The curse of the Sabres captains

I've gone on record a few times on Twitter and on this site about bitching about who should be the captain. In a word: Bullshit. I just think fans and media members take it too far when it comes to who should wear the "C" on this team. If I had a dollar for every time someone called into a radio show or a media member bitched about how this guy should be wearing the "C" or it should be stripped from them, I'd be able to buy a captain's ship. It is an easy topic to get people all up in arms about because in our minds, it is the best way to vicariously live through a player.

Your typical fans are very emotional. Their highs and lows are extreme to say the least. When it hits rock bottom, we want to shout and yell towards the heavens…and in turn, we want the captain to do the same. If the captain isn't emotional in public and the team is shitting the bed, he's not going to be popular with the fan base. If he's dull and not quotable, he's not going to make TBN's notebooks happy either. It is a lightning rod that talk show hosts crave because Sabres fans get so vested emotionally in it.

Of course, we have no clue what goes on behind closed doors as Jason Pominville or Stu Barnes could have been psychotic murderers who yelled at everyone. Alright, they probably weren't. The bottom line is that you can't be a good captain if you are leading a ship of out of shape drunken John Sparrows. Chris Drury couldn't have lead these guys this season.

For Buffalo fans, they want the best player who is probably physical, emotional and most importantly, winning when they are the captains. And when they aren't winning, look out…or if they are looking for new contracts and about to hit free agency…look out below!!

What seems to get lost in all the hoopla about who should be the captain is that it is kind of a cursed letter in Buffalo. Since 1987, If you take away how Lindy alternated captains in 03/04 and 07/08, the average captain has worn the "C" for an average of 2.4 years.

That doesn't exactly speak of a president's term, does it?  Amazingly, since Gilbert Perreault retired in 1987, all of the Sabres captains have either been traded or left in a cloud of smoke. Frankly, the "C" has been kind of a scarlet letter in terms of being the captain. Who the hell would want it at this point?

Lindy Ruff 1987-89
"This has been an emotionally trying week for this hockey club. One of the things we wanted to do is make our transition from Lindy having the captaincy to Mike Foligno and just get that behind us. That was weighing on everybody's mind. It's a tough situation." -Ted Sator after stripping Lindy Ruff of the captaincy-

Who??? Oh, yeah him. Lindy playing for the Sabres was before my time as he took over after Perreault retired. The Sabres made the playoffs every year Ruff was the captain, but it went into that era of "WE CAN'T GET OUT OF THE FIRST ROUND?!" with Boston/Montreal owning us. At that point, Ruff was in the twilight of his career, scoring just 25 and 17 points and had a -9 and -17 during those seasons. Keep in mind he had 45 points in 1984. I know there are stories about how Lindy was the type of guy to stand up for his teammates and he was pretty brave, but from talking to older fans, he wasn't big when it came to speeches. But then again, this was during the 80s where the media wasn't exactly all over the place to describe his demeanor.

Now, I had heard Lindy was stripped of his captaincy and demanded to be traded because of it. I asked Mike Harrington about that on Twitter and he said Lindy had a falling out with then Sabres coach Ted Sator, who decided to do the evil deed of stripping him of the "C".The Sabres obliged with Lindy's wish, trading him to the Rangers for a 5th round pick in 1990 (Richard Smehlik) three weeks later. I was also able to find this nugget from an AP story about the transition that I found interesting:

"It's funny but you feel a little bit naked. It's almost like you've got a role to fill wearing that 'C.' I felt like I was in my rookie year again." -Lindy on losing the captaincy"
Awww. Poor Lindy.  Pretty crazy he was still on the club when they gave the captaincy to Foligno. That must have really sucked for him.
Mike Foligno 1989-1991
"Sometimes people say (when) you've got the (captaincy), you've also got the big piano on your back. Tonight, I didn't feel that big piano back there. It was real light." -Mike Foligno-

This was when I started getting into hockey roughly and I do remember the Foligno jump and how he was a fan favorite. My dad and pretty much all my uncles loved him, mainly because he had the Italian last name. Foligno was a hell of a player for the Sabres, scoring 20 goals or more 8 times (Two 30 goal seasons). However, his play started to dip a bit once he got the captaincy in February of 1989. Foligno went from scoring 30, 29 and 27 goals to 15 the following season. In his last season here, Foligno scored only 4 goals in 31 games and was dealt to Toronto on December 17th, 1990 for Brian Curran and Lou Franceschetti. Well, at least my family got another Italian player, even though Franceschetti sounds like a type of pasta. In the two seasons Foligno was captain, the Sabres lost to Montreal in the first round of the playoffs both years.

