Archive for December, 2011

The Ecstasy and the Agony

The Ecstasy

That Leafs game was some seriously good times. Leafs fans are annoying mothereffers, but the arena was undeniably  amazing on Friday. The Leafs fans added to our experience tremendously. At times (like, every time the Sabres scored) it was AWESOME to have so many Leafs fans there, and times I wanted to light myself on fire with rage, but the entire night was passionately experienced, which is more than I can say for most games at FNC these days.

In the past I’ve avoided Leafs games (because, as previously mentioned, Leafs fans are annoying mothereffers, but also because you can completely rip them off by selling them your tickets), but Friday was a real eye opener. Leafs games are high risk, high reward. If the Sabres had lost it would’ve been playoff-loss-level misery, but when they won it felt like no win could ever feel as good as that win. Sometimes it’s good to just lose your head during a game, and the Leafs game certainly provide plenty of opportunity for that. (Along those lines, about halfway through the game, while watching a drunk, moronic nearby Leafs fan stand up in a sea of Sabres fans [during a commercial break, no less] and do that infinitely retarded thing where he grabbed the logo on his jersey to “taunt” other fans, Robin suddenly blurted out, “I’m gonna to punch that guy.” And for a brief moment, I think she meant it. After the moment passed, we laughed REALLY hard about that one, because of all the people I know, Robin might be the least likely to punch someone at a sporting event. The fact that she was tempted to punch someone speaks volumes about Leafs fans and also about our level of emotional commitment to the game. We went all in on Friday, and our reward was sweet.)

Robin and I sit low in the shoot twice side, so the Leaf fan presence wasn’t that horrendous (visiting fans tend to gravitate more towards the other end), but I know that my friend Roman didn’t fair as well. He estimated that up in his section in the 300s, the ratio was 70/30, Leafs fans. Ew! Poor Roman! But down in our end, we were mostly okay. In fact, the closest guy to us in a Leafs jersey turned out to be a Sabres fan who had lost a bet. We discovered this when, to our complete confusion, he turned around to high five us after the Sabres’ second goal.

Me: (high fives a dude in a Leafs jersey) WTF, dude? (points to his Leafs jersey)
Him: (shakes his head sadly) It’s okay. I’m a Sabres fan. I lost a bet.
Me: Ouch. Does your skin burn in that thing?
Him: Yeah, it does.

There was a moment late in the third period when I remember thinking to myself, “No matter what happens with the final score, I need to remember how fun this game has been.” Thank you Hockey Gods, for not testing my resolve on that pledge.

I had so much fun on Friday that after the game ended I was tempted to make a pact with the devil: As long as the Sabres manage to beat the Leafs at FNC forever and for all eternity, I don’t care what else happens. But thank GOD the devil wasn’t taking my calls on Friday night because the VERY next day, I was whistling a different tune…

The Agony

I was playing a concert Saturday night, so I didn’t see much of the game. But I saw enough. I saw enough to say definitively that the Sabres are in deep doo-doo. If Ryan Miller is going to play like crap, and half the roster is going to be injured, and the other half of the roster is going to be Roy and Stafford… the Sabres are in serious trouble. Not, like, cute “we just need time to gel, but it’s okay because we beat the Leafs last night” trouble, but real, “OMG. This season will be lost,” trouble.

The thing is, the more I think about it, the more I agree with Ted Black. We need to be patient. It’s not that I think that if we’re patient this roster is suddenly going to be good, or that Lindy Ruff will suddenly figure out how to make Roy and Stafford stop sucking, or that everything will be better once Tyler Myers and Brad Boyes come back. I just think it’s going to take time to fix this team. The fix is way more complicated than we want to believe.

Personally, until Ted Black and Terry Pegula give me reason to feel otherwise, I trust them to make measured, intelligent changes. It probably wasn’t what I would’ve done (no one will ever accuse me of being intelligent and measured), but keeping Lindy and Darcy after the ownership change was the intelligent, measured thing to do. The problem is that right now, in this situation, there isn’t a measured, intelligent change available. A new coach wouldn’t suddenly heal the injured players, and a new GM couldn’t make new cap space appear out of thin air.

As longtime readers of this blog know, I’m not one of those, “Lindy should have a job for life,” people. I’ve called for his head before. Right now, I don’t think the problem is coaching, and even if I did, there is just NO WAY Lindy should be fired while his forward lines look like this.

As for Darcy: So far, this season is looking like a perfect storm of suck for Darcy. I’m not willing to argue that any of his off-season signings were disastrous on their own (okay, maybe Leino, but… I still want to believe in Leino, so dammit, that’s what I’ll do), but the cap situation is h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e. The Sabres have exactly zero space under the cap right now and they are in injury hell.  The lack of cap space puts Darcy in a severely weakened position when it comes to tinkering with the current roster. Even when the plan was “cross your fingers and pray everyone stays healthy,” Darcy was still walking a very dangerous line with his cap space, but now, with all these call ups, he’s in serious trouble. This is the very definition of cap mismanagement, and in my opinion, depending on how the season shakes out, it’s a fire-able offense. But again, we’ll see.

