The Sabres are about a month away from launching a season anticipated not quite like any other in their history. The first full season of the Buffalo Sabres as big hitters is closing in, and fans will soon find out if Terry Pegula's team is ready to deliver on his quest for the Stanley Cup.
Actually now that I think about it, it won't be that soon. There's a three-week pre-preseason and then a seven-month preseason that has to wind up before we can start to see our answers.
I think it'll be the most challenging season of Sabres talk in my career. Allow me to do the math on that for you:
First of all, we all expect them to be good. I wouldn't say great myself, not yet, but good for sure. So tensions will run high if (when) they lose three or four games in a row.
Secondly, in this new chapter of do-whatever-it-takes-to-win-it-all Sabres hockey, there will be relentless suggestions that they go acquire this or that player all the way to the early March trade deadline. Their salary cap issues will make it tough for them to acquire anyone, however.
And thirdly, it will be so long before there will be any really knowing whether or not they're Cup-capable that we'll all get frustrated, or bored, with the conversation. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup. When might it have been the right time for the fans to be talking about the Cup last season? For me, it was when they jumped up two games on Philadelphia in Round 2. First week of May maybe?
So what will we do? Are we really going to be arguing about how good Ryan Miller is after every game, or whether Jhonas Enroth deserves more starts? I imagine Tyler Myers' contract will be a topic, although it may not be relevant to how the season is playing out.
Often good sports talk is about how things look in hindsight. Well, is anyone going to argue that the Sabres should have kept Tim Connolly? Please. And the new players, they're not goalies or snipers; they're additions to the Sabres' backbone, and their value won't be evident in the stats. The worth of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff will show up over time. When will the first radio referendum on these moves and the acquisition of Ville Leino begin? My prediction: mid-October. When will it matter how they're playing? Hopefully, mid-May.
Add it all up and what you get is 88 games worth of prelude. We'll all want to talk about the Sabres but will struggle to figure out the best ways to do so. We'll probably be arguing the values of home-ice advantage more often than is warranted, or the quality of the playoff format, or some other thing. Just to pass the time until spring.
This is assuming the Sabres spend most of the season with a playoff spot in hand. Short of that and the airwaves will burn up. If they make it, the pressure still will be tremendous in the first round, for a loss there (in a third straight season) would mean no progress after all the big spending and talk.
When your team has low expectations and doesn't exceed them, conversation can be tough to drum up (See: Buffalo Bills, 2005-10). When your team has high expectations, as long as it's not failing miserably everything is pretty much on hold until the postseason.
This season shapes up to be a big long wait-and-see. Fun to watch probably, but maybe not the easiest to read.