Mike Ramsey 1991-1992
"It was an obvious choice, I talked to Mike. It was something we (Ramsey and Dudley) wanted to do. You look for the attitude that he has. He jumps right out at you." The big question was whether he wanted the responsibility. He said, 'Fine' "I think over the time I've known him, Mike has proven himself to me. I don't think there is anyone who can say a bad thing about him. Mike Ramsey is a very special person." -Rick Dudley-

You really can't go wrong with someone who was on the US 1980 Olympic team, right? It took a few weeks for the Sabres to name him captain after Foligno was dealt. Ramsey was never a fiery player when it came to speaking, but he was definitely one of those lead by examples type of players. He was a heck of a stay-at-home defensemen, too. I especially remember how Robie used to gush about how he'd always block so many shots that he'd have bruises all over him. Unfortunately, the Sabres still couldn't get past the first round of the playoffs and Ramsey was the captain on two of those teams. However, once John Muckler took over, he looked for more skilled guys at the blueline rather than bangers. Ramsey became the 3rd straight captain to be traded, as he went at the 93' deadline (March, 22nd) for Bob Errey.

"My role is no different than a year ago, a month ago or a week ago. It's no different at all. Sewing a letter on a jersey doesn't make you change." -Mike Ramsey-

Pat LaFontaine 1992-1997
Cue up the Jesus Christ superstar melody. LaFontaine actually received the captaincy from Ramsey during his first full year with the Sabres in 1992, in what some perceived controversial because the team had originally voted Ramsey in as captain, but then the decision was made that Patty would get it. Hmmm. Sounds like a "We just got the best player in here since Gilbert and he should be the captain" kind of talk. This was how Bob DiCesare describes it:

"The timing appears to be ideal. Ramsey will return to the lineup tonight after missing nine games while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. LaFontaine, who has worn the "C" in Ramsey's absence, is off to a blazing start that has given him high standing among the National Hockey League's top scorers. Speculation that LaFontaine would succeed Ramsey as captain dates to last season. The Sabres have become a fast-paced, high-scoring team that LaFontaine epitomizes. He is the player the Sabres look to in key situations."

 #16 will probably go down as arguably the most popular Sabres player in history. The guy had 148 points during his first season as the captain. Yes, 148 POINTS!!! He was that good. More importantly, he finally helped the Sabres get off the playoff snide when they beat Boston in the 1993 playoffs.

As far as captain material goes, LaFontaine didn't seem to be that guy who was rah, rah, rah or in your face like most fans would want, but he was always respected for his greatness and just the way he dealt with people. He was always known for his charity work around the city and was just a nice guy. I think him getting the Sabres out of the first round, his community acts, and putting up a ton of points really shielded him from any criticism about the team not winning a playoff series for the next 3 years.

However, the captain curse did get to LaFontaine as he missed most of the 93/94 season due to a knee injury and he never came close to getting 148 points (18, 27 during lockout season, 91, and 8).

Things got worse as LaFontaine started developing concussion problems. Everything came ahead during the 96/97 season, when Darius Kasparitis elbowed him, knocking him out for the duration of the season. During the offseason, LaFontaine wanted to play, but team doctors wouldn't give him the OK. There were some rumors floating around that the Sabres didn't want to pay LaFontaine (Keep in mind Larry Quinn was the president at this juncture) and were making a bigger deal about his concussions because of this.

The fans were already pissed off because of what happened with Ted Nolan being fired/not extended, so leaving #16 in the cold wasn't exactly endearing.  Subsequently, the Sabres dealt LaFontaine to the Rangers before the season started for a 2nd round pick (Became Andrew Peters). Ironically, this would be the first player Darcy Regier traded off the roster after being hired in July.  LaFontaine played pretty well in NY during his first season, scoring 62 points in 67 games, but his concussion issues persisted and he retired after the season.

Mike Peca 1997-2000
"We wanted to make sure he was comfortable with the system we tried to put in place and with the coaching staff, it was all part of the process. If he doesn't buy into what we are trying to do, then it's tough to have him as your captain. We gave him three games, and he surely made a difference." -Lindy Ruff-

Central casting couldn't pick a better player for Sabres' fans to root for and call their leader. As I wrote earlier, I think playing hard and being a harder hitter is what will endear you into being a captain favorite for Sabres' fans. Peca had big shoes to fill in with LaFontaine leaving, but as the captain, the Sabres went to the Eastern Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals during his first two years.

