Hiatus

Many years ago, my then-boyfriend and I were stressing out about one thing or another. I have absolutely no recollection of what the original stress was, but I do remember how we resolved the stress. We were having a conversation that sounded something like this:

Me: What’s going to HAPPEN?
Him: I don’t know! This could happen, or that could happen, or maybe something that we haven’t even thought of could happen.
Me: I CAN’T STAND NOT KNOWING. I’m SO FREAKED.
Him: Me too! WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?
Me: There is NO WAY TO tell. This SUCKS.
Him: This is the WORST. SERIOUSLY. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN?!
(pause)
Kate: Well… something is going to happen.
Him: That’s true… something is definitely going to happen.

For some reason, this made us laugh, and “Something is going to happen,” became a bit of a mantra. To this day when I’m feeling stressed out about The Big Not Knowing, I tell myself, “Well, something is going to happen,” and I usually feel better.

_________

That’s pretty much how I feel about the Sabres right now. Something is going to happen. I don’t know what that something is, and lately, in stark contrast to the last five years of my fandom, I don’t see the point in analyzing the situation. In regards to the playoffs, something will happen. When it happens, I’ll either rejoice or put on my best there’s-always-next-year face. Until then, I’m watching these games and thinking, “Huh. Look at them go. Good for you, Sabres.” That’s about the size of it. I don’t feel excessively angry or exhilarated. I feel happy when they win, and disappointed when they lose, and then after the game I go play outside in the beautiful weather.

This state of inner-Sabres-calm is actually quite pleasant, but it doesn’t make for very good blogging. With this in mind, I’m going to close up shop for a little while here. I gave some serious consideration to shutting down the blog permanently this week, but, I’m not ready. This blog, and sharing my Sabres experience with all of you, has meant a tremendous amount to me over the last few years. From the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this blog, thank you for your hilarious and supportive comments, and thank you for being a Sabres fan.

I didn’t like the idea of just leaving the blog to languish, and I didn’t like the idea of quitting entirely, so I’ve decided to take a blog break. (And just to clarify the rules of a blog break in order to avoid any Ross-from-Friends “WE WERE ON A BREAK!” fiascoes, you are allowed to read other blogs while we’re on this break. In fact, I encourage it. Go crazy. Leave no blog-wild-oat unsewn. Go to town on those other blogs.) When the day comes that I’m bursting at the seams to write about the Sabres again, I’ll be back.

Until that day comes, do me a favor, and read this post. That post (about “No Goal”) really showcases the gleeful stupidity that The Willful Caboose stood for during it’s heyday.

Let’s go Buff-a-lo!

Mario Party

Over the last few months I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with the tone and quality of sports coverage. I don’t really feel like getting into it in-depth right now (and let’s be honest, you don’t really feel like reading about it in-depth right now), but I’ve been plagued by an increasing awareness that the entire sports media industry (teams, journalists, radio) is just part of a big giant machine designed to extract money from fans.

WGR sells “BIG STORY! IT’S A BIG STORY! LET’S TALK ABOUT IT! YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS IT! BIIIIIG STORY!” and The Buffalo News sells, “objectivity,” but it’s allllll just a big sell and it’s all designed to take advantage of our love of sports for profit.

In my opinion, sports coverage isn’t news. It’s entertainment on every level. Which is fine… but lately I keep find myself wondering “Why am I blindly consuming so much of this coverage?” I think I might enjoy the Sabres better on a media island. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d almost rather just get my news directly from the Sabres because at least they’re completely upfront about their motivations. The Sabres are all “We produce hockey, and in exchange, please give us your money.” I find that approach refreshing by comparison.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, because this week along came Mario Williams. It would be impossible to overstate the NON-STOP HOOPLA we’ve witnessed via twitter and the radio waves. And I loved it.

Hey, Mario. I'd never heard of you until this week and now I'm desperate for you to be a Bill.

UPDATE: He IS a Bill! While I was writing this post someone reported to someone else who reported to Twitter that there’s a 1:30 press conference scheduled and YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!

I’ve enjoyed this saga from beginning to end. I think the reason I’ve found the Mario Party so charming is that there really hasn’t been any counterpoint. For the two days (before he signed) the conversation was nothing more than unmasked, vulnerable hope. That’s it. There really wasn’t anyone saying, “No. Don’t do it. Mario Williams is a waste of money.” I encountered a few people on twitter yesterday who seemed to take some perverse pleasure in predicting that Mario would crawl out of town under cover of darkness, but for the most part, every single Buffalonian who was talking about Mario Williams was simply saying, “I hope this happens. I would be so happy if this happens.” It was nice.

AND HE SIGNED, which feels like the Football Gods way of rewarding Bills fans for their vulnerable hope.

