Monday, March 30, 2009

Harrington: Part One

All right, here is the promised first part of my chat with Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. It's kind of long, even by my standards, but hopefully you find it at least mostly worth your time. I think most of the abbreviations used here are pretty easily decoded but for the record, TBN = The Buffalo News, SE = Sabres Edge, Sully = Jerry Sullivan. Also, I have to give credit to Kate for a few of the questions about how TBN's blogs have affected the paper. While reading this, please keep in mind that I'm not a real journalist. The italics are me, the non-italics Mike.

Here we go...

Since this is a blog and you're kind of the blog guy at TBN, I think we should probably start there. Can you give us just a little bit of background on your history with blogs? How long have you been reading sports blogs?

My forays into the blog world actually started with message boards. Way back in about 1996 (seems like the dark ages now), I noticed fan boards cropping up for college basketball. The Bandwagon was probably my first daily read. You got to feel the pulse of fans but you also started to pick up some insider info on recruiting and the like. You'd check it out yourself but a lot of it was good info.

Then Canisius, Niagara and UB started boards too. And then basically so did every school. Blogs came a little later and I started with the big ones like Buster Olney on, the Red Sox blog at, some Indians blogs that discussed Cleveland prospects with the Bisons. One that started in 2005 that I love for content AND title is The DiaTribe. Then I joined everyone else in reading things like Deadspin and the Big Lead and they became more mainstream. I actually enjoyed making the Big Lead -- and being called an "assclown" and "moron" -- in 2007. It was almost a badge of honor.

So you were familiar with blogs when TBN started them up. When was that again?

TBN started blogs in March of 2007. I had a good handle on what I liked and didn't like already. But it took a while for us to get really comfortable with what we were doing. Initially, we had to run posts through editors which was a joke because they had to do the paper too and it would take 2-3 hours to post items. They finally gave us access and that's what got the live blogs started. It had to be instantaneous and I hammered them with that point until they saw the light.

And now? Pretty hard to argue a Sabres blog that's had 2.2 million page views in 23 months. Or high school or Bills blogs that have had over 1 million (and the high school blog is 6 months younger). There are a ton of blogs out there and that's fine. Our goal is for folks to read ours and comment on ours - and then comment about ours on theirs too.

Those view numbers are pretty amazing and any time they come up I'm surprised at how much further ahead Sabres Edge is of any of the other TBN sports blogs. What do you think the reason for that is? Despite the Sabres recent success, I'd still consider Buffalo a football town first and foremost.

I'd like to think SE has prospered because of content and I suppose part of that is true because I think we've done a good job provoking some good discussion and providing a place to go where news breaks too.

But realistically, SE is thriving because of the nature of a hockey fan vs. the nature of a football or baseball fan. Hockey fans tend to be young, upscale and very technologically literate. They sit by their computers day and night to all hours looking for whatever shreds of info they can find and they fret over the latest doings, comings and goings of the Sabres. When you're doing a blog, readers fretting is a great thing of course!

Football fans don't tend to sit by their computers nearly as much. One issue is that game day is an all-day affair, starting with their 9 a.m. chili in the parking lot. So that means they're prolly off the net from 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. on game day. Just not as tech savvy. Bottom line.

Did you just call Bills fans old and stupid?

No. Older and more drunk as they eat their parking lot chili!

I've never tried to drink and blog at the same time so maybe that does complicate things.

How happy are you with where TBN's blogs and other online content are right now?

Our online content is growing in leaps and bounds. It's light years ahead of where it was two years ago, light years ahead of where it was one year ago and should be light years better than it is at this moment a year from now. We've made huge strides in video, especially with several pieces on Flight 3407.

When you guys first started the blogs there were a lot of rumors that there was some discontent within TBN for various reasons. Has that settled down some?

There was discontent when a lot of the online element started, party because there's always discontent with change and partly because columnists felt a little threatened that so many other people on the staff were now going to have opinions on the blogs. This isn't 1979 or 1999 anymore, people. Beat writers CAN have an opinion too. And of course there were issues about more work when I already have "my regular job." Well, I don't do my job the same way I did in 1988, 1998 or, for that matter, 2006. You had to change the way you operate to incorporate blogs, video, etc. If that means one less phone call, one less e-mail, one less stroll around the newsroom while "deep in thought," so be it.

Do you think the day is coming when print newspapers are no longer in existence?

I'd like to say no. That would be a sad, sad day for society. I think a lot of newspapers will go out of print and be online only. But imagine what could happen with no newspaper - governments could run amok unchecked, agencies like the NFTA and Erie Canal Harbor would have no watchdogs, Darcy Regier and Russ Brandon wouldn't have Sully and Bucky watching over them! That's not a good thing.

Institutions need that watchdog element. Bloggers aren't ever going to be able to provide that. Despite their best-intended views of themselves, blogs will never expose wrong-doing, misuse of funds and the like. Only trained, professional journalists can. There are a multitude of examples at TBN in recent years for instance of stories that do just that. Take the newspaper out of Buffalo or any city and see how little information people have.

Well, I'd totally agree with you there. I think there's a misconception that bloggers feel like they're replacing reporters and I think most of us don't feel that way at all. I know there are stories and angles that people with access are always going to be able to get that a guy in his living room, no matter how talented that guy is, isn't going to be able to get. And that's in sports. Like you said, it's even more glaring in government and things like that that actually make a difference beyond entertainment. I think most fan bloggers really see themselves as more of a complementary piece to sports journalism as opposed to replacement.

You've been pretty open about the fact that you regularly read a number of fan written blogs. Why do you take the time to do that? Is that standard in the sports department or are you the oddball there?

I'm def the oddball reading fan blogs as voraciously as I do. I sense most of the guys in here don't want to know what the fans think on the theory they're not as informed and we're the experts. Perhaps. But I think it's exactly the main point that we should be in touch more. If I see EVERYBODY on multiple blogs talking about a topic and I'm not thinking about that topic, then I'm probably going down the wrong road and I should re-adjust.

Have you ever read something on a fan written blog that made you change your opinion on an issue? Or at least think about it in a different way? You said that you read fan blogs to stay in touch with what fans are talking about but I guess I'm wondering how many of them you think also have some real quality behind them? Are them some you read just because they're good reads?

I can't think of a specific example where I've changed my opinion but it happens all the time that I can stumble on a fan blog that presents a different point of view that can stimulate thought. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't. Right now I'm in total hockey mode so that means I have to read Top Shelf, The Willful Caboose and Bfloblog every day. Same with the message board. Those are always the best reads with the most insight. Then I would go to Cleveland Indians blogs but now I'm going to New York Mets blogs to catch up on the Bisons.

One of my favorite things about the TBN blogs has been getting some insight into the personalities of the beat writers. You were all kind of unknown before the online stuff at least to me. I know that's mostly the nature of the beast since you're the reporters and the ones who are supposed to be objective but you're also the ones whose writing the average fan reads the most.

