’s been a man of few words at the draft podium and in public, but bombastic in the statements of his actions and roster manipulations. His projected team, even if not yet complete, looks to dominate in a few short years. Maybe sooner, if he pushes the plunger down on another dynamite move, or two. There has been a ton of detonation and noise around this man of few words.
It’s easy to be a fan of this team right now. It’s OK when the core group of your talent is mainly chattering about how happy they are, and how they are enjoying the city of Buffalo. It’s a young group, and unless you count the leftover bodies from the last years’ massacres, they’ve never played a game together. Fans really have no measure on how the new influx of size, smarts, possession, passion, speed, and finishing will, well, finish.
It’s easy to be a player incoming of this new, exciting project as well – but that may change very soon. At some point, maybe in a month or two, (maybe more, maybe less), it will be time to get more serious about these kids, and what they are saying. Particularly, we’ll want to talk more specifically about how they are performing. How they have gelled (or not) as a young team in a very competitive National Hockey League.
At some point, there will be an emergence from the rebuilding and the hope and the happy chatter. The real rebirth from the absurdity of the tank years will begin.
I cannot say when that turning point will happen, but I cannot wait to see who takes the reins from Murray, and begins to lead this team by the throat. The expectations are heavy, and eventually, some person or persons in the locker room are going to have to make this assembly win.
Again, Murray’s work isn’t quite done yet, but the locker room has been gone through a transformation. The emergence of leadership, of the identity of this new team, can begin from so many different and powerful personalities. To name a few: Ryan O’Reilly and Zemgus Girgensons are both capable of leading by force of will. Evander Kane is a vision of confidence and power on the ice as well, and wants to best his own goal scoring records yesterday. Samson Reinhart is a humble hockey mastermind stuck almost impatient in a growing hockey body.
Those are just of the few of the personalities that had their pictures taken at the FNC today. It’s a great mix, a balance of all the traits you need to succeed in the NHL today.
The real work began when the cameras were put away today. And now all that fans, along with Tim Murray, have to do, is to await the emergence, and who will lead the commencement to the W column, and further from there.
Speed. Smarts. Power. Passion. Possession. Finishing.
How all of that comes together will be a marvel to behold. Now, it’s just up to a group of kids who just had their their pictures snapped on the first day of school to make all of our dreams come true. Let them have their day. Tomorrow, their commencement begins.
They have what it takes – the talent, the seriousness and the will, to bring us our day(s) soon enough.
It’s been a long journey. It’s not one that any fans had asked for, and it was one of heavy burden and endurance. But it’s over. The tank is parked in the garage.
Everything changes now.
Let’s take a look at what “everything” means.
The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes are beginning a 5 game playoff series, of sorts. The winner gets a guaranteed shot at McEichel. The loser gets to sweat through the lottery and hope no other team usurps their place.
The good news for Sabres fans is that they’ve got a one game head start in the series. They should, as has been projected all season, complete Tim Murray’s project and finish out at the bottom.
Cheers to Micah Black McCurdy for supplying these calming sets of data throughout the season. Of course, no mathematical model, even those as consistent as his, is a guarantee. It’s a projection, and the Sabres and Yotes are now entering an extremely small 5 game sample size. My money remains with the math, but I have to recognize both scenarios, as they are now both entirely plausible.
So what happens if the Sabres finish 29th?
I imagine a lot of you will be pretty upset. There will be plenty of finger wagging, but there is no where to truly rest blame in this situation. The GM did his job in assembling the worst team model in the history of advanced statistical data. The coach could not find a way to upset that model. The players did some hockey things, and most of those things were horrendous, as planned. The fans cheered for the wrong team, but it’s folly to believe that some sort of magical hockey witchcraft descended on the franchise as a result.
Still, there will be plenty of upset and disappointment to go around. It will take time to get over missing out on a generational talent. That’s human nature; it takes time to process a loss. But fans will come around, and learn to embrace whomever the Sabres pick at 3rd, and learn to get excited again about the future of this prospect-loaded franchise.
