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.
With their 14th regulation loss in a row, the Buffalo Sabres are in danger of matching one of the most embarrassing of all NHL team records – 17 L’s in a row was achieved by the Caps (1974-75) and Sharks (1992-93). Fans and media have been driven into mobs, and the discourse happening right now is mob-ugly. Meanwhile, much has been done by the team to try to stave off relieving the Caps and Sharks of their infamous listing. Well, as much as can be done.
The players have tried closed door meetings. They’ve run out of things to say.
Play your guts out, get gutted. That can’t be a good feeling.
The coach stands behind his podium after each loss, repeating mostly the same things about the same mistakes that have earned the same results. He’s got no insight left on a team that has competed to its capacity against the other NHL clubs that were put together to win this season. He’s coaching up a team that’s not supposed to win for another year or more.
Fans on social media are desperate for anything to talk about aside from the losing, and in such cases, the expected stink of rumors, trade proposals, buyout wishes, and firings is pervasive in the feed. Arguments are turning spiteful, especially between those that have labeled themselves as “tankers” or “purists.” This dissention in the ranks comes off often as septic and cruel, but it’s a symptom of the mental/social disease of being somehow obligated to support an historically bad team in one logical way or another.
So what’s the cure? What is a fan base to do, to feel less lousy?
This is a season like no other in modern team history, so the best advice I can offer is to take a step off of each other’s throats.
Really, the only thing you can do is embrace the pain, and be happy that you still care. If it hurts, it means you’re still invested. You’re here to see this through – to get to the end of the rebuild and enjoy the payoff. If you’ve reached the point where you’ve lost interest, or become completely indifferent, you may have a hard time coming back next season when the increments of improvement may not happen as quickly as you may want. (Trades can certainly accelerate the transition back to winning, but a team with centers like Grigorenko, Reinhart, and McEichel – as talented as they may be – is far too young down the middle to be successful for a while.)
Most importantly, and plausibly the most overlooked point about this trying season, is to try to remember that it’s not a “tank.” It’s a rebuild, and it didn’t begin this season.
We all came into this together, and we’ll come out of it together. The best thing we can do in the interim is to ditch the virulent “tank” talk and remember that a rebuild is a process. It’s a huge body of work that isn’t accomplished quickly.
Feel like cracking a joke about tanks? Feel free. It’s cathartic.
Feel like professing your dedication to the team, and finding yourself unable to accept a loss? Go ahead. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Ain’t no shame there.
Just lay off with the bickering. Just as the coach and players are trying to find ways to win, we’re all just trying to find ways to cope.
No one ever said the rebuild would be easy. Just wait. Don’t give up your season tickets. Stay with the pain – stay invested.
This team, when all of this is over, is going to be a marvel to watch.