By Ken Fox, AllPuck.com
You wouldn’t have been out of bounds if you had wondered, after the first half of the National Hockey League season, if Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula was going to ask for a refund.
After all, $189 million isn’t supposed to buy you last place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Isn’t supposed to buy you 20-24-5. Isn’t supposed to buy you a 12-game road losing streak. Isn’t supposed to buy you howls from the faithful at the First Niagara Center calling for the heads of coach Lindy Ruff or GM Darcy Regier or trades of Ryan Miller, Derek Roy or Drew Stafford …
Yet at the All-Star break that’s exactly where Pegula found his newly-minted hockey toy.
Buyer’s remorse would have been understandable. Good thing he didn’t Super-Size while he was at it …
“Expectations were pretty high for us, and we didn’t live up to the billing in the first part of the season,” Miller said just after the team returned from the All-Star break, slinking away after a 2-1 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils ended a 12 – yeppers, that’s right – 12-game road losing streak.
“I don’t think the emphasis has to be to play real good to save ourselves from trades or anything,” Miller said. “I think the idea is to play one game at a time to get ourselves where we’re supposed to be and live up to our full potential. I think we’ve got a lot of talent on this hockey team and just don’t think it’s been maximized this year for whatever reason.”
Exasperating hasn’t been the word for it. Pegula used the tried-and-true “we’ve had injuries” excuse. The Sabres have lost 231 man-games, including 34 from forward Tyler Ennis, 11 from Ville Leino and Nathan Gerbe, and another eight when Miller was sidelined with a concussion after the Milan Lucic hit.
But things started to come to a head when team president Ted Black said that the team was not beholden to a core group of players.
“He wants to win,” Miller said. “I’m sure the frustration is in his situation just like it is in ours. When things aren’t going the way you’d like them to go, you try and make adjustments. That is an option for management. For us it’s not an option to think about how you would change the parts – we ARE the parts. We want to make it work with what we have in here. You search for ways to make it work.”
Look, we all know what happens to billionaires who happen upon pro sports franchises and then begin to spend like drunken sailors. In fact, we revel in it. For every George Steinbrenner who piles up and inevitably revels in the “Twenty-Seven World Series titles…” (insert John Sterling voice there) there’s a Jim Dolan, a Dan Snyder, or (until recently) a Mark Cuban or whoever who throws his millions in a high-stakes fantasy sports gamble only to shoot craps.
And sooner or later someone comes up with a way to Moneyball all the high-rollers and shows that it’s the little things – details that need sweating and intangibles you can never put a price on – that really matter, that really win championships.
Anyone really think Milan Lucic is the greatest hockey player on Earth? Of course not. But after he blasts you along the boards, takes the puck and scores, you’re lucky if you still know what your name is. Same with a Shawn Thornton or a David Krejci.
Anyone really think Tim Thomas is the greatest keeper ever? (well … other than Glenn Beck, but we’ll get to that later.) I like Tim. Great guy, great story, everybody likes him. But I’ll NEVER use a video of his high-wire act in the crease when I’m teaching kids in a goalie camp, ever. It’s “compete” that makes him what he his.
Heart … desire … Can’t put a price on it, right?
Well, maybe the Sabres are finally getting it. They put together probably their best effort since the Lucic debacle in Boston with a come-from-behind 3-1 win in Montreal Tuesday night, one in which Max Pacioretty put the Habs up 1-0 just four minutes into the game – the kind of situation in which they normally night have caved.
They’ll have to show more of that grit if they want to get back into the playoff race in the East; the win lifted them just a point over Carolina. If not, the Sabres will be sellers when the trade deadline comes at the end of February.
Now, to our friend Mr. Thomas.
The Bruins goalie took a lot of heat (or, actually, another four-letter word) for not showing up with his Boston teammates when the B’s visited the White House and President Barack Obama to celebrate last year’s Stanley Cup win. Seems Thomas is not a fan of the president or his policies, and informed the Bruins early last fall that when the time came for the visit he would not attend.
Full disclosure time: As I mentioned earlier, I think Thomas is a good guy, but our politics are a complete one-eighty. Thomas is a fan of conservative talker Glenn Beck, I think Beck is a con man, and a cut-rate one at that. Nonetheless I support Thomas’ right to dissent. It’s probably the greatest right we have and, as an ardent First Amendment guy, it would be hypocritical of me not to support him in that right.
But here’s where I think he veered off. He then posted on his Facebook page about government spending going out of control and a few other right wing talking points and yada, yada, yada … We suddenly live in a society where Facebook statuses are mistaken for serious social commentary. (Guilty, BTW).
What a waste for Thomas to throw away the kind of platform he had been given.
Wouldn’t it been great for Thomas to come face-to-face with Obama, someone with whom he ardently disagreed with, and said. “Mr. President, I disagree with your policies and here’s why … bing, bam, boom …” (all the while, of course, NOT madly waving his finger either).
I like to think that, had I been lucky enough to be on some championship team in the early part of the last decade, I would have gone to the White House, held my tongue, put on a shit-eating grin for the photogs, shook Dubya’s hand – and left. Quickly.
You certainly don’t have to agree with whoever the president is Tim, but you SHOULD respect the presidency.