Fans should take comfort in the fact that Tim Murray hasn’t put all his eggs into one basket. Just as any great mathematical model cannot guarantee a result, any team perfectly engineered to finish last cannot be guaranteed a thing. There are always backup plans in sports. Rest assured that if the Sabres do miss out on McEichel that there is a plan B, a plan C, and a plan D, etc.
At the end of this dreary season, the Sabres brass and fans may not get the trophy talent they wanted, but there are plans there for GMTM to utilize his mountain of assets within any given scenario.
Try to remember, that for the duration of this “5 game playoff,” that:
- We still have the upper hand
- There is always a Plan B
I’ve used this space this season to try and help ease the burden of a horrific season. I’ve tried to get fans out from their divisive sides, to get them to look at things in more reasonable, or more analytical ways. I’ve never told anyone strictly how to cheer, or penned rules on how to think or feel, but I’ve tried to help you all find a safer space in Sabres rhetoric and at the FNC, two places that have become burning asylums.
Now, with 10 games left, it’s time to throw all rhetoric and advice out the window. Don’t forget to check the math along the way, but with just 10 games to go and with two of those contests against the one team able to steal 30th away, anything is really possible.
I’m not going to even try to tell you how to feel.
There is nothing healthy about this procedure for any of us. We’ve been watching the worst hockey team assembled in the modern statistical era, hoping for losses and trying to find ways to root for our players at the same time. It’s been wretched. Exhausting.
We’ve already been locked in that burning asylum for a year, and we’re already exhausted, yet still there is more to endure. 10 games left, and we’re still entering uncharted territories of suffering. These games will yield the most ridiculously important results we’ve seen in years – and for all the most upside down and bizarre reasons.
All I have left to give anyone is to ask you not to riot. Don’t fight each other in hot takes tank battles anymore. No one’s side matters anymore. A couple coaches, a goalie or two, and some players are going to do some hockey things that cannot be controlled by any of you, and some of the moments heading your way may be too heady to bear.
Shout, cringe, yell, scream, pump your fists. It doesn’t matter why you do it anymore.
10 games, and anything can happen in the chaos. Just make sure you’re not a part of that.
Good luck to you all.
Hey there, Sabres.
Hi, Sabres fans.
You’ve endured a hell of a time the past two seasons on the ice. The fanbase has been there with you, suffering the ups and downs of the tumultuous rebuild. You’ve had to emerge out of that locker room every game, and put up an intense physical effort for a team that you knew was designed to implode. The fans knew that too, but they’ve still filled the stands.
Sticktaps all around.
You all deserve an award for sticking it out during all of this. For some of you Sabres players, that award may be in the form of a trade to a contending team. Good luck if that becomes the case – but don’t forget us if you become an UFA – Buffalo is going to be a ridiculously fun team to play on in the very near future.
Most fans reading this would assume I mean the fan award should be McEichel. I’d love the opportunity to cheer for a superstar, but pegging the award part of all of this on just one name is a bit myopic. The real reward for fans will be the return to good – even great – hockey. That will be a team thing, and it will happen with McEichel or without.
We’re nearing the end of the hard part, everyone, and isn’t it a wonderful feeling? Our team is beginning to come into focus, our dreams just beginning to be realized. Those who will help Buffalo contend, players like Ristolainen, Girgensons, and Kane, are signed up and ready to go. Sam Reinhart is on his way. Goodness, I hope it was as exciting for you to read those two sentences as it was for me to type them.
The rest of the team has yet to take shape, but the excitement is here, now, for what this team will be next season.
I do not know how big of a turnaround we’ll see in 2015-16, but the goal will be making the playoffs, or at least coming as close as possible.
That’s a pretty modest goal for most teams. In Buffalo, it’s a massive change of perspective. The rebuild, for most intents and purposes, will be dead. The long ago foretold suffering will be wiped away from our consciousness and experience, one more game, one more win at a time.
For those players who leave us tomorrow, and for those who stay, thanks for the being a part of this, and take comfort in the fact that your days playing as assets or commodities are coming to a close.
For the fans who have argued and cheered and who have argued about what to cheer for, thanks for showing your honesty and for showing up to these games. Your days spent entrenched on divisive sides of toxic arguments are coming to a close.
So once more: sticktaps all around.
Now, let’s go and get something shiny to put inside this place.