Reading my Twitter mentions -- short notes written to me by listeners, for the uninformed -- is best done with oven mitts on. There are good and clever comments there but much of it is scorched Earth. Sometimes I predict the worst and don't bother looking.
Yesterday though, as Daniel Briere passed the Buffalo Sabres franchise in playoff goals scored since Briere's infamous departure in the summer of 2007 and helped lead Philadelphia to a seventh playoff series win in that time, one phrase I did see shined through to me.
I'm feeling that today.
The worst feeling out there about our sports teams over the last 10 years or so is that being less than best is good enough for them. Years of the Sabres battling against big-nation teams that outspent them 3-to-1 and talking about educating fans. The Bills keeping Dick Jauron, a poster child for mediocrity, year after year despite patently mediocre results. The Sabres caressing Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht as Daniel Briere and Chris Drury got dressed and fled the scene. Mega-wealthy John Rigas -- before the prison term -- and Tom Golisano putting profits over playoffs. The Bills hiring Marv Levy as general manager because they didn't think you knew what championship fever felt like anymore, or because they were totally incompetent, or both.
Now here we are, hoping things are different. Terry Pegula jumped in and bled money. We got Robyn Regehr on a plane. We gave Christian Ehrhoff 10 years. We asked Ville Leino what he wanted and then presumably, just for fun, doubled it. Heck, even the Bills followed suit with Mario Williams and now we have reason to believe times have changed. That our teams have their eyes on the prize.
Briere is holding me back. With each goal he scores Briere bitterly reminds us of how close to the Cup the Sabres once were. That upward thrust of his right arm after every goal can feel like he's giving us a certain obscene gesture. They're reminders of one of the grossest miscalculations ever to befall a sports team.
And until Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are replaced, the Sabres make at least a deep playoff run or Briere retires, it's still relevant. Whether you're tired of hearing about it is not a gauge.
It's not just Regier's bad call on Briere's value that comes back up every spring. It's Ruff too. I'm watching Philadelphia win a series despite allowing 4.33 goals per game, and my thoughts are drifting to the dozen or so times Paul Hamilton told us of Ruff and Briere butting heads about Danny's reliability in his own zone.
It's all well and good to talk about winning the Stanley Cup as your sole reason for existence. But you also have to act like it. I believe in Pegula and think the Sabres will come to do that. But it frankly hasn't happened yet. If it had, the Sabres would probably have a new general manager and definitely have a new coach.
It's cliche, but the Sabres and Bills just haven't wanted it bad enough. They both for too many years have done too many things that are not convincing of a championship mentality. You don't short-change a contending team by depriving it of Michael Peca for a full season. You don't condescend to your fans by hiring an 80-year-old GM that doesn't watch your games or, arguably worse, a marketing man. And quintessentially, you don't let the co-captains and top scorers of a two-time Cup-contending team get away.
I know it was almost five years ago, thanks. It still matters. Briere should still be a Sabre. Some of the Flyers' success should be ours to enjoy, not curl away from. You know, while I'm here speaking of scorched Earth.