The Sabres played one of their best games of the season Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, it was a wasted effort. Not only did the Sabres need to win, but they needed the Rangers to lose to the Flyers in regulation, which didn’t happen. As a Sabres fan, it’s difficult to express the frustration you feel when your team puts in a heart-and-soul performance when, in all honesty, it just doesn’t matter.
Thoughts from the barstools around me echoed similar sentiments: “Where was this team two weeks ago?” After dropping wildly important games to the Thrashers, Rangers and Senators, games that would have probably put them in the 6th or 7th slot of the Eastern conference standings, the team showed up and demolished one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Carolina had recently smoked the Islanders 9-0, won 9 straight games, and 12 straight at home. Whoops. Didn’t matter. The Rangers pulled an upset of their own, an upset that sends them to the playoffs, and us to the golf course.
Imagine if they win today against top-seeded Boston. For another year, a hair separates us from playoff glory. It’s somehow more painful watching your team miss by a little than by a lot. Missing by a lot means you’ve prepared for months, the grief has subsided, and you look forward to next season. Missing by a little means your fantasies of watching the game from the patio of your favorite bar or with some friends on a mild spring night are dashed in an instant.
So what happens next? I have two fears. One fear is that nothing happens. Management puts the same product back on the ice, another team who is good, but not good enough. No off-season moves, no big acquisitions, no change. Next season we watch more games of “Hey, this is a good team,” followed by more nights of, “Well, that was disappointing.”
My other fear is that in an attempt to protect themselves, Darcy Regier and Larry Quinn will fire Lindy Ruff. Ruff is a Jack Adams winner who, in his tenure with the Sabres, has taken them to the conference finals four times, and the Stanley cup once. And he’s done it without superstars and huge names and big contracts and Gatorade deals and all that jazz. Even the Presidents and Stanley Cup teams didn’t have “superstars” at the level of Crosby and Ovechkin. Ruff has proven he can take a team far, he just needs a few more pieces of the puzzle.
I could go on and on about the failures of this administration, but it comes down to this: Regier and Quinn put talent on the ice before, and that talent has since moved onto other teams. Now, talented players look at the Sabres and think, “Look how they treated THOSE guys.” It hurts our reputation and encourages players to look elsewhere, where stars get better treatment.
Two straight non-playoff seasons should be enough proof that this formula isn’t working. Next April, here’s to hoping we’re preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs once again.