It’s annoying as HELL to admit it, but it’s pretty difficult to fairly assess the roster with this many injuries. The intelligent, measured thing to do is to wait and see. Ted is right.

It seems to me that a lot of Sabres fans reacted to Pegula by upping their expectations dramatically without much consideration for how these new expectations could be met. I upped my expectations too, but unlike in the past, I now have faith that Sabres ownership is going to keep trying. When things don’t work out, Pegula and Ted Black aren’t going to do nothing. No, the first two and a half months of the 2011/12 season have not gone spectacularly well, but, I fully believe that they’re going to keep trying. So, if Darcy and/or Lindy need to go, I think sooner rather than later they will go. I couldn’t say that about the previous ownership.

Instead of feeling angry about the roster, I feel oddly pacified this season. It never made sense to me that Pegula could waltz in and be all, “I am a billionaire, and I want a Cup! BEGIN WINNING CUPS, BUFFALO SABRES.” That would’ve been too easy.

I believe that when Pegula took over, he gave Darcy Regier just enough rope to hang himself. Whether or not Darcy’s summertime moves have doomed him is still up in the air. I like Darcy as a person, and I love it when the Sabres are successful, so I hope things turn around here, but if they don’t, I do trust that things will change.

For now, we wait.

(But if Darcy wants to get to work trading Roy and/or Stafford, that’d be fine by me.)

6 Things: Spoonful of Sugar Edition

If you’re like me you, last night you went to your orchestra rehearsal and carefully shielded yourself from the Sabres score so that you could race home, pour yourself a nice glass of boxed wine, and crochet granny squares while watching the game on DVR delay. You watched the first period and thought, “The Sabres are so scrappy and fun tonight! Yaaaaay! This is exactly what Sabres fans need, a nice easy win. So what if they gave up a last minute goal in the first period, it’s still 3-1. It’s all good.” Then you poured yourself a second glass of boxed wine, and as soon as the Flyers scored their second goal you thought, “The Sabres are definitely going to lose this game.” And you would’ve been right. Basically at this point Sabres fans would be stupid to expect the Sabres to hold onto a 3-o lead at home.

By the midpoint of the game I was so certain of a Sabres loss that when Drew Stafford scored the late tying goal only part of me said, “WOOOOOOOOO!” The other part was like, “Eff you, Staffy. Don’t score a late tying goal and then expect me to forgive you for everything you’ve put me through. I can’t even look at you right now.”

Yep. It’s like that these days.

After I finished the game at 11:30pm, in an effort to be less cranky, I ate half a loaf of olive bread. Unsurprisingly (in retrospect), that didn’t make me feel better at all. When I woke up this morning I had a stomach-ache AND I still had a resounding sense of “hmph”-in-my-heart in regards to the Sabres. So, I was forced into my plan of last resort. I had to look at this picture:

I maintain that it's impossible to look at this picture and remain grouchy about something as stupid as hockey. Especially if you add a little baby rhino voice in your head that's singing a song with lyrics something like, "I am a tiny rhino, Doo dee doo dee doooo. I've got hay between my rhino toes. Tra la la la laaaa"

I’m not sure why looking at cute pictures of animals makes me feel better about stupid stuff, but it does. It’s weird because in real life I’m sort of lukewarm on animals. I like them, but they’re often smelly and they leave fur on your clothes and your couch and they’re rarely as cute in reality as they are in picture form.

In the absence of rhinos, baby giraffes will do in a pinch.

Even though I’m pretty disinterested in thinking seriously about the Sabres right now, I do feel some obligation to discuss the Sabres on my Sabres blog, so I’m going to give this a try. But let’s face it, asking Sabres fans to read blog posts about the Sabres in addition to watching the Sabres the play hockey is a pretty big favor at this point.

I’ve tried this before, and it worked pretty well, so we’re going to try again. If you read something that you find upsetting or too frustrating to bear, please QUICKLY look at one of the helpful animal photos that accompany this post. (And I should admit here that all these pictures were lifted from Cute Overload. I canNOT recommend Cute Overload highly enough for all your make-me-feel-better-about-something-stupid needs.)

Let’s begin:

Don't think too hard about the Sabres' home record. Instead, look at this small, grumpy-looking rabbit.

1. The Sabres SUCK ASS at home. Of all the ways a team can be bad, consistently melting down in front of your home crowd miiiight be the worst possible way. In an ideal world the Sabres and their fans would sign up for some group therapy so that we can figure out why our relationship is so dysfunctional, but sadly, this is not an ideal world. As much as I wish I could convince everyone in FNC to communicate with the team only use “I statements” when watching a Sabres game (accusations never work, people!), I know it can’t be done. (ex: “Marc-Andre Gragnani, when you pass the puck directly to Claude Giroux during overtime, I feel deep sadness in my soul.”) Consistently losing at home has taken its toll. There is almost no trust between the team and the fans right now. The team can fix this by ripping off about six home wins in a row. Other than being nicer and hoping that niceness somehow makes the team less spazzy, the fans are pretty helpless. The only solution is big beers, and lots of ‘em.