I have no doubt that the sports media machine will begin churning out the commentary within the hour, but I’m grateful for the few days of relative agreement. When the sports news got really intense, it was the voice of the fan which dictated the conversation. The newspaper, the radio, the Bills, the bloggers, the fans, everyone was on the same page. Basically, everyone in Buffalo made the same silly wish, and then the silly wish came true.

Good job, team.

A Moment of Clarity

In the stupidest turn of Sabres-related-events ever, all anyone ever talks about anymore is whether FNC is loud enough.

So, let’s just solve this once and for all: Is the crowd at FNC loud enough?

Short answer: No.

Slightest expanded answer: No, because the crowd is a reflection of last five years of Sabres hockey.

Now that we have that settled….

I’m as guilty as the next viola player of indulging in this conversation. I’ve spent the last three days taking the bait and rigorously defending the FNC crowd as though my very life were on the line.  For reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, I’ve taken every single criticism of the FNC crowd personally this season. Every time someone tweeted that season ticket holders are all rich middle-aged assholes who only have season tickets as some sort of status symbol, I was all, “Hey… that’s not nice. My feelings are hurt!”

I’ve been all over the place with this one. I spent a gruesome morning collecting tweets critical of the FNC crowd from local media and bloggers with the intention of blasting everyone to the moon. (Seriously though, the uniformity of thought on this issue from the people sitting in the press box should be setting off warning bells in the minds of free thinkers.)  I also have at least three half written posts about how all of this neurotic hand wringing and mean-spirited finger-pointing is a reflection of Buffalo’s deep-seated need to hate ourselves. (While ignoring our real problems, let’s all hate ourselves about something of exactly zero consequence to our community!) I also had a theory about how Buffalo ex-pats are the root of all sports-related evil. (Basic theory: Ex-pats try to use their Sabres experience to re-live their youth. They get irate and foot-stompy when the reality doesn’t match up with their rose-colored nostalgia: “Back in MY day we knew how to cheer for the Sabres! The streets of Buffalo were paved with gold and Grampa gave me Werthers and Blue Light at the Bills game. I lost my virginity in the Mighty Taco parking lot after prom and I had the BEST CHILDHOOD EVER! Then I moved to NYC/Raleigh/wherever. Now Buffalo sucks … probably because I’m gone.”)

I can admit that all these theories are juuuuust a tad over-wrought and defensive. Like 99.99999% of all conversations about sports, there’s probably is no greater meaning to any of this. It’s just a storyline. That’s cool, I guess. Obviously this is not my favorite storyline ever, but neither was, “Sabres likely to end in 10th place, AGAIN.” We need stuff to fill up the newspapers and blogs and radio waves. This will do.

__________

I went to a cello recital this afternoon and while listening to the beautiful music I had a moment of awesome clarity: “Wait a second,” I thought to myself, “I have Sabres season tickets.”

Having the opportunity to go to many Sabres games is exactly as awesome and wonderful as it sounds. I think the arena will perk up when the Sabres perk up, but either way, I’m grateful for my personal Sabres experience. If you’re a regular attendee of Sabres games, you’re my people, and I love you. If you’re not a regular attendee of Sabres games, but you still love the Sabres, and you at the very least have the decency to be funny while you’re being a jerk on Twitter, I love you too.

The end.

After my moment of clarity I did this dance, and I decided never to care about what Twitter thinks about my worth as a season ticket holder ever again:

Let’s go Buff-a-lo!

HOT DIGGITY

It’s been a very long time since I felt an irrepressible urge to put up a nothing post on this blog immediately after the final buzzer just so that there is blog evidence that I watched the game. Tonight, I sat alone in my living room and breathlessly clung to my twitter friends as Ryan Miller reminded us for the millionth time that hockey is the freaking best.

1-0, Sabres. Some games are a privilege to watch and this was one of them.

Deadline Day, 2012.

Well, the dust has settled on Trade deadline Day 2012, and it’s left us all stunned, giddy, freaked out, and not a little bit sad (*mournful honk*).

My plan going into today was this: I intended to throw Darcy under the bus and never look back if he failed to trade either Derek Roy or Drew Stafford off the team. Then, I intended to rock the bus back and forth over him until he was just a Darcy-shaped pile of dust (I assume Darcy explodes into dust like the vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer when killed).

In typical Darcy fashion he failed to meet my minimum expectations while simultaneously pulling an attractive rabbit out of his hat that I had never even thought to demand. He’s a wily one, our Darcy Regier. I’d call him a master of misdirection, but this wasn’t even that. I’m not distracted from Derek Roy. No, I don’t even care about old Roy-Z anymore (for now). I’m like, “Shut up about Roy-Z, Darcy. I’m trying to watch Cody Hodgson highlights on Youtube over here.”

