It’s June 5th.
Back on June 5 of 1972, the Sabres selected Tim Horton in the intra-league draft, off the Pittsburgh Penguins roster. The rugged defender would go on to become the heart and soul of Buffalo.
But as the story goes, Horton was hesitant to sign for his last, tragic year in Buffalo.
His donut empire was growing, and at 43, he was the second oldest player in the league, (just months younger than netminder Gump Worsley). But Punch Imlach realized he needed Horton on the blueline, and offered him another one-year contract.
The deal was sealed when Imlach offered Horton a 1973 De Tomaso Pantera sports car as a bonus.
On February 20, 1974, Buffalo was visiting Toronto, hoping to steal two points and help gain enough momentum to propel the team towards a playoff spot. Horton played his typical game, despite playing with a broken jaw (the result of a deflected slapshot during the previous day’s practice). The Sabres lost 4-2, but Tim was still named the game’s third star.
“He was hurting too bad to play a regular shift in the third period,” recalled Imlach. “We faded without him and lost the game to the Leafs. After the game, he and I took a little walk up Church Street and had what was our last talk.”
“He was down in the dumps because he didn’t like to miss a shift and he felt he had cost us the game. I got on the bus with the team. Tim drove the ‘cursed’ car back to Buffalo. He didn’t make it.”
In the early morning hours of February 21st, a report came over the Ontario Provincial Police radio of a sports car moving at high speed through the Burlington area along the QEW. An officer near Vineland saw the car fly past him and tried to follow it, but he couldn’t keep up. He estimated the car was going at least 160 kmh (100 mph).
Now THAT is a hockey mug.
Some time around 4:30 the morning of February 21, 1974, Horton’s Pantera hit an elevated sewer grate and flipped several times, throwing him from the vehicle onto the highway near St. Catharines.
Horton was killed instantly.
After the loss, his business parter, Ron Joyce, created theTim Horton Children’s Foundation. The foundation reflects Horton’s love for children and his desire to help those less fortunate. This year the Foundation will serve close to 14,000 children from economically disadvantaged homes.
Tragedy can be ironic, confusing, and devastating. 37 years later, however, Tim Horton is still doing one of the things he always cherished – helping folks out. Next time you are at the HSBC arena, take a peek up at his #2 hanging from the rafters, and whisper a thank you.
That’s my sign-off here on Buffalo Sabres Nation, having taken it with me from my old blog, “buffalo74.” It wasn’t there on my first post, and I don’t remember exactly when it became a part of my posts or even why – but along the way it became something much bigger than a simple sign-off.
“Go Sabres” became the latest addition to my long list of Sabres fan superstitions – a new superstition that was confirmed, eventually, by one tragic event. More on that at the end of the post. For now, let me introduce you to a few of the things I put myself (and my lovely, supportive wife) through on game day. It’s going to be a weird ride, so settle in with your Sunday cup-o-joe and be ready to admit to yourself that you do this kind of loopy stuff too.
The Wing-Stained Jersey
Artist's interpretation: don't ask how it got into the armpit. Things got pretty nuts at the ol' BWW's.
During the 2006-07 playoff run, I purchased a rookie Drew Stafford “slug” jersey. I wore that ugly slug with great
embarrassment pride at the Jacksonville, FL “Buffalo Wild Wings” for every one of those insane playoff games. Like all the other displaced Sabres fans in Jacksonville that chose that venue for that year’s wild ride, I was not willing to wear anything else on game day. It didn’t matter how many wing/beer stains it soaked up – in fact, the more wing sauce that dripped on his jersey the more empowered I felt. Stafford had a pretty solid showing in that playoff run, and I believed that the spice from that hot sauce was somehow adding some fire to his step. And for a fan, belief is fact.
We all know how that playoff year ended. Washing the ol’ jersey was a painful thing to do (but at least the neighborhood pit bulls stopped following me to the corner store on my game day beer runs).
The Aud Seat
The Captain's Chair!
It’s orange, with a #6 plate. It’s beat up as if someone
valiantly climbed fell over the fence during the demolition of the old Aud and snagged it from a pile of debris.
My lawyer would like to assure you all that not I, nor anyone else, came across the seat in that fashion, nor would we advise anyone reading this to climb a fence of any variety, (unless maybe to escape the pursuit of a bunch of neighborhood pit bulls while on a game-day beer run).