No question people know more about our feelings now. And I don't think that people knowing some of my opinions (like that I think the Laffs are a joke or I hate the Flyers because my childhood was marred in 1975) have colored my writing. If anything, it's humanized me more.

Do you read all the comments on your blogs? Do you follow the conversation in the comment threads at other blogs too or do you just read the main posts?

I read all the comments in our blogs but sometimes not right at the moment if I'm doing other things. I make sure, however, to get back to checking out all the comments even if it's a few hours later or the next day. I'm curious for one thing and you never know if somebody is directing a question to you that you can answer. I try to absolutely make sure to read the comments on the live game blogs during the intermissions rather than waiting until after the game. I try to read the comments at other blogs as best I can but in those cases I'm most interested in what the blogger has to say rather than their comments.

Has the online stuff changed your interaction with readers at all? Has it increased? Are you more recognized?

It has totally changed interaction with readers. You would get tons of email before but there was a certain drudgery element to it and a lot of people responded only willy-nilly. And they never pushed you to interact either. I know some reporters who ignored email entirely. The online push is based on interactivity. You're supposed to interact, respond on the blogs, hold chats, try to answer email more. That's still hard because there can be so much.

As far as being recognized more, that could come with time and more video exposure. Haven't noticed it much yet but we're isolated at hockey games. Now if I was doing that kind of video and still working basketball games where I was exposed at press row, people would certainly come up to me more.

Are there any stories that wound up attracting a lot of attention from Sabres Edge that wouldn't have made it into the regular paper? Are you ever surprised by the reaction certain posts on SE get?

At this point, I would say no although that could certainly happen on another beat like, say, colleges or high schools. The print coverage still largely drives the blog. On a beat as big as the Bills or Sabres, your No. 1 priority is the paper and the blog often reacts to that. In a situation like deadline day when you're breaking news on the blog and the web first, you'll then be writing that news for the next day's paper anyway. There will be topics talked about on SE not in the paper but certainly no real stories in the blog that would be blog-only.

We're constantly surprised at the reaction to various posts. The number of comments on a post you think is interesting can be disappointing. Then you post an innocuous paragraph or two and get 60 comments. It's hard to gauge. Always keeps you on your toes.

Has blogging affected what appears in the regular sports section in any way?

One immediate impact is from time to time on a big story, we'll post excerpts from the blog in the print edition. We did it on Drury/Briere day and I saw we just did it on T.O. day. The other impact is we get far fewer letters to the editor than we used to. Most people who want to pop off about something or praise something simply do it in a blog.

While Buffalo bloggers spend most of their time writing about the Sabres or the Bills, they do also blog about the local media coverage. How aware are you and your co-workers of what bloggers are saying about you and your work?

Some of us don't read the blogs comments about our work at all. Some of us look at some of it and some of us like myself are constant self-googlers. Frankly, I don't mind at all if somebody intelligently rips me and I stumble upon it. I can be wrong too. But if I think they're wrong, I will often try to email them and explain my point of view. Too often, bloggers seem to think they know everything about the media industry and how it works and they simply don't have a clue. I don't think a slipshod lambasting should go unchallenged if a blog is way off base.

How do you feel about independent bloggers - bloggers who aren't tied to any kind of print publication and are just blogging for themselves - being in the press box? For or against?

I don't think there should be a blanket policy for them or against them. It should be easy to determine their legitimacy if they're tied to a major print publication ( bloggers, for example, are affiliated with the Boston Globe company), or a major broadcast outlet like ESPN or TSN.

But the independents are a much stickier situation. First point is easy. I would follow the NCAA's lead - if you blog on a site that includes message boards that allow any unsubstantiated rumor to be posted, you're out. Period. No message board bloggers get in to any NCAA Tournament events. That's a good start.

From that point, each blog should be evaluated on its own. My feeling is it should be no one under the age of 21 to ensure a professional working atmosphere. Then the blogs should submit copies of their work for a period of time and document their page views. If a Sabres blog, for instance, is getting 3,000 views a day and posting legitimate, intelligent points of view, I have no problem. If it has 50 views of fellow people in basements and all it says is "Lindy stinks, Darcy stinks, the Senators stink" etc, then I say no. If I see wild use of profanity in any of the posts, I would tend to drift to the no.

The press box is for trained, working professionals. Not for people to cheer on their team. If bloggers can fit into the atmosphere, I don't have a big problem with their presence. The guys from the USRT and Artvoice, for instance, have no professional journalism backgrounds but have assimilated themselves into the local media over a period of the last 7 years by showing respect for the professionals and by learning the rules of the road. Now they're part of the furniture at Sabres and Bisons games. No reason other bloggers can't follow their lead.

So if you'd been sitting in the press box in DC and Kate and I had come strolling in, you wouldn't have rolled into the fetal position on the floor while pointing wildly and screaming, "Blogger! BLOGGER!" over and over?

Nope. No blogger yells. If you've passed the mustard to get the credential and you're in there, that's all I need to know!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

See Hank on the end there? Looking so very happy and adorable?

Click to enlarge. It's worth it. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

That's kind of how I feel right now. It's inexplicable, maybe a little irrational but it's accurate. A close, fun game, a dominant Tim Connolly, a Toni Lydman shootout goal and a hilarious-as-always post-game interview with him? (Kevin: Walk us through your shootout move. Toni (deadpan, stoner tone): Well, the key was there was no move.) All that makes for a pretty happy Heather B.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Coming Up on Top Shelf!

Way back at the beginning of the season, Kate said to me, "Hey, what would you think of trying to get credentialed for a game in D.C.?" I immediately seized on the idea. I have no interest in being in a press box on a regular basis - I like being a fan way too much for that - but I thought it would be a really neat one-time experience and one that could lead to some interesting and entertaining blog entries. I was a journalism major for a time and even though I bailed on it, I have remained pretty interested in that world.

Unfortunately, getting credentialed wasn't quite as easy as the Caps machine makes it sound. (Seriously, it's all very, "Got a blog? Hey, bring your laptop and we'll hook you up!") Nate Ewell, the guy I spoke to with the Caps, was very kind and helpful but informed me that all visiting press requests go through the visiting team. Which makes perfect sense and shows you how very naive I was about this whole process. Kevin Snow, the guy I spoke to with the Sabres, was also very helpful but after offering a (very small) sliver of hope, ultimately told me that the Sabres policy is to not credential bloggers. I was a little disappointed but I think that's an understandable stance for them to take. They're not hurting in the least for coverage so it's probably easier to not take the time to weed through blogs. I'll just assume that if they did credential bloggers, I would be at the very top of the list. (That's a joke.)