Let’s try to iron this all out, shall we? Here are the dudes involved:

Acquired: This is Cody Hodgson. He's a Sabre now. He's now our 3rd highest scorer. Most importantly, he's a CENTER which is making everyone weak in the knees.

Acquired: This is Alexander Sulzer, somehow already Photoshopped into a Sabres uniform. He's a Sabre now, also a handsome ginger. He's the ginger-iest Sabre since Brian Campbell!

Traded: Zack Kassian is now a Vancouver Canuck. This is sad for a number of reasons, not the least of which he's one of those professional athletes that looks more like a plumber than a professional athlete, and I like those guys.

Traded: Marc-Andre Gragnani and his incredibly hard-to-spell name are now Vancouver Canucks.

This is the big, bonkers deal has everyone’s heads spinning (including a LOT of heads in Vancouver). Personally, I’m not sure what to say about this other than… whoa. Darcy traded his gigantic maybe-he’ll-turn-into-Lucic No. 1 prospect, and in return he got a young NHL-ready center. This move was risky for both teams, and I suspect we’re going to spend a lot of time over the next few years comparing the fortunes of Hodgson and Kassian. Only time (possibly lots of time) will reveal the true winner of this one, but right now the consensus seems to be the Sabres got the best player in the deal.*high five, Darcy*

The overlooked wildcard here is Gragnani, who has struggled in Buffalo but has a lot of potential. I have no idea what’s up with Sulzer (is he even going to play for the Sabres? Or is he a straight-to-the-Amerks kind of guy?), but he’s handsome enough, so whatever. I’ll take him. (If you need a place to stay when you get here, you can stay in my guest room, Sulzie. As usual, the house rules for Sabres are: 1. No skanks 2. No loud music without headphones unless it involves the viola.)

On the surface, this trade gets a thumbs up. If nothing else, this move is fun just because it happened. With this trade, Darcy has busted out of his “I value my prospects too highly” rut in a big, big way. This is the kind of exciting, dramatic, high-risk move that Darcy-from-two-seasons-ago just wouldn’t have made. This kind of thing is fun, and it’s a treat to have the Sabres involved.

Okay, moving on, with an incredibly deep sigh, and true pain in my heart…

Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch. Paul Gaustad *sob* is now a Nashville Predator.

This one is tough.

I think there are times in everyone’s fandom when logic goes out the window and you revert to a more childlike, innocent mentality. This is one of those times for me. I’m an unabashed Paul Gaustad fan, and while the return in the trade was certainly favorable, I’m just plain old sad about losing Goose.

Goose was my first favorite Sabre.  When I became a hockey fan 5 years ago, part of the appeal of the sport was cheering for these mysterious characters on the ice, and for me, at the heart of that appeal was Paul Gaustad. I just like the guy, and I always have. I think it’s important to have players like this- favorites- players you care about more than you care about the others. Having favorite players makes watching a team more special, more heartbreaking, and more moving.

I don’t write about it much anymore, but before I became a fan of the Sabres, I didn’t like living in Buffalo. I felt weird and out of place here. I’ve never been able to describe it eloquently, but when I became a Sabres fan, I became a Buffalonian, and my entire life took a turn for the happier. Whenever I think of Goose’s time in Buffalo, I’m going to remember what it was like to fall in love with the Buffalo Sabres, and in turn what it was like to fall in love with this city and finally make Buffalo my home. In that way, Goose cemented himself as an all-time favorite for me.

I’ll always appreciate how he conducted himself as a Sabre and a Buffalonian and I wish Paul nothing but the best in Nashville. We will miss him dearly.

HONK!

Deadline Schmeadline

I’ll be relieved when the trade deadline is over. Part of me loves this period of “Anything can happen! Drew Stafford and the corpse of Jochen Hecht for Rick Nash!” but another part of me hates how we all react to moves that haven’t even happened. The other day Nick Cotsonika tweeted that the Sabres are trying to re-sign Paul Gaustad, and the next thing anyone realized the entire sports conversation had veered into “PAUL GAUSTAD?! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?” In and of itself there’s nothing wrong with a conversation about Goose, but this one was had almost exclusively in angry, frustrated tones, and the entire premise was based on one tweet which is in opposition to all the other information we’ve heard about this topic.

The whole thing left me feeling icky. Not to mention conflicted about Goose (who I love).

But all of that is really neither here nor there.

The real reason I’m looking forward to the trade deadline being over is that I want to root for the Sabres again. I’ve been a bit conflicted about them because I want Darcy to sell at the deadline, and the best way for Darcy to be convinced to sell is if they lose a lot. So, they need to lose, at least through the deadline.

