I've been trying not to go after Sabres fans' dreams of Lindy Ruff hoisting a Stanley Cup in downtown Buffalo. I want a championship. I want that more than money, power, and women. I'd give anything for it. Trust me, I'm not a hater. I'm a fan. I'm a fan who wants this team to do well. But I'm also realistic and not a homer. If that makes me negative, so be it. I promise you, if things go well with the Sabres and they win a round or two in the playoffs, I won't find anything to bitch about. Burn me at the stake if I do.
I've come around to not telling fans they shouldn't root for the team or look for a silver lining in everything. I know things are desperate. I know that the Buffalo sports fan psyche can be like a roller coaster and that we need to find some sort of hope that things will turn around. The draft is that hope for both the Bills and Sabres. If a comet fell from the sky while the Sabres were drafting a Russian, we'd act like it was an omen for greatness.
I, however, am going to make sure I take a Twitter vacation during next year's NHL draft. Maybe I missed the memo, but when did fans/media members start covering/caring about the NHL Draft like the NFL Draft? Kris Baker is Mel Kiper. Jeremy White is Chris Berman, who loves every single pick Buffalo makes. People are talking about Mogilny jersey numbers for these kids. It is shocking to me to see people acting like the Sabres solved their center problem last weekend.
Do fans not Wikipedia the NHL draft and realize that after the top 5 picks, the whole thing is a damn crapshoot? That you won't see a player get to the NHL level until 2-3 years later? People are acting like Darcy just suddenly started drafting centers. Last I checked, the Sabres selected two centers (Ennis and Luke Adam) in the 2008 Draft.
But, no, he's changed. He's been unchained by Pegula, right? You do realize that he has had two first round picks before (2008), right? Any argument about Regier being unchained from the previous regime should center on money. Trading for draft picks isn't a money matter. There is no reason to insinuate that if Golisano was here, Darcy couldn't have traded a 2nd rounder to move from 21st to 14th in the first round. None. Zip.
More importantly, the guy will probably not do anything next year except play in the OHL or AHL or KKSLHY League. Yeah, I know. Everyone says he has a chance to compete because we have no centers. Remember that Luke Adam was sitting in the minors last year when we were desperate for centers. I'm not holding my breath. The Sabres, for the most part, want their guys to play in the minors, ride the buses, and eat garbage plates in Rochester. Sure, Darcy will say the guy has a chance of making the team, but he says that for everyone.
Of course, the Russian guy was touted by draft experts as being a top 3 player so he's bound to be good, right? Mel Kiper guaranteed Jimmy Clausen would be an NFL starter years ago. Memo to hockey fans: Draft experts aren't always right. There's no difference between Kiper, Todd McShay, Jay Bilas, and your coach in high school. If the draft is a crapshoot, what exactly is a draft expert? A Lotto player? Sure, they do their homework and watch games, but like the teams, the fans, and myself, they can be wrong.
Again, it takes 2-3 years for these kids to come up and some of them won't even see the light of day. (See: Artem Kryukov, Jiri Novotny, Marek Zagrapan).
Of the Sabres first round picks since Darcy Regier has been here, none, I repeat, none of them have played the following year. They either sat in some Canadian league for a year or two or went to the minors.
Take a look:
1997: Mika Noronen (21st pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2000/2001 season, played two games)
1998: Dmitri Kalinin (18th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 1999/2000 season, played four games)
1999: Barrett Heisten (20th pick - Never played for the Sabres, played 10 NHL Games)
2000: Artem Kryikov (15th pick - Never played for the Sabres, has only played in Russia)
2001: Jiri Novotny (22nd pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2005/2006 season)
2002: Keith Ballard (11th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2005/2006 season)
2002: Daniel Paille (20th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2005/2006 season)
2003: Thomas Vanek (5th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2005/2006 season) (Editor's note: Just so no one nitpicks, it's worth pointing out that at least part of the reason Vanek stayed in Rochester for the entire 2004/2005 season is that the NHL was locked out. -HB)
2004: Drew Stafford (13th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2006/2007 season)
2005: Marek Zagrapan (13th pick - Never played for the Sabres)
2006: Dennis Persson (24th pick - Never played for the Sabres)
2008: Tyler Myers (12th pick -Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2009/2010 season)
2008: Tyler Ennis (26th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the end of the 2009/2010 season)
2009: Zack Kassian (13th pick - Didn't play in his first NHL game until the 2011/2012 season)
2010: Mark Pysyk (23rd pick - Hasn't played for the Sabres)
2011: Joel Armia (16th pick - Hasn't played for the Sabres)
Now explain to me why I'm supposed to be hopeful about the centers drafted this year playing with the Sabres next year? Most of the guys listed above didn't even get to the parent club for at least 2-3 years. But do you hear outlets telling readers and listeners this? Of course not. We gotta hype something in June. We can't just tell the world that there's a good chance these guys won't make any noise for a while.
I'm supposed to care because WGR/TBN decided to care about the draft and hype it? Or because TSN had the Russian guy slated as the 3rd best prospect? Pleeeeeeeeease. It is no different than Mel Kiper and Todd McShay hyping every pick. Most of the media members haven't seen any of these kids play. They are just going by publications and other experts. There's a reason why everyone called Kris Baker for expertise on the subject. It is because no one knows jack shit and he actually watches these kids.
The local media knows we have an NHL fan base that lives for hockey. They have seen what traffic for sites and ratings have done for the NFL Draft, so why not work it with the NHL? One problem: College players make the transition to the NFL a lot more easier than to the NHL. But, the media are going to make the draft sound like it is of dire importance for this year and you'll get cheerleaders who will act like Regier is a genius for drafting a center who won't help until 2014.
Now, I understand the importance of the draft. A number of teams have lived off of them. But the majority of the important players, unless they were top 3 picks, didn't come into their own for a good 3-4 years after they were drafted. Some don't even see the big time. So pump your brakes when it comes to talking about the Sabres solving their center problem. Maybe these guys will do the trick by 2015, but stop trying to envision Mikhail Grigorenko playing with 29 and 26 next year.
What annoys me even more is that all this hype is just the beginning. It will be fricken annoying when these guys do come up. I can already imagine the #Illhangupandlisten hashtag being used when some drunk calls into WGR demanding that these kids get called up or how they suck and need to get traded. And you know what will piss me off most? The hosts will tell the callers they are idiots for asking about these kids even though, right now, they are the ones feeding into the hype. It is like the bartender saying, "Tough shit" to the the guy who got a DWI after he kept feeding him drinks even though he knew there was a cop outside waiting to pull his ass over.
It will be Zack Kassian all over again with fans having monstrous expectations because of the stories and hype. People will be expecting star-like ability when it takes an NHL player a good year or two to get his feet under them. But because we live in Mel Kiper's world of prospects being waaaaaaaaay better than advertised when drafted, we will go nuts when they struggle. The issue has always been that Sabres fans get too excited whenever a new kid shows up. See Gragnani and Weber from the end of the 2011 season and how fans were ready to anoint them as a play-making and stay-at-home d-men for life. What happened? They were terrible last year. It takes years to know what you got and you don't know anything until then.
This isn't an indictment on Regier. On paper, it was a decent draft because we needed centers and IF they pan out? Great. Now, I would have liked some guys getting traded from the team, but I'm not going to hammer him for not trading for vets....yet. I'll give him until July 7th to do something. This is more about the media/fans just feeding into a beast that has no teeth for this year. I will almost feel sorry for the fans/media members who will be disappointed when these picks don't do anything next year, but you are the ones who decided to buy into it.