Let me say this right up front: I'm optimistic about the Sabres. As has long been the case, I like most of Darcy Regier's moves. Like most of you I just wish there were more of them. I get bored easily.
This weekend (so far) has been pretty typical, I'd say. A neat little draft move gets made to change the Sabres' positioning, to keep us honest, and the results are intriguing if not exciting. But I'm still left wanting. Where's Bobby Ryan? Why is Derek Roy still here? Where's the real roster change?
I'm at the same time impressed and disappointed, if that's possible.
The image of the Sabres certainly has changed since last February when Terry Pegula signed on. No longer are we left to question whether every single thing they're doing or not doing has more to do with money than anything else, as had been the case for the prior, oh, forever.
But is it enough?
Pegula said the day he bought the Sabres that money would no longer be their obstacle. But the question remains, is money the sole hindrance he thought they had been facing all these years? Most acquisitions they've made since he bought the team (Boyes, Ehrhoff, Leino) would not have been made pre-Pegula. But by my measure there has yet to be a so-called signature move, a move that screams what Pegula said famously on the day of his coronation, that the reason for the franchise's existence now is to win the Stanley Cup.
I don't think they've backed that statement up. If they had, top young players would be moved in the name of veterans and past winners. Brayden McNabb and Marcus Foligno would be on other teams. Your coach and general manager, 14 years on the job with no Cup to their names, probably would have been dismissed. There would eminate a ruthlessness that Pegula and company have not yet shown.
I don't really object to their preferred methods. I'm not a fan of ruthlessness, in general. I like having McNabb and Foligno to look forward to. I like a sports team that grows its own garden, brings up young players through the system and, ideally, wins with them. (That last part has been the catch.) I'm starved for a championship around here, but if you ask me if I'd take a Cup with nine years in the basement instead of 10 years of consistently contending, I'm not sure what I pick. I want the Sabres to always be at least pretty good.
I think that's what Pegula really meant the day he took over. Not exactly that winning the Stanley Cup would be their "sole reason for existence", but rather to try to win within a framework of pre-determined ideologies. Be loyal to your people and treat them well. Make them want to win for you. Loyalty through luxury, if you will.
If that had been the mission statement -- do the best you can do with people that you like and respect -- then they're doing great. And frankly, in an NHL where no team stands above the rest and where such a system of parity exists, that's the way I'd run my team too. I wouldn't want to be compared with George Steinbrenner. That's "win or else". It lacks for honor and grace and even style.
The Sabres have to win before any of us go giving them credit for having the right idea. It's been long enough. Another team this year sipped from the Cup for the first time. It's got to be our turn someday.
Still trying to keep my feet attached to the Earth given the upside-down nature of the hockey playoffs. You come to think that the universe has rules, laws of nature. Then an 8-seed that finished 29th in regular-season goal scoring rips through the NHL and wins the Stanley Cup.
What does it mean?
No team ever seeded so low won it all. Was it a matter of time? Many hockey fans for a while have been saying yes. Philadelphia, a 7-seed, came close in 2010. Edmonton as an 8-seed came closer in 2006, losing a tight seventh game to the Team that Won't Be Spoken Of.
Given their capable roster of forwards, it's hard to figure how the Kings finished with such a paltry ranking on offense this season. But they did. And for all the insisting I have done for years that a Cup champion need be strong offensively, this team wasn't.
While the Kings in some ways make sense within commonly held beliefs about championship hockey teams -- they're big enough, their goaltending was outstanding and, well, that's about it -- I am inclined to think that they owe a great amount of their success to luck. Games are close. Many goals are scored on good bounces. And you don't have to beat everybody in these tournaments, only four teams. Had the Kings not lost two overtime games in the season's final weekend they would have opened with Chicago and not a wobbly Vancouver team that was missing Daniel Sedin, a team they played tough in last year's playoffs.
Were the Kings fortunate in that respect? For me, it's either that or they suddenly were just flat better than the rest of the league. And I just refuse to accept that. LA was 16-4 in the playoffs. I want the Kings to have to play 20 more games against random NHL opponents. Maybe they'd go 12-8 or so.
On second thought, hockey season is long enough.
Whether or not this underdog run was to be predicted, for me it isn't a good result. We all strive for fairness in life, for the idea of an ultimate meritocracy. This is a binding American principle -- work hard, do your best, and you will succeed. Not "might" succeed, will. But is it true? Not all the way. You have to be lucky. Every success story has some luck in it.
This point would be no different for me if New Jersey had won it all, or even the New York Rangers despite their top-seed status. The differences between these teams and some others were so slight that it seems building premises or drawing conclusions on the construct of these clubs is doomed to be faulty. Jersey was very lucky to get past Florida, the worst team entering the playoffs, in Round 1. In 2011, Boston was similarly fortunate to win its first-round series. Two Cup finalists, one a winner -- a bounce either way and instead you're looking at two seasons considered failures.
I want to think in sports that a knowledgable fan can tell good from average, and great from good. In this sport that's as hard -- and seemingly futile -- as ever to do. Whose goalie is good? They're all good. Whose coach is good enough? All of them probably.