A nation sits, idle, burning. Left of its once towering prestige and reputation is nothing but the jesters, the town criers, and a feeble amalgamation of lowly peasants. There they are, all of them, the ruins of a once proud nation: etching with their finger nails their testament into the charred floor boards of feeble huts, crawling deeper still to their deaths in the soggy, moldy basements of their mothers. All the while a ravenous, bloodthirsty Mike Harrington bellows from the ragged cushions of whatever second-hand couch he refers to as his throne, his bowling shirt somehow still glistening immaculately in the sparse sun, these hushing words:
"Basement Brigade," the velociraptor-esque troll overlord has said, his hair slicked back in a wispy up-do held together by spitball and denial. "I told you this would happen."
Of course he did. If you ever want to be great at talking about sports (if such a thing can be measured in some way by skill... which it cannot, but hooooold the train), predict the worst at all possible cost, and then if you're right....well your team sucks, but you were right about it all along. And if you're wrong, well, you were wrong, but hey, they won, so who cares?
Joe asks me this somewhat-rhetorical question from time to time: "What is it about Bucky Gleason that pisses so many people off? He can't be wrong every time he writes a negative column."
And yes, that's true. He can't be wrong *every* time. Bucky Gleason is a negative buck, his columns seemingly more manufactured by a negativity machine than an actual person, and yes Bucky: we're all aware that you've occasionally heard some negative things about Sabres management from league sources, apparently including "a little birdy". But if there's one thing I've learned from writing in the however-many-years-now I've been trying to write, it's this: You can't out-negative the negative, can't out-troll the troll, because they WILL, in fact, fight your fire with fire. They will torch and torch and torch and torch and multiply and repopulate until there is nothing left of anything, until they've burned down so much of the 'nation' (in this example, "Sabres Nation") that there is nothing left recognizable or usable. It just all becomes rubble. They will berate and attack and troll and neck-beard and whatever other internet slang until they have lit you and even themselves on fire. Then they will high five each other, likely in capital letters or vapid sarcasm or in another form 'borrowed' from Deadspin or Fire Joe Morgan or Awful Announcing, then thrust forward their chests and announce:
"I have no culpability in this matter, for I don't take it serious. I take *other* things serious...or no things at all. Therefore: I am not required to have empathy for your lack of empathy, and yet I am just fine. Such is the way of the internet. Idiot."
And so on.
When you think about it, though, I guess that's kind of the arrangement that content creators need to accept in this, the age-of-the-troll, if they're being paid or even if they're doing it for fun. I recently did an interview with SB Nation's Bobby Big Wheel, in which he said it was a philosophy of some that only about 10% of the internet's users are actually interested in reading and fairly judging lots of content. Our job as writers is to turn that 10% into 10.1% and do our best. That seems to make sense.
But in times like these, with the Sabres being well...awful, it can be hard to remind yourself either as just a reader or as a content creator, that this is the deal we've all generally put together for ourselves. This is the internet "we" have created for ourselves, to an extent. If you exist and produce content -- either directly on Twitter or on a blog or newspaper site or elsewhere -- you're within the grasp of trolling and hate and all that, and the desire to get that content out there kind of ties you into the social contract that you're willing to be criticized for it. It's just that, on the internet, little criticism exists within the realm of reason. On the internet, criticism exists to win. It exists to pull forth emotional response. It exists to have crazy Lulz with some friends at the cost of just about anything.
I haven't been as good at remembering and ignoring that as I'd like to be, and even the best of us -- see the aforementioned Bobby Big Wheel -- occasionally invites a flame war which just cannot be ignored (he got into it this weekend over whether or not MLK Jr. would be a modern day Republican with legions of Twitter trolls).
In the Sabres world, the lunacy can be much more niche, so niche in fact that it then at some point makes sense for a Buffalo News reporter to suggest trading Ryan Miller for Ryan Malone, so microscopic that there exists seemingly pointless exchanges about whether or not Jhonas Enroth should be sent down right now-right-this-instant-now or maybe just if he's bad for a little bit longer.
