Somewhere in the back of my head a stopwatch started counting down last night.
For someone as hardcore about the Sabres as I am, I think I’m a fairly patient fan. I try not to get too salty about the Sabres, and often times that requires a little bit of self-delusion. I think sports fandom without at least a little bit of self-delusion is totally weird. Irrational hope is a big part of the attraction, here. It’s the reason we care about sports at all. So, as a mostly-sane Sabres fan, I have bumbled along this season, doling out the irrational hope during the “up” stretches and trying to avoid getting dramatically emo during the “down” stretches.
If I have enjoyed a favorite willful delusion this year it has been in the area of Terry Pegula and Ted Black. I want to believe in those guys, I want to believe that they have a plan and that eventually that plan will work. I want to believe, and so I do.
I still don’t think Pegula and Black have made any obvious and horrible mistakes, but they have been undeniably cautious. In many franchises (dare I say most?) Lindy and/or Darcy would’ve been fired this season. I don’t necessarily disrespect the decision to keep both coach and GM employed through this lost season, but my willingness to blindly follow Pegula and Black now feels a bit tested. It feels like the warm fuzzies that I enjoyed just one year ago on “Pegula Day” has an expiration date.
The clock has started.
The way I see it, Darcy has ten days to save his job, and then depending on how he performs, Pegula and Black have a few months to respond accordingly. Darcy has made a lot of mistakes in the past year, but with this trade deadline he now has the opportunity to fix a few of them. He needs to trade an expiring UFA contract or two (that’s the easy part), and he also needs to get one of these forwards (Stafford, Roy, Leino) off the books for next season. If Darcy can’t (or won’t) do that, then I think the pressure is on Pegula to fire him.
In hindsight it’s very strange to me that Pegula stated a timeline so specifically for winning the Cup when he took over the Sabres. Three years is such a short amount of time, and winning the Cup is so incredibly difficult. Why put a timeline on winning the Cup?
I think Pegula made a mistake when he assumed that Sabres fans want a Cup quickly. I can only speak for myself, but as long as it happens before I die, I’m not super concerned about the timeline for the Sabres winning it all. What I really care about is the sense that the franchise is in good hands. I want to see that poor performance has consequences. I want to believe that our young players have every opportunity to improve in the Sabres system. I want to feel like the team is on the right track. Granted this has been a monumentally disastrous season, but right now, I’m not so sure about any of those things.
Frankly, if someone came out today and said, “We’re rebuilding and we don’t know how long it’s going to take,” I’d be happier with that than I ever was with the arbitrarily chosen 3 year window to win.
Make no mistake, the Sabres had some unbelievably bad luck this season. And please don’t get me wrong, I’ll love this franchise for the rest of my life. But there’s faith and then there’s willful self-delusion. I’m capable of either, but faith is so much more satisfying. A franchise built on faith is a franchise that I can watch forever.
I want to believe, I really do, but Pegula’s grace period is now officially winding down. I suspect that the next few months will determine a lot about how we view this ownership team for a long time to come.