There are no other captains in team history who can say that. Peca didn't strike me as a guy who would call people out in public or yell at the top of his lungs, but just what he did on the ice as a player is what most fans and his teammates respected. He was a blue-collar player who would give black and blue bruises to any player he'd crush on the ice. I'll always remember him saying that the league took away the Stanley Cup for them during "No Goal" and how defiant he was because of it.

Alas, the curse of the captaincy came about during the 2000/2001 season. Peca was a restricted free agent and he wanted 4-million a year, but the Sabres refused to pay him close to that much. By some reports, they were offering a little less than 3-million dollars. This would be one of those all too familiar ownership not wanting to pay a guy that much money and also making Darcy look like the bad guy in all of this.

Peca ended up sitting out the entire 2000/2001 season, in which the Sabres lost to the Pens in the 2nd round of the playoffs. I assure you, if Peca was playing in that series, they win. End of story. With negotiations at an impasse, Peca was traded to the Islanders in June of 2001 for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt. Um, yeah..the natives were not happy about this one. Frankly, if you were to pinpoint to one trade or signing that made Darcy into public enemy #1, it would be this one.

"It's certainly an honor, especially on a team with a lot of veterans and a lot of quality leaders. It's certainly a nice feeling. It's something I'm not going to take advantage of or abuse. It's something that's not going to change who I am. I'm just going to go out and play the way I'm playing. There's been a lot of great leaders that don't say anything. When something needs to be said, I have great relationships with all of the players. It's something that I wanted to do, and it's something I'm proud of." -Mike Peca-

Stu Barnes 2001-2003
"He's one of the older guys, and I think it helps especially for the younger guys," Woolley said. "He can bark on those guys. He has the authority to bark on those guys, but he can bark at pretty much anyone he wants to." -Jason Woolley-

When Peca was a holdout, the Sabres didn't name a captain during the season with the hopeful assumption that he'd return. Obviously, he didn't and with Peca going to LI, the Sabres replaced him with Stu Barnes on October 5th, 2001. Barnes had been with the club since 99' deadline when he was traded for Matt Barnaby. He was a decent player for the Sabres as he'd get you 20 goals, play decent 2-way hockey, and was viewed as one of those "Lead by example" types.

In a way, he kind of reminds me a little of Pominville just by the way he spoke and what he did on the ice. Alas, Barnes would only be the captain for less than two seasons. The curse reared its ugly head as Barnes had to captain the Sabres in probably the two most miserable seasons ever. 

In just his first season as captain: The Sabres got rid of Peca, Hasek, Gilmour and Anderychuk, which all came before the season started. Then they traded for Bob Corkum at the trade deadline (Wait…This was the move that cemented Darcy as public enemy #1) and we came to find out that the people who owned the Sabres were nothing more than crooks. Oh, and the Sabres missed the playoffs, but were at least able to see their owner get lead away in handcuffs. Awesome year!!

The next season, with the NHL owning the team and their future up in the air, the Sabres were terrible and finished with just 72 points. For Barnes, he has the worst win percentage for a Sabres captain (Finished last in the division both years), but you can't fault him as he was the captain of Titanic pretty much. Luckily for Barnes,  he was able to jump ship before the season ended, as he was traded to the Dallas Stars for Michael Ryan and a 2003 2nd round pick (#65-Branislav Fabry).

"Being able to fill this role and even be selected, I'm very proud of that. It's something I take a lot of pride in. I don't just want to give 100 percent. It's something I also want to be very good at. That's the way I approach anything. I approach the game that way. It all goes back to the fact we have a great dressing room. Everybody gets along well and is committed to trying to make this hockey team better. The ups and downs we've had through the course of the season as far as on the ice, I think all of us are going through it and trying to get better. So I don't think you can say it's just one person who's trying to fix things. We're all in this together." -Stu Barnes-

Alternating captains:
Miro Satan: Oct. 2003
Chris Drury: Nov. 2003
James Patrick: Dec. 2003
JP Dumont:  Jan. 2004
Daniel Briere:  Feb. 2004
Chris Drury:  Mar. 2004

Ah, yes. Lindy's brilliant idea of alternating the captains. You know, I sometimes don't mind the alternating thing because it is like a promotion and you have to make the best of it and it gives the locker room different voices to hear, I guess. However, what if you don't want to give up the "C"?

That may have happened to Miro Satan. At first, Ruff toyed with the idea of alternating the captaincy, but then he gave the "C" to Miro, with the premise that he may be able to keep it. Uh-oh.

