Bullet Points for Freedom



Much like Jerry Sullivan today, I can’t be bothered to try, so here are some BULLET POINTS!

* Has it occurred to anybody else that we’re doing to Ryan Miller what we do to everybody in Buffalo? We like him for a while, he exceeds our expectations for a while, and then we are mad at the guy for not continuing to exceed our original expectations.  Things have pretty much always been this way and it appears always will be. Before the 2010 Olympic season, Ryan Miller was a profoundly average goaltender, statistically speaking — maybe a little above average. He was an ancillary thought on two offensively-explosive teams. We loved him, and desperately needed him, because there was nobody else. There was Ty Conklin and Jocelyn Thibault and Patrick Lalime, all of whom were awful in Sabres uniforms. It made Miller the “guy”, but not necessarily because he had yet been so great as to affirm that position. He got a huge contract because the organization was going through a period of paranoia after losing Briere and Drury where it overpaid its own players to “show the league” that they “took care of their players” and all this nonsense. But, outside of that one season, has Ryan Miller ever actually been that “great” goaltender we’ve looked for? Not exactly.

If you look over the careers of Miller in comparison to others who are sometimes considered elite goalies in the NHL, you find that Miller is much closer to a league average goalie than an elite one. Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist have had significantly betters careers than Ryan Miller since the lockout, and Miller has had only a marginally better career than Cam Ward, who is close to his statistical equal most of the time. League Average goaltending in the NHL is not as dirty a word as, say, being an average NFL Quarterback or an average hitter in baseball. With an average NHL goaltender, a good team can still win a championship. But very few teams with average NHL goaltenders pay that goaltender about 8% of their salary cap and allow him to be a vitriolic vocal leader in their locker room. What’s more, Miller is entering that period in his career which seems to haunt every Sabres goalie: the time in which he’s been around for 7 or 8 years but has not won anything, and it is thus time to go. It happened to Dominik Hasek, who was still among the best two or three goalies in the world. If it can happen to Dom, it can happen to Miller. 

Besides, Miller’s role on this team is changing and rightfully so. He shouldn’t be the locker room leader, and definitely should not be the first one the media goes to for the team’s direction….especially as grouchy as he can be. If Miller sticks around the Sabres, he’ll need to do so in a reduced role. But at this point, is that even worth it?

* For the betterment of the team, I’m sort of hoping the Sabres really continue to have a rough go of it. I’ve never felt this way with the Bills before, and I’ve gone so far as to call it asinine to think that. Mostly because the team only plays 16 times per year, and I like the teams I root for to win. But I decided this morning that there is another major difference, and that is that if the Bills were just as awful as they could possibly be, that still does not give me confidence that they would take that opportunity to make the right moves, or fix the ailments. Things at One Bills Drive have been so bad for so long that I don’t have confidence that bottoming out is an effective strategy. Meanwhile, I feel like undeniable failure for the Sabres would kick Pegula into action. I retain confidence that if things are bad enough for the Sabres, major changes will occur. That doesn’t exist for me in football.

* Is anyone else a little bummed that favor and access has kind of softened a lot of bloggers in the Buffalo Sports community? Even our lovely chief-of-staff Joe Pinzone, who often denies it in public to the high hills, is wooed like a 15-year-old teeny bopper in the face of members of the traditional media. Props to him, however, for bringing a few real questions to the recent Sabres Bloggers Summit. He was one of only two invitees who really asked questions worthy of said favor and access, the other being Corey Griswold. (Honorable Mention to Phil from Black, Blue & Gold, who relayed a potent social responsibility question on LGBT rights and the Sabres involvement with the Salvation Army). But as Joe admitted in his post-summit wrap-up piece, he gets a little nervous in those situations, and, frankly, gun shy. It leads me to ask what exactly is the point of all of this? If the online community is unwilling to use this new access to ask the questions the traditional media hasn’t, or to look at things from a new perspective, than this truly is nothing but copycatting stuff that is already, well, crap.

* Speaking of the traditional media, there’s a new theme from their “we know what you want more than you know what you want” war chest this week. It is that we’d all actually like the stuff they write for The News if we didn’t know it was them who wrote it. This is to imply that we all really just have a bias against the writers themselves, and not their content. This is an ages-old defense mechanism of crappy storytellers and dime-store scribes: to pretend that the content isn’t the problem, that their must be outlying factors. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care if something is written by Bucky Gleason or Mother Theresa. If it stinks, it stinks.