Anyway, before the plan went belly up, I emailed Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News to see if he was going on that trip. He was and he very good-naturedly offered to babysit us and help out with anything we were unsure of. When I emailed Mike I already had a couple of ideas percolating in the ol' noggin. One, I wanted to see if I could charm him into feeding Kate and me on TBN's dime. (Also a joke. But only a little.) Two, I thought I'd see if I could get him to sit down with me for a few minutes and do a little interview for this here blog.

Mike was, of course, devastated to learn that Kate and I were not going to be in the press box with him. (That's my interpretation.) And I have to admit, as much as I definitely wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis, I was pretty disappointed too. I was starting to get some really fun ideas for potential posts. I mentioned to Mike in passing one day that I had been thinking about doing an interview with him if he was agreeable and he suggested that we could do it anyway which yeah, duh. Why not? I'm a dope.

So we did it. And have been doing it for quite a while. Turns out we're both full of wisdom and insight. Or we're both windbags who think we're full of wisdom and insight. Take your pick. Now a real journalist would probably take the thousands and thousands of words and edit them into one really good post. I say eff that. The Sabres don't think I can be a real journalist? Fine. I'm going to embrace all my finest blogger tendencies and eschew editing and word limits.

So next week you guys are going to get Mike Harrington: An Interview in Three Acts. That's right, it's going to be a regular Mike-a-palooza here at Top Shelf. The tentative schedule is as follows:

MONDAY - Part One. About blogging, why Mike enjoys it and how it's affected his job and the newspaper.

WEDNESDAY - Part Two. Growing up in Buffalo, the Sabres beat, the difference in being a fan and being a journalist and the problem with TBN. (Okay, that last part is mostly me.)

FRIDAY - The Shocking Conclusion. Odds and ends that don't fit in the above posts. Some frivolity and also the answer to the burning question, "Will the Pirates win the World Series in my lifetime?"

In addition to the interview, which I hope you'll all read and enjoy, I am still going to D.C. as a regular ol' fan and will probably do a little bit of blogging from there.

Hey, have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


And that is why some people continue to watch hockey no matter how dreary it all seems. Because even at the end of an awful season, you can run into a game like tonight's. The fun and wonder of it might be dulled by the morning light but for tonight, it looks pretty frakkin' beautiful.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Like Going to Hockey Games

My name is Heather B. and I love hockey.

I bring this up because there seems to be a question among certain people - journalists and even some fans - about why I still spend money on the Buffalo Sabres even though they're not very good. It seems like every recent TBN chat and blog has had some remark about how I'm supporting mediocrity and being held hostage by management. Putting aside the fact that the Sabres have been not good for two consecutive years which is not exactly a lifetime, I just happen to love hockey. Even more, I love going to hockey games.

I went to the Flyers game last week and while I wrote a very melodramatic post about it that night, the truth is, I had a blast. Kate and I had a merry time debating who should be fired, ragging on the team, defending our favorite players (kind of), and just enjoying the company of a good friend. Would I have preferred to be watching a team that's gearing up for the playoffs? Of course. But I had fun anyway.

I feel like sometimes people who write about sports for a living forget what it is about sports that people fall in love with. I know that journalists by definition watch sports in a different way than we do. I don't believe for one second that emotion and personal feelings never influence them but I do think most of them try to leave that stuff out of it and offer an objective point-of-view, pointing out things that fans, in their zeal, might miss. But I also feel like, even though journalists are not writing from our point-of-view, they should respect that our point-of-view is different and they should never talk down to me because I'm acting like a fan. Point out that my money is supporting management and that you think management is a joke and then let me make my own decision about what to do with my money. And if you don't like the decision I'm making, don't suggest to me that I'm wrong or that I don't understand what's going on. That's not reporting. That's passing judgment on your audience and you know what? It's really annoying.

I'm not a dullard. I understand that my money is lining Tom Golisano's pockets and I understand that maybe there's no reason for him to improve the team as long as he's making a profit. But I like going to hockey games. My perfect Buffalo evening would be a foot long and fries from Ted's followed by a Sabres game. I've been a sports fan for pretty much all of my life and I've yet to see one of my teams win a championship. Yeah, I hope that changes one day before I die but I also feel like a fan that lives only for championships is probably going to be a pretty unhappy fan. There's so much more to going to a game than who wins and who loses.

When I look back over this season, I can't even tell you how many times I saw the Sabres win. I can tell you about how stoked I was to see Henrik Tallinder score his annual goal in person and how I was still jumping up and down even after everyone else had taken a seat. I can tell you about how riveting Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly are when they're on, even from the 300s. I can tell you about the proud Sharks fan we sat next to whose 7 month old daughter was attending her first game. I can tell you about the lengthy discussion I had with another fan about why I like Darcy Regier and why he hates him. I can tell you about how amazing it was to sit so close to the ice that I couldn't really see the jumbotron and how Kate spent most of that pregame texting friends in the building to point out where her seats were. I can tell you about bemoaning poor Chris Butler scoring his first NHL goal in the waning moments of a terrible game and taking a moment to cheer for him even though he couldn't cheer for himself. I can tell you what an emotional release it was to boo the Sabres off the ice at the end of really bad periods and how entertaining it was to good-naturedly boo Danny Briere after he kicked our ass. The guy who forgot he had a beer in his hand when he stood up to the do the wave and dumped it over his head, the know-it-all blowhard behind me who was calling players by the wrong name, the fan who cracked up our entire section by yelling, "THE LITTLE NET, HECHT!" when Jochen's shot barely stayed in the building, that guy who insists on high-fiving everyone he can reach, the other fans who, for a few hours became a part of my life, that's what I love about going to games.

Winning is not the be all and end all of sports. It's really not. It's sharing the moments of joy and agony, it's seizing those brief moments of hope and optimism and sometimes it's irrationally loving a certain player even when he sucks. (Not that I know anything about that.) It's escaping from work and responsibility for even a short time and it's setting aside a few hours to enjoy being with your friends or your family. Yeah, if ticket prices keep creeping up and quality of play keeps creeping down or if the team continues to be bad for the next few years, there may come a tipping point where I decide I'd prefer to stay at home and watch the Sabres on TV. But for now I'm perfectly happy to give Golisano my money because the Sabres and hockey are bigger than him and because believe it or not, I still have a ton of fun every time I set foot in HSBC. You don't have to agree and you don't have to like it that I feel that way but you don't have to lecture me about it either.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Never Again

I suppose the "Chris Drury and Danny Briere!" items were bound to start after this weekend. But come on. Can we at least be a little bit rational here? Can we not invest too much into a two game stretch? Drury has one goal and one assist against us in four games. His amazing tangibles had a talented Rangers team also fighting for a playoff spot and needing an infusion of heart and effort from Sean Avery. That's hardly a dominating performance against us or against the rest of the league. Even Briere, who completely kicked our ass on Friday, has only played one game against us and sixteen games against everyone else. Two players playing well against us doesn't make the rest of their season null and void. I understand we're talking about intangibles and leadership and stuff like that but this is ridiculous hyperbole:

Say what you want about their contracts, numbers and health -- it's irrelevant. All those things would be different if the Sabres had stepped up and kept them.

