Truth is often a matter of perspective, your perspective will define that truth. The 2011-12 NHL season so far has not gone well for the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. The Sabres have literally been one of the NHL’s worst five teams for most of the season and most of the team’s major woes seem to stem from the November 11th game versus the Bruins and the infamous “Lucic incident”. Fans are restless, to say the least.
The franchise and its fans rode into the 2011-12 season full of hope and the warm fuzzy feelings of the continued Pegula honeymoon. As a fan it was hard to believe we had an owner who was so passionate about the team and who seemed to have money to burn. The paradigm for the Sabres changed overnight when Terry Pegula took over the team and it was something fans embraced with something akin to drunken exuberance. But problems lurked underneath the surface of high priced free agents and sparkling locker rooms.
Recently the Sabres and many in the Buffalo media have asked the fans for patience. The team’s struggles were and continue to be blamed almost solely on injuries, even if the injured player du jour had been struggling and was not a positive factor on the ice. Ted Black said the Sabres needed a “bigger sample size” and supported the team’s talent level and plan for a future Cup at a time yet to be determined. Darcy Regier, true to form, has done nothing to help the team or change the chemistry. He spent close to $80 million of Terry Pegula’s money and delivered a bad team and perhaps even worse, a very boring team. Lindy Ruff has been largely left alone to dangle in the heat of the fans growing anger, he just seems like a man who has no answers at the moment. The players share a great deal of blame themselves but seem content to say “whatever”, shrug their shoulders and blame the hockey gods.
It seems like quite a quick turn around for a franchise that frankly had been on a roll since Pegula took control of the team. The team and many in the Buffalo media love to point out Pegula has only owned the team for eleven months. An accurate point. But what is ignored or completely dismissed is that it’s not eleven months for the fans. It’s not eleven months for Ruff and Regier. The Sabres ask for patience and the talking heads on WGR castigate fans and claim there’s some kind of magical reset button due to Pegula’s purchase of the team, the perspective of the fans is just not acknowledged. Pegula largely kept the hockey department intact and by doing so he kept fifteen years of frustration as well.
Frustrations with Regier and Ruff run deep among many Sabres fans. For years there have been debates among fans about Ruff and Regier. Pegula’s purchase of the team did not make those frustrations go away they merely pushed the debate to the sidelines for awhile. While this is the first full season under Pegula, it is the fifteenth for Ruff, Regier and most of the team’s fans. Players and owners have come and gone but Ruff, Regier and the fans have been the constants. The fans will always be the constant. And for their truth to be ignored to me is the height of arrogance. The Buffalo Sabres exist to provide entertainment which they hope people will pay to see. The Buffalo media exists to provide information and entertainment which they hope the people of Western New York will pay to read, watch and listen to.
The fans are not stupid. Many have far sharper analysis, hockey minds and hockey experience than the people in the Buffalo media. The fans in Buffalo are loyal but they are frustrated. It was obvious going into camp that patience with certain players and Ruff was running thin. For many there’s no more patience to give. The eleven month spin doesn’t sell to many of us who have been fans of this team for decades. Asking human beings to magically forget the events of the past is an unreasonable and unrealistic demand. For nearly fifteen years fans have seen the same things from Ruff and Regier. The same excuses, the same types of players come and go. This year was different only in Pegula allowed Regier to spend a lot of money on players who have had very little impact to date. They might in the future but for now it’s largely been wasted money. The core of this team has been around for five or six years, depending on how you define it. And with the exception of Thomas Vanek (who may very well start to think his talents are wasted in Buffalo), the team’s core has failed to deliver a playoff series victory since Briere and Drury left town.
A big change is needed but will it be enough? If the team goes on a run and wins .600+ of their games will the frustrations with Regier, Ruff and the players go away? Perhaps for a time. At this point, however, anything short of a Cup will fail to erase the frustrations fans have with Regier and Ruff. And like it or not, the fans are the customers. It’s not good business to tell the customers they’re wrong and ignore their concerns.