* From the Department of Social Justice, find a petition against the SOPA and PIPA internet censorship acts today and sign it, then take heed of the various major web-sites around the internet that are joining in on the protest. SOPA and PIPA are upcoming legal maneuvers, spearheaded by the MPAA and executives of major media conglomerates, designed to essentially corporatize the entire internet. If passed, it would begin the end of the free spread of information on the internet as we know it. This is not just a matter of big media protecting itself against piracy like torrents and other illegal downloads. There are provisions in these acts that would make it essentially impossible to do things such as link to sites which may have, at one time, contained links themselves to offending content. So, for instance, before Buffalo Wins could link to an outside source, we’d be legally required to check every page on that source to assure that they have not linked to illegal content, and then check every link that they linked to for the same thing. It would be virtually impossible to manage, and would end things like, oh, you know, search engines, as we know them. The MPAA, who threw several truckloads of money at recently retired scumbag Congressman Chris Dodd to be their chief lobbyist, is using China as their desired model for change. Sounds great, doesn’t it? The chances of this thing passing through Congress and being signed into law are closer than you think and it constitutes a real dog fight, mostly because corporate interests have so many Congresspeople in their back pocket.

* If you don’t read, listen or watch This American Life, that’s too bad because it’s great. They recently had two very interesting episodes: One, a look at Foxconn, a super-manufacturer in China that produces many of our electronics by essentially slave-driving the Chinese underclass, but also the factual inaccuracies that come from reporting on this stuff because Chinese is so secretive. Their secrecy, it turns out, often makes them appear even worse than they really are. Two, a look into a free thought school in Brooklyn where the student body participates in direct democracy to create their own school’s rules.. that’s right, no real principal authority, no real student handbook. These two things lead me to ask two questions: If a Macbook cost $2,200 instead of $1,000, but it employed 30,000 Americans at a livable wage instead of Chinese at a slave wage, would it be worth it to pay for it? My wife and I have recently taken to consuming most of our food from farmer’s markets and local grass-fed and cage-free farms. (We’re not total hippies: we still do eat out in the nefarious ‘service’ industries) We avoid grocery stores except for in cases of dire necessity. The reason is that we’ve found we’ve taken food for granted too much in how easy it has become to access. Beef and eggs should be expensive, because they are even more expensive, in multiple ways, to replace. It used to be that we, as a country, looked at everything like this. When families got their first television set, or a new automobile, it was a neighborhood event. This is just 40 years ago. These days, you bring home an iPad, are excited for fifteen minutes, and then want to know what’s on television.

As for the school thing, wouldn’t it be interesting to practice direct democracy in our real, adult world, and not just free thought schools? Not the greatest idea ever maybe, but interesting. The founders never intended it this way, as we lament on founders intentions so often: the founders of the American Revolution were mostly a group of wealthy aristocrats who wanted to be the head dudes in charge. The American Revolution was a gang war, which would probably make Al Capone and the Gatti’s feel a little better. Our Democracy was always supposed to be limited, as it goes, and so I’m often surprised that we are so proud of it and hold it up as the marble model when there are many freer places in the world. 

Speaking of American history, I am endlessly fascinated by how little we all know about it — the real stuff, anyway. You always see those man-on-the-street interviews from different TV shows trying to prove how dumb Americans are by showing them a picture of George Washington and getting them to say that’s Abraham Lincoln, or something. I’m not talking about that. Those are the lowest common denominator and often heavily edited to make things worse than they are. I’m talking about how we all grew up thinking a great deal of things that aren’t true, such as: “this was founded as a Christian nation” (most of the founders were atheists or deists), or that Paul Revere was really responsible for “The Midnight Ride” (he wasn’t, really, it was a guy named William Dawes for the most part. Revere’s name worked better in the Longfellow poem). This is important, of course, because history can give us a window into many of the problems we face everyday, from civics to sports. Just as people who are frustrated with our “high taxation” do not seem to realize that personal top marginal tax rates are at 90-year lows (lowest since the great depression) since Bush Sr., we Sabres fans sometimes forget that having a really rich owner does not necessarily immediately change things for the better (see Steinbrenner, George; Snyder, Daniel). These problems, like those ones, are more systemic, and require more thorough analysis than “So what’s Pegula going to do now, huh?”