Really? Chris Drury would've repeated his 37 goal season these last two years if Buffalo had only kept him? Danny Briere would have remained healthy as a horse for the last two years if he were still playing in Buffalo's atmosphere? Because he never missed any time while he was here, right? Both guys would've ceased to age - something that last time I checked, does occasionally affect a pro athlete - if the Sabres had only manned up and kept them? Even though last I heard the Sabres did want to "step up" and match any and all offers Drury received?

I understand what John Vogl is saying in the linked blog and I don't disagree completely. A lot of leadership and character walked out with Drury and Briere - because let me remind you that said players did ultimately have control over where they ended up - and the Sabres didn't replace it. They thought they still had enough left in the room and it turns out they didn't. Clearly. But you can't have it both ways. You can't trumpet all the reasons the Sabres should have kept Drury and Briere while completely dismissing, in one thought that doesn't even make sense, all the reasons it might work out in the long run for them to have moved on from older guys with long-term contracts who have probably played their best seasons. Bucky Gleason is terrible about this in his chats. If someone wants to bring up how Drury and Briere are underachieving he very dismissively tells them to get over it, no one wants to talk about them anymore. But as soon as it fits his argument and the point he wants to make, who are we talking about? That's right, Drury and Briere.

Do the Sabres miss Drury and Briere? Yes, in many ways they do. Are they completely effed forever, to the point where we have to keep talking about these guys - both of whom have been pretty average since leaving Buffalo - like they would've been the saviors of the franchise? No, we do not. We don't. We really don't. I don't plan on ever doing it again.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I was standing in line for ice-cream and a Coke. A very long, painfully slow moving line. Daniel F. Briere had just tied the game and then put the Flyers up (Kate's fault - she actually said OUT LOUD, "As long as it's not Briere") and I could see Bucky Gleason up in the press box giggling in delight so I was already cranky. And then the period started and I was STILL standing in the line that was NOT MOVING AT ALL when a puck blooped into the net to put the Flyers up 5-3. The escalator was right there. I told myself I could just leave, no problem. I could text Kate and tell her I couldn't take any more and surely she would understand. I could stop at Anderson's on the way home and get ice-cream and a Coke. The escalator was RIGHT THERE.

But I didn't leave. In fact, I stayed until the very bitter end. Because I'm sick. Very, very sick.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

About Lindy and Darcy (In Which I, Heather B., Agree With Bucky Gleason)

I realize I'm one of the few Darcy Regier apologists in Buffalo so the last few days have been rough ones in my world. The current Sabres roster is a mess for sure and a lot of the blame for that lies at Darcy's feet but, as Kate mentioned in the (very interesting) comment thread at her blog yesterday, this idea that he's stockpiling the team with players Lindy Ruff hates is kinda stupid. It's always appeared that Darcy and Lindy have a very unusual GM-head coach relationship and while I'm sure the final personnel decisions are made by Darcy, I don't believe for a second that Lindy doesn't get a lot of input and I don't believe for a second that Darcy doesn't give that input serious weight. I'm sure the two of them have disagreed at times - that happens when you're friends and it happens even more when you're friends who work together - but I seriously doubt there's a player on the team who was signed or extended with Lindy standing by saying, "I hate that guy and don't want him on my team." Yeah, he probably wanted to keep Chris Drury but come on, Darcy did too. According to everyone and their great aunt he had a deal in place and in his first Drury-is-a-Ranger press conference he looked as stunned and disappointed as we all did. I'm sure Lindy hates the way this team has turned out - jeez, who wouldn't? - but it is his team almost as much as it's Darcy's and he bears almost as much responsibility for this debacle as anyone else. Nothing about this team right now says it's well-coached. They're not smart, they're not disciplined, they're not accountable, they collapse at the very first sign of struggle and they've given very few 60 minute efforts all season. Yeah, they have holes and weaknesses but they're still underachieving. This is not the least talented team Lindy has had during his time in Buffalo but they've certainly played like they are.

All that said, I'm hesitant to fire Lindy and even more hesitant to fire Darcy. If we go back to Bucky Gleason's column from a few days ago, he said something I completely agree with (somewhere Bucky just heard claps of thunder and felt the earth shift under his feet):

The Sabres need roster changes, but they also need time. Their core of players still hasn’t hit their primes. They have a good group of young players in the AHL and several very good prospects, including towering defense-man Tyler Myers. I’ll say it again. They should be better across their roster in two years or so, when their kids grow up.

If they’re not significantly better in two years and moving toward contention, it will be time to change the general manager, coach or both.

I know it's easy to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed. Darcy and Lindy have been here forever and look where we are. Nowhere. But I think you have to think more small picture and zero in on the team in front of us right now. That team has really only been around for a few years. For all my complaining about what a chore the Sabres have been to watch and blog about this season, I understand why management decided to leave the team mostly as it was last season. The Sabres finished the 2007-2008 season with 90 points, only 4 points out of the playoffs, and they did it with half a season of good play from two or their best players (Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy) and an entire season of very inconsistent play from their starting goalie. Young players were trying to figure out how to step into different roles on and off the ice. Yeah, some tinkering needed to be done (and was done with the additions of Craig Rivet and Patrick Lalime) but I don't think anything about last season signaled a team that needed to be blown up.

Now it's different. This season I think we're seeing that a lot of the things that were excusable last season are genuine weaknesses and bad habits. Things that aren't going to go away, things that players might not grow out of. Some players might not grow into the roles that management had them pegged for. And if we can see all that, I'm sure Darcy and Lindy are seeing it too and I think you have to give them a chance to make the needed changes. And I think that means giving them at least one off-season. People can grouse about the trade deadline all they want but the deadline was not the time to do the kind of moving the Sabres need to do. Very few long-term impact moves were made anywhere in the league and that's what we need.

With the salary cap most likely staying put and possibly even going down in the next couple of years, I think these off-seasons are going to be very interesting ones. A lot of teams are right up on the cap or close that that it's going to be very difficult to extend some players and a lot of good players - established every day players and youngsters who haven't quite proven themselves - are going to shake lose. It'll be an environment that might favor a GM like Darcy who has a good eye for talent and is used to pinching pennies and making a team fit under a certain number. One thing I think the Sabres did do right is that almost all the contracts players have signed over the last couple years are movable ones. I think the only contract that have that's probably unmovable is Vanek's. Even Miller's isn't bad for a usually very good starting goalie. The opportunity to make some big changes is there if they make it known that certain guys are on the table. Bucky's also right that it's a time when there's potentially a lot of help coming up. There's a handful of players in Portland who have a chance to be everyday players in the NHL and Tylers Myers and Ennis are getting a lot of attention in juniors.

