To say it's been a tough season for the Sabres is a huge understatement. Injuries, bad luck, the 12 road game losing streak, Ville Leino. It feels like a nightmare us fans cannot awake from. This was was supposed to be the biggest season in years.
Money was thrown around and big names came to Buffalo. There was a shiny new locker room, TV's AND cup holders in the bathroom, upgrades to the rink. Unfortunately all the promise and grandeur turned into disaster. It's really a lot like the Titanic, the unsinkable ship has been sunk.
However, I'm gonna try to shine some light in this dark room of a season. Whether or not we want to admit it, there are some positives we as fans can draw from the season.
I think the first thing is the success of Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek. It's been talked about all season, with the Captain getting an All-Star nod. Pominville is in the top 20 in the league in scoring and is just a few points behind guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza. Maybe you've heard of them? Vanek has also shown his worth this season. For whatever reason, I've overheard fans at games call them lazy or useless, when they have become the team's leaders (regardless of letters). They've at least proven they want to play and want to play well here in Buffalo
I think another thing this season has shown us is that Tyler Myers is pretty damn important to this team. He came out of the gate pretty slow, but after a brief stint in the press box as a healthy scratch, he entered beast mode. He hit, he defended, he created offense. He returned to form. An injury sidelined him for a little over a month, and his absence showed how much he really means to his team. When he came back, depsite losses piling up, he showed his worth by making a lot of great plays in his own zone. I know they may be little things, but I think he's proved just how important he is and how good he is.
Speaking of defensemen, it seems this Robyn Regehr fellow is a good, solid defenseman. I know, I know, plus/minus rating blah blah blah. If anyone uses that as an argument, they have not watched the games. Besides the odd mistake here or there, Regher has been awesome. He delivers big hits, plays a solid stay-at-home style, and is a still a good veteran guy to have around the locker room. He's everything Craig Rivet was supposed to be. Once again, the plays he makes may be small, but they really add up. This guy is a keeper.
Jordan Leopold is another positive light in this hellish season. He seems to be on his way to another 10-goal season. When you have a defenseman that can consistently score 10 goals, that's invaluable. He's shown he's not too shabby in his own end either and has fantastic offensive instincts. Unless we can use him to get a good return, he's a keeper as well.
This season has also shown that maybe a total rebuild isn't necessary. The core in Rochester seems ready to step in at any time. Despite some signs of immaturity recently, Zack Kassian is ALMOST ready for the NHL. He's only 22 and had 6 points in 13 NHL games plus he's shown a willingness to fight. Maybe he won't be the next Hall of Fame power forward, but the kid can play and will be a very good NHL player some time soon. He's a got a few things to learn, but he'll figure it all out. T.J. Brennan, Brayden McNabb, and Corey Tropp have all shown that they can one day be effective members of this team.
Maybe blowing it all up is not the answer. There are still a few players here who want to win and are trying their hardest to make it happen. There are a share of guys who need to go. However, it would be a bad idea to write this team off for the next few years, trade everyone, and start over. There are plenty of reasons to actually be optimistic for next year. I know I'm just as tired of hearing "next year" as the next guy, but with Terry Pegula as the owner, I'm optimistic. He hasn't even owned the team a full year, and I believe he needs a chance. He tried one way, and it didn't succeed. He's a businessman and he's smart enough to know that he's going to have to change something to find success. He's said himself several times, he's here to win. I believe 100% that's what he will do.
And you know what else? I think we will see Ryan Miller return to form. He's struggled, sure, but before getting steamrolled by Lucic, he was the Miller we all know and love for the most part. He looked a lot like the old Miller in a recent wins over New Jersey, Montreal, the Islanders and had a hell of a game against the Rangers. As our own Michael Tracz wrote, two concussions in one calandar year probably affected his game a great deal.
So fans, before we go burn down the FN'C, before we send that nasty tweet to the Pegula daughters or Ryan Miller's wife, and before we push Terry out of town after 11 months, let's take pause. Let's look around and realize there are some positives, that there is still time (unless the world does end), and that this team will win a Cup. It probably won't be this year, but it's going to happen. There are players here that can be a part of a winning team. Now, it's just a matter of finding a few more pieces. I think we are that close. Really. We've seen what this team can do when fully healthy (12-5-0 to start the season). But imagine what Pominville and Vanek could do with a #1 center, or how much better our goalies could be with Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr together and completely healthy playing in front of them. Part of the problem is the core, but it's not all of them. The core doesn't need to be replaced, just updated, because there are good apples in there, we just have to get rid of the rotten ones.
Well guys, first of all I would like to thank you for the feed back, I'm glad this has generated some intelligent discussion among fans.
BSN360: I wasn't too worried about the "pessimists." They're out there, but I'm not going to let them dampen my ability to enjoy my team.
I like how Blazman voices his disappointment and frustration. He doesn't come off like a jackass and brings up valid points about the culture of the team. To him I say that I think it will take time to change. Just like any culture change, it'll probably be different next year. I do agree with you though that the culture is a problem. I believe I say something about keeping the good apples (Vanek, Pominville) and getting rid of the rotten ones (Roy, Stafford, Gragnani). The rotten apples hurt our team. I think they've got a bad attitude (particularly Roy and Gragnani) that brings the team down more than the leaders can bring the team up.
