Jeremy White - @JeremyWGR
The Sabres have stumbled out of the gate in Lindy Ruff’s 15th year. General Manager Darcy Regier received a contract extension just before the season. As top brass seems more entrenched than ever, I find myself holding on to an idea and clinging to one 18-year-old player.
It’s a lot to put on a kid, I know. Mikhail Grigorenko has exactly one goal in the NHL and a ton of pressure to produce now that he’ll be with the Sabres for the year.
I’ve heard all the jokes: “Mancrush”... “Your new boyfriend” ... and all of those that you sent to me over twitter or text or whatever. I don’t care. In fact, if I’m being honest I think they’re funny.
Six games into this season something is happening to the Buffalo Sabres. The ever-growing discussion about Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier is reaching a boiling point (again). There have been excuses. There have been reasons that we’ve been given to explain away past failures. They were believable. Stomach-able. You could talk yourself into believing them if you really wanted to.
I want to take you back to last year at this time. The Sabres were 20-24-5 and with 45 points, sat tied for last place in the Eastern Conference (-24 on goal differential). At that time I wanted the team to stink the joint out so they could get an elite forward. I wanted an elite center. I looked at NHL Central Scouting and found a name - Mikhail Grigorenko.
I mentioned Grigorenko by name. It was the idea that I loved. Elite talent.
By the NHL Draft I was thinking the Sabres should trade up for Alex Galchenyuk. Two years ago I wanted to trade the farm for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Elite forwards win Stanley Cups. Elite forward sell tickets, score goals, create fun, and put butts in seats. They remind us that we like the sport.
I had my plan on January 30th of 2012. It was my same plan from the summer of 2011 with RNH. Stink out the joint and draft a kid at the top. The Sabres didn’t have to.
The heroic run to miss the playoffs and Mikhail Grigorenko’s draft slide went hand in hand...and the two met in the middle. The Sabres drafted him at #12 and my plan for hope was alive and well.
I don’t know that Ruff or Regier will change - ever. What happens if the Sabres miss the playoffs this year? What will be the reason? What will be the excuse? How will it be explained away?
Half a season.
Who knows and who cares.
I’ve been called an optimist. I take the intended insult, happily. I live by a credo: “Pessimism is rarely the more fun or fulfilling approach”.
I choose to believe in things, and in possibilities. It’s why we all get into sports in the first place.
For too long I’ve clung to the excuses. Let’s see we’ve heard about injuries and payroll restrictions... and bad luck... and potential...and how many more. I believe some of these to be true. Some are quite valid. The problem lies now though, in stagnation.
Lindy Ruff will occasionally mention the “hope tank”...and mine’s about empty with this team. There are still several players that I believe in. I don’t think this team is some irreparable disaster.
That’s the rub here in Buffalo. We’d settle for the knowledge that a change could come. Imagine a roster-shaking trade or a coaching change. Heck...we’d settle for the idea that it’s even POSSIBLE!
We don’t get that.
There’s a reason that Grigorenko’s appearance at the scrimmage was headline-worthy.
The ovation when he appeared for the shootout should have sent a message.
The standing ovation to announce his first goal last night should have sent a message as well.
Right now his best asset is that he has NOTHING to do with the last 14 years.
Listen to some of our callers...or your friends around town. There is so much bitterness about the last 14 years and the stagnation that the biggest fear with Grigorenko seems to be that the past will suck him down with it.
If the Sabres were to hold a “Survivor” where fans were to whittle everyone down and vote people out of the organization...who lasts longer, Grigorenko or Ruff? Grigorenko wins in a landslide, and we barely know him.
He’s an almost total unknown, but I’m still clinging to that idea. The chatter in bars, and ovations at the arena tell me that many of us are doing the same.
When you have a team that doesn’t appear willing to make changes at Coach or GM or even with a certain group of “untouchable” players...what else can you do?