Next off-season if the roster looks pretty much like it does right now then maybe it's time to think about replacing Lindy and/or Darcy. In a couple of years if the team still isn't very competitive then maybe you think about letting one of them or both of them walk when their contracts or up. But for now, I think you let them work. Almost everyone seems to agree that Lindy and Darcy are both good at what they do. Now's the time to let the prove it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thanks, Marty

I'm not gonna lie, I've been very down on hockey the past few weeks. I have flashes where I enjoy watching the Sabres but they're brief. I really don't have that much affection for the roster as is and that's been killing hockey for me. I've thought more than once that if the playoffs started tomorrow, I wouldn't watch a single second. I don't have it in me. I am seriously burned out this season.

So thank god for Marty Brodeur. I tuned out of the Sabres game tonight (big sacrifice) so I could watch the end of the Devils game and boy, I am really, really glad I did. I don't know if Martin Broduer is better than Patrick Roy. I don't know if Martin Brodeur is partly a product of the defensive system the Devils played for much of his career. I don't care. I do know that he is an amazingly gifted goalie and a lot of fun to watch. I do know that he's played every single game of his NHL career in one sweater even though he could have gotten more money and more attention elsewhere. I love that. I loved how his teammates seemed really fired up to get the win from the second the puck dropped. I loved that the game ended with him making a save, the puck in his glove right where it belonged. I loved his teammates circling around him and tapping their sticks, one of my very favorite things in hockey. I loved Marty deciding he was cutting off the whole dang net and I loved him trying to do it with a pair of scissors like I have in my desk at school, the kind that barely cuts through a few pieces of paper without getting all messed up. I loved a fanbase that's rightfully been criticized for not being visible coming out in force and sounding like they were having a joyous time all night. I loved New Jersey, of all teams, reminding me that I don't hate hockey, I just hate the Sabres version of it. I'm a little relieved to realize that.

There will be time - plenty of time, I think - to discuss the Sabres, what went wrong last night and this season, who's to blame and how things should be fixed. For tonight I just want to bask in loving hockey again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eff It

I've been working for literally HOURS on a post about Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier and the sudden rash of stories about whether they will be/should be fired if the Sabres miss the playoffs. I started, erased and started again at least five times. I looked at the pros and cons of firing both of them, keeping both of them and keeping one and firing of the other but nothing was coming out right. It was long, it was meandering and it didn't actually say anything. All I can tell you is that I don't want Lindy OR Darcy to be fired. So there. Maybe someday I'll actually tell you why. For now, I'm going to bed because hockey is giving me a headache.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Okay, so I never got around to that "more later." But it's not my fault! I was in the middle of a nice post about how I enjoy going to hockey games even when the Sabres aren't very good and then they went out last night and tried to challenge that idea. (Well done, fellas.) And then I was writing a post about how we're complete toast and while that might be true in some ways - it's never a good sign when a team in the basement looks like it wants to win more than a team scrapping for a playoff spot - it's not technically true. We're only two points out of eighth and only three points behind the Hurricanes and they've played two more games than us. This is absurd. How can a team that plays so badly so often still be in the playoff hunt? I mean, it's not that I'm not grateful but I'm kind of ready for them to be either in or out. This on the fence thing where I have to care about what feels like EVERY OTHER GAME IN THE CONFERENCE is killing me.

So anyway, I got nothing right now. I am, however, the Sunday Conversation this week over at First Time, Long Time. If you need a Heather B. fix in the form of long, meandering thoughts on the Buffalo News, how to fix the Pittsburgh Pirates, baseball books and what I'll do with my blog banner when Hank leaves, head on over there and hopefully I'll have something up here tomorrow evening.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Hank totally tripped over the blue line. That was adorable, wasn't it?

(More later this evening.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's Talk About Not Hockey

I never listen to the radio in the car. That's what God invented iPod car adapters for. But a few weeks ago I did start listening to Jerry Sullivan's appearances on Howard Simon and Schopp and the Bulldog from WGR's audio vault at some point during the week. I've gotten to the point where I really enjoy his cranky pessimism. (Shut up.)

Wow, today that was a HUGE mistake. Sully's most recent appearance on Schopp could've been entitled "Why It Really, Really Sucks to be a Buffalo Sports Fan." It was brutal. By the time it was over I wanted to leap from the roof of HSBC into oncoming traffic on the Skyway. Awful. Thanks for nothing, Sully. (For the record, pretty much everything that was said was true. Just super depressing.)

Here are five things that have absolutely nothing to do with hockey:

1. I'm finally about to start season 4 of The Wire. It is an amazing show. Really and truly one of the best things I've ever seen on TV. (And I'm not really a lover of HBO - I hate Sex in the City and The Sopranos - so I'm not biased in that regard.) It's pretty brutal sometimes though. Pookie and Schnookie got me started on it and at one point early in the first season I emailed them to tell them a certain character reminded me of one of my former students. "I love this kid!" I could practically hear the long pause via email because well, let's just say that kid did not meet the happiest of endings. I sobbed for days over this character and that's the kind of show it is. The Ookies warned me that season 4 might be a tough one because the main storyline involves a school but I think I'm prepared for it now. We'll see.

2. This weekend we ended up spending time with some of Mark's family. I hadn't seen this particular aunt in a while and when she asked me, "How's your grandmother in Pittsburgh?" I replied with, "Good, she died in October."

3. This joke has been a big hit with my kids the last week or so. I told it to them on Monday and they've told just about everyone in the building. Why is the math book so sad? Because it has so many problems. They're second and third graders, okay?

4. Here are the current top five most listened to songs in my iTunes library: Want To by Sugarland, Beautiful Day by U2, Alone by Heart, Wouldn't It Be Nice by the Beach Boys and S.O.S. by ABBA. Playing right this second is Beautiful Boy by John Lennon.

5. My puppy Marlowe is named after Rick's dog on the 80's show Simon & Simon. I clearly remember watching reruns of it with my mom and grandmother and I had a huge crush on Gerald McRaney who played Rick.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Now in Amazing High Definition!

So a couple of weeks ago we bought a brand new HD TV. We've been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to watch the Sabres in HD. First it took a few days to get the TV delivered, then the team was on the road, then we were at the game, then we were having problems with the Sabres HD channel and on and on. Finally - finally! - tonight we were able to tune in our boys in amazing high definition. The picture was beautiful and so clear that I'm pretty sure I could see shattered shards of my playoff hopes and dreams littering the ice. I hate hockey.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Saturday I blew off hockey (thank god) for a day of baseball and traveled up to Toronto for some World Baseball Classic action. I think the WBC is fairly pointless. It doesn't mean as much to us as I think it does to some of the countries involved and if my team had a player participating who was actually worth worrying about, I probably would be leery about them potentially getting hurt. But Toronto is a hop, skip and jump away, tickets were super reasonable (mine was $39 for the 200 level) and it is a rare opportunity to get to watch a bunch of Major Leaguers at one time. It worked out really well because the US/Canada game started at 2 which made it very feasible for me to drive up Saturday morning, catch the game, eat dinner and drive back home.

