Man, being a Buffalo sports fan really sucks right now, doesn't it?
Now that the World Series has ended, the only thing left to watch is the NBA…
Oh, right. The Bills are still playing football. Eh, who are we kidding. That’s not a football team. We’re probably not going to want to remember the rest of their games, anyway.
Between the Fall Classic, fantasy football (because it’s too draining to root for the Bills every weekend) and NHL puck drop, October is supposed to be the greatest month of the year.
Instead, for the first time in my life, I’m counting down the days until college hoops tips off, though it can often be difficult to even get excited about that until March.
I suppose I have the NHL lockout to blame for these unexpected depressing fall days.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve managed to find some sick pleasure in watching the Bills get chased off the field every Sunday. But, for me, there’s still just nothing quite like NHL hockey.
If you’ve managed to follow along with anything the NHL owners and Player's Association have been whining about the past few months, you'll know that no one really has a clue when the next time we’ll see an NHL game will be.
Right now, here’s what we do know: There will be absolutely zero NHL hockey played until at least Nov. 30 and the threat of delaying the beginning of the 2012-13 season even further is still very real, if it will be salvaged at all.
We already lost the Winter Classic late last week and the All-Star Game in Columbus might be on the chopping block as early as this week, too, if no progress is made (well, I guess no one was really too excited about that, anyway.)
Times like these often call for drastic measures. And it’s interesting to think about the most drastic of all possible solutions for the NHL — implementing replacement players.
If you’ve heard this story once, you’ve heard it a million times. This post is hardly the first time you’ve heard scabs mentioned as a possible — albeit far fetched — solution, and it certainly won’t be the last.
Outlets ranging from the Toronto Sun to local talk radio to, now, your favorite blog, have discussed the possibility.
No one’s holding their breath on the idea of substitute players taking over First Niagara Center, but my goal with this post is to simply kick the idea around a bit. However crazy, it is still a fun concept to think about.
To my understanding, there are a great deal of legal hurdles the NHL would have to clear before replacement players would even be allowed to approach an NHL arena, so I guess we should run through those before I make my case, just so you can get a sense of how outrageous this idea is.
Evidently, the Player’s Association would first have to infuriate the League enough to cause it to reach a certain boiling point, halting the labor negotiations altogether.
After weeks, if not months, of sorting through legal garbage no one here cares about, if things went the owners’ way, the NHLPA would either decertify or initiate a strike, allowing the League to then open its doors to replacement players.
Other wrinkles, such as certain Canadian and American labor laws, would be sure to throw another fork into things. Under these laws, the Canucks and Canadiens would not be cleared to utilize replacement players. Not to mention, the 23 teams in America that would be limited to an American-only player pool; same goes for the seven Canadian teams.
That would really screw things up, wouldn’t it?
So, needless to say, this whole replacement player talk is so farfetched that it's silly. But that's why I'm talking about it, and why you're reading.
Hypothetically, if the NHL somehow managed to find its way around each and every one of those aforementioned barriers, the question now raised is whether or not fans support a watered-down product?
This has been the debate I’ve seen pop up most often when replacements come up in conversation. If the NHL were to allow replacement players, would fans in Buffalo, and in the 29 other NHL cities, support their teams?
The answer is yes. At least here in Buffalo, I think there would be plenty of Sabres fans overly giddy just for the fact that NHL hockey has returned.
Would attendance take a hit? Probably. But if the Rochester Americans could draw almost 11,000 people to First Niagara Center on a Tuesday night, it’s pretty safe to suggest a roster full of scabs — which, by the way, would likely be pretty much identical to the Amerks’ current roster — could sell out an NHL game on a Friday or Saturday night.
I wasn’t able to make it to that game on Oct. 23, but I’ve heard it was a pretty cool atmosphere for an AHL game.
Obviously it’s not the ideal situation. When you pay $60 per ticket, you want to maximize the value of every penny you spend. And that involves watching the world’s best hockey players squaring off on the ice in front of you.But it’s not like this is a bunch of scrubs we’re talking about here.
Cody Hodgson would still be under center and we’d still see Marcus Foligno flying down the wing.
Not to mention there would likely be a decent amount of current NHLers crossing the picket lines. Would some players refuse to play to avoid the traitor label? Sure. But for each of those players there's a veteran on his last legs or a borderliner fourth-liner who'd be thrilled to lace up his skates tomorrow if given the chance.