_________

2. It feels like all we ever do now is argue about who should be suspended, and for how long. Personally I take no enjoyment from this conversation. I’m not sure what the solution is here because there is just no way we’re ever all going to agree on everything Shanahan does. There is literally no way. Here are some of my answers to the burning questions surrounding suspensions and non-suspension:

Do I think some of Shanahan’s decisions have been totally wackadoo? Absoluuuutely.
Do I think Shanahan is better than Colin Campbell? Sure.
Do I think there is a vast conspiracy against the Sabres? Uh, no.
Do I think the Bruins get special treatment? Oh for fuck’s sake. I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. This is stupid.
Do I think it’s open season on goalies Ryan Miller? Hard to say. kinda
Do I think Lucic is a tool? YES.
Should this dog be suspended for his egregious public digging?

Much like Lucic's hit on Miller, I'm sure this dog didn't mean to do it. NO suspension.

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We live in a world where this super awesome seal exists. The NHL and their hateful playoff scheme cannot take that away from us.

3. The whole league was realigned. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about the realignment (although, I secretly wanted Detroit in our division), but I HATE the current playoff format being bandied about. Please Hockey Gods, DO NOT let this happen. Why do we have to mess with a perfectly good playoff format just because the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg?

I hate the argument that hatred makes for better playoff matchups. That’s stupid. Hatred makes for more hateful playoff matchups, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be more fun or interesting. And why do we want our passion for the playoffs fueled by hate, anyway? I mean, geez. I like smiling. Smiling’s my favorite. I especially like smiling during the playoffs.

Two rounds of playoffs within the division is TOO MUCH.

_________

4. And about the realignment (and I acknowledge that this is just a minor quibble), but if the NHL winds up calling the new groups “conferences” I’m going to be irked. Those are divisions, NHL.

"The lady said no (to calling them 'conferences'). I'm going to have to ask you to back off, NHL."

__________

From now on, I'm going to look at this guy instead of watching hockey fights.

5.  This is a difficult topic for me to write about right now, but I feel the need to say something about fighting in hockey.

I was sincerely rattled by the New York Times 3-part series about the life and death of Derek Boogaard. I think this series should be required reading for every hockey fan. Please, please read this story.

I’d prefer not to debate the tactical merits or drawbacks of fighting on the pages of this blog right now, but I will say this:

I’ve spent most of my time as a hockey fan feeling pretty neutral about fighting in the NHL, but this season has really been different for me. The new information about the effects of concussion combined with a broader awareness of the depression and substance abuse problems that many of hockey’s enforcers face has pushed me out of my neutral position. I used to tolerate most hockey fights, and even enjoy a bout or two per season, but now I outright hate it, every time. I took no comfort in the fight between Gaustad and Lucic. None. For me, that fight (and everything leading up to it) was upsetting, and nothing more.

Hockey fighting is a genuinely difficult issue, so here's the back of a panda to help us get through this portion of this blog post.

This issue has really begun to effect my enjoyment of hockey. Maybe this anti-fighting sentiment is something that will come and go in waves for me. Maybe I’ll learn to tolerate fighting again. Maybe more evidence will swing my opinion in a different direction. Maybe I’ll simply find a way to make peace with fighting in hockey. Maybe I’ll stop taking fighting so seriously. I don’t know. But right now, hockey fighting really, really bothers me on a core level.

________

6. This has nothing to do with hockey, but here goes:

After a lifetime of indifference towards my physical fitness (or lack thereof), this summer I began to take baby steps towards trying to get into shape. (And I DO mean baby steps. Little baby steps on little baby walks is how I started.) Then about a month ago I joined a gym and started to work with a personal trainer. I’m not sure why my mindset was different this time (I’ve joined gyms before), but for some reason this time I was able to say to myself, “Self, you’re not in shape now, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to do this even if you feel stupid at first.”

My problem with gyms in the past has always been that my pride had not allowed me to just be sweaty and out of breath. I hated the feeling of struggling within eyesight of other people. I honestly don’t know what’s changed, but this time I’ve embraced the humility involved with going to a gym. Sure, sometimes I’m kind of embarrassed when I can’t do something, but mostly I can just sort of laugh and think, “Hm. I wonder how I’ve been managing to SIT UPRIGHT all these years with this ridiculous lack of core strength.” Then, I do the plank pose for a few weeks, and I actually see improvement. It’s been pretty cool to feel myself getting stronger.

I guess I’m just saying that going to this gym has been an absolutely wonderful experience for me. If you are someone who struggles to stay fit, I encourage you to keep trying. You just never know when exercising is going to “click” and become something other than a terrible chore.

Today, one minute of plank pose without dying. Tomorrow, the world!

The Press Box: Part Three

I’m writing this from the press box, so I’m going to try to say this as professionally as possible:

The Sabres are all fired. Preferably out of a cannon into the center of a volcano.


…A Blog About the Buffalo Sabres

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

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