Mar 7, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth (1) makes save during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Buffalo Sabres: It’s Time To Learn A Lesson, Courtesy of the Columbus Blue Jackets


March 10, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets players celebrate their win over Detroit Red Wings at the Joe Louis Arena. Columbus won 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

As anyone who writes about professional sports will tell you, good writers spend far more time reading other sources of information than they actually spend writing, and lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading about the Buffalo Sabres.

History tells me this is not a good thing.  There are only two times that the Buffalo Sabres are featured by major news outlets such as Sports Illustrated: when they are playing really well, or when they are an absolute disaster on the ice.  The Sabres are not the sort of team that get press just for being an interesting franchise; they just are not media darlings.  As a matter of fact, I have detected a trace of satisfaction in some of the pieces documenting the Sabres’ poor play this season, almost as if some members of the media actually enjoy seeing the Sabres lose.  I won’t name names, because I like to think professional writers are above that (snicker, snicker), but that’s the vibe I have gotten.

Suffice it to say, when the Sabres are not playing well, an awful lot of writers want to take an interest in the team, and right now, the Sabres are getting an awful lot of press.  Most of the writing you can find on the Internet regarding the Sabres these days is being done by writers who are recommending the organization essentially give up any ill-conceived notions of making the playoffs and begin shopping players such as Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville, all of who are set to become free agents at the end of next year.  This, despite the fact that the Sabres are only five points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.  Now, many fans of the Sabres are convinced that it’s time to have a firesale and start shipping out players in order to secure 1st and 2nd round picks in the up-coming draft.   Hell, even the Sabres players are sounding like a bunch of sad sacks, with Ryan Miller going on record as saying, “Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that’s going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward?  Or are we not the core anymore? Who knows?” and Thomas Vanek adding, “It’s always in the back of your mind.  Stay here or move on? At the end of the day, it’s the team’s decision. I haven’t heard from them. But, yeah, you think about different situations.”

That’s the spirit!  Act as if the season is over, instead of using your brain and telling any reporter who hounds you about trade rumors, “No comment.”

Contrast this sort of defeated attitude with the attitude on display in none other than Columbus, Ohio.  The Blue Jackets are also being written about over on SI.com, but despite the fact that they have a record very similar to that of Buffalo (the Blue Jackets are 10-12-6; the Sabres, 10-14-3) the folks over at SI are not calling for the team to be gutted.  In fact, the article is doing the exact opposite: marveling at the fact that the perennially-woeful Blue Jackets are actually playing good hockey right now, and are a mere 3 points behind Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot.  Huh.  How about that?  A team with only ten wins – the same total as Buffalo – is being praised as being a “tough team to play against” and “well-rounded.”

What is it, exactly, about these Blue Jackets that seem to give people hope that they might be able to reach the playoffs?  According to the article, there are three factors fueling their recent stretch of good play: hot goaltending; a roster full of over-achieving, supposed has-been and unknown players; and a coach who gets his team to work harder than any other team in the NHL.  I would add a fourth factor: a positive, never-say-die attitude.

Meanwhile, the Sabres, a team that has had great goaltending this year and that recently played a stretch of seven straight games that were only decided by one goal, seem to have everyone thinking they are done for this year and need to make some serious personnel changes to get ready for the future – including some of the players themselves.

A few weeks ago, I was accused of being too negative when I ripped the Sabres for allowing back-to-back games in which they held a lead in the third period slip away from them.  Yet all I have been hearing and reading from fans of the blue and gold lately is extremely negative, “forget this season” garbage.  I think it’s time for Sabres fans, and many of the Sabres players, to think again.  The season is not over, and the Sabres lack only a few pieces that would make them playoff-ready this year, pieces that could easily be acquired if GM Darcy Regier would pull his head out of the sand long enough to do his job.  If the Sabres choose to rebuild during the off-season, that is fine by me, but I think it is a shame that so many people are ready to give up on a season that still has 21 games remaining.   I expect this team to fight for their playoff lives, not resign themselves to the fact that “There is always next year.”  After all, fighting tooth and nail to make it into the playoffs is the job of every single player on this team.  I don’t get to tell my boss, “Ah, I’ll teach my students next year,”  and I don’t buy Sabres tickets and merchandise just to see them quit with over 1/3 of the season remaining.  Moves can be made in the off-season; right now, the only question the Sabres organization should be asking itself is, “How do we make up those five points?” – and then the organization needs to actually go DO SOMETHING to make that happen.