The drive was a little slow due to traffic (construction and an accident) and weather (lots of rain and fog). I managed to arrive safely and in plenty of time for the game. I'd never watched a game in a dome and let me tell you, it's pretty weird. My seats were slightly under an overhang so I couldn't see the roof from there but I was hyper aware of the lack of things like sun and clouds and wind. I suppose if I watched games there all the time I'd get used to it but I don't know. I really missed seeing blue sky over the field. The effect was even more noticeable since it was cold, rainy and foggy outside and then eerily perfect inside.

National anthems

I was a fan divided. I am an American so I suppose I should have been cheering for the U.S team. But Jason Bay, the only significant Pirate of the last 15 years or so - he was a legitimate All-Star and not a "well, we gotta get a Pirate in here" All-Star - is Canadian. Also, the Canadian crowd was booing all mentions of Derek Jeter along with Derek Jeter himself and I was more than happy to join in on that. Plus the US did not start Roy Oswalt who I really had my heart set on seeing. Booooooooo!

Hi, Jason! I miss you!

The video board was beautiful as were all the ribbon boards. Everything was very streamlined and simple. My only complaint would be the diamonds you see under the player in the photo above. The result of the at-bat was put up like on a scorecard but it ended up looking kind of busy and overly complicated. It's hard for me to say because I do know how to keep a scorecard but does the average fan know the difference between a K and a backwards K or what something like 3U means?

The other thing that's kind of weird about the stadium is that you're locked into your level. Your ticket tells you what gates to enter the stadium through and then you can't go anywhere else. So there was no wandering down to field level for me.

Sorry, Lee. This is as close as I could get to Your Boy.

I didn't really follow the last WBC so I wasn't sure what kind of crowd or atmosphere to expect but both turned out to be really pretty awesome. I'm sure it helped that the home team was involved but there were over 40,000 people there and they were really into the game. Joey Votto (of the Cincinnati Reds) is from the Toronto area and he got an especially warm welcome every time he came to bat. The crowd around me went absolutely bonkers when he hit a home run and when he drove in a run in the ninth inning.

The only bad part about the crowd was this yahoo in front of me:

There's a special level of hell for fans who use Thunderstix and an extra special level for the person who created them. Thanks for nothing, guy.

When I was taking in the stadium I noticed the image below and immediately wondered who the heck Tom Cheek was and why he wore number 4306. I took the picture partly so I would remember to look it up when I got home.

Tom Cheek was the Blue Jays' radio broadcaster from 1977 to 2004 and is probably most famous for his call of Joe Carter's World Series winning home run in 1993: "Touch 'em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!" I've heard the call before many times but never knew who it was. Anyway, Cheek called 4,306 consecutive regular season games and when he was placed on the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence that number was used in lieu of a jersey number. I was just reading something the other day about Dave Zinkoff of the Philadelphia 76ers having a banner in the Wachovia Center. I think it's a very cool idea to honor long-time announcers and I hope the Sabres will consider something like that when Rick Jeanneret retires.

It turned out to be a really fun game to watch. It definitely had the feel of an exhibition game at first but as it went on the players seemed to buckle down and the crowd really got into it. The US led for most of the last few innings but the Canadians had a chance to tie it up and/or take the lead in the ninth and I admit, when Jason Bay stepped to the plate with Canada down by two with a runner on, I was totally pulling for him to be the hero. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and the US won.

On a total side note, you guys, when did Chipper Jones get so old? He was a snot-nosed rookie during the prime baseball years of my youth and suddenly he's an almost 37-year-old veteran? Does not compute.

Anyway, after the game was over I waited for the crowd to clear out a little and then walked down to the front of my section so I could get a good look at the roof. Totally bizarre to see a full field under a roof. When you watch games on TV, I think you kind of forget they're taking place inside.



A very kind bystander noticed me staring at the roof and took a few minutes to explain to me how it all worked. He pointed out where the roof separates and described how all the different sections open. He also described how the stadium opens for football games and where the 50 yard line and end zones are. It was really interesting and considering the stadium is almost 20 years old now - again, where does the time go? - all the technology involved is pretty amazing. If that guy happens to stumble across this, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. It made my day.

After the game I took a little jaunt around the city. As hard as it may be to believe, I'd never been to Toronto before Saturday and it is amazing. I knew it was a big city but it's totally different actually seeing it in person. It's like a smaller, cleaner, safer New York City. I didn't take any pictures because it was getting dark and the weather still wasn't very cooperative but I came home with a wad of brochures and immediately told Mark we were going back ASAP. I can't wait to explore things more fully.

I ended my trip with dinner at Richtree Market, a place that came highly recommended by a friend. Richtree is designed to mimic a European food market with different stations set up throughout the restaurant - pasta, seafood, grill, salad, and lots of crazy mouth-watering desserts just to name a few.

Click on the photos if you want a closer look.

I stole these from the internet and have no idea who took them. Sorry, unnamed photographer!

When you come in, they give you a swipe card, you grab a tray and at each station they just add what you ordered to your card and you pay for everything when you leave. It's much more convenient than having to pay at each station but it does make it pretty easy to lose track of how much you've spent. Happily, the food was really good. I had a sirloin (medium, as all meat should be), made to order in front of me along with sauteed mushrooms and absolutely amazing mashed potatoes. They were extremely lumpy and full of skin (as all mashed potatoes should be). I finished the meal off with a strawberry crepe, topped with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream although I was extremely tempted by the belgian waffles. It was awesome and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant is very busy and charming. Don't sit on the patio. I don't think you get the full effect out there.

The drive home was a bit of a disaster. It was pouring from Toronto to Buffalo and that made for a very slow drive especially since I can barely see in the dark to begin with. But I made it home in one piece, pretty pleased with my day and anxious to get the real baseball season started.

A couple of notes for the baseball fans among you:

First of all, don't forget to check out my brother Lee's blog, New York Mets Online, for all your Mets needs. He co-writes it with some friends and it's pretty good stuff. Lee, I'll think of you when I'm watching all those Mets games in HD this summer. Heh heh.

Second of all, Lee is starting up a fantasy baseball keeper league. If you're interested in joining in and want more information, email me at the address at the top right hand of this here blog and I'll pass along more info to you.

