Sabres Past, Present and Future: Not so Terrible, Actually



WGRZ got on the Twitter yesterday and asked followers to give them one word that summed up the 1st half of the Sabres’ 2011-12 campaign. As a former SAT tutor, the word just tumbled out at the ready, and when I saw it on the glowing screen, it felt good. It felt right.

But since (and especially since sweating over the NHL All Star Draft last night, hoping that Pominville would not get picked last), I’ve realized that word is just as much about the last few seasons in Buffalo as it is about this one.

And yet, it’s actually not the right one – not for the past few seasons, not for the 1st half of this season, not for this season. And not for the coming seasons.


SadMiller 200x300 Sabres Past, Present and Future: Not so Terrible, 300w" sizes="(max-width: 200px) 100vw, 200px" />lu·gu·bri·ous

adj \lu̇-ˈgü-brē-əs also -ˈgyü-\

Definition of LUGUBRIOUS

: mournfulespecially : exaggeratedly or affectedly mournful<dark, dramatic and lugubrious brooding — V. S. Pritchett>
: dismal <a lugubrious landscape>

I imagine most of the responses WGRZ got on this were synonyms of this. The Sabres – if they win the next 9 (completing a 10 game winning streak), and assuming the teams ahead of them go .500 (excluding gimme OT points) – would then be 2 points out of 8th. (Feel free to check my math on that, I was feeling too affectedly mournful to care when I did my adding a few days ago.) In any event, there’s your happy cup of Kool Aid. Drink up. This team is good enough at this point of the season to give us steady doses of hope as they stagger on to their way to mathematical oblivion.

As much as we may currently despise certain members of The Core, or the coach or GM, we’ve all been together in this for a very long time. It was after the lockout that everyone really came together, though. Back when the core was a bunch of kids trying to make the line-up out of Rochester, when the line of Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov was the Sabres’ 3rd line, and was tearing through the NHL’s best secondary defenses. Additions Drury and Briere were finally playing to their potential here. We were a team reaping the benefits of being freshly assembled and ready to take on the NHL’s best.

With Drury and Briere and then without, we’ve watched this new Core grow up. Heck, for many of the fans who joined the madness post-lockout, these guys are the only Sabres they truly know on a personal level. We’ve seen them succeed to the brink of the Stanley Cup, only to retreat broken and hobbled by injury. We’ve seen them make and miss the playoffs, finding and failing victory in Game Seven.

3monkeys 300x225 Sabres Past, Present and Future: Not so Terrible, 488w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />We’ve same them leave.

Dumont, Grier, (and Grier again after he came back for a stint before retirement), McKee, Drury and Briere. They took a bit of our hockey hearts with them when we left town, which is easily evident on the Twitter when folks pined to bring them back, or were hoping that Briere would win that Cup even right after the Sabres were eliminated by his new and very hated Flyers squad.

The most recent tweak of the heart strings for me was seeing Brian Campbell’s selection in the All Star Draft. Say what you want about his contract, or Regier’s failure to convince him to take what would have been a completely insane home-town discount to stay here. I’ll freely admit I was devastated when Soupy left town. But just like I still pull for Briere, seeing Soupy up there in the All Star bleachers with Pominville just made me happy.

The real tweak, no, the real swelling of the heart happened when Pominville was selected off the “final 4,” by none other than Daniel Alfredsson. Not only did the captain of the Ottawa Senators swoop in to save Pommers from being picked last, but he did it by noting how Pominville beat him to win a series between the rival teams in the 2006 Eastern Conference Semifinals. He did it by mentioning how much he respects Pommers as a person and a player.

And oh yea, Jason is tied for 13th overall in scoring in the NHL – something else to be proud of. What are the chances these two spend some time on the same line together during the All Star game itself? That would be stupefying fun.

SabresHeadGear 300x205 Sabres Past, Present and Future: Not so Terrible, 568w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />Anyway, there he was, right up there in the bleachers with Brian Campbell, and didn’t we all feel good? Didn’t we all feel proud?

Yesterday on WGR 55, Ted Black confirmed once again that Ruff and Regier aren’t going anywhere – “even if we lose every game for the rest of the season.” That’s a pretty bold statement, in the face of virtual fan riots online over the current failures of this squad.

Recently, Derek Roy’s name has been bobbled about online as probable trade bait (along with Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht, and Paul Gaustad). Still, none of them have gone anywhere, either.

Maybe nothing is what is supposed to happen. We’ve seen this group thrive before the UFA additions of the summer. On paper they are improved, and in the earlier portion of the season, before players dropped daily from the roster with injury, the team was improved. They came out confident and earned a respectable 12 points in their first 10 games, with a goal differential of 29/22 (+7). Who’s to say that this same team, when healthy again, can’t do the same – or even better as they become closer as a team on and off the ice?

Maybe lugubrious isn’t the right word, after all.

The season is likely a loss, but the history, culture, and future is not.

This isn’t a time of rebuilding. It’s still a time for patience. Boyes, Hecht, and Gaustad are UFA’s at season’s end. This will take about $10 mil off the books (before the cap goes up), and will open up the purse strings again to improve the roster at the forward position.

The defense, while currently a mess, is getting healthy again. Younger players like Weber, Gragnani, Sekera, McNabb, Brennan, and even Myers are still making mistakes, but will only improve with the steady veteran presence of Leopold, Regehr and Ehrhoff. That’s nine names, with only 6 spots on the bench. “You can never have enough defensemen,” but you gotta’ think that Darcy’s hand will be forced to make a trade with a couple of these names. Let’s not forget that blue chip prospects such as Mark Pysyk are also on their way to the big league. Something is going to have to happen here, and it will improve the roster at the defensive position.

Maybe pining after the players who left us isn’t the best for our psychological health. We likely won’t get that 10 game winning streak, or enough wins in time to get close to that 8th and final playoff spot in the East. Both those notions are misguided. The team has found profound disaster this year on the ice and in the medical room. This should make us all a little more than gloomy.

But the future still looks bright. At year’s end, there’s going to be plenty of wiggle room for Regier to continue to bring in the right names.

We’ve all had enough watching players simply leave us behind. Briere’s been a constant reminder of that. Brian Campbell was an in-you-face reminder of that last night. Things are different now, though. We’re not casting guys aside. We’re bringing them in.

Not all of the additions are going to be amazing fits (Leino, Boyes). Some of them will be terrific (Ehrhoff, Regehr). And not all of our subtractions will feel right in hindsight (Connolly).

Overall, standings aside, Regier and Co. have put up a stronger squad this season. We’re going to have some growing/injury pains, but again, there’s nothing to truly indicate that the Sabres are done getting better. This season may be at a surprising loss, but the pieces are there, already, for future success.

And there are more pieces on the way.

This team’s success neither hinges on the past, nor on the first half of this season. It might feel awful right now, but the team is on the right course. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to suffer through the rest of this season, as the pieces come back together out of the medical room (unless, of course, that magical Kool Aid 10 game run actually happens – which it won’t). We only need to wait for that coalescence again, when the team is “freshly assembled and ready to take on the NHL’s best” once more.

After rethinking this, maybe I need to change my “word” back to what Ted Black preached early on: “patience.”

Looking at the big picture, I can get on board on that. I think I can finally get over the wrecks of the past. The ship isn’t sinking anymore. It’s time to ride out the storm.

Go Sabres.



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