I think the director of hockey operations for the Blue Jackets, John Davidson, said it best.  When asked if playing winning hockey would put him in the awkward position of having to decide between making some moves to acquire players for a playoff run, or trading some veterans in order to gain picks for the upcoming draft, Davidson responded, “Winning is never awkward.”   No – but giving up on a season is.  I never thought I would say it, but it’s time for the Buffalo Sabres organization to learn a lesson from the Columbus Blue Jackets: winning is never awkward, so get back to the business of figuring out how to win games, now.

Tags: Buffalo Sabres Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Kevin

    here here!!! You call it 5 points behind, but in reality you still have all those other teams ahead of you to get past before first. I like to use the analogy of a ladder “one rung at a time” to get to the 8th spot you must climb the ladder “one RUNG at a time. I believe they can do that, why shouldn’t I look what they did last season?

    • Richard Spalding

      It won’t be easy, but I would rather see the damn team try than just start hoarding draft picks. Draft picks don’t always pan out; the Sabres could go out and get a few players now to help them short-term, and then spend the summer re-assessing their roster.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sara.baron.311 Sara Baron

        The last time they got out of the first round was 2006-2007. Yea, those short term moves have really panned out.

        • Richard Spalding

          I’m not disagreeing with your argument that the Sabres have failed to bring in the right guys. However, arguing they should now stop even trying is just mind-boggling. Short term moves work for plenty of teams. If Buffalo needs to adopt a new attitude, and GM, fine by me. If we want the organization to adopt a “Better luck next year” philosophy, though. we’ll never win. Simple as that.

          • Craig C.

            Who in the world is arguing that the Sabres stop trying? Nobody I know. However, I do know people who think the playoffs are a lost cause, at this point as they are SEVEN points back with a number of teams between them and eighth place. That’s just being realistic, not stating that the team should give up. It’s going to be a long shot but, of course, anything is possible……just not likely.

          • Richard Spalding

            Any article or fan post calling for Vanek, Pominville, or Miller to be shopped NOW is certainly calling for the Sabres to drop the notion of fighting for the playoffs this year, which is the very definition of “stop trying.” Once the offseason rolls around, I don’t mind hearing that sort of talk, but anyone who suggests we shed Miller (for example) now is clearly making the case that the Sabres should be playing for a draft pick. The playoffs may not happen this year, but with 20 games to go I don’t want to buy tickets to go watch a team that isn’t even going to bother making a final push, and you cannot seriously believe the Sabres are making a final push if they are looking to shed their best players while the season is still playing out. Hell, in just two weeks I might have seen enough to say, “Yep, the playoffs aren’t happening, let’s look ahead to next year” – but not yet.

          • Timothy Redinger

            I don’t think its a case of stop trying – if you move the pieces now you are maximizing the value. If you don’t think your going to be able to resign Jason Pominville, move him now while his stick is high….if he blows a tire next year – you lose him and his value.

          • Richard Spalding

            If I felt like the Sabres had been trying to salvage this season by making some moves, I would be okay with the organization. Moving parts now is admitting the season is lost. The goal of this organization should be to win, and they have not done enough – really, anything – to show me they want to win this year. It’s been pretty clear the team needed to address some issues, weeks ago – what have they done to fix those holes? What are they doing now? The Sabres need to change their culture, otherwise they will continue to be the laughingstock of the media.

          • Troy Berkely

            Isn’t the identity of this team reflective who the Gm is? After all he drafted them, so is it no wonder that they are a mismatch of broken parts without cohesion? Also with Rolston as the coach, but labeled as the interim, the players not knowing who is going to be the coach can also factor in that they are not playing for anything but to lose. Players requesting trades, players frustrated with the ineptness of the organization, and without a leader who can inspire, of course its a defeating purpose that has no direction for a positive discourse for this team overall. First thing that has to be decided is to fire Regier! It is time! Pegula has to be thinking about it as a possibility and a new opportunity to get this team on the right track. Bring in a GM who knows a thing or two about the hard nose evaluation that needs to be exercised when acquiring players, by being objective in the type of players needed that will would be willing to put the work in in order to achieve the next level. It is time that Regier be shown the door, to breathe new life in what was once considered a storied franchise. 16 years and counting is long enough to prove you have the moxy to win a championship, and Regier has failed in doing that. Time to go in a new direction, with a new philosophy, a philosophy of winning, positive attitudes, success, with attainable goals. Regier is the problem, and until he is fired, expect the same results!