After the deadline is a different story.

Like everyone else in the world, I have no idea what’s up with this team. Are they terrible? Are they mediocre? Has there been any hint of future greatness in this revolting season? Nobody knows.

The one thing I’ve really decided about the 2011/12 Buffalo Sabres is that they’re not a lottery pick team. I don’t think they’ve got what it takes to hang onto a top five pick. There are still too many games in the season, and the Sabres are finally healthy. Injuries don’t excuse all of the losing this season, but they certainly excuse some of the losing. The Sabres are NOT as bad as their record, and to expect them to keep overachieving in the “suckiness” category is a good way to land myself in the loony bin. The second the trade deadline is past, I’m right back on the irrationally-pray-for-a-miracle-run-to-the-playoffs train.

The Sabres are going to end the season somewhere between 8th-11th place in the East. I’ve made my peace with this, and I’m comfortable admitting that I hope they end in 8th.

As far as the trade deadline goes, I’ve still got my fingers crossed that Darcy has a few addition-by-subtraction maneuvers up his sleeve. If Tuesday arrives and nothing of significance has changed, I’ll grab a pitchfork and lead the charge, but I’m going to do my very best to save my outrage until then. I’m going to try to dwell on the fun part of the trade deadline- the gleeful, goofy, ridiculous, and delightful hope that Darcy can somehow turn Drew Stafford into Dustin Brown, and then the Sabres storm to the finish line.

A heroic run to eighth place sounds good to me.

Tick Tock

Somewhere in the back of my head a stopwatch started counting down last night.

For someone as hardcore about the Sabres as I am, I think I’m a fairly patient fan. I try not to get too salty about the Sabres, and often times that requires a little bit of self-delusion. I think sports fandom without at least a little bit of self-delusion is totally weird. Irrational hope is a big part of the attraction, here. It’s the reason we care about sports at all. So, as a mostly-sane Sabres fan, I have bumbled along this season, doling out the irrational hope during the “up” stretches and trying to avoid getting dramatically emo during the “down” stretches.

If I have enjoyed a favorite willful delusion this year it has been in the area of Terry Pegula and Ted Black. I want to believe in those guys, I want to believe that they have a plan and that eventually that plan will work. I want to believe, and so I do.

I still don’t think Pegula and Black have made any obvious and horrible mistakes, but they have been undeniably cautious. In many franchises (dare I say most?) Lindy and/or Darcy would’ve been fired this season. I don’t necessarily disrespect the decision to keep both coach and GM employed through this lost season, but my willingness to blindly follow Pegula and Black now feels a bit tested. It feels like the warm fuzzies that I enjoyed just one year ago on “Pegula Day” has an expiration date.

The clock has started.

The way I see it, Darcy has ten days to save his job, and then depending on how he performs, Pegula and Black have a few months to respond accordingly. Darcy has made a lot of mistakes in the past year, but with this trade deadline he now has the opportunity to fix a few of them. He needs to trade an expiring UFA contract or two (that’s the easy part), and he also needs to get one of these forwards (Stafford, Roy, Leino) off the books for next season. If Darcy can’t (or won’t) do that, then I think the pressure is on Pegula to fire him.

In hindsight it’s very strange to me that Pegula stated a timeline so specifically for winning the Cup when he took over the Sabres. Three years is such a short amount of time, and winning the Cup is so incredibly difficult. Why put a timeline on winning the Cup?

I think Pegula made a mistake when he assumed that Sabres fans want a Cup quickly. I can only speak for myself, but as long as it happens before I die, I’m not super concerned about the timeline for the Sabres winning it all. What I really care about is the sense that the franchise is in good hands. I want to see that poor performance has consequences. I want to believe that our young players have every opportunity to improve in the Sabres system. I want to feel like the team is on the right track. Granted this has been a monumentally disastrous season, but right now, I’m not so sure about any of those things.

Frankly, if someone came out today and said, “We’re rebuilding and we don’t know how long it’s going to take,” I’d be happier with that than I ever was with the arbitrarily chosen 3 year window to win.

Make no mistake, the Sabres had some unbelievably bad luck this season. And please don’t get me wrong, I’ll love this franchise for the rest of my life. But there’s faith and then there’s willful self-delusion. I’m capable of either, but faith is so much more satisfying. A franchise built on faith is a franchise that I can watch forever.

I want to believe, I really do, but Pegula’s grace period is now officially winding down. I suspect that the next few months will determine a lot about how we view this ownership team for a long time to come.

 


…A Blog About the Buffalo Sabres

Observations 2
I can be reached at: willfulcaboose [at] gmail [dot] com

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