Since the start of the season, thousands of hockey analysts, bloggers, and fans have been put through the ringer regarding the multiple situations the Sabres have already found themselves in, firing off on different websites and radio shows in a display of roller coaster emotion. First off, it was the excitement of going 82 and 0, secondly was the GOALIE CONTROVERSY situation, and of course the most recent dismal effort to avenge your “star” goalie after he got his head taken off by one Milan Lucic. Seemingly this post mainly focuses on the latter.
But I’m going to start with a little history lesson first. There have been many ups and downs during the 13 years Lindy Ruff has been at the helm. The good: the team has made a Stanley Cup appearance, reached the Eastern Conference Finals four times, and won the President’s Trophy on one occasion. Multiple personal awards have been handed out as well. There was a Hart Trophy, a Jack Adams, a bunch of Vezinas and a Calder Trophy, just to name a few. The bad: the whole NO GOAL situation, losing three of four Conference Finals, and an ownership group bankrupting the team and eventually getting imprisoned… all bad memories. But one thing has always stayed constant.
[Mental picture] Turn on the TV (or take your seat at the Marine Midland Arena, Hot Sauce Bleu Cheese Arena or First Niagara Center), grab an alcoholic beverage, get comfy, listen to the beautiful sound of Rick Jeanneret’s voice (if you’re not at the game), watch some dudes skate around on an indoor frozen lake, and then, oh no!, wait, wait, what the hell is going on?! The constant trend has always been to see your favorite hockey team in a big situation (sometimes not, but anyway) getting rolled by a hungrier, harder-working opponent. And the only thing that ever crosses my mind, COACHING!
And it all holds true to what happened on Saturday the 12th. Yeah, the Sabres look great sometimes. They look like they could beat anybody on some nights. But on other nights, they look pitiful, lazy and display gut-wrenching cowardice. I don’t care if you love or hate Ryan Miller. I think by now, it’s probably a 60:40 love/hate ratio for Miller. Regardless, if the other team (ESPECIALLY a division rival) takes a run at your goalie, backup or not, intentional or not, the team needs to realize that an action must be taken to counter that event. That is one of those big situations. Whether you score on the ensuing power play or just flat out wreck their asses in a brawl, a counter statement needs to be made. If it isn’t, well, you only have one person, the coach, to blame.
Why? Because a hockey player’s job is to carry out the system and beliefs of the coach/organization. If Dan Bylsma told Sidney Crosby to start a fight, he would do so, happily. I’ve seen it before. A hockey player, for the most part, is one of the most loyal types of athlete. Sorry for two Penguins references in a row, but Pittsburgh has been without their “holy one” since January, and they’ve played well above mediocre hockey since. They’ve played great hockey. It’s all because of Dan Bylsma. Under coach Michel Therrien, not so much. So they canned him, and fast.
So what is it that has made these three different ownership groups, over 13 years, keep Lindy Ruff around? Systems usually need to be changed anyway. Redundancy is never a good thing in the realm of professional sports. Hell, it’s not a good decision in government/career/marriage or life in general. But in sports, teams learn your weaknesses, a better team capitalizes on those same weaknesses.
Seriously, I realize that the Sabres are 11-6, and that they’re 5th overall in the entire NHL. A lot of fans like to say that it’s early, its mid-November. If you ask me, it’s not early. I say it’s been 13 years, one month and 15 days. And judging by the lack of reaction and support for your goaltender shows me that more of the same is on the horizon. History is the ultimate Cliff Note to the future, and if you keep going to the same well, time and again, the future will just keep reflecting the past. This particular rough patch has been going on for some time, so if Lindy was the man for the job, we as fans, would already have celebrated at least one Stanley Cup. It’s time for Mr. Pegula and Ted Black to step in and stop history from repeating itself.