Now, I don't want to suggest that the whole world of Buffalo sports fans are any one thing. I got in trouble for that enough already. It's important to remember that it's actually just like.... 20 or so people, hollering things into the abyss of Twitter. But in the midst of all the noise that is Twitter, the people who do the hollering can sometimes have the most effectual, or at least prominent voice. The hollering can get a person's voice heard, and because it's a voice shouting out from an ocean of voices, it carries weight. Shaping the conversation through a handful of people who may not necessarily have the desire to be reasonable -- may admit that, even -- is a frightening thing. It's frightening because it's contagious, and it's also frightening because not a lot of listening or convincing actually takes place when this becomes the tone of the discourse.
"Blargh! Your opinions on subject X make you a bad person. Here's a couple of mean things about you!"
"Plllllllllp. You're a joke, you lack experience in my very important field, I am the greatest that has ever lived, I fart cinnamon and you likely frequent your basement where you think about and then share things."
"Blargh! Here's a ridiculously long list of minor errors which you've committed in the presence of me and thousands of others on Twitter in the last 14 days."
"Fawateatafsarwarad! I have an elaborate reason as to why I said each of those things, involving several bullet points and detailed explanation, even though it is basically impossible that so much detail went into my thought process when I just tweeted the damn thing. I will now spend the next three hours explaining things to you while I discourage other trolls from laughing and/or cursing at me, and then I will ultimately end up blocking you because that is how this always ends."
"Awrarawa!!@~ I have read your endless explanations, and have replied to you in in several 140 character tweets, fashioning in these tweets an itemized list of disagreements with your explanations, each probably containing their own sub-header. In other words, I never intended to believe anything you said in the first place. Here is a word describing a character flaw which I will now attribute to you generically, curse word, curse word and time to wait for the re-tweets from muh buds."
This is how it goes. In regards to Sabres discussion, it has to do with hockey minutia which either is basically irrelevant or impossible. And it's gotten very boring, because there are only so many times that Joe can write a retrospective on Drew Stafford and then have a handful of people tell him he's awful and a handful of people tell him he's brilliant. There's only so many times Joe can stumble off to a bar in New York City, watch Nathan Gerbe not score a goal, and then mentally prepare a piece about the role of the underdog in the Buffalo sports ethos. There's only so many times that blogs can troll the very idea of having an opinion without people eventually saying, "Okay, we get it. ALL the ideas you've ever heard are stupid. But where are your ideas?". There's only so many times someone in the media or on a blog can suggest that things would be just so-much-better if one of either the media or blogs were doing a better job at thing X.
And it's all been done before. Do you want a podcast or a short (or long) blog post on trading Jason Pominville? Can I provide you with another 3,000 words about how Jerry Sullivan should be bludgeoned with an ad-lib book for his columns? Is that going to do anything for you? Me neither. (Most of the time, anyway).
As the Sabres nation collapses in on the weight of itself for the one thousandth time, only to be reborn again, its structures and foundations crumbling to ash, the sense of urgency in the drive-by opinions has somehow picked up even more. Tyler Myers came out of the gate slow: We'll never be able to love him. He's useless to us now. Drew Stafford continues his career long streakiness: We should have traded him when was scoring all the goals. Now he's scoring none of them. Ryan Miller has a good game: No one should have ever doubted him ever, because he is the greatest goalie who has ever lived or ever will live, based mostly on what I observed in the last 5 minutes there.
Well I don't want to do that. But I do want to watch the Sabres and share with the readers whose voices have been washed out by the hollering and trolling and whatnot some interesting insights -- or at least insights that I hope other people find interesting enough to have a discussion. Because when that happens, it's a lot of fun. I want to be entertained by the Sabres like I was at a time when they weren't necessarily winning all the time so that I can do that now. While I'm still entertained when I watch the Sabres, I want to be entertained differently. I want *different* stuff to happen. And yes, that's my cross. No one is beholden to me to make it so. But this is my blog to write, so I'm going to do a thing. That thing is going to hopefully help me reach that level of personal entertainment, if only in my head and if only for the duration of this post. I'm going to trade everyone. Everyone on the Sabres. Every. last. player. Vanek? He's moving. Ryan Miller? He's gone. And on and on we go until I have traded the entire team for a roster of players whom will exist as Sabres only in the context of this blog, and whom you are free to love or flame me for based on your preferences at the moment.
That's right, folks. I'm going Buffalo News, Bucky Gleason, Andrew Peters on you. I'm going to make some nonsensical remarks and fantasy build an NHL roster, and I'm going to do it on steroids.
