Decrypting the Sabres

21 Oct

We love politics and policy here at WNYMedia, but you can’t let the discussions on the site be confused with the common matters people are talking about everyday in the real world. Because while Paladino dominates the political talk, everyone knows the real number one story in WNY is the disappointing start of the Buffalo Sabres.

Sabres season didn’t used to start until the Bills season ended. But let’s be honest – not only did we all tune out of football after the first loss against Miami, but we’ve been gradually tuning in less and less as the years go by. A decade of Johnson, Losman, Fitz and Edwards, compared to Miller, Drury, Briere, Vanek and Myers, will do that to anyone.

Image courtesy

Which is why a five game skid, in October, causes such public vexation. The hand wringing, teeth gnashing and hair pulling over a couple of rough games has been totally out of proportion with its actual importance. The win last night against Atlanta notwithstanding (in front of a sparser crowd than watches my son’s Mites games), the Sabres are still having a slow go of it.

So why are the Sabres failing? Fans have given a multitude of opinions: Myers is in a sophomore slump, Lindy has lost his team, Vanek and Connelly should put down their purses and play, and we never should have gotten rid of Briere and Drury. Jeremy White on WGR says, “Eh, its hockey.” Probably true, but not very satisfying. Our own Nick Mendola, also of WECK fame, says while you shouldn’t panic, be worried . . . and let’s hope they are just getting “one out of their system.” The Goose’s Roost just wants a win or two to feel better (I hope they do now). In one of the most far fetched absurdities, Jerry Sullivan says its because Darcy never called back Adam Mair, failed to resign Tallinder, and didn’t give Teppo a fair shake. Right.

Those opinions are mainly based on feelings, gut checks, and impressions, and so are (mostly) not disputable by facts. However, there is one common opinion that does not stand up to even a rudimentary reality check: it’s the same old team, Darcy never changes anything, so why should we expect them to win.

This impression is demonstrably false. As of the start of this year, the average Sabre has been on this team 174 games, or about two seasons. In fact, that number is skewed high, because of a couple old timers. 14 players off the 23 man roster have been with the Sabres two years or less: Butler, Ennis, Gerbe, Kaleta, Lalime, Leopold, McCormick, Montador, Morrisonn, Myers, Niedermeyer, Rivet, Sekera, and Weber. A lot has changed, and lot of the names you wanted gone, are: Afinogenov, MacArthur, Kotalik. Fans complain that Lindy has lost the room, that they have heard his act too often already, and aren’t listening anymore. 174 games should not be too long a time for a coach to have with his players. What those fans really mean is that Connolly and Roy, 396 and 434 games, respectively, don’t listen. Fair enough – Connolly should (better) be gone at the end of this season, but Roy is another matter (see below). Lindy is new to most of these players – talk of firing him is absurd.  

Since the Lockout, the Sabres have had their most successful seasons after fast starts. We won the Division is the first 15 games last year, as the Sabres played only fair hockey the rest of the way. And the two years prior, slow starts were never fully made up in late season pushes. The fan expectation: better bank the wins now to make the playoffs later.

But let me offer a different model. Instead of only looking at this team’s comparative success, let’s look at the starts of teams that went far deeper in the playoffs, or won it all. Team’s that add new pieces, especially veterans, take some time to get going. Pittsburg never starts well, but knows when the games start to really count. Boston had a rough go of it at the start of last year, and didn’t need good performances in October or November to beat us in April. Philadelphia made the playoffs on the last day of the season, but made an enviably deep run and came back from a 3-0 series deficit. Montreal did a major roster overhaul last year, and it took a while for the veterans to find each other on the ice. All performed better at crunch time, and all were beaten by the Sabres in October.

So let’s give it some time. All our defensive pairings are blown up from last year. Let’s get Myers & Morrisonn and Leopold & Montador in a groove. Let’s put Hecht back on the checking line with Grier and Niedermayer, and watch them start to shut it down come February. Kaleta, Gaustad and McCormick will be fine – McCormick’s two early fights led the NHL briefly. Ennis looks positively Kane-esque with the puck, and as long as he doesn’t turn into Afinogenov instead, he’ll be that brilliant young kid who everyone is talking about in May. Miller is back in top form, and Roy sometimes is the hardest worker on the ice (not to mention the team leader in points, and #4 in the NHL in goals).

I want the Sabres to look good in April, not November. They’ll be fine. Give them time to settle in.

3 Responses to “Decrypting the Sabres”

  1. Mark October 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    its nice to not have even known people are panicking up there like you are suggesting. the games have been disappointing but its just too long a season to worry. i get the sense that once some solid lines are formed and certain players get a little more comfortable/confident that this start will be a non-issue. two years ago we started 6-0 and missed the playoffs. nice post.

    *its connolly btw

  2. Brian Castner October 21, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Dammit! Fixed. Gracias.


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