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Sabres: Sink or Swim

I haven’t written for some time so I thought I’d throw up a blog post entry. We’ll start off small with a sports related item. Specifically a Buffalo Sports related item. Then I’ll go back to keeping track of some technology trends and stories for reference purposes.

 

This post was spawned out of a recent conversation I had with a friend who’s totally fed up with Buffalo sports. Understandable. In this instance my friend’s anger raged over the lackluster effort put forth by the Blue & Gold on their recent weekend trip to Colorado and Arizona respectively. Both loses, against what are essentially NHL bottom feeders, have, in a large measure, drawn much ire from Sabres fans. However, at times given the Sabres current record the argument can be made that are they not near bottom feeders themselves? These perhaps were more competitive games amongst teams of the same skill level.

 

All this leads to “what to do” of course. Fans are calling for coach Byslma’s termination, and they’ll probably get it, but is that where the actual problem lies? I tend to think the problem is more involved with that. So to figure out how the Sabres got here we first have to start at where they came from.

 

After 16 seasons Darcy left a mess. There’s no getting around that. The drafts were poor, the minor league talent was meek, and there was seemingly insurmountable work for the replacement -- whomever that might be. At that time it was critical that the Sabres hire the best GM they could to straighten things out. It was going to be a long road. The hiring was critical. Probably someone with NHL GM experience. I said prior to Tim Murray’s hire that given the task I don’t think this is something you can spring on a first timer.  Then Murray entered the picture. A former minor-league GM. That’s fine if you want to go that route, but I still would have given the keys to someone else. That’s just me.

 

The Sabres were a team bottoming out in any event. It didn’t matter who was the general manager. No one was expecting anything spectacular. In Buffalo you tend to keep your bar low and feet grounded. Fans do, however, expect some movement, no matter how slow, to an eventual goal.

 

Now fast-fowarding to the present you have to wonder just how much progress they’ve actually made under GMTM. Yes, fans gave the benefit of the doubt during the perpetual rebuild that happens in Buffalo sports. Fans have had to endure the final flaming out of the Darcy tenue, the tank season, the rebuilding season; now here we sit in Echiel’s Year Two which had presumably was supposed to be the “year the Sabres showed progress.” They should have been a playoff team this year. Not a first seed, a wild-card maybe, but they should have at least achieved that level unlike their Orchard Park counterparts. They should be in the games they lose. They should be so close players and fans can taste it, and only a bad bounce thwarts a victory; and then they should bounce back with all the more zeal the next game. This past weekend in Colorado and Arizona was further proof such ideas are still in the far distance future.

 

So what now? Fans want Bylsma on the next train (it actually only goes to University of Buffalo Main Street Campus) out of town. He’ll be the sacrificial lamb. GMTM will anoint uncle Terry as coach. It’ll probably provide a spark to generate that tease Buffalo sports does so well and get fans to empty their wallets for 2017-18 tickets. Then there will be the inevitable inconsistent start. The frustration of post game interviews which speak of the “character and pride” in the dressing room after “tough losses,” and the next thing will be the aroma of Thanksgiving turkey and the chill of cold November rain and fans will look at the conference standings and there’ll be renewed frustration. Then what?

 

So what to do? Well, given GMTM has been given a contract extension (on what merits fail me -- it’s not unlike the 2008 Jauron extension when the Bills went 5-1 to start) don’t expect a change in coach and GM. This isn’t a Muckler vs. Nolan ring of honor match. GMTM and his uncle are here to stay -- for the time being at least. So in order to right this ship it’ll be necessary for GMTM and the hockey department to swallow their pride and admit to some mistakes. The biggest being the return of Moulson.

 

The reacquisition of Moulson has been a dismal failure. I was astonished to hear he came back when it first happened to be quite honest. It isn’t that he would have been out of the NHL. Someone would have signed him. Presumably to a 1-year or 2-year deal -- eventually. A 5-year deal? I have a difficult time believing that would have been in the cards. I’m no capologist. I have no idea what the contract or salary implications are; I certainly don’t know what the added wrinkle of the expansion draft will be. However, if possible the Sabres need to cut him loose, and sooner rather than later. If given an offer of a satchel of practice pucks in exchange for Moulson prior to Wednesday at 3 p.m. -- take the deal. It’ll be a headache gone. A bare minimum it’ll free up valuable roster space.

 

Robin Lehner. Yeah, he’s been better in recent weeks than he was in late Fall, but he’s not a number 1 goalie in this league no matter what salesman agent or television radio personality pontificates to the contrary. Ryan Miller was chastised in this town as “Mr. Softy,” and Lehner is every bit of it as well. He’s a big guy physically -- the butterfly goalie technique is not his niche. He should be more square, more stand up, but even then I have druthers about consistency. His Wikipedia page still has him in an Senators’ sweater. It’s time to find an alternative. Blackhawks’ goalie Scott Darling is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Expansion draft or not the Sabres should make a play for him. He stole a game against the Blues on Sunday night. He stopped a breakaway and made outstanding saves earlier in the season during a 2:30+ stretch when Corey Crawford had an equipment problem that required him to go to the dressing room. Then there is the matter of him recording 67:44 minutes of shut-out relief against the Nashville Predators in the 2015 playoff double-overtime Blackhawks win. It might be pie in the sky to land him, but it’s something to aim for and adjust down later. GMTM has to make a play for him.

 

“The Rochester Rocket.” He’s done admirable service as captain, but history has proven that Sabres captains, apart from Perreault, get traded in this town. That trend should more than likely continue. Brian Gionta was part of the problem, not the solution, to the weekend losses. Yes, he’s been stand up -- the way you want your captain to be -- in the loses and has spoken his frustration. Bottomline, unfortunately, is that you can only hear the rhetoric about the tremendous character in “this room” and the “frustration” upon these players only so much. He’s the captain. He didn’t finish. It wasn’t the quantity of Chris Drury’s goals that made fans love him, it was the timeliness of the big goals that did it. He was a finisher. That was his greatest asset. For Brian it only seems he can score if he’s banking it off tires in a commercial. Harsh to say, but there it is. Again like Moulson, if someone gives any kind of offer GMTM should take it. Otherwise let the rocket blast off into the sunset come free agency time.

 

Those are just three suggestions, but the biggest still remains for the front office to swallow their pride. Admit this isn’t working, and try something else. I don’t think it’s even a rebuild quite frankly. Nothing is being torn down or blown up here. Call it a mid-course deviation to steer around some inclement seas. Some of these deckhands aren’t pulling their weight. It’s time to find those that can. For the front office it’s sink or swim time. Otherwise there may not be contract extensions in the future.