"We're a team that needs leadership from everywhere, but I think we have to place that leadership in the right spot. "We're going to look for Miro. I think it's on the right jersey." -Lindy Ruff-

-"I feel I'm probably going to be more responsible for the result of this team as a captain and as one of the leaders," Satan said. "There's going to be more weight put on us in the leadership department. I'm not going to be a leader on the ice only." Miro Satan

 In October, he scored 5 goals in 11 games, which of course was greeted with him excepting more responsibility which would elevate his play (Sound familiar, Pominville fans?). However,  Miro went in the tank soon afterwards, scoring just 5 goals from November 1st to December 30th. That's when you started hearing the stuff about him not being happy with the alternating stuff. Miro denied it, and I kind of think he's right cause the guy was always a streaky player.

But here's how some of the other guys viewed the alternating role:

"I know one of the things management talked about this year was getting some of the guys who are key players on the team into more of a leadership role, the guys who were coming into their prime — the Jay McKees, the Curtis Browns, Miro Satan and Chris Drury, those types of players. I've obviously viewed myself as an older player who always tried to lead by example and push younger guys and be there for them, and to get this opportunity is a great honor and I'm real excited about it." -James Patrick-

"I liked it. Hopefully, it's something I can experience again," said Drury, who endorses the rotating system. "I think it works great for us. I look at it like we've got four-plus lines, and I think on each line there's leadership, no matter what your minutes are or what your role is. . . . A lot of guys are going to get a taste for it, and I think it's going well." -Chris Drury-

Anyways, this was such a meh season in Sabres hockey and if you want to look at the captaincy curse here, just keep in mind the next year was the lockout that canceled the season and then the Sabres didn't exercise Satan's team option, even though he scored 29 goals. Miro was the highest paid player on the team, which I think had a lot to do with them letting him go. Frankly, it was pretty stupid to let him walk without getting anything in return for him. But then again, this was Golisano we were talking about, and by some reports during Miro's last year, Tom wasn't exactly happy with his pay play

The Co-captains: 2005-2007
"Danny and Chris were chosen for what they mean to the team, on and off the ice. Both guys show tremendous leadership and determination that will help lead our club. It's based on what they've brought to our team: their leadership; work ethic on and off the ice; the respect of their teammates. We're going to alternate night to night, and if they're not a 'C' they'll be an 'A'." -Lindy Ruff-

Probably will go down as the best two years in Sabres history. Those two years are the sole reason why there's a waiting list in the 1000s for season tickets. Because of the team's success, Drury and Briere reaped in with all the accolades of being team leaders. That's what happens when you win. You become a great leader. Drury never seemed to be the "Rah, rah, rah" guy in public, but from what people said behind the scenes, he seemed to be an asshole when things went bad and took out on the players who weren't doing their job.

You heard the stories about how he'd make guys stay at their locker room stalls after losses to make sure they answered every question about why they lost. As for Briere, he probably seemed to me the more personal of the two. He was the guy who seemed upbeat and knew the right things to say in public.

He won the hearts of a lot of fans because he seemed to be genuinely a nice guy who played his heart out.  If I could guess what both these guys were in the locker room, it was your classic good cop and bad cop relationship.

Alas, we all know the curse of the captaincy came in July of 2007. I'm not going to get too much into it  cause it has been played out so many times here, but I think we can all agree the Sabres have never been the same since.

Alternating Captains Part II
Jochen Hecht  Oct. 2007
Toni Lydman  Nov. 2007
Brian Campbell  Dec. 2007
Jaroslav Spacek  Jan. 2008
Jochen Hecht  Feb. 2008

Jason Pominville  Mar. 2008

"We didn't know what we were going to do, but we had a lot of thoughts with what we've done in the past, from rotating to a couple captains. My initial thoughts from my end were maybe to a rotating basis to create a little competition from month to month. That is a possibility, but we're going to see where we're at. The one thing that's been evident with our club in the past couple years, there's been leadership in a lot of different places. We take a lot of pride in having character inside that room and character in the absence of veterans." -Lindy Ruff-

Jarolsav Spacek was a captain? Gees. Yeah, the alternating thing didn't seem to work this year for the Sabres, as the franchise and the fanbase suffered a severe hangover with the co-captains leaving. Seriously, this may have been the shittiest season to be a Sabres fan…next to the one we are going through now.

As for curses, just look at Brian Campbell, who had a half season from hell as his play was a bit off and the Sabres were being sanctimonious dicks with his contract. You could tell it weighed on him up until the Sabres finally dealt him to San Jose. And look at Hecht being the captain twice. Lindy's man-crush on Hecht will never cease to amaze me.