* So to get back to sports, here’s that analysis, from me anyway: Terry Pegula does not seem like an especially smart human being. This is not a knock on him, as you might imagine it is. He seems, after all, to be supremely skilled at a few things in life, and savvy enough to maximize his benefits from those things. There are lots of people in various careers like that who aren’t, in the overall scheme, geniuses. Pegula seems to have one thing in particular that makes him a candidate for a decent leader, and that is the ability to know when he is over his head, and the humbleness to bring in other smart people to make smart decisions for him. He seems to have the ability to look to people in circumstances where he obviously does not have the answer. That’s where Ted Black comes into play. What ails the Sabres is a mystery and everyone has their own opinion. We are all essentially quack doctors with a myriad of diagnoses. While Terry Pegula can, if he really wanted, make wholesale changes on his own to the roster, the front office, and so forth, it seems that he’s instead decided to put his trust in other people to do his bidding and only offer an equal opinion. It means that if and when Darcy Regier, or Lindy Ruff, or Roster Player X are gone, it will have gone through a vetting process that is slow but thorough. 

 This does not mean it’s always a good thing, either. It may take a lot longer for the organization to realize it’s time for a Darcy Regier or a Lindy Ruff to go and the team may suffer through bad signings and bad years because of it. One of the things that Sabres fans are totally tired of is stagnation, and one of the hopes that may be unfulfilled by the new regime is removing that entirely. The slow burn approach to organizational leadership is often a great one in the business world, because it allows your best minds to make the best choices over the best period of time, which is subject to whatever they think is right. But sports are different, because they are slave to the ultimate enemy of most successful business men: finite time lines. What Terry Pegula has going for him at the moment is a nearly endless bankroll, passion, and a smart guy named Ted Black. What he has going against him is the fact that expectations are always tightly packed into these little things called “seasons”.

 * I’m currently in the process of picking a favorite NBA team. I’ve never been an NBA fan before, really. I rooted for the Bulls when they had Michael Jordan, but only because of him, and never cared to watch much of their games. I’ve found the NBA pretty refreshing these past few weeks, and with the Sabres tanking, it will at least help to pass the time into the long off-season. After starting with a docket of about a dozen potential teams, I’ve narrowed my list down to the final four: the LA Clippers, Portland Trailblazers, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves. One of these teams will become my rooting interest, and they are all on television tonight. Lobbying of any kind is accepted, and I do take bribes. My twitter is @matthew1stewart.

* I live in a great city. Austin was 75 degrees yesterday, and the 10-day low “high temperature” for this area is about 65, give-or-take. It’s sunny like 95% of the year. There’s lots of jobs where people can earn a livable wage, there is a vibrant social culture and always something happening, and you don’t need to write a nasty letter to XYZ giant global corporation, because they all have offices right here. If you want to be a tree-hugging green-conscious PRIDE-marching Democrat, or a bible-thumping, gun-toating, pick-up driving Republican, you go right ahead. It’s a great place, and I’m endlessly surprised by the amount of former Buffalonians I meet who’ve sought refuge here from the various difficulties in the Nickel City. But they all hold on to a little sliver of Buffalo, because it is who they are. It’s important to remind ourselves that it is a part of us, no matter how small, and a meaningful part. Over the holidays, I met one person in particular who is formerly from West Seneca. She’s a tried and true Sabres fan. Her name is Anika and she has been blind since birth. Her life, exceptionally difficult in comparison to most of ours, requires her to ask for assistance in virtually everything she does from walking down a hall to getting a ride from here-to-there. I met her because she had a really cool hand-stitched Buffalo Sabres sweater on. She made it, it turns out, and her friend helps her pick out the colors. (I am amazed what people are able to do simply through patterns and through touch). When I spoke with Anika, who was waiting for her blind-ride service to pick her up downtown, I asked her how she was able to become a Sabres fan despite never actually getting to see hockey, to know what it looks like, to appreciate it’s aesthetic beauty. She told me that in Buffalo, “it’s just a part of who you are. No matter where you go, it surrounds you. I can’t see it, but I can feel it, if that makes sense.” It definitely made sense. She also said one other interesting thing to me. Anika moved to Austin almost fifteen years ago now because her family had mostly abandoned her once she had become adult age, due to her disability. “They all live in Buffalo, still.” I found that part very sad. Then she showed some optimism, something you might not expect. “But I still have an uncle who talks to me.” she said. “His name is Rick Jeanerrette. Doesn’t he remind you of home?” And though Rick is, of course, not her real uncle, and though, of course, she didn’t see it, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. 

That’s it for this week, kids. Until next time.