All right, Sabres fans: let’s start our first post-Lindy Ruff meeting with a show of hands: how many of you honestly believe the Sabres have a team that is good enough to make a run for the Stanley Cup?
One hand. Is that Darcy Regier back there? Could you show him to the door, please? Permanently?
Okay – that’s more like it. A sea of Sabres fans, and not one person who truly believes this roster is as good as Ted Black and Terry Pegula promised when they alluded to their three-year plan to win it all. Granted, you can’t afford to think literally about this so-called “three-year plan;” those three years could simply allude to how long it might take to build the team, and then you have to factor in a few years for the guys to figure out how to play together. Also, injuries (a la Tyler Myers‘ one last season) tend to derail the best laid plans of owners and GMs. And coaching. Don’t forget about . . . ah, maybe it’s too soon to go there.
At any rate, you can’t seriously hold a team accountable for not succeeding at a three-year plan in exactly three years. Having said that, you CAN expect a team to at least begin to improve at a rate that would lead you to believe they will achieve that goal at some point in the foreseeable future. There can be no doubt about this much: the Sabres have not shown their fanbase that they are steadily moving in the direction of becoming a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup. If anything, Tuesday night’s game against Winnipeg should prove that in many ways, the team has moved backwards. Canning Lindy Ruff might have a short-term effect on the team, but the bottom line is, with or without Ruff, this roster is not going to get it done in the playoffs. The Sabres still need to go out and get a player or two who will help this team become a serious threat, and even though I think the Sabres have waited too long, I still think they need to go “all in” in an attempt to bring Ryan O’Reilly into the mix. Here are three reasons why I believe the Sabres cannot give up on this kid just yet.
Reason #1: They need him in almost every conceivable way. I know I wasn’t the only one concerned
with the Sabres’ center situation when the season opened, but I sure seem to have been one of the first people to identify O’Reilly as someone the Sabres should have been looking at all along. Bringing him to Buffalo seemed so obvious when I first started writing about him back in January, and the more I think about it, the more obvious it seems. The kid is 6’0″, 200 lbs, and plays a very physical brand of hockey. His offensive numbers are not spectacular – 18 goals and 37 assists for Colorado last year – but look closer, and you’ll see why so many people are big on him. For starters, he already seems to thrive on the power play, where he scored 15 of his 55 points last year. He led the league in takeaways last year with 101, while only accounting for 34 turnovers of his own. He blocked 50 shots last year, rang up 62 hits, won 53% of his faceoffs, and cooks a mean veggie omelet. Or so I’ve heard.
Meanwhile, Buffalo has been terrible on the power play, turns the puck over way too often, has allowed Ryan Miller to be peppered with 498 shots, and loses 55% of their faceoffs. Basically, O’Reilly would help Buffalo improve in, oh, every area they are currently terrible in. He’s a true two-way center, and as much as I love Cody Hodgson, one thing the Sabres do not have, and desperately need, is a two-way center who can play lights out defense as well as provide scoring in the offensive zone. Take a look at how quickly this kid can use defense to create offense:
If getting rid of Lindy Ruff was born out of the desire to save this season before time runs out, then getting this kid on their roster has to happen, ASAP.
Reason #2:The Sabres owe it to their fans. Normally, I’m a firm believer in the fact that professional sports are a business, and that teams owe their fans jack squat. Diddly boo. Nada mucho. However, it is my humble opinion that the Buffalo Sabres franchise DOES owe its fans for how quickly they gobbled up tickets once the lockout ended. This most recent lockout made an awful lot of fans angry, to the point where many fans vowed to boycott the NHL for at least the current season, and possibly beyond. I would be willing to bet my 8 month-old baby girl that Sabres upper management spent a lot of time fretting over whether or not they would experience any sort of backlash from their fans. (Don’t worry – I’m pretty sure I would win this bet. Well, 90% sure.) Fortunately for the Sabres, their fans were more happy to see the lockout end than angry enough to punish the team, and regular season tickets disappeared in a heartbeat. That sort of loyalty and willingness to forgive and forget deserves to be rewarded, and while that 50% off sale in the Sabres Store was nice, fans want to see the Sabres make a run for the Cup. Bringing in a player like O’Reilly will prove to Sabres’ fans that this franchise is serious about giving its fans what they deserve.
Reason #3: It will guarantee that other teams within the Northeast Division don’t get him. Rumor has it that the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, and Boston Bruins have all inquired about Ryan O’Reilly. Since each one of those teams sit above the Sabres in the standings, and provide serious roadblocks to the Sabres’ ability to climb out of the cellar and into playoff contention, the thought of any of those teams bringing in O’Reilly has to fill fans of the blue and gold with dread. For obvious reasons, Colorado Avalanche GM Gary Sherman would like to trade O’Reilly to an Eastern Conference team, which is bad news in and of itself for the Sabres . . . but to have to face him numerous times this year in intra-divisional battles? And next year? And the year after, and . . . ? No thank you, sir! Since the Sabres need him anyway, landing him will give them an edge over the competition while simultaneously depriving their opponents with one. They call that killing two birds with one stone, and it’s a beautfiul thing.
I know I’ve been writing about Ryan O’Reilly a lot lately, so later this week I will examine some other players I feel could benefit the Sabres if they don’t go “all in” for this guy. Clearly, though, O’Reilly gets my vote for the player I feel the Sabres should go after the hardest. Feel free to agree, disagree, or insult my momma below, or follow me @theaveragedick to do more of the same!!!