"That is different, and I don't mind it at all. It's a good spot to be in, I guess. It means you've been around a little bit. If I can help anybody in any way, I'd be happy to.Me and Jochen are kind of the same when it comes to being vocal in the room. We're quiet. It's more Hank and Millsie doing the talking, and Spacho the yelling." -Toni Lydman-

"I've come a long way. "You look back on things, not only this year but in years past, so it's obviously nice. You see some captains that have been here in previous years that you really look up to and admire. To be in that category feels pretty good." -Brian Campbell-

"I'm one of the oldest guys on the team now. Times change. The older you get, the more you speak up and the more you lead the way and set an example out on the ice. I'll do my best for the team to keep the thing going we had last year." -Jochen Hecht-

Craig Rivet: 2008-2011
"We felt this group was old enough and mature enough to have one captain to represent this team. Part of the process was allowing the players a say in who this captain should be." -Lindy Ruff-

I still remember turning on WGR one day and hearing a player who I didn't know, speak with so much excitement and just being quote machine in making me want to put on hockey pads and hip check the person next to my cube.

The player was Craig Rivet. To some, it was kind of an indictment about the lack of mental toughness in the Sabres locker room that they had to make a new guy into the captain. That may be true, but frankly, if you are a leader and a respected player, I think you can go about putting the "C" on that guy.

Rivet's first two years here weren't half bad on the ice. During the 08/09 season, Rivet was probably our best d-man and had that awesome game-tying goal against the Sharks with 7 seconds left. It was the game following the airplane crash in Buffalo, so emotions were high.

I remember watching that game and I gave out one of the biggest cheers ever during a Sabres regular season game I can remember after he scored it. The crowd went wild. The following the year, the Sabres played air tight defense around Ryan Miller, which he was a big part of. However, the captain curse struck again during his final year here.

Rivet was a fricken disaster.

It was really sad to see a player who played in the NHL for so long, not be able to do it anymore. Put whatever metaphor or cliche you want there. The heart and mind was there, but the skills were gone. There was even talk of the Sabres taking the "C" away from him because he was a weekly healthy scratch during the season. It was just sad. We finally put him out of his misery when we put him on waivers.

"I'm not the star. I'm going to be a steady guy back there that's just going to go hard and give 150 percent every time on the ice. That's all I can ask from myself, and that's all I ask from other guys, just give 100 percent of what you have. That's what you'll see. -Craig Rivet-

Jason Pominville: 2011-2013
"It's an honor to represent the team. I think we're going to have to hold each other accountable. … Regardless of whether you have a letter on your jersey or not, if you see something that can help the team and make us better, just let anyone know about it." -Jason Pominville-

I think the most awkward thing about #29 getting the captaincy was that the Sabres did the ceremony on their website and Thomas Vanek was pissed off. I wonder if they will do it next year. For Pommer, he was probably the right guy for the job because he was in that Stu Barnes mold. But the problem was that the Sabres pretty much sucked during his captaincy.

And when that happens, shit runs down hill and the guy who is near the top of the hill will get the most of it and that was #29. I think Pommer did the best he could do with the locker room and even if they put two "Cs" on Steve Ott during the last two years, it wouldn't do anything for their record.

Ironically, Pommer only had the "C" for 119 games, which is the least of any non-altering Sabres captain of the list.

Final word: So do you guys believe in curses? All these captains have gone down with the ship in Titanic like circumstances. What does that tell you? Just bad luck? Maybe. I have no clue who or shouldn't be the captain next year, but I do know the guy is going to need to be surrounded by a way better crew.

If it were up to me, I'd give it to Ryan Miller.

I don't care about Roberto Luongo or that the guy has to goto center ice to talk with the refs or how a ceremonial faceoff would look really weird with a goalie there, but to me, he's the unquestioned leader here and a guy who will say what is on his mind. Of course, he could be gone, so it may be all a moot point or it would factor into the curse of the captaincy.

In the end, the captaincy or a locker room shouldn't be about one voice, but all their voices. You need everyone to chime in and hold others accountable or rally around their teammates. That's why the Nolan teams were successful, because guys like Ray, Barnaby, May and Peca had voices. They did it as a group. One man's voice can't change the culture in that locker room. You need others. There is no "I" in team and there's no "We" in captain.

Editor's note: Quotes were from Buffalo News articles via Lexis Nexis search.


About Joe

The Lord of Buffalo Wins