Also I'm not going to give them a hall pass on the injury excuse, but over the last four games they've looked a lot better (3-0-1) while being almost completely healthy. So I think we can lend it a little credibly. It did get pretty crazy mid season, it seemed like a guy was getting hurt every game. However, it's not an excuse for the ugly 12 game road losing streak or taking more than 2 months to win two a row. That's a culture problem.
The reason I believe in Pegula/Black is because Pegula knows as a businessman that if something doesn't work to achieve his goal for the Sabres, he's going to change course. He's been around a while and has probably failed a few times in his business ventures. Since this team did not succeed as he had hoped, I'm sure he'll find a new way to try to help this team succeed.
@AlexBeilman I can clearly see that you also respect intelligent banter. That is critical to a logical debate. From all discussions I have had with "blazman" he either has something to contribute and back it up or he won't engage in the discussion. I too am the same. Welcome to the club Alex. It's a burden at times, but I am glad to surround myself with thought provoking people. My article about culture change for your perusal. I do not pride myself in writing nor editing, but I do write when I feel the need to do so. www.sabrespulse.wordpress.com
I don't have a problem with the positive spin. However at the end of the day Sabres most likely are not going to win the Stanley Cup, might not even make the playoffs. They set one main goal, win the cup. If they don't do it then you take the learning and iterate and get better. They need to iterate almost daily to get better. I get the sense that they are not. Injuries are huge, but can't be used as an excuse. Lindy creates mental excuses for the team to lean on. His excuses give the players permission to have an excuse and not perform. This team is paying too much attention to the details, seems counter intuitive but focused attention is the enemy of performance. (Webber are you listening)
Lindy creates this mentality and I am surprised that no one has told him to stop. I think he understands the X and O part of the game and can motivate his guys, but struggles to create a cohesive team.
@BSN You wrote an article about culture a while back and I could not believe that you were talking about culture because it is the secret sauce that no one talks about. Good call, but nothing has been done to fix it. Successful business men do NOT always create great culture. In fact I think it is rare. Most people hate their jobs. I think that Pegs is probably relying on Black to create the culture (if they are even thinking about it) If Tony Hseih bought the Sabres I would feel better about it but I don't know anything about Pegs or Black..
@blazman@bsn It is great to hear you impart your opinion from an informed background. I know you have knowledge in that arena. Your point is certainly something to embrace, not disregard. I did write about "culture", and that certainly is something that is difficult to create, difficult to assess, and very difficult to remedy.
Rather than vitriolic debate, I think multiple opinions and fair discussion is the only way to pacify the angst of the fan base. Fact is conjecture can't enlighten us as to what is going on, but more opinions can help give fans a framework, by which to view the team. We'll likely never know an absolute fact as to the problem, but without said facts from the inside, we are forced to create our own opinions of what is/could be wrong. I will continue to trust the Pegula until such facts of imperfection are revealed. As much as I would like to be an optimist, I prefer to keep a level head and an even keel. Negativity is the sexier topic and usually the first place to go when one has an opinion. It's just nice to remember the positives clouded by the negativity time to time.
@bsn360@blazman There have been significant strides in the research and development of group culture. Jane McGonigal, Tony Hseih, Dave Logan, and Dan Mezick are all authors that have researched and created a guides for culture development in optimizing teams @DanMezick is releasing a book in the next 30 days called "The Culture Game" that is a game changer (no pun intended) This methodology is about to spill over into team sports. The first to implement gets to win first. I wish there was a direct line to Ted Black, I would love to get in there and affect change.
Great read Alex. I wonder if you felt the weight of the pessimists when you pressed the enter key to submit this. Did you worry about twitter comments telling you to wake up to reality etc? I know it's tough to bean optimist in Buffalo. God forbid we try and find solace in the positives.
There is no shame in writing an optimistic article about this team. Why can't injuries be an excuse? I am sick and tired of hearing how the Penguins and other teams were doing fine despite missing key players. Every team is unique. The Sabres chemistry was at issue in the beginning. That happens when you add several high paid players and extend contracts of existing guys. They needed the early part of the season desperately to grow together as a unit. How can one ignore the fact that chemistry was hampered during the slew of injuries? And what about Miller who prides himself in meticulous preparation. It is widely understood that Miller has an entire season in his head when he prepares/plays. A long view. Both he and Ruff have a finger on the pulse of his readiness, mental and physical fitness. 2 concussions will certainly take more than a few games to get back on track.
Pegula is a successful, proven business man. I have 100% confidence we are in good hands. Since when do the fans or writers at TBN for that matter have ANY clue what is going on internally. To be perfectly honest, the fans would need a Fortune or Forbes writer to document the internal workings of this team. I highly doubt Gleason or Sullivan have the acumen required to reveal how a fortune 500 company becomes successful. Turnarounds take time. Whatever the outcome of this season, they have a bunch of games left to build a solid foundation prior to the playoffs, or next season. Plenty of time to identify the "bad apples." Big picture? There is bushel of reasons for optimism.