Thursday, April 29, 2010

Darcy, Derek, Bucky, and Soupy (Among Other Things)

I like Darcy Regier immensely, and even Larry Quinn doesn't bother me much, so it probably won't surprise anyone to hear that I have a mostly favorable impression of this morning's press conference.  Yes, the plan was vague, but it has to be at this point.  The season isn't over.  No one knows who's going to be on available on the trade market or who's going to be demanding what on the free agent market.

I think it was clear that the three guys on the stage were disappointed with how things turned out - Lindy in particular appeared to have not quite shaken the season loose yet - and I also think it was clear that they know where the shortcomings lie.  One thing I've always appreciated about Darcy is that he doesn't pander.  He doesn't make huge, bold declarations about all the free agents he's going to sign and all the fancy trades he's going to make.  He's realistic and he's not afraid to be that way even though it's not what fans want to hear.  I know there are probably fans somewhere who were unhappy about things said but what are you going to argue with really?  The biggest team in the NHL (the Caps) is out of the playoffs, one of the most determined and successful teams of the last decade (the Red Wings) doesn't have much size.  Most teams that have a really gifted number one center were bad enough to get a lottery pick.  Teams don't trade away large, skilled top line centers or offensively gifted defensemen, not often enough that picking one up is as easy as wishing it into existence.  For all his faults - and he does have them - Darcy has his head on straight and has a good understanding of the league.  I respect and appreciate that.

I am a little disappointed that it sounds like they're going to be more willing to cut loose Drew Stafford or Tim Connolly than Derek Roy.  I won't go on about all the things I dislike about Roy because I think that's been pretty well established, but I feel like he'd be an example of addition by subtraction.  This also speaks to one of Darcy's problems: he sometimes hangs on to his babies too long.  Of the three players mentioned above, Roy is probably the most valuable on the trade market.  He's productive, he's clearly talented, and he has a very favorable contract with multiple years left on it.  For a team that already has a number one center, he'd be a very good fit.  I feel like we've kept Stafford and Connolly just long enough for other GMs to catch on to how disappointing they could end up being (Stafford more so than Connolly who, all things considered, had a mostly fine regular season).  But hey, I've certainly been surprised by the level of stupidity found in GMs before.

I actually thought the only goat of the presser was Bucky Gleason.  I don't want to turn this into a Bucky screed after doing a pretty good job of ignoring him all season, but I thought it was pretty stupid of him to waste part of the press conference asking why they never had a press conference last season.  First of all, we could all guess the answer to that.  (They were embarrassed, they were chicken, they were angry, some combination of those.)  Second of all, it was a freakin' year ago.  Jeez.  They were in middle of a press conference that, in my opinion at least, was pretty high on honesty and pretty low on B.S.  Everyone involved said, and more importantly, looked and sounded disappointed and let down.  The only reason anyone asks that question right then is because he's a self-centered a-hole who wanted to embarrass someone.  I'm sure Bucky would tell you he was doing it for the people but come on, most of the people have forgotten about last year's press conference at this point.  Certain writers at TBN have opined on blogs and in chats that Tom Golisano is too thin-skinned and holds grudges and while that certainly appears to be true, I think there are people in TBN's sports department who have that in common with him and unfortunately for them, it often makes me question the objectivity in some of their work.

Anyway, who's everyone cheering for now that our beloved Sabres are out?  I think I hate everyone left in the Eastern Conference for one reason or another.  (The one team I don't really hate is Pittsburgh but I want something other than Pittsburgh-Detroit this year.)  I'm still feeling out the Western Conference.  I briefly flirted with the idea of cheering for San Jose but then Dany Heatley scored, reminding me that he still exists.  It didn't feel quite right after that.  Maybe Chicago.  Crazily enough considering some of the posts I wrote after his departure, I've decided I might want Brian Campbell to win a Stanley Cup.  I don't know.  My temporary affection is still up in the air.

Hockey, Heart-breaking and Awesome

I don't have time to get into all the reasons I hate the Caps (it starts at the top with the owner and goes all the way down to large portions of the fan base, hitting the PR guy, the coach, and the stars on the way and mostly has to down with all of the above being either extremely thin-skinned or a creepy douchebag), but I hate them and watching them lose in the first round after going up 3-1 in the series because they couldn't score goals, something no one predicted would be a problem?  A-mazing.  Game 7 of that series might have saved the playoffs for me.  I think I can watch them now and I wasn't sure I could 48 hours ago.

And honestly, the Caps getting upset in the first round makes me feel better about the Sabres.  Don't get me wrong, the Sabres have problems that need to be addressed, that much is clear.  But the NHL playoffs are a weird and wonderful beast.  You just never know.  Winning a championship is hard.  Talent is a huge part of that but there a million other little things that come into play and all those things have to break just right for the last team standing. All season long local media types and some fans talked about how the Caps were clearly a cut above the Sabres.  They were more talented and they played harder and more intense.  But in the end the Caps and Sabres ended up in exactly the same place for exactly the same reason: out in the first round because no one could finish when their teams needed them to.  Who saw that coming?  Still bummed about the Sabres, but I don't know, this is kind of what's fun and awesome (and agonizing and heart-breaking) about hockey.  I don't think I'd have it any other way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We Interrupt the Firings for This Important Update...

When I bounced out of work Monday afternoon, proudly wearing my Henrik Tallinder jersey, a co-worker said to me, "You're going to be disappointed tomorrow."


"Tomorrow," he repeated, pointing at my jersey.  "You're going to be disappointed."

"No way.  I think they've got it.  I have a good feeling."

In the end, he was, as he pointed out today, correct.  I was disappointed.  But it's like I told him: I'd rather start with genuine hope and joy and end up disappointed than expect the worst from the beginning and be right.  Maybe that makes me foolish.  Maybe it just makes me a sports fan.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Memo to Darcy Regier

KEEP: Tyler Ennis, Paul Gaustad, Mike Grier, Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Patrick Kaleta, Steve Montador, one of Hank/Toni (i.e. Hank), Jochen Hecht (his absence made far more of a difference than people have given it credit for), Tyler Myers, Chris Butler (on notice), Andrej Sekera (also on notice), Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek

BID A FOND-TO-VERY-FOND FAREWELL: one of Hank/Toni (very fond), Jason Pominville (begrudgingly fond but only because the season ended when it did), Matt Ellis (very fond), Lindy Ruff (very fond if you leave soon)

BID FAREWELL: Adam Mair, Raffi Torres, Craig Rivet

KILL IN THE MOST PAINFUL WAY POSSIBLE: Tim Connolly, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford

More another day.  I need to compress.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Choosing Hope

Sports are funny, aren't they?  In any other area of life, I would feel pretty ridiculous swinging back and forth so wildly from one emotion to another, but in sports I think a lot of people do that.  Honestly, I think that's a little bit of the appeal of being a sports fan.  Those who don't like or appreciate sports don't get it, but it's kind of awesome.  We spend almost every hour of the day tempering our emotions, trying to stay on an even keel because that's the socially acceptable way of doing things.  When it comes to sports, hey, let it rip.  The devastation I felt on Wednesday night when Miroslav Satan scored that OT goal was as real as anything I've felt.  The empty disappointment and doubt I felt Thursday and most of the Friday was real too, though hope had started to creep in a tiny bit by the end of the work day on Friday.  I meