Vulgar Opinions: What We Have Now
I’ve been searching my soul for a #HotTake on the departure of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston and the hiring of Pat Lafontaine, Ted Nolan, and (presumably) other people mostly because everyone was doing it, but also because I wanted to try and find some emotion inspired by this team other than the joyful glee you get when you start tossing things into a campfire just to see how they burn and maybe, if you’re lucky, explode.
This is a team I viewed with adulation, a team I basically bankrupted myself for on numerous occasions to make the two hour drive from Syracuse upwards of fifteen times a year. This is a team I missed work for (because I can use my vacation days how I want), a team that makes up about 60 percent of my T-shirt and hoodie wardrobe, a team for which I have rally towels, actual towels, pillows, blankets, and yes, every ticket from every game I’ve ever attended. I made this video:
And this one.
And I never really thought I’d be the type of person that wouldn’t end up back in Buffalo some day, let alone move from New York entirely. Some of that’s just growing up, realizing that devotion to a hockey team isn’t the most important thing and that devotion to a community can manifest itself in many different ways.
Some of that is simply the emotional connection to this team evaporating.
It was easy to convince yourself to hope, especially after the miracle run of 2010-2011 season when we received a brief run of hockey that we never thought we’d see and perhaps didn’t deserve. Likewise it became easy to convince yourself there was none when the bottom finally fell out. No matter how many draft picks Darcy acquired, or how many trades he won, or how crappy of a guy he could exchange for a first round pick (LOL Nashville), you had his ineptitude staring you in the face. You had Briere and Drury and his bad 4-4.5 million dollar contract of the month, and the growing realization that, instead of holding him back, Tom Golisano’s restrictions might have prevented Darcy from being even worse.
Hope is powerful. We all saw it when Terry Pegula took over the team and cried at the sight of Gilbert Perreault and when he said that he was going to make a commitment to being the best owner in hockey and to elevating the best city in hockey until no one could deny it. It’s not like the Sabres suddenly figured out how to play that season. Hope trickles through the fans, it prompts them to cheer when they would normally boo. It takes the sentiment with which we approach mistakes from “oh god, this is the one that buries us,” to “stand by I’ll fix that in a second.” It gives Vanek a short memory and keeps him from holding his stick too tight, it has Miller playing his position instead of trying to predict the mistakes of the five guys in front of him.
More importantly it erases the failures of the past to a certain degree, and of those we have so, so many. Terry Pegula brought hope when he took over, and he immediately nixed it by retaining what many thought were the origins of hopelessness. He continued the Sabre way of being cheap, short-sighted, and dumb. Don’t go by the sell by date, retain what you have until you can no longer ignore the smell of rot. Promote from within and repeat the process. Be reactive, not proactive. Be a good copycat, not a trailblazer. Strive for the upper echelons of average.
I don’t know that Pegula’s retention of Ruff and Regier was as much a homer move in terms of nostalgia as it was a homer move in terms of a refusal to see the team for what it really was and the problems that existed. I don’t know how much of a homer move it is to bring in Lafontaine and Nolan either, certainly on the surface, a large one. But the thing about this team, and I suspect many fans probably feel the same, is that I don’t want to win with ringers that are paid exorbitant amounts of money. I want to win with our guys regardless of how dumb that is because that’s not how sports work anymore.
What we have now is the second half of the hope that Terry Pegula bought, a second half that, ironically, his own appearance probably delayed with the 2010-2011 run and the illusion of being close. Golisano is gone, Lindy is gone, now finally Darcy Regier is gone too. Ron Rolston was a creation of the problems that existed within the organization, and a casualty of their exorcism. I don’t know how far the ingrained mediocrity of the Golisano era extends and how much more house cleaning there is to be done, but in terms of the hockey product, this is almost as complete as you can get.
What we have now is hope. Delusional or real, homeristic or objective, it’s there. We have a clean slate and a new future. Let’s go.