I find myself with an unfamiliar Sabres-related spring in my step this afternoon. I’m, like, happy about them or something today. Maybe “happy” is taking things too far. It’s not happiness I feel, it’s a lack of these-guys-make-me-want-to-barf-ism. Over the last few months, I’ve come to accept the Sabres for what they are (a mess), and along with this acceptance has come an unexpected sense of peace.
It’s been a bit easier to feel peaceful about them of late. They really haven’t been all that bad. 8-3-1 in their last twelve games. Sure, two of the three Islanders games were horror shows, but still, their recent record is their recent record. They’re doing alright. Yesterday afternoon I was shocked to realize that the Sabres are six point back, with three games in hand over the Thrashers. That’s doable, you guys. It’s not likely, but it is doable.
The thing that’s been most interesting about this stretch of non-suckiness is that they’ve done it with significant injuries to the corp of forwards. It makes no sense that the team’s record improved as their top points guys started dropping like flies, but there you go. I find myself watching these games with a kind of bemused detachment. Like, “Huh. Look at little Gerbe go.” It’s nice.
I believe the main reason for this pleasing sense of not-quite-optimism is Terry Pegula. I don’t tend to put much stock in the ramblings of Bucky Gleason, but the one thing we’ve been consistently told is that Pegula will eventually buy the team. After that it’s anybody’s guess what Pegula will do, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine that he’ll be as checked-out as Golisano. Even if Pegula keeps both Darcy and Lindy, at the very least, Larry Quinn will be out of the picture. That’s not nothing.
As far as players go, next season Rivet, Niedermayer, Connolly, and Grier will almost certainly be gone. The Sabres will have a new captain- one who presumably will not be in the pressbox for weeks at a time. Connolly, the guy who drives us all batty with rage, will be driving some other fanbase batty with rage next season. (Imagine a Sabresworld without Connolly! Just imagine! I bet the air will smell sweeter, and the arena will be bathed in the warm glow of heavenly love, and little bluebirds will flutter down to perch on our fingers as we sing songs about how much we love the Sabres during the games. Paradise!) Obviously, Nieds has been a complete disaster, and thankfully, next year he’ll be gone. And Grier, well, we wish him the best. Thanks for your service, good man. Now please, retire, and stop taking Luke Adams’ minutes. The elimination of these four players from the roster is NOT insignificant, and by shedding these contracts the Sabres will be waaay ahead of recent years in the “addition by subtraction” category. WAY ahead.
I’m also hopeful that the Sabres will find a taker for Drew Stafford at the trade deadline. There are some people who advocate keeping Staffy, and to those people I say, “You’re wronger than anyone has ever been wrong.” Read this post by Hockey Rhetoric and then come back here and say we should keep Staffy. It’s time to turn the page on Staffy, just like we turned the page on MacArthur. (Do you guy miss Clarke MacArthur? I sure don’t.)
And these are all changes that we can reasonably expect even if Darcy stays.
If Darcy is canned, we’re looking at a whole new Sabres landscape. I’ve always been curious to find out if the fierce loyalty that Darcy has shown Lindy is a two-way street. Will Lindy even want to stay if Darcy goes? I won’t even bother speculating on what kind of on-ice changes a new GM and a new coach might bring, because at that point we’re basically talking about a different franchise. We’d be in no-man’s land. Delicious, exciting, thrilling no-man’s land.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I really believe that things ARE going to be different next season. I don’t see any way around it. Even if Darcy stays, Tim Connolly and Larry Quinn are leaving. For the first time in my short fandom, the sense that “nothing will ever change” is gone. I’m watching the Sabres differently now. I’m watching with a more appraising eye. In a weird way I’m grateful for the string of injuries because it’s given us the opportunity to get a good look at the young guys in the system. I’m looking at the franchise as a whole, and I’m trying to figure out what we’ve really got here. Watching the Sabres like this is refreshing and it’s fun, and most importantly, it’s different. In that respect, the change is already beginning for me.
Barring some miracle, this season will not amount to much, but I’ve really enjoyed watching the Sabres lately. I’m less preoccupied with wins and losses, and more fascinated by the individual efforts of particular players. (You know who I’ve found downright riveting lately? Sekera.)
The entrance of Pegula has allowed me to give up on the season without giving up on the Sabres, and that is a change I never saw coming.