The Season is Long

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.

*fingers crossed*

19 Responses to “The Season is Long”


  1. 1 TheTick March 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    The Sabres are the Sabres, which means, as a Buffalo team, they will find their own very unique way to fail, designed to cause the maximum emotional trauma.

    ;)

    Still think they’ll make it work.

  2. 2 Katebits March 4, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Well, if the Sabres are the Sabres are the Sabres, my experience tells me the Sabres are ending the season in 10th place.

    I’m TRYING to look on the bright side here! :)

  3. 3 TheTick March 4, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    They’d have to do worse than 6-14 to (most likely) miss the playoffs, so there’s a way to go before they are the Sabres of the past two seasons.

  4. 4 Katebits March 4, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    Oh, I know! I was totally kidding about them missing the playoffs. They’re going to make the playoffs. But I sure hope they don’t limp into the playoffs.

    This post was just supposed to be about applying my short experience as a fan to the current situation. Maybe I just missed the mark with this one. I almost didn’t publish it.

  5. 5 TheTick March 4, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    You are fine, I was just going for laughs. As usual.

    I was actually having a laugh today, looking at my super-optimistic posts from the past two years, both for the Bills and Sabres. Hard to be like that now for either one, really.

  6. 6 Katebits March 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I did the same thing today! I went back and read the posts about Dominic Moore and Tim Connolly’s (then) new contract and I they were all “Yaaaaay! The Sabres are going to be so good now!”

    I think sports fans, especially Buffalo sports fans, are probably just suckers. Heh. (Better to be a sucker than bitter, though.)

  7. 7 DaveD March 4, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Well, let’s be realistic here. If the season ended today, they’d be playing Pittsburgh in a best of 7, with a minimum of 2 home games. Swept in 4? No. Not even close.

    SO let’s talk about the Sabres being the Sabres, and ending up in 10th place. First you probably should even up games played. Ad since we’re being pessimistic Buffalo fans, we’ll assume Buffalo loses the games in hand they have on Montreal, the two New York teams, and Florida (the teams they are ahead of) and that everyone else wins their games in hand. After 64 games here’s what it looks like:

    BUF 33-22-9 75
    PHIL 35-26-3 73
    BOS 30-23-11 71
    ——-
    ATL 30-24-10 70
    NYR 30-27-7 67
    TB 28-25-11 67 (10th place)
    MON 30-28-6 66
    NYI 27-29-8 62
    FLA 26-28-10 62

    Now of course if ay of these two teams are playing each other in the makeup or adjustment games, I’m calling it a 4 point game. Unrealistic, yes. But hey, we’re being pessimistic Buffalo fans.

    So now with 18 games to go, the Sabres have to drop another 8 points to two teams. If they manage to get 40% of their points – something that the top 11 teams here are clearly doing much better than that, we’re talking 14.4 points. Okay, now I’ll continue being pessimistic ad round it down to 14 points.

    A record of 5-9-4 sounds about right. Add those 2 losses I already gave them to get to 64 games ad that has them finishing 5-11-4 from here on out. Pessimistic for us, unrealistically optimistic for everyone else.

    Well, first thing is this – to not make the playoffs, EVEN WITH ALL THAT – Atlanta needs to get 20 points in their last 18 games. Go something like 9-7-2. Along with Philadelphia and Boston doing their job.

    And for 10th place? Both NYR and TB have to get 23 points. On top of all I said above.

    It’s a long season. After 62 games last year I remember the team was 30-26-6 and looking on the outside of they playoffs. We all know what happened from that point on… scorching hot March, down 3-2 in the Staley Cup finals, road win in Detriot and home win in – oh damn, that’s Pittsburgh! :-)

    Seriously, over the next 5 weeks they need to play .500 hockey, recommit to their system, and find two lines that click. They do that ad we’ll be playing meaningful hockey in the second week of May. Count on it.

  8. 8 Katebits March 4, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    *Deep sigh*

    In no way shape or form did I intend to imply that the Sabres were not going to make the playoffs. If I did that in any way that seemed like I was being at all serious, I sincerely apologize. Any reference to 10th place was a flat out joke. If anything, I was hoping this post would sound optimistic. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the Sabres are going to be like the Flyers. We’ve seen them be good, we’ve got the best goalie in the game, and there is plenty of time left.

    I will say though, I HATE how everyone is always accusing everyone of either being “pessimistic” or “an apologist” in Buffalo. Can’t I be a little of both?

    But obviously I missed the mark with this one! MY bad. My very, very bad. :D

    I have made a minor edit to this post in order to lessen the impact that a reference to “missing the playoffs” apparently caused. This is something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but I hate the idea that a post I wrote is coming across as so preposterous.

  9. 9 PKB March 4, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit. Sometimes you point to your inexperience with hockey as if to suggest the people who have been watching hockey for ages don’t think the same way. Just because someone has been watching hockey for longer then you doesn’t mean they approach the 82 game season with greater perspective. Those people may have more experience but that doesn’t mean they use that to manufacture hope either.

    Thanks for taking the time to bang this out.