          • Richard Spalding

            Nice points. Perhaps they should have fired Regier and Ruff together, then brought in someone with a proven track record. The attempt to salvage this season was never really made, which is why I am angry. Rolston seems to be doing an okay job, but like you said, how many players want to change from Ruff’s style to his, when they all know there will be a THIRD coach coming at them next year? This is not how a franchise wins, or develops the right attitude and culture.

          • Troy Berkely

            I almost feel sorry for Rolston. He was put into a very tough situation, that is nearly impossible to succeed, considering all the issues with what this team is dealing with. In fairness to Regier, he did draft some good pieces and acquired a possible centerman in Hodgeson who is potentially going to be a star player in the league. But drafting players, acquiring FA’s , or making trades are not the same as having the intellect of assembling a championship team, which is his biggest weakness. Regiers problems are many, and over valuing players, for sentimental reasons, is not going to address the issue of team identity or a system that brings out the strengths of players in which you draft. It might explain why this team is the way it is, too many players who are skilled in their respective positions, don’t fit a well functioning machine. Its like expecting to build a Ferrari from parts of different manufacturers in hopes to win the Grand Prix. That is Regiers philosophy, which is why he is a failure as a GM, and needs to be canned!

          • Richard Spalding

            And that about sums it up! Whatever Buffalo needs to do in order to start developing a culture that wants to, and KNOWS HOW to, win, I am all for it!

          • Andrew

            DR should have been fired the same day as Lindy.

          • Nuthatch

            This has got to be one of the best thought-out opinions I have read about the Sabres/DR situation. Darcy is good at getting ‘pieces’, but you’re right; he can’t assemble a whole team. He would probably do well with a team that has an established culture, one that he can keep feeding. Or if he was an assistant GM, able to go out & get the players he’s been told the team needs.

          • Andrew

            I am one of those people in favor of the team shopping who they can. This team is not a playoff team. MVP all lose trade value after this season. I’d rather see them start moving in a positive direction for the future now, rather than clinging to slim hopes of a postseason for this year.

          • Richard Spalding

            My question, though, is why didn’t Buffalo try to turn this thing around when the season was still up for grabs? You look at Pittsburgh, Boston -they have been looking for additional pieces, and they are two of the best teams in the league. Teams that know how to win are always looking to improve their situation. Not sit-on-our-hands Buffalo.

          • Andrew

            They simply waited too long, and obviously held hopes that the current group would turn it around. Add in the factor that DR is notorious for being hard to deal with in trade talks, and the recipe for disaster rears its ugly head.

          • Richard Spalding

            Yep!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.baron.311 Sara Baron

    Id like to see the team try too. Try to get to ninth. Try to get a pick in the middle of the first round. Try to draft a soft finesse player with no heart. Try to be below average like they have been for the past six years. After all, that would be no different than what they have been trying to do since Drury and Briere left. Sorry but weve seen this same movie over and over and it always ends the same way.

    • Richard Spalding

      So throwing in the towel is going to change what sort of players they draft? You want the team to take a different approach when it comes to assessing talent – so do I. I also want the team to adopt a culture of WINNING, not giving up mid-season.

  • Mrhegel

    I recently met Rob Ray at a charity event and he was not very positive about the state of the Buffalo Sabres. He spoke very candidly and for me, when this happens, your team has a problem when one of the announcers says its so hard for this to be the first year in the booth because “what do you say when the team sucks this bad?.” That’s what separates the Sabres and Blue Jackets this year. One team plays like a team, the other doesnt. The Sabres show signs of it, but they are often individualizing themselves on the ice and making things difficult for their teammates. They’re all guilty this year of taking themselves out of the play and making things harder on the rest of the team.

    • Richard Spalding

      I agree 100%. The Sabres need to adopt a winning mentality – it has to come from the organization. To do that, though, the organization needs to prove it’s not afraid to be aggressive in making fixes on the fly. Firing Lindy might have been necessary, but the adjustments should not have stooped there.

    • Nuthatch

      Did Rob Ray have any thoughts on what, exactly, the Sabres need? I remember Rob as a very team-oriented guy. I would respect his opinions.

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