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
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.