I Hate Football

I leave Buffalo for less than 24 hours and when I get back, Terrell Owens is a Buffalo Bill. As one of the few people in the city who doesn't particularly care about football, I can't even tell you how tired I am of this already. This is going to be unpleasant.

More this evening about what I was doing this weekend.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tim Connolly is Good at Hockey

-- You guys, I'm not sure what to make of the team we've seen the last two games. Granted, Phoenix is not exactly a powerhouse but wow, we look completely different than we did in the few games before the deadline. Much more confident and much feistier. Definitely makes you wonder if there is something to the theory that players get tense and stressed around trade deadline time. When we talk about trading players here and there I think it is easy to forget that for them it's not as easy as getting on a plane and flying to a new city. In some cases they're leaving cities and teammates they really love, there's a ton of logistics to think about and it's even more complicated for players with families. Does the family come with you? Do they stay put until the end of the season? If they stay behind how do you help the kids deal with not seeing Dad very much for a while? During one of the intermissions tonight Kevin Sylvester mentioned Shane Doan talking about how hard it was to tell his little boy that his best friend's dad, Derek Morris, had been traded. That kind of thing would never cross my mind but it probably does weigh heavy on the players' minds. Now that that's officially behind them, all the guys who were surrounded by rumors can just relax and play hockey.

-- Tim Connolly was a-mazing tonight. When MSG showed the replay of Andrej Sekera's goal and zeroed in on Timmy looking back at Sekera before the face-off, setting him up in a certain spot and then pulling the puck back to that exact spot? I might have swooned. I'm sure somewhere in the world Bucky Gleason was telling someone that well, sure, ANYONE can score 4 points against PHOENIX. Because he's a doof.

-- Speaking of swooning, most people who have read this blog for any length of time know that there's nothing I love more than good penalty killing and tonight was full of it. I have to admit I really didn't know much about Dominic Moore but quality penalty killers? Are a-okay with me.

-- It'll probably be pretty quiet around her until Monday. I have a busy weekend lined up, some of which I'll probably blog about later. I'll almost surely be missing the Ottawa game tomorrow but hopefully we keep our momentum going and actually beat them. Please?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Further Thoughts on the Trade Deadline...

Just a few thoughts about Bucky Gleason's column today which, shockingly, did not include a single reference to James Wisniewski. (You'll be happy to know he more than made up for it in his chat.) Again, I won't argue too hard with the opinion that re-signing Tim Connolly at his price was a bad move. I can't certainly understand feeling that way. But I do have a few smallish things to address.

In the days leading into the deadline, talk around the league was that Connolly wasn’t interested in returning to the Sabres.

I have to admit to being very curious about this and who exactly was talking. Connolly has never struck me as the kind of guy who would go out of his way to say nice things just to say them. Let's face it. He comes across as a major prick sometimes. But he said a number of times in the past few weeks that he really wanted to stay in Buffalo and he sounded very sincere which is something else he does not exactly specialize in. Yesterday he also sounded genuinely pleased that it worked out here. Granted, he had just signed a nine million dollar contract. I just think it's intersting that the league was evidently talking about this and yet the only place I heard anything like this was from Bucky. In no way am I accusing Bucky of making something up. I'm sure he does have his sources. And lord knows pro athletes occasionally say things they don't actually mean. I just think it's interesting.

Nobody would deny Connolly’s talent, but Roy is a better center and will make $1.5 million less in the next two years.

I've seen Bucky use Roy's contract as a measuring stick a few times now and I think that's a little deceiving. One, Roy's contract was signed two years ago now. The cap has gone up every year since then and when the cap goes up, salaries go up. I think a rising cap makes it very hard to compare salaries from year to year. I'd say that Roy is more talented than Jason Pominville too and Pominville is making more as well, partly because his deal was signed a year later. And two, Roy's contract is an amazing bargain and has been pretty much from day one. He's underpaid and that makes it a little bit of a cheat to use his price as a comparison, I think.

Signing him was their big move on a day in which their rivals in the Eastern Conference playoff race made stronger attempts to get better. The only team that didn’t make a key trade before the deadline was Florida, which kept defenseman Jay Bouwmeester with the idea it was better with him than without him.

I think this is overstating things a lot. All the other teams made moves but I don't know that most of them were particularly strong. Most of them were smallish moves made by teams that are in a good position and just need some tweaking. I don't know that there's a huge difference between Pittsburgh addressing a need for tough wingers by getting Bill Guerin and the Sabres addressing the need for some depth in the middle by getting Dominic Moore.

Essentially, the Sabres traded away a rental free agent who should have been gone two years ago in Ales Kotalik for a rental free agent who will be gone after this season in Dominic Moore.

Darcy Regier danced around the question about the team's plans for Moore beyond this season but I think it's natural to assume part of the reason they made the deal is because they like him and want to get a closer look at him. I'm not saying that means he'll definitely be back here next year. I have no idea how he'll work out and what kind of contract demands he's making. But Bucky doesn't know those things either. His assumption that Moore definitely will not be back next season bugs me.

Henrik Tallinder, who acknowledged a few weeks ago he needed a change in scenery, is still here.

This bugs me too. The only exchange I've seen any record of regarding needing a change of scenery is Jerry Sullivan's column last weekend. In that column, Sully said he asked Hank if a change of scenery can be good for a player and Hank responded with, "Oh, yeah." Sully was interpreting that as him suggesting he could use a change of scenery and I'm okay with that interpretation especially since Sully made it clear that it was his interpretation. But that is decidedly not the same thing as Hank saying, "I need a change of scenery," which is what Bucky is implying here. Unless he's talking about a different conversation, he's veering awfully close to putting words in someone's mouth.

That aside, hello, Hank is still here because Darcy didn't like anything that was offered for him. Pretty simple. I can understand dumping Max for nothing - although I think the alternative of trying to get something out of him first is better if there really were no offers - but Hank is more valuable than that. He's one of the teams best trade assets and if getting good value for him means waiting until the off-season than I think that's what you have to do. We're already looking at a very young defensive corp next season with Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber. Pull out Teppo Numminen and maybe Jaroslav Spacek and that's even more experience gone. I would feel much more comfortable having another veteran d-man in place before we deal Hank. I mean, really. I think in this area I'll trust the judgment of the people who actually know what all the offers were rather than someone who's listening to rumors.

Tellqvist didn’t cost more than the change in your ashtray. The Sabres didn’t give up any extra draft picks or any warm bodies under the age of 25.

But that's... good, right?