  10. 10 SueInVirginia March 4, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    My feeling all season was that they would make the playoffs and just to tease us, make it through to the second round. But I don’t in any way think they will make it to the cup round this year, so I will be happy when they make the playoffs. Mostly because it is an improvement from last year.

    Now next year, I expect big things. But we’ll deal with that then!

    I liked your post btw!

  11. 11 Shelby Rose March 4, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    I think all I want is to experience the playoffs again. I want to feel the electricity in this city with the excitement from the ’07 playoffs. I’ve missed it and the city needs it so I hope the Sabres can turn it around and fast. I don’t want another hockey-less town from April to September again.

  12. 12 DaveD March 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    *Deep Sigh*

    I wrote my comment over some 15-20 minutes. When I started all I had was your original post and comment to the effect of making 10th place.

    My morning started with me contradicting a “grumpy old man” on Heather’s blog – and I decided to not post my words. Suffice to say he talked about “those dam 6 forwards” and one-and done unless Miller “becomes Captain America”.

    I should have done the same here. Sabre fans are a thin-skinned bunch right now. Don’t blame them either. I’ve survived the fog, the no-replay, and the wierd goal that came thorugh the side of the net.

    I certainly can survive fans who have become pessimistic over two seasons of non-playoff hockey.

    I apologize Kate. That was a poor way to post my first comment on a blog I’ve been checking in on daily since late last season.

    Peace.

  13. 13 Katebits March 4, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    DaveD, thanks for your comment, and it’s all-peace-all-the-time from here on out between us. :D Truthfully, I was hesitant about this post even before I published it so I was probably disproportionately displeased when it got the old, “Don’t be such a pessimist” response. Sorry if it seemed like I was jumping down your throat.

    The real point I was trying to make with this post is that the Sabres are at a crossroads here. Are they going to be some version of the Sens- who eventually just flamed out after a hot start? Or, are they going to be some version of the Flyers who experienced ups and downs through the season and ultimately overcame the bumpy path to go deep into the playoffs? It’s time for this team to prove that they can recover from adversity. Over and over and over again MIller implies that his teammates are looking for an “easy” game. That worries me a lot. I want to see them recover from this slump, and luckily there is still time for them to do it. It would mean SO MUCH to me to see them fight through this and find their way back to their early season form.

    Sue and Shelby, I am so with you. I just want the playoffs. I want them bad. And I’m not holding my breath for the Cup here. I just want this season to be an improvement on last season, and I want next season to be an improvement on this one.

    PKB, that is SUCH an interesting comment. Thank you so much for leaving it. I know that I cling to my “new fan” role when I’m worried that what I’m about to say is stupid. It’s a blog crutch. What I haven’t ever considered is that I might not necessarily get any smarter with experience. :P (Seriously though, that was a thought provoking comment. Thank you.)

  14. 14 S. Tooth March 4, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with wnywatercooler. They’re linked on Goose’s Roost. It’s weird because I don’t think they have ever posted anything positive about the Sabres. I wonder if they’re even fans. They recommended today that the cure to everything is firing Lindy and Vanek. I just can’t understand the mentality that goes into wanting to think your team sucks and being seriously invested in that mindset.

  15. 15 Ryan March 5, 2010 at 4:44 am

    I really like this post. I think it’s pretty clear I’m a big fan of the “throw it out there and see what happens” school of blogging, and I think it worked here. You should do it more often.

  16. 16 Mike March 5, 2010 at 9:15 am

    What Ryan said. Also, I think the comparison between the two extremes, the 07-08 Sens and 07-08 Flyers, is pretty genius – will the wheels continue to come off, or will we figure it out and make a run? It’s actually very sensible, and no way should you have been hesitant about posting that.

    Either way, at least we don’t have a goaltender who runs people over with a Hummer and punches equipment managers, so the comparison ends there. :)

  17. 17 dave in Rocha March 5, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Wonderful post, I’m glad you didn’t bail on it.

    I have to echo what PKB said above. Just because other fans have more fan-experience doesn’t mean that they have more perspective. I mean, have you ever checkout out the comments on WGR or the BN Sabres blog? Good god, even when they were atop the conference 80% of those people couldn’t bring themselves to enjoy the ride.

    As for the sentiment that this year’s team may be “one and done” in the playoffs (and it’s not just from you, I’ve been hearing that a lot all over), I don’t think so. Lindy + Miller = at least the 2nd round. I’ve been toying with writing a post about this on Bfloblog sometime…. maybe I’ll get to it before the season ends!

  18. 18 Grrrreg March 6, 2010 at 7:52 am

    I’m late on this one, but I loved this post, even from a non-sabres fan perspective. I started really following hockey just a few seasons before you, and I distinctly remember how long it took me to get used to an 82 games season. Especially since the only reference I had to work with was our 38 games soccer season, where every loss or win matters a lot more (especially with the 3 points win system). Now I feel like I understand the flow of a season much better. But it’s still hard to have a good perspective on things when your team embarks on a long winning/losing streak!

    And please, never mention the 2007-08 Flyers again. Those playoffs scarred me for life. :(

  19. 19 Katebits March 6, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Thank you to everyone who read and commented on this post!


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