UPDATE: I made a minor revision in order to clarify my point in this post. I’m not sure my revision was even remotely successful, but such is life. Heh.
My first real season as a hockey fan was 07/08. I’m sure you all remember climate of the hockey scene in Buffalo at that time, so I’ll spare you the recap. It was…kind of cranky. Our captains were gone, our team was heartless and lame, and everyone was pissed off.
During that year, even though I was completely emotionally invested in the Sabres, I really did not have any perspective on the pacing of a full hockey season. Why would I? I had never watched a full season before. I thought every win was the beginning of the Cup run and every loss was the beginning of the end, and I reacted accordingly. “Don’t get to high, and don’t get too low” was pretty much the OPPOSITE of my personal motto. Every game was game 7 at my house, for 82 straight games.
Of all the things I’ve learned about hockey since April of 2007, the pace of an NHL season has been the most difficult for me to grasp. Only now, towards the end of my third year doing this, do I feel like I’m starting to wrap my brain around the scope of a hockey year. I have a history of watching hockey now (albeit a short history), and so now I have a basis of comparison. My hockey history obviously can’t compare to a lifelong fan’s, but I’ve got a hell of a lot more to work with today than I did at this time two years ago when I first watch my beloved Sabres approach the stretch run.
There were two teams that really made a big impression on me in the spring of 2008, my first playoff push as a fan. Recently, and with some amusement, I’ve realized that I am constantly comparing the Sabres to these two teams. I use these teams as measuring sticks when I feel like I’m losing my sense of perspective on the season. I compare the Sabres to these teams to remind myself not to get too bogged down in each game.
I present to you, the curious cases of the 2007/08 Senators, and the 2007/08 Flyers:
I watched the 2007/08 Ottawa Senators with morbid fascination (aka: total glee). If you recall, that was the year after they steamrolled the Sabres in the ECF. They signed most of their core players during the offseason, and then they got off to a blisteringly hot start. They certainly looked like they were on their way to another year of serious Cup contention. But then, somewhere around New Year’s, the wheels fell off the bus, and they started sucking, HARD. For a long time no one really paid much attention to their suckiness because their position in the standings masked how poorly they were playing, but eventually everyone was all, “What’s up with the Sens?” and by the time late March rolled around there was a real possibility that they would miss the playoffs altogether. The Sens did make the playoffs, but they were swept, in humiliating fashion by the Pens in the first round.
(Keep in mind that this was also the season that Ray Emery was causing all sorts of trouble in their locker room. If the Ottawa press’ shadowy insinuations are to be believed, Emery was doing lines of coke off the chests of his teammates between periods, and mowing down senior citizens in his Hummer every time he got behind the wheel of a car. Emery might have been part of the problem with the 2007/08 Sens. Heh.)
In 2007/08 the Philadelphia Flyers were a playoff bubble team. If I remember correctly, for the first half of the season the Sabres kept pace pretty well with the Flyers, but then at some point the Flyers pulled away and they looked poised to cruise into the playoffs. BUT THEN, oh, but then. In February ’08, the Flyers had a ten game losing streak. I remember this distinctly because the Sabres had had a ten game losing streak of their own earlier in the season. Remember, during the Sabres losing streak I was still in the “every game is game 7″ newbie-fan mindset, so you can bet your bottom dollar that that losing streak has been scorched into my memory for all time. I’m sure most of you barely even remember it, but I will never forget January 2008. Ever.
When the Flyers had their OWN losing streak it was infinitely comforting to me. “See,” I told myself, “other teams can suck as hard as the Sabres! I am not suffering alone! Other people, Philadelphians no less, are suffering just as I have suffered.” And it made me happy.
But then those little Flyers bastards made it to the Eastern Conference Finals that year! Not only did they NOT miss the playoffs, but they got within striking distance of the Cup. WHAT THE EFF?!
So, here I am, two years later, a wizened and grizzled fan compared to the girl who first started writing this blog. According to the standings, the Sabres are much better team now than they have been at any other time of my serious fandom.
As the Sabres continue to flounder, game after game, I find myself referring back to my old standbys.
Are the Sabres the Sens, or are they the Flyers?
Certainly there is some middle ground, and most likely the Sabres will fall between those two extremes, but the Sens are pretty close to my idea of the worst case scenario for the Sabres and the Flyers the best. In reality, the worst case would be missing the playoffs all together, and the best would obviously be winning the Cup.
Barring some sort of epic collapse, the Sabres are going to make the playoffs, but, the 07/08 Sens taught me that epic collapses do happen. If the playoffs started today, the Sabres would be swept in four games. For sure, right? Barring some sort of epic collapse, the Sabres are going to make the playoffs, but if the playoffs started today, it feels like the Sabres would be swept in four games. One and done.
Thankfully, the playoffs do NOT start today. They have a month to figure this out before the playoffs start, and the 07/08 Flyers taught me that as long as you enter the playoffs with your head screwed on straight, anything can happen.
We’re going to learn a lot about this team in the next month. In the next month we’re going to find out if this team has the character to fight their way out of a near crisis. We’re going to find out if Lindy can coach this team out of trouble. This month we’re going to find out if Darcy’s deadline moves were crafty enough to spark some change on the ice. This month we’re going to find out if this is a slump, or if the start of the season was a mirage, and this is who they are.
I still believe this team can be competitive in the playoffs, but time is running out. They have to turn this around, and they have to do so convincingly before the playoffs begin. The season is long, but it all boils down to this. If they turn it around in the next few weeks, anything can happen.
I want to believe in this team. I want them to be the 07/08 Flyers.