I guess part of my problem with this column is that I'm just not sure what Bucky really wanted the Sabres to do. He's been saying for months that the Sabres aren't good enough to make any kind of playoff run this season and they should focus on being better for the next couple of years. Outside of re-signing Connolly, I don't really see why what they did at the deadline flies in the face of that enough for Bucky to be such a pompous grouch the last couple of days. Is his complaint that they didn't do enough to get better for this season? Or that they didn't do enough to get better for the future? Because if it's the latter, the trade deadline is not the only time you can work on building your team. I would actually argue that it's probably not a very good time to do that if you're not either selling everything off or close enough to winning that you can do some tweaking. Half the teams in the league are still in the playoff hunt right now. There were very few big, future impact deals made. It's during the off-season, once the playoffs are over, that teams are really going to be examining their rosters and deciding what to do with various assets. I would think the off-season is also better suited to someone as deliberate as Darcy. I just don't get the level of outrage and disgust he's shown the last few days in his writing and in his chats.

But again, what do I know? I'm just a blogger.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Happy Day! (Edited)

Happy Henrik Tallinder Is Still a Sabre (For Now) So Heather B. Doesn't Have to Change the Banner on Her Blog (Yet) Day, everybody!

:::throws dimpled confetti:::

Hank's happy for me too.

Well, clearly the Sabres are as relieved as I am that Hank wasn't traded. Take that load of stress off their shoulders and look what happens. Easy wins. I suspect the "Hank is still a Sabre" bump will carry them all the way now.

Okay, seriously... let's discuss some things.

Obviously the big move today was re-signing Tim Connolly. I'm not completely sold on this move - I was perfectly fine with letting him walk at the end of the season - and when I got the text with details my initial reaction was horror. That's... a lot of money for a guy who hasn't played much in the last few years. Even in retrospect I'm okay with the first contract. I think the Sabres had to take a chance on Connolly. He was too dominant in that postseason to not hope he'd put the concussion troubles behind him. But to take that chance again? That seemed excessive.

But you know... I might have come around a little bit at least. Darcy Regier made the point in his press conference that there aren't a lot of short-term contracts in the league any more and he's right about that. Two years is really not that much of a commitment. If it doesn't work out, it's not something that's going to bury the team for the next 5-7 years the way some of the contracts signed by other teams over the last couple of years are going to. And there's no doubt Connolly is super talented. If he does stay reasonably healthy, 4.5 is going to be a bargain. I've seen other people make this point around the internet but where are you going to find another point per game player for that price? You're not going to. It's pretty hard to wrap your brain around the idea of someone who hasn't played that much getting a raise but you know, pro sports don't work the same way as the real world. They never have and they never will. Guys are always getting paid for potential and always getting more than they should. Tim Connolly is hardly a first.

I was going to link to Bucky Gleason's "Sabres likely to trade Connolly" story here but boy, TBN dismantled it. The latter half of the column is untouched but the headline has changed and the section about the Sabres trading Connolly has been replaced with news of the extension. Eager to make us forget that Bucky was wrong, I guess. Normally I wouldn't care. It's trade deadline day. Everyone's wrong about something, usually wrong far more often than right. I do delight a little in Bucky being wrong however because he's so friggin' pompous and self-righteous about everything. I can't wait to read his story tomorrow in which I'm sure he'll mention once again that if he were in charge, the Sabres would've made a trade with Chicago for that d-man he's been obsessing over. I was going to point out that one of the criticisms he makes of Connolly is that he only has 8 assists in the last 9 games which is, by my count, still almost a point per game and about what you'd want from a playmaking center. But hey, what do I know? I'm not a columnist.

I was also disappointed in Jerry Sullivan's blog about Connolly's re-signing. I have no problem with him being down on the signing - like I said, I can definitely see why people think it's crazy - but I think he misfires by accusing Regier of re-signing Connolly in an effort to justify the original contract. That's pretty contradictory of everything we've seen of Regier over the years, I feel. If you want to accuse him of getting overly attached to players sometimes, well, guilty as charged. But I really don't think there's anything more here than him liking Connolly and believing that he's a special talent.

I also don't get Sully's fixation on Connolly's game being all finesse like that's a bad thing. Yeah, the Sabres definitely need some grit and toughness but you have to have skill too. A team full of Paul Gaustads would be hard-working and likable but also (sorry, Goose) not particularly good at hockey. I'd also hesitate a little to call Connolly soft. No, he doesn't fly around the ice smashing players into the boards but he doesn't shy away from contact and he doesn't hesitate to jump into little scrums. That's one thing I've always had to give him credit for. For a guy who's had so much trouble with injuries the last few years, he's not gun shy at all. He doesn't play like a guy afraid to get hurt. So injury prone? Certainly. Soft? Eh. I don't know.

So over the course of the day I've gone from horror and slight disgust to extremely cautious, hesitating hope. It's definitely a high risk, high reward signing.

More on other trade related things tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I Don't Know

I emailed Kate after the Islanders game and said, "I really hate that I have a hockey blog right now." I just... I don't even know what to say right now. When I started this blog I decided I really wanted to make a concerted effort to be as optimistic as possible. That's my nature anyway but I really missed that from the Buffalo sports scene. It's not that I think people should be calling into WGR all kittens and roses and it's not that I think sports fans, Buffalo sports fans in particular, don't have plenty to whine about. But part of what I hate about the typical sports discourse is how negative it is. People make sports sound not fun at all and that bums me out sometimes.

But this is not fun at all. Looking on the bright side with this particular team is starting to feel more and more like making excuses. Yes, Thomas Vanek is out right now and that hurts the offense but come one guys, one player should not make that much of a difference. If he does, we were going to be in trouble anyway. I'm just not sure what to make of these guys at all. I totally understand why management felt like they had a great core here. I didn't have a problem with any of the contracts signed in the last year or so not even Jochen Hecht's, as brutal as it looks right now. I know problems are compounded by Hecht going down the crapper and Jason Pominville struggling almost as badly. But it's beginning to look like this is a talented group of players who mostly like each other who are just not meshing on the ice. They look like they desperately need a shake-up of some kind. I don't know.

I've been thinking a lot about the trade deadline and I've been reading everyone's opinions on what the Sabres need to do and honestly, I have no idea where I stand. Part of me wants to blow the whole thing up. Trade a core player, one of the tight-knit circle, and rock the room a little. Make some noise and let everyone know you realize this roster as is isn't going to do the trick.

But the other part of me wants them to just add a couple of nice complements and get through the season. I think Kevin's right that a lot of the bigger deals are going to go down in the off-season when teams are evaluating their financial standing for the next year or two and possibly shedding salary and in that case, teams who have been cautious are more likely to benefit because they'll have room to add salary and bodies. Even someone as optimistic as me has to admit that this team doesn't have it. It doesn't have that spark or fire that allows an underdog to fight its way through the long haul of the NHL postseason. That one big trade isn't going to turn this season around so hoping for that one big trade is probably futile. The midseason trade deadline is really more about real contenders adding a couple of weapons and real dud teams selling off everything they can to build for the future and the Sabres find themselves firmly in the middle.

I don't know. I really don't.