Today, we'll start with the Sabres Goalies and Defense. They'll be swapped with other players/thoughts/stuff in the paragraphs below. Next time, I'll finish up with the Forwards unless I change my mind about writing them or Jay Skurski says something to me that is mean. Without further ado:
Ryan Miller - Tired of accusations of being a bad person for cussing at grown men who ask him silly questions when he's sweaty and tired, Ryan Miller demands a trade, and provides a list of teams to whom he would like to be traded. But Darcy Regier is not in his office because he is riding a stick horse around the Galleria Mall, asking random children and the elderly if they would be willing to buy Ville Leino for a quarter. So Ted Black agrees to take Ryan Miller's list into consideration, and notes that Miller is interested in playing for the LA Kings. Black calls the Kings and strikes a deal for Jonathan Quick. Days later, a box filled with autographed Jonathan Quick trading cards arrives in the mail, and Black realizes that he has just traded Ryan Miller for a box of cardboard, but he gently reminds listeners on WGR that he is not involved in hockey decisions and so he can not be blamed for anything except whether or not bloggers are fed an appropriate amount of pizza on the designated days of the year in which bloggers are allowed to talk to him.
Jhonas Enroth - But never fear, there is the tiny swiss-cheese Michelin Man Jhonas Enroth, who may or may not be the worst goalie in the world ever depending on the day of the week and if the Paul Hamilton walrus has been fed his fish for the day. But in his panic, Ted Black accidentally presses the Big Bird button on Darcy Regier's Sesame Street phone (he uses it 'cause numbers are hard) and *POOF* Enroth is traded to the Edmonton for Nikolai Khabibulin, who proceeds to die of old age immediately, as soon as the trade is finalized.
Now the Sabres are left simply with Jonathan Quick trading cards and an empty bench for goaltenders, so Black does the only thing he can think of at the moment. He shuffles upstairs to the top of Marine Mid--HSB--First Ni---the friggin' hockey arena, and lights the night's sky with the Pegula Signal, which is a lot like the bat signal except it's an image of Terry Pegula hugging his French Connection poster.
"General Pegula" Black says, kicking furiously with his legs as Jerry Sullivan gnaws on his ankles. "I need for you to use your vast riches and superior business management sense from drilling holes in the ground to invent a time machine so that I can go back and sign Dominik Hasek, in his prime."
"Why?" Pegula asks, responding to the bat signal as he lands on the FNC roof in his personal helicopter piloted by Larry Playfair.
"Because Darcy is no where to be found, and Fake Darcy is nowhere to be found and I traded both of our goalies for a box of Jonathan Quick Topps cards."
"Say no more," Pegula says, waving the magic wand he uses to build hope and dreams, and before Black knew it, a magical time machine built from blueprints made by that one blogger who cares a lot about the arena music, appears before him.
Black hustles over and presses some buttons, twists some knobs, listens to a compact disc of music that was probably really popular on Pitchfork Media in 2004, and then stands back. Out comes a Dominik Hasek, but like everything else in the world of Pegula hopes and dreams, his time machine has a few kinks to work out. Dominik Hasek appears without a head. No, wait. It's there. It's...it's...permanently inserted in his ass.
"My god!" Black says. "His head. It's...it's...so far up his ass."
"Don't worry, Teddy." Dixon Wards says, because Dixon Ward lives in an air condition vent on top of the arena. "A headless Hasek is still better than 99% of all goalies everywhere. Watch."
Dixon Ward proceeds to take a vicious slap shot at Hasek, but the shot flies 30 feet in the air and to the right.
"Dammit." Ward says. This process repeats for a while, until finally he's able to get a shot on net. Hasek, head-in-ass-and-all, makes a miraculous kick save by falling on his butt, doing seven somersaults, reciting the ABCs backwards and then riverdancing.
"You see?" Ward says with nostalgia in his voice. "You see!"
"Another job well done, Blacksy. Keep up the good work." Pegula says, and then hovers back to heaven where he is teaching Jesus how to be right about everything.
As Black heads back into the Sabres offices, he notices that Darcy Regier, horse-on-stick and all, is battling his way back to arena using a rubber sword he acquired for Ville Leino from a child who was blind and therefore did not realize he was trading for Ville Leino.