The seat was my throne of power throughout the mighty playoff push this season, a push which saw the Sabres pull off the best record in the Eastern Conference that was powered, as far as I was concerned, by the sheer willpower of my comfy butt.
When Round One came up against Philly, I had a hard choice to make. I had already put everything colored orange into storage in preparation for the fight against the hated Flyers. Conflicted, I set it down in the closet.
Of course, the Sabres would lose in seven games, and I can only wonder over how things may have been if I had not ditched my lucky seat. But the fact is, it wasn’t the seat.
It was something else entirely. Again, we’ll get to that later.
The Mini Stanley
I have an old plastic Stanley Cup – the last remaining artifact from my old Coleco table hockey game.
Back in the 90′s, my friends and I at Buffalo State College would hold tourneys over this trinket, but the main events at that Coleco table were the match-ups on Sabres game days during the playoffs. These match-ups, we were all convinced, directly influenced the outcome of the games.
The proof: I was skating with an old-school version of the Vancouver Canucks – one that included Don Lever, who was an assistant coach with the Sabres in ’93 when Buffalo swept Boston to move on to Round Two against the Canadiens. Folks have often wondered how Brad May was able to make that move to beat Borque, and then the next move to freeze Andy Moog and score that iconic goal. Well, anyone living in Neumann Hall at that time knows what happened a few hours before RJ screamed out “MAY DAY, MAY DAY!” My little plastic Don Lever dude had a hat trick.
Fast forward to Game Three against the Habs: Mogilny breaks his leg and LaFontaine hurts his knee. The Sabres would go on to be swept by Montreal. Earlier that day, little plastic Don Lever and his 2-D Vancouver boys were shut out.
These days, I position the Cup on the top right corner of my TV. No one touches it. If it accidentally moves a little, no one touches it. If it falls, bad things are to be expected on the ice. It’s not totally accurate, obviously, but I believe it still carries some of that power from the good ol’ days at the dorm.
And like I said, as a fan, belief is fact.
Over the years, I’ve piled up enough half-witted superstition items to make a voodoo shrine at the foot of the TV for playoff games. There’s an old, autographed Rob Ray card that I used to carry with me in my back pocket to games at the Aud. That thing motivates the fluff players on the Sabres roster to put in that 110%. I have a puck from each era of Buffalo hockey (including one from the “pepsi-cap” Bisons). Each one of these is lined up, in chronological order, along the front of the TV.
I even have a Sam Elliott bobble-head (“The Stranger,” from the Big Lebowski) that I set down near the pucks. When I get antsy, I whap him upside the head and try to remember his opening narrative:
I can’t say I seen London, and I never been to France, and I ain’t never seen no queen in her damn undies as the fella says. But I’ll tell you what, after seeing Los Angeles and thisahere story I’m about to unfold – wal, I guess I seen somethin’ ever’ bit as stupefying as ya’d see in any a those other places, and in English too, so I can die with a smile on my face without feelin’ like the good lord gypped me.
It’s all a little stupefying and silly, isn’t it? But it all puts a smile on my face, and I feel – I believe – these trinkets and superstitions do keep me connected to the team in a way no other thing can.
And as a fan, belief, my friends, is fact.
Oh, about that sign-off thing. I promised I’d get back to that one. Well, here goes – forgive me if it comes across as sounding a little like a confession. (Because it is.)
The morning of Game Seven, I wrote up a nice little post, proof-read it with a smile, and hit the publish button. When I read over the post on my blog a little later, all the years of building up these superstitions welled up inside of me like one perfect volcano of absolute terror: I had forgotten to sign-off. ”Go Sabres” was no where to be seen. I hastily corrected the mistake, but seeing “Go Sabres” added to the already published product felt even worse. I put the computer aside and waited for the game.
The Sabres were crushed.
And that’s a fact.
I’m sure all of you out there have your own odd and wonderful things that you do on game day – and I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to share below in the comments section. As for me, well, you better believe I will never again forget to close off a post without typing:
A picture says a thousand words. A GIF says a thousand words, over, and over, and over again.
A GIF file, for those of you who are unfamiliar with them, is used to display small animations and low-resolution film clips.
