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Keeping the faith

WOW!!!   I know, not exactly Pulitzer prize winning writing there but I thought it was the best way to describe what might be the craziest three day stretch in the history of Buffalo sports.

And that's saying something when you think of the many, many, many crazy days we have had in our lifetime. So let's recap what exactly transpired over a head exploding 72 hour stretch:

Friday- the Sabres trade the face of the franchise, Ryan Miller and team captain, Steve Ott to St. Louis.  This was the least shocking development of the weekend since we knew both players were likely to be dealt but it was still huge news and a very emotional day for the franchise and its fans.  I wonder if the Sabres set an NHL record by trading two captains in the same season?

Saturday- the most stunning news of the weekend.  One of the most popular Buffalo athletes ever and the man who brought a beloved head coach back to town in improbable fashion steps down from his job as President of Hockey Operations for the Sabres. Pat Lafontaine was on the job for just over three months.

Sunday- As you are attempting to catch your breath and recover from the two previous days, WGR's Jeremy White reports the Bills and Jairus Byrd are now likely to part ways when free agency opens next week. 

I'm not lying when I tell you I've been afraid to pick up my phone for fear of another breaking sports news text that will make me wonder when the Sabres and Bills will ever win again.  But I will tell you its not the end of the world.

 Perhaps my "glass is half full" approach is due to the fact that I'm writing this column while sitting poolside at a hotel in South Florida, looking out at palm trees on a sunny, 70 degree morning. It could also be that I'm listening to Bruce Springsteen on my iPod and how could anyone be unhappy when you're listening to Springsteen? Although the song playing right now is a live version of American Skin(41 shots) which isn't exactly a pick your spirits up tune.

Since I wrote a column about the Miller/Ott trade the other day, I'll address the Lafontaine and Byrd developments here.  

While the most shocking of the three stories and the one that would scream franchise dysfunction the most, Lafontaine's departure is far from a kill shot. As bad as it may seem, the main reason I'm not freaking out is the presence of Tim Murray.  If the Sabres are going to turn things around, get back to being a winning team and compete for the Stanley Cup, it will be the result of Murray's work.

 How many times have you seen a team win a Stanley Cup and people praise the work of the team president?  Think about the recent winners like Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston.  When those teams won, credit was given to the General Managers like Dale Tallon(Chicago's first Cup), Stan Bowman(their second Cup), Dean Lombardi(LA) and Peter Chiarelli(Boston).  

The future of the Sabres rests squarely on Murray's shoulders and his ability to make the right trades, draft the right players and sign the right free agents.

I'm not going to lie to you.  I loved Lafontaine as a player(who didn't?) and when he was hired I had a feeling that everything was going to be okay because Pat is here and he'll make it right.  He came in studio the day after the press conference announcing his hiring and that was the best I had felt about the Sabres in a long time.  My hope and faith had been restored merely by his presence.  But ultimately it all comes down to the guy who puts the team together and that wasn't Lafontaine, nor should it have been.

 If I could give one piece of advice to Sabres owner Terry Pegula, it would be to let Murray do his job and tell everyone else to stay the heck out of his way.  That includes Ken Sawyer, Joe Battista and even Craig Patrick who has been a successful GM in the league.  Murray has 20 plus years of NHL front office experience and has been around winning organizations so stand back and let the man do his job.

I like everything I've seen from Murray so far including his honesty, his no nonsense approach to the job and his decisiveness.  As long as Murray stays, I don't think the Sabres ship will sink.

Now to the Jairus Byrd story.  I can't say I was shocked but I am disappointed. I figured the chances of Byrd wearing a Bills uniform this fall were 50-50.  I was fully expecting him to be slapped with the franchise tag but I knew that didn't necessarily mean he'd be here this season because the team could have traded him. I'm not sure where to place the blame on this one because who knows which story is the truth?  Both sides will put their own spin on things and attempt to make it look like the other party is the bad guy.  

Did the Bills offer mean Byrd would be the highest paid safety for the early portion of the contract?  Is Byrd just being greedy here?  Did the Bills structure the offer in a way that it would have hurt Byrd at the back end of the deal?  Was there not enough guaranteed money? You can make contracts look like king-sized deals but the fine print will show they are not.  

This is all about the bottom line, no matter how we got to this point.  Bills GM Doug Whaley recently said they're in the business of getting good players and keeping good players.  Byrd's probable departure means the Bills have failed to keep a good player.  Perhaps it goes back to last year and the placement of the franchise tag.  If the Bills did make a substantial offer to Byrd recently, why couldn't they just have ponied up with the big money last year and all of this would have been avoided.  It could be Byrd intended to leave Buffalo regardless of the Bills contract offer because he wasn't happy how everything transpired in 2013.

My trip to Florida isn't all about the sun.  Okay, I'm lying.  This has been a brutal winter and I needed an excuse to get out of it for a week so I planned a father-son trip to spring training to see my beloved New York Mets.

 The first team I ever rooted for and the one that is closest to my heart some 40 years later.  Being a Mets fan has some similarities to being a fan of the Bills and Sabres.  There are a lot of depressing moments and season's that don't work out the way you planned but you don't give up and you don't lose faith.  Sure, I'll laugh when Mets GM Sandy Alderson says he expects his team to win 90 games this season and I'll wonder if MLB drug tests front office personnel but I don't stop believing the Mets will get better.  The Mets have been gathering up some good young players and I do think they'll be a winning team in 2015.  

So my advice to you is do what we do and get up off the canvas.  Take the standing eight count and get back to fighting.  

We have to believe better days are coming.  If not, what's the point of being a fan?

Who will win the Super Bowl?
  New England
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