"HIYA!" Darcy thrusts forth his sword into the belly of an army of Bucky Gleason drones who are endlessly populating at the end of the street. To make things worse, Mike Harrington flanks Darcy from behind, shooting at him from a specially made weapon, firing photographs of Todd Haley as the KC Chiefs coach.
"DARCYSY~!~!~!" Black yells from the rafters, helpless to defend his General Manager.
But just then, a tank pulls around the corner featuring all the bloggers ever, including Heather B. who is looking through a pair of binoculars the wrong way and "Katebits" who is just pointing at shit and giggling.
"Not! Today!" The bloggers yell in unison, mowing down the army of Gleason drones before tickling Mike Harrington to death because that's how he deserves to go.
"Thank you....thank you..." Darcy says, thanking the bloggers for having saved him and allowing him to do his job. "Here are some mismatched 300-level tickets for games against the Florida Panthers and maybe something to do with the alumni. Now, to the front office! Where faxes are sent!"
The bloggers, amazingly, let Darcy pass and continue on their search for Lindy Ruff because he's just the worst right now.
But just as Darcy is about to reach the pearly gates of the FNC, Chris Smith of WNY Media no wait Chris Smith of just-some-guy swoops in on his very, very, very (very) high horse and prevents Darcy from entering.
"No, Darcy! You shall not pass!" Chris Smith says.
"I haven't decided yet, but let me talk about it for a few podcasts, and I shall probably come up with a reason."
"WAIT!" says a random blogger, from the departing tank. "We will sacrifice ourselves if you let Darcy pass. Criticize *us* instead! We, who write things that are long sometimes and do not conform to the editorial whims of someone who writes for a free weekly in the 70th or something largest city in the country. Criticize us! But let. Darcy. pass."
Surprisingly, Chris Smith agrees and waddles over to the blogger tank, where he spends the next three hours attempting to make bloggers feel valueless and eating all things within reach.
What the bloggers don't know is that Chris Smith intends for Darcy to be attacked by his partner in crime, Brad Riter, who will not let Darcy pass either. But Riter is fifteen minutes late because Brad Riter and so Darcy just gallops to the front doors of the arena uncontested, at last.
Suddenly, fear sinks Darcy's heart. The doors are locked. Did..did...did Ted Black use the Pegula Time machine to bring back a head-up-his-ass John Muckler which is actually just the normal John Muckler?
But no. On the other side of the glass, wearing a monocle and swinging a cane made out of unusable mailbag questions and nachos, is Fake Darcy.
"Well, well, well." Fake Darcy says. "I see you've made it through the many obstacles I put in your path."
"Yes. Yes. Whatever!" Real Darcy says. "Now let me in! I need to see if Ken Holland has responded to my offer of Thomas Vanek and a 1st round draft pick for Todd Bertuzzi yet!"
"There won't be any need for you, anymore." Fake Darcy says. "I'm you, now."
"Hey hey guyWHOOOOA. Did you, like, trade someone for yourself Darcy? Ha. Haha. That'd be great." It is Lindy Ruff, standing on the inside of the arena with Fake Darcy.
"No, Lindy. This is just.. a hobo. A derelict, asking for some spare nachos." Fake Darcy says.
"Dude. Duuuuuude. Not cool, dude." Ruff shakes his head and signals for the Real Darcy to go away.
"No. No! Lindy! It's me. I AM THE REAL DARCY! I... I can... ask me anything. I can tell you." Real Darcy begs.
"Fine, dude. Like....what does the mole on my left buttcheek resemble when held at just the right angle?" Lindy asks.
"...Seriously?" Fake Darcy says.
"No, wait, you're right. No. Hmm. How about this. I'm going to ask the Darcy on the inside of the building with me a question, and if he gets it right, he stays. If not, line change! Fair?"
"Not at all." Real Darcy says.
"Too bad!" Ruff responds. "Darcy. I am looking for a 1st line Center, and someone who can help us from the blue line on the power play. I know it's tough moving guys right now but can you..."
"Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz..." Fake Darcy snores a bit when he's bored.
"Dude, he passed the test! That's totally the Real Darcy! The part where he keeps mumbling "Golisano Golisano" in his sleep, Darcy does that every! time! Sorry."
Then, a depressed Real Darcy gallops off on his sticky horse, wimpering and thinking of Todd Bertuzzi, to take a scouting position with the Lake Erie Monsters.