Not a GIF.
Richards. Bieksa. Ehrhoff. Wisniewski.
There have been some big UFA names bandied about this town since the Sabres Game Seven Meltdown against the Philadelphia Flyers. But in all seriousness, which of these guys do we really expect to sign on to year one of the Pegula Experience? A quick analysis:
- Richards – strongly tied to the New York Rangers, or an “original six” team; has also stated a willingness to return to Tampa Bay
- Bieksa/Erhoff – one of these guys will stay with the ‘Nucks, the other will be pursued by every other team in the NHL
- Wisniewski – has already stated he wants to stay in Montreal and raise a family; Habs will do everything they can to keep him
The July 1st spending spree is not exactly a statistical “home run derby” for contracts, anyway (see: Drury, Chris; Gomez, Scott; etc). Invasive baseball metaphors aside, the Sabres will and should look to bolster their lineup on July 1st – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a “curveball” or two up their sleeves.
Another baseball metaphor? Must be 75 and beautiful outside. Before I go outside for some much-earned sunshine, here’s one big-time surprise maneuver that the Sabres could pull off.
Trade for Brent Burns.
The call of the Wild.
Burns isn’t an UFA – yet – his contract expires after next season. However, as Michael Russo reports today from the Minnesota Star Tribune, he could very well be available on the trade market. His speculation:
With the NHL draft on June 24-25 in St. Paul, trade talks are commencing and Fletcher (the Wild’s GM) says he’s willing to trade anybody — except captain Mikko Koivu.
The Wild has missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons — two under Fletcher — so he says he’d do “absolutely anything,” other than, “I’m not trading Mikko Koivu. I can guarantee you that.”
The biggest decision brewing is with defenseman Brent Burns, who scored a career-high 17 goals and 46 points last season. Burns, who struggled in the season’s second half, is a year from unrestricted free agency, meaning, as with Koivu last summer, the Wild might need to decide to either extend his contract or trade him.
Burns could command at least $5 million annually.
Fletcher said he feels no urgency to sign or trade Burns this summer, but the Wild has been down that road before. Marian Gaborik turned down a long-term deal in early 2008-09, then missed 65 games because of injury. That destroyed his trade value, and he ultimately signed as a free agent with the Rangers.
Burns also has a history of injury, but Fletcher said, “There’s a risk for any player, there’s risk in any decision you make. … If we can’t get a contract done, that’ll have an impact on his future the same as it would have with Koivu or Gaborik or anybody.”
So, why Brent Burns for Buffalo – and at what cost? First, let’s examine his dry stats:
Stats aside, he has a respectable woodsy charm about him, wouldn't you agree?*
The Sabres could award Brad Richards with the greater portion of their available cap space, (a dangerous idea as we’ve talked about on Buffalo Sabres Nation previously), but remember that at 31 years of age Richards is not entering his prime, and is coming off of a concussion.
Burns also sustained a concussion in both the 2008-09 and the 2009-10 seasons, but he is only 26 years old, and judging by his stats, he is up for a stellar career. He’d come at a lesser price, would have a better long term impact – and heck, he’s a regional kid, coming out of Ajax, Ontario.
Buffalo needs to add veteran depth to the defensive corps right now. They can’t wait for a guy like Brayden McNabb to earn his way up to the NHL if the Sabres are to win the Stanley Cup in 3 years. With Ryan Miller at 30 years old, now is the time to beef up the men that protect him and truly make a run at the Cup.
The Sabres have a plethora of young defensemen along with several blue chip defensive prospects – too many to fit on the roster any time soon. Plausibly, they could part with one of them and the #1 pick in this year’s draft to land Burns.
Then, maybe, after the Sabres depart with a little bit of that crowded defensive depth chart, they could pursue one of those stud UFAs. Myers, Burns, and Wisniewski sounds like a pretty scary top three to me.
Your move, Darcy.
*And it’s no coincidence. Off the ice, Burns spends his summers in Barrie, Ontario and Lake Elmo, Minnesota and is a noted animal enthusiast. His suburban Saint Paul home is nicknamed “Burns Zoo,” due to his collection of dogs, cats, and dozens of reptiles, mainly snakes.
It’s a saga of redemption.
