"Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence is to win a Stanley Cup."
I've been talking about this line so much lately that today I didn't even need to look up the exact wording. I know there's no "sole" in the quote. I know it's a, not the.
Somebody thought so much of the statement last fall to pay $600 for it plastered on a sign that had been displayed in the Sabres' locker room. Fans can remember where they were when he said it, how wildly different it felt for a Buffalo man to talk in these big-time terms. It was an historic day.
There is another point to consider though when talking about Pegula's famous announcement.
We've been scrutinizing this statement in terms of whether or not Pegula was sincere, or serious, or naive in saying what he said. And that's an interesting conversation for sure.
But step back a piece and ask yourself instead whether or not what Pegula said is true -- not on the basis of whether or not the Sabres are good but rather what the purpose of pro sports teams really is.
A pro team's two main reasons for existence are not to win championships. They exist to entertain fans and make money. Within that, championships can and should be the goal. But fans are the reason pro sports teams exist. Lots of teams -- for starters, ours -- have never won championships. Are their existences meaningless? Have their entire histories been a waste? No.
Without fans willing to give our time and money, they wouldn't even have these games. Then you can go and win all the championships you want and no one will know or care.
We love and support our teams like crazy but they've never won any championships so what does that say about the true, intrinsic value of championships?
The most important thing for the Sabres to achieve is not to win games exactly, it's to win over peoples' hearts. Yes, winning games goes a long way here. But it doesn't go all the way. Losing teams can be popular (see 1995-96), and winning teams can be unloved (see 2009-10).
All this, to me, is a vitally important aspect of any Sabres analysis. They are in business for our entertainment. We give them money and they play hockey games, win or lose. They've lost plenty and won little through the years yet they have a huge legion of fans. Why? For many reasons. Because pro hockey is fun to watch. Because it bonds us as a community. Because it gives us all, collectively, something to get behind. Because once in a while you catch a puck. Because it's fun to talk about.
Because it makes Buffalo a better place in which to live.
And now to the reason you bothered to read this in the first place...
The Sabres shouldn't change out their coach and general manager merely because they've had an extraordinary 16 years to win a Cup and haven't done so. They should do it because of that, AND because so many fans want it. They should do it because a sports team's real main reason for existence is to be supported by its fans, and in the case of the Buffalo Sabres the fans are fed up.
The game last Thursday with Montreal was so telling for this. The season is still young, and the Sabres' record at the time was not terrible. The game wasn't terrible either -- 4-3 Montreal in the closing minutes. And yet as the clock ticked down many fans booed the team, and many other fans began to leave.
When this is happening in such an early-season game against a popular opponent with the score close, take a hint. People don't believe in your team -- or, for that matter, like it very much.
These are people that spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year on you. If they don't believe in you, who should?
Another way to look at this is through ticket sales, although it's not as easily cut and dried. Fans lately have been pointing out that tickets have been tough to re-sell. When the team was hot six and seven years ago, the secondary market was ablaze yet many season-ticket holders opted instead to forgo monster profits and attend the games. Now, many of these same people are hoping to break even.
Anything to get out of having to sit there, I guess.
I want a championship as much as most people do. But if they compete, from the players to the front office, and don't lead me to question their level of commitment, I'll get by even if they don't win it all. I've made it this far and so have you. I'm glad they exist, even in their tepid state.
Their true reason for existence is us. If they want to achieve the owner's mission statement they don't have to win the Stanley Cup.
All they have to do is listen.