MEANWHILE... Back at Sabres Nation HQ, Fake Darcy sits in his offense, preparing to trade away the entire defense because no one has laughed at his jokes on Twitter in a couple of hours.
"Hmm. Let's see here." Fake Darcy says, and flicks through a rolodex. Yes! A Rolodex!
Tyler Myers - Myers is the first to be called into the office.
"Tyler. Nice to see you. Thanks for stopping in. Look, you've been traded for Joe Finley." Fake Darcy says.
"What?!" Myers replies.
"Yeah. Look. That contract? Re-donkkkk-ulouusss. What were we, paying by the inch? Or maybe by the amount of times a ghost forward checks you and you just randomly fall down, amirite? amirite?"
Myers begins to sob.
"Whoa, whoa, big guy. Look, the real reason is because this woman keeps leaving death threats in my office, Hank Tallinder this, Hank Tallinder that. Well New Jersey won't trade me Hank Tallinder! They won't even take Drew Stafford. I mean Drew! Stafford!! Come on! So we're bringing Joe Finley back and teaching him how to have an accent. The rest should just settle in."
Myers continues to sob through stifled breaths. "You'll...you'll be sorry." he says.
"Haha! Sure I will bud. I'll be sorry. I'm sooo scared. I mean, it's not like you're going to hit me. We've never seen that out of you! HOHO! Alright, get going. I've got more to do here."
But for Fake Darcy, seeing Tyler Myers cry was too painful. After a brief 4 day break to consume Labatt Blue and Nachos, he decids to trade the rest of the defense via e-mail.
Robyn Regehr - Dear Robyn,
I'm sorry to say that I've traded you to the Clarence Junk Yard for $215 and one of those truck nut things you hang from the back of a vehicle. First, I tried trading you in to West Herr Auto for a 2003 Subaru Outback, but they had some concerns with your mileage. I've got to say, I'm not surprised. You *did* exhaust all of your muscles making a big deal out of coming here when it turns out you would just be an ordinary defenseman. Anyway, thanks for the times. Have fun.
Andrej Sekera - Hey Andrej,
Unfortunately, I'm sending you a note to let you know you've been traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Chris Pronger and a box of Rice-or-Roni. I figured if we were going to have an overrated box of shit sitting around that at least we could accompany it with a concussed former superstar to distract our fans for a couple of months. Addition by addition! Enjoy having rolls of quarters thrown at you!
Mike Weber - I can't even get Columbus to return my calls about you, so I gave Larry, the guy who cleans the vomit out of the urinals after home games, the $215 I got from trading Regehr. You're property of the Larry...what'd he say his team's name was...the Larry, "I'm just about too old for this"...es.....and Larry is going to play for us, now. Thanks for cross-checking Sidney Crosby that one time.
TJ Brennan - Who are you again? Whatever. I've traded you to Ottawa for a new pair of pants.
Jordan Leopold - I've traded you to Florida for Brian Campbell. No, not that Brian Campbell. There's a Brian Campbell that Terry knows who lays asphault and is pretty good with tools. Also, he owns like a dozen pylons, so it's going to be like having 12 of you.
Christian Ehrhoff - Christian,
I know you may have heard of some organizational changes lately, and I just wanted to send you an e-mail to let you know we don't intend to tr....
"Oh, that's Christian texting me now." Fake Darcy looks at his phone.
"Trade me now." The text says.
Fake Darcy gasps. Quickly, he flies through his rolodex, searching out the one place he knows he can land Christian Ehrhoff in a matter of no time. The New York Islanders.
"Hey! How's it going, guys? Oh, right. I forgot. Long Island and all that. Anyway, I was wondering if you'd be interested in taking Christian Ehrhoff off my hands. What am I looking for? Well, hmm. How about Grabner? No? Okposo? No? Hmmm. Let me check. Yeah, we play Boston this year. Trevor Gillies? No? Hmmmm...what's that. Hmmm. Yeah, you know, I think I *would* be interested in taking Richard DiPietro off your hands, whoever that is. Yep. Yep. Sounds like a deal. I'll fax over your paperwork."
Matthew Stewart is a writer living in Austin, Texas. He is set to release the book, "Wide Right (And Other Tragedies)" in 2013. You can talk to him about this article on Twitter by tweeting @matthew1stewart