Tim Kennedy's been searching for a break since August of 2010. That break has finally arrived.
The sorry tale of Tim Kennedy began on September 30, 2009, when the Sabres announced that Kennedy would start the 2009–10 season in Buffalo. Kennedy scored 10 goals and 16 assists, for a total of 26 points in 78 games in the regular season. He scored 1 goal and 2 assists in 6 playoff games. Things were looking up for the kid from South Buffalo.
A RFA, Tim was unable to come to terms on a new contract through his agent and Darcy Regier. On August 3, 2010, he was awarded a $1million contract through arbitration. The Sabres felt the price tag was too high for their hometown darling, and immediately placed him on waivers.
Not a single team claimed him. It wasn’t a pleasant situation for Tim.
“It hurts. This is not what I envisioned for the last month of the summer before the season started. It’s tough. I hope this isn’t the end, but it doesn’t look too good right now. You grow up watching this team your whole life. I don’t even know what to say right now because I’m so shocked.”
He eventually found a home with the New York Rangers, but found himself shackled in the AHL – the Rangers didn’t want to risk losing him through re-entry waivers by calling him up, and by burying his contract with the farm team, the Blue Shirts’ were able to ease up on their dwindling cap space. Tim never played a game in a Rangers uniform.
On October 5th of 2010, he was waived again. And again, not a single team claimed him.
Kennedy remained a Ranger by default, but was clear that they really didn’t want him. In February of 2011, he was dealt (along with a 3rd round pick) to the Florida Panthers for Bryan McCabe. On March 8 of the 2010-11 season, he finally saw action in the NHL again, and would skate on to record 1 assist in 6 games with the Panthers.
Fast forward to the 2010-11 offseason.
Kennedy is on the ice for the Panthers’ last game of the season. It’s a 1-0 victory over the Washington Capitals, wherein TK records an assist and a +1 marker, helping the team finish on a high note by breaking a 10 game losing skid.
That high note doesn’t last long for Kennedy, though. On April 11, locker clean out day, he is a RFA all over again. You know that his head has got to be swimming with how this whole dreadful story started when he was a RFA back in 2009. It sure didn’t help that Florida just fired their coach, Peter DeBoer, who at least had the faith to keep Kennedy in the lineup for that final game.
With an unstable world spinning under his skates again, deliverance must have seemed like a long, long way away.
Then, on May 31st, the Panthers announced the hiring of Kevin Dineen to fill their head coaching vacancy – and for Kennedy, that news must have felt like a godsend. Finally, it looks like he will get the break he’s been hoping for.
There is simply not a single person on the planet better equipped to save TK’s career than Dineen. After all, Dineen was the coach in Portland during the 2008-09 season, when Kennedy blossomed with 18 goals and 67 points in 73 games before his promotion to Buffalo. Kennedy was quick to praise the hiring:
“I can’t thank him (Dineen) enough. He was a great coach down there (in the AHL) and he’d be a great coach (in the NHL) too. He really helped me transform from playing in college [Michigan State] to the pro game. I owe him a lot of credit.”
Those are some smart words from TK – he must know that this is his make-it-or-break-it chance to stick to the NHL. Dineen knows who Tim is, what kind of player he is, what to expect from him on the ice, and how to utilize him to get the best performance possible.
Suddenly, the future is looking bright again – but there is still that nagging RFA issue. With Dineen on board, and part of the decision making process, the most damning twist to this saga yet would be if the Panthers decide not to keep Kennedy on the team. Such a move, by perhaps the person who knows Kennedy’s talents the best, would pretty much sound a death knell over Kennedy’s NHL career.
But I don’t think that Dineen is gonna’ ring that bell.
It would be a shock if the Panthers didn’t bring Kennedy back – a player that they traded for, a player that they used on the ice to help bring a tumultuous season to an end on a high note, and now a player who is reunited with the coach that made him NHL material in the first place.
South Buffalo, rejoice: the resurrection of Tim Kennedy has begun.
Screw the whole saga, and forget all those dates.
Instead, focus on plays like this.
And this OT gem, (where he “beats his old team” at the 3:45 mark).
Under Dineen, there will be more highlights from Kennedy to come – and from here on in, they will all come at the NHL level.
Good luck, Tim.