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The death of “tougher to play against”

If there's one thing I wish I could change about my childhood self, it would be my athleticism. Actually, you can't really change what you don't have. And I didn't have any sort of athletic ability. I was the kid who shied away from contact or the ball and because of that, was always picked last in P.E. I was more of a fan of sports than a participant.  If I had been good at sports at all, I'm sure my imagination would have taken me to a life of playing in the pros, specifically for the Bills or Sabres. 

I'm sure the dream has run through thousands of kids' minds, but there aren't very many who can say they grew up to play for a Buffalo team. Patrick Kaleta was one of those guys who got to live the dream.

Let's be honest here, it's not just his effort or physical style of play that's enamored him to most Buffalo fans. It was his local small-town roots. Why do you think people went ballistic when Tim Kennedy was bought out? Was it because he was this can't miss prospect? Hell, no. It was because he was from South Buffalo.

Like Kennedy, Kalata was one of us and we love it whenever one of us makes it big. Watching Kaleta play was a treat for the locals. He loves the region and always perks up whenever he speaks about Angola and growing up as a Sabres fan. He loves it so much that the guy was trying to open a rink there so kids can learn the same craft as he did. He was giving back to the community that gave him a living playing the game he loves.

I gotta admit. I feel bad for Pat Kaleta. Yes, I get that he's been given more chances to change his game than Darcy Regier has been given chances to change the franchise's fortunes. However, when I listen to him talk, it seems like Kaleta is a really down-to-earth guy who isn't an asshole. I mean, he collects fricken Legos. "Asshole" and "collector of Legos" don't exactly go hand-and-hand, does it?

Maybe I feel bad for him because he's a Buffalo guy. Maybe I feel bad because he collects Legos. Maybe I feel bad because the NHL is possibly pressuring Darcy Regier to fix their "tougher to play against" missteps. Maybe I feel bad because this is exactly what his employers wanted.

Bingo.  I think it's that last one.

You see, I remember that in the summer of 2012, the Sabres, specifically Andrew Peters and Kevin Sylvester, were pushing the "tougher to play against" angle. I couldn't believe my ears when they made the John Scott signing into this game-changing moment for the franchise. Seriously, there's no hyperbole here when I say they were salivating at the thought of the Sabres signing this goon. It was the message for the entire offseason and into the lockout-shortened season.

If the "Tougher to play against" narrative is on the table and being pushed by the Sabres, don't you think the tough guys on the team are going to push the envelope? I mean, that's what the Sabres were selling to us. They used the "Remember the Lucic incident!" as their own personal "Remember the Alamo!" battle cry.

I don't think the Sabres created Kaleta's edge, but they sure did try to sharpen it.

I get that there's a difference between playing reckless and playing smart when it comes to hitting, but don't sit here and act like the Sabres didn't want their tough guys to play with an edge. In the case of Kaleta, it was like enabling an alcoholic, criticizing him with one hand and pouring another drink for him with the other because hey, he's a hell of a wingman when he's drunk. You can't have a mixed message like this.

Anyway, I get why the Sabres waived him. Kaleta has been suspended multiple times and the NHL is watching him and the franchise. Teams know he's just a pest who tries to get under their skin in order to get them to take stupid penalties. The secret is out about his game and when the Sabres are as bad as they are on the power play, it really doesn't accomplish much anyway. I wouldn't exactly say this is a humanitarian mission by Darcy. They did try to trade him before attempting to fix his problem.

I think if Kaleta gets his head on straight, he does have a place in this league. He has some scoring touch, can kill penalties, and hitting still hasn't been outlawed yet.

However, make no bones about it, Kaleta has to change and I think in bigger news, the Sabres are realizing that they too have to change. With Kaleta jettisoned, Steve Ott apparently feeling his days are numbered, and John Scott maybe getting waived too (speculation on my part), their interpretation of "tougher to play against" is dying. Thank God.

The Sabres sent way too many mixed messages to their guys and couldn't figure out what exactly "tougher to play against" meant. Goonery? Max effort? Fighting whenever someone comes near Miller? Steve Ott as captain? It was never clear from the start. I've always said, there's more lost by indecision than by wrong decision.

As for Kaleta, he has to be going through his own personal hockey hell.

It's not every day that you get a 7-year veteran going back down to the minors like some sort pitcher who all of a sudden can't find the strike zone. His dream of opening a rink in Angola is finished because of zoning restrictions or some BS that goes over my head. His dream of playing for the Sabres may be finished as well.

Seriously, between he and Kennedy, the dream of being a Buffalo-born player playing for the Sabres is something that might be better left in your dreams.

Joe

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The Lord of Buffalo Wins

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