Did last year screw up this year for the Sabres?

In the beginning part of February, Heather B. and I decided to do a Sabres podcast together. Alright, it was mostly me begging her to talk to me, but she finally gave in. Anyway, the day we did our first podcast came right after Tom Golisano announced he was selling the team. At the time, the Sabres were still on the outside looking into the playoffs and yes, they made some moves in the standings, but it wasn’t to the extent of the March/April run. The hoopla that surrounded the team had nothing to do with the standings, but how Tom Golisano was selling the team to Terry Pegula. 

Heather and I talked about how we didn’t really give a rat’s ass about the Sabres season. No one cared about making the playoffs because it seemed like a pipe dream. It was all about skipping to July and seeing what this team could do via free agency and trades. I remember during the end of the cast, she and I started talking about Darcy Regier’s future. If you believe it, we both thought he should have been fired.

Yes, Heather B, who is Darcy Regier’s #1 fan, wanted him out. I think an angel lost its wings because she said that. Maybe she was spellbound by talking to an a$$hole like me, but the consensus was clear, something needed to change. No playoff series wins since 2007 and a number of free agent/trades that didn’t do much for the team were probably reasons enough.

However, the Sabres went on an impressive run. They went 16-4-4 under Pegula, which was repeated over and over by anyone who followed hockey. Everyone was caught up in Hockey Heaven. It was really a perfect storm for the team and region. We had a bunch of kids from Rochester contributing, we had Thomas Vanek becoming a leader, we had Enroth looking good down the stretch and it all culminated when they almost beat the Flyers in the playoffs.

Of course, you had the golden ticket in Pegula and his deep pockets. His presence made everything sound better than it probably really was. “My god! Look at Nathan Gerbe! Holy crap! Vanek is a commander! They have countdown clocks in the concourse and are giving away free programs! A blogger summit! No way!”

Cheering never felt so good.

I don’t know about you, but maybe it was all a mistake. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy Pegula came through, but I’m going to put on my Monday Morning QB hat on and say that maybe we didn’t make a big enough deal about the crappy start they had last year. We didn’t talk about how they bombed out in the playoffs the previous season with the same core players. Instead, everyone seemed to have the answer as to why this team turned it around: “PEGULA! HOCKEY HEAVEN!”

Is there really a legit reason why this team played so well down the stretch that doesn’t have to do with the fantasy of a new owner taking over? If Tom Golisano was in charge, would they have bottomed out? I don’t know, but it sounds so…dumb, right?

I mean, are there instances in sports history where an owner takes over a team and he gives inspirations to the same old players who had been there for years? New hockey coaches can succeed in get rich quick schemes, but I’m not so sure about owners. It works with movies like Little Big League and Major League. Actually, most owners tend to be evil and the players shove it in their faces and win the World Championship. Anyway, evil or happy, I haven’t found a story like that in the real world. I’m talking where the inspiration of a new owner takes over the performance of the team. Again, I’m talking about that 16-4-4 run, when there weren’t new lockers or begging CGY d-men to waive their no trade clause. Maybe they started playing hard because they knew their jobs were on the line.

I guess my problem consists of trying to figure out why they were so bad at the start of last season. They had the same players who were a part of the division title squad and when you look at the final roster from last season, they were missing Derek Roy and a few other contributors. So, why were they so bad? I don’t really buy the Derek Roy factor that some in the media are pressing. Frankly, I really don’t know. Maybe it was the lack of talent or division title hangover.

Here’s an idea: Maybe they just overachieved in a crappy Eastern Conference and the hoopla for a new owner added to it.

In a way, maybe it was like Ryan Miller’s lightning in a bottle type of season he had in 2010. He played out of his mind and the Olympics were a perfect way to accentuate his play. However, that really wasn’t the Ryan Miller we have seen in the years prior or today. The Olympics acted like a backdrop almost like Pegula saving the team while Miller’s play was like the Sabres version of overachieving. It was just a perfect storm.  

Hate to say it, but maybe it would have been better if the Sabres stayed the course of what they did during the first three months of the season. You know, bottom out. Would they have fired Regier? Would Lindy be sent packing? Probably not.

However, from a fans perspective, we would have demanded blood. We wouldn’t have cared about Vanek’s leadership qualities or how Nathan Gerbe was Honey Badger. Maybe they would have traded Roy and Stafford. Maybe they would have pulled a Philly and gotten rid of everyone. Everyone knows that Buffalo fans have a tendency to grab onto hope for all its worth. Maybe we got too caught up in the team playing well down the stretch and the Pegula storm.

As for this year, injuries have been a factor, but the same core guys are still on the ice. The inconsistencies and lack of scoring from secondary guys still haunt this club. To steal a phrase from Jerry Sullivan, maybe they will make their heroic run to the 7th spot and pull an upset, but is that what we really want? That’s Golisano talk.

All I know is this, if you could go back in time and switch how last season ended, would you have had everything stay the course of being one game out of 2nd round series or would you want a bottoming out to rip the core up? At that time, we would have said add some pieces, now…I’d like to grab the butcher knife and gut it.


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The Lord of Buffalo Wins