I've always been a Sabres fan. I grew up mostly during the second-round playoff drought of 1983-93, and I felt the same sweet relief as the rest of Sabres Nation when Brad May ended a decade of heartbreak. But I was never really a diehard. Despite a trip to the Finals in 1999, my fandom waned during the Dead Puck Era and I didn't watch many games.
Then the Great Lockout of 2004-05 happened and I was forced to experience an entire season of no hockey, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that you don't know what you've got until it's gone. It was the lockout, then - more accurately, the end of the lockout combined with actual bonafide attempts to change what had sucked about the NHL for the last ten years - that turned me into a diehard. I watched every game in 2005-06, DVRed the ones I couldn't watch, attended a handful of games and even did a roadtrip or two, including a memorable trip to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Raleigh. (Side note: I still want to track down the prick who stole the flag off my car outside RBC Center.) During the playoffs that year I became a season ticket holder, and remain one to this day.
So with this newfound diehard-iness (and more importantly, the subsequent learning experiences that should accompany it) in mind, the night of November 22, 2005 stands out as one of the most important lessons I have ever learned - about the Buffalo Sabres, about hockey, and about life in general.
I watched Mika Noronen stand on his head that night against the Rangers for three periods and overtime, only to be pulled by Lindy Ruff in favor of Martin Biron for the shootout. Predictably, a cold Biron failed to stop a single shooter and the Sabres frittered away a point. I left the arena that night absolutely fuming, mystified over the fact that Ruff would do something so boneheaded and demanding to anyone who would listen that he should be fired instantly.
Of course, I promptly stuck my size-nine in my mouth and chewed vigorously when I later learned that Noronen had been removed from the game after tweaking a groin. Oops.
The lesson I learned? The value of not overreacting.
Fast-forward to the end of July, which finds Tim Kennedy without a contract. Kennedy is a fine hockey player who worked hard every night. He was effective as a third-line checking center - even if he was terrible on faceoffs - and, when moved back to the wing, had surprisingly good chemistry with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy for a spell. He had one of the best power moves from the corner to the front of the net that I'd seen in some time. His future seemed bright. But to Darcy Regier, at a million dollars per season on a one-way arbitrator-awarded contract, it wasn't that bright. We all know what happened next: Kennedy was signed, waived, and bought out.
My first reaction: this sucks, and I hate it. I liked Tim Kennedy. He's a hometown kid and a player I enjoyed rooting for. Surely the Sabres weren't being spiteful that he took him to arbitration, were they? Surely they weren't so cheap that they were buying him out over a $200,000 difference in salary (right, Bucky?)
Then I remembered that little bit about not overreacting - and although it seems like a quixotic defense of Darcy at best, it's important to remember that Darcy's moves usually work out for the best:
- We screamed and hollered when Buffalo's only two "name" players following the lockout - Alexei Zhitnik and Miroslav Satan - were allowed to leave in free agency, and Teppo Numminen was the only free-agent signing. The Sabres nearly went to the Finals that year.
- We stomped our feet when Briere and Drury were allowed to leave two years later. We haven't had the same level of success since, but it's hard to argue that Briere, who is constantly injured, and Drury, who is effectively a $7 million a year third-liner, aren't ridiculously overpaid.
- We weren't quite as upset when Brian Campbell left a year later, but thank goodness we aren't saddled with that contract, which partially caused Chicago to trade 700 players to almost get under the cap.
- Darcy once traded Michal Grosek for a 1.5 year rental of Doug Gilmour and five years of JP Dumont. Grosek was mostly unheard from afterwards, scoring just 19 more goals over the next five years.
- Darcy once traded Chris Gratton for Daniel Briere. Gratton was last seen working security at Ohio State football games. (OK, so he actually played six games for the Blue Jackets in 2008-09, but I doubt even the fans in Columbus noticed him.)
(He also told us that Larry Quinn and Tom Golisano have some mystical Internal Salary Cap™ that they won't discuss the particulars of; that's worth being upset over, but that's a topic for another day.)
Oh, and about those cries of "why didn't you buy out Tim Connolly instead"? So you'd rather lose nearly a point per game and have it cost $1.5 million in dead money against the cap for each of the next two years? OK then.
Ever since November 22, 2005, I don't overreact. I just wait to see what happens next.