What’s unique to hockey is that it’s probably the sport with the smallest talent gap between different levels. AHL hockey is still exciting to watch. Hell, even the major junior teams in Canada attract a few thousand to their games on any given night.
As you all probably know, I’m a student at Buffalo State. A few weeks ago, Penn State made a visit to the Ice Arena to play a little exhibition game against the Bengals. Buff State won, 3-0, and that was one of the most incredible hockey games and atmospheres I’ve ever experienced — dozens of NHL games included. I’d put that game, featuring a Division III hockey team with a roster full of great guys who will graduate and become teachers or open up their own business, right up there with the best. And I’m not alone in that thinking.
If the NHL used scabs, we wouldn’t be getting Shane Falco and Clifford Franklin (Not that those guys weren’t awesome. Still one of the best movies ever made, I don't care what you say.)
We’re essentially getting the Amerks, in blue and gold. And that would still be fun to watch.
Then there's another question: If for whatever reason all logic was defied and the Sabres were granted use of replacements, and they lasted an entire season, how good would the team be? Would the Sabres, in a suddenly topsy-turvey NHL, be a prime contender for the Stanley Cup? What if they won the Cup with replacement players?
I know what you're thinking. That would be just Buffalo's luck that, after decades of losing and despair, our 15 minutes, that glory of one of our goddamn sports teams actually winning something meaningful, would come via a group of nobodies made possible only by way of a dysfunctional NHL.
It's just like us to think this way, doesn't it? Only a mind tortured by the Bills and Sabres for two decades and counting would write a post asking how it would feel if the Sabres won the Cup if the NHL ever allowed replacement players… As if that's the only way we'll ever have a chance.
But, championship or not, at least it would be hockey. And the point is, it wouldn't be bad hockey like everyone seems to think it would be.
Let's say the Sabres' team of replacement players makes them an instant contender. It would still be fun, artificial or not, to watch the team make a run at the Cup.
For players like Joe Finley and Mark Mancari, it would obviously be a dream come true leading their team to a Stanley Cup — a dream that will be pretty much impossible to realize without a lockout. It would be cool to see it (By the way, if you haven't already, check out this article by John Vogl of The Buffalo News on Buff State's James Durham and the trickledown effect the NHL lockout is having on players struggling to maintain a career in even the lowest of professional levels). Albeit, nothing would compare to if the likes of Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Jason Poiminville did the same, but we all know that isn't likely.
The reason the NFL was a joke in 1987 and why the MLB scabs got laughed out of ballparks in 1995 is because the talent level of the scabs was so inferior to that of the striking football and baseball stars that it was stupid to watch. More recently, look at the joke the blatantly atrocious NFL replacement refs turned into early this year. Hockey is much more even-keeled in that regard.
Okay, so maybe I’m biased. I love my hockey. I could watch any level, anytime, from peewee right on up to the NHL, and not lose much entertainment value. I get that it’s probably not that way for some hockey fans, but I think, for fans in Buffalo specifically, there are plenty of puck heads like me who would get excited just to see the Blue and Gold take the ice again.
I mean, that’s what we root for. The sweaters.
I don’t go to games to watch Christian Ehrhoff and Jason Pominville. We all have our favorites, but we watch the games with our buddies and chant Let’s-go-Buf-fa-lo because we love to watch the Sabres, not because we love Tyler Myers.
Chris Drury is probably my all-time favorite Sabre, and I haven’t thought twice about the dude since he bolted to New York. Obviously the better the talent that takes the ice, the more entertaining the product will be. But I don’t think the drop off would be significant enough to keep people from watching.
The point is, I don’t think it matters much whose name is on the back of the Sabres jersey. As long as those Sabres jerseys return to the First Niagara Center, the City of Buffalo, packed to its limits with puck heads, wouldn’t think twice about watching a bunch of scabs toss on the blue and gold and pretend to be Sabres to bridge the gap until the players and owners quit their whining.
Just give me some hockey, dammit. I need more excuses not to do my homework.
You almost certainly don't agree with Brandon's opinion on this matter, so please, let him hear about it in the comment box or be sure to follow him on Twitter @B_Schlag and express your distaste.