Before the game last night I had a bad feeling. I just kind of knew. I just knew the Sabres were going to be bad, possibly terrifyingly bad, and I suspected that it was going to be a looooong night. (I actually considered tweeting about my sense-of-impending-doom, but I decided against being “that guy.” “That guy” is an a-hole, even if he/she ultimately winds up looking like a Hockey Nostradamus. I bit my tongue in favor of not being a t-hole [BTW, I'm floating "t-hole" as twitter slang for a person who's an a-hole on twitter], so you’ll have to take my word for it: I saw that game coming.)
Before I went to the game, I hatched a plan to protect myself emotionally from the Sabres. I figured if I walked into the arena assuming the Sabres were going to lose, it wouldn’t hurt so badly when they did. I asked myself, “Self, what’s the lowest you’re willing to go in terms of your expectations for the evening?” And the answer? I decided to expect that the Sabres would blow a two goal lead with 2 minutes remaining in the game. That seemed like a perfectly reasonable baseline level for my expectations. I realize that those are SUPREMELY low expectations, but this was my maiden voyage as a pessimist, so I decided to really go for it. With my expectations set ridiculously low, I headed out to the arena.
You know what? MY INSANE PLAN WORKED.
It’s difficult to say if the Sabres failed to meet my low expectations or if they somehow exceeded them by being even poopier than my wildest predictions, but either way, I just never got that grumpy about the game. Oh sure, I wanted to launch the Sabres into the sun (just like you did), but the rage-iness never really penetrated my heart. I was safe, protected by my carefully constructed low expectations.
I’m making a big joke of this whole concept now, but I do think it’s time for Sabres fans to reevaluate our expectations for this team. Of COURSE the season is early, and of COURSE everything could change tomorrow, and the Sabres DID look awesome through the first five games… but seriously, what’s wrong with dialing back our expectations just a smidge? Does it not make sense that they would struggle a bit early on? The team has some really new, key parts. The chemistry of the locker room (not to mention the actual, physical locker room), is waaaay different now. The afterglow of Pegula’s emergence has worn off a bit, and now, the Sabres have no excuses for not winning, and so everyone is working under new pressure.
And to be clear: I’m not excusing them (they suck donkey ass). I’m just sayin’.
Where does it say in the fan handbook that a new, fabulous, billionaire owner means a straight line to the Cup? Did we not get a little ahead of ourselves by assuming the Sabres would be totally freaking awesome this season? Aren’t we just setting ourselves up for misery by expecting that they’ll be Cup contenders RIGHT NOW? Is the Stanley Cup really the ONLY acceptable outcome for any given season?
I’m not trying to be a jerk, and I honestly don’t feel pessimistic when I say these things. I really believe in my heart, that the best way to enjoy the Sabres, is to dial back the expectations, accept them for what they are (“what they are” is still TBD, obvy), and try our best to not get too irrationally rage-y along the way.
Pegula’s emergence was like a fairytale, but the fairytale part is now over. This part is about hard work from the team (hopefully), and cheering and/or booing (depending on the sitch) from the fans. What if we start with that as a baseline of expectation?
One of the things I’ve heard time and time again about the 06/07 season is that in many ways it wasn’t as fun as it should have been. Hockey first caught my eye during the ’07 playoff run, so I don’t remember this for myself, but SO MANY people have described that playoff run as sort of… grimly Cup obsessed. I’ve heard it described as a chore. As a job. As horribly stressful. I’ve never personally lived through a season like that as a fan, but the way people talk about that season has always served as a cautionary tale for me. I don’t want to spend the year pissed off if the Sabres don’t look like a Cup contender every night. Frankly, I’d prefer to spend the year being pleasantly surprised when they manage to put their skates on the correct feet.
I’m truly confused about the Sabres right now. I honestly have NO idea what to expect from them from one night to the next. The first few games they looked unstoppable, and then something changed, and now they look really, truly t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e. They’ll probably flip from awesome to terrible and then back to awesome about five more times this season. Just go ahead and add, “They’ll be alternately loveable and SO BAD YOU WANT TO GOUGE YOUR EYES OUT,” to the list of “Katebits Approved” expectations.
But here’s the good news: For better or for worse, I have complete faith that the Sabres will win the Stanley Cup before I die. If it’s not this year, it will be another year. If it’s not this team, it will be another team. I expect them to win it all someday, I really do. As bad as last night was, it’s not going to matter in the end. And by “end” I don’t mean the end of the season. When I say “end,” I mean “when Buffalonians finally see the captain of the Sabres lift the Cup up over his head.”
When I start to think about the Sabres in terms of my “big picture” expectations, I can feel my smaller-by-comparison expectations for this particular season slip into realm of “realistic,” and it feels healthy and good. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I can’t strap on a pair of skates and win the damn Cup myself. No matter how we react to the team, fans have no control over any of this. So, as far as this season goes, as an act of self-empowerment, I’m lowering my expectations. I’m doing so with joy in my heart.
The Sabres’ job is to win the Stanley Cup. My job is to enjoy being a Sabres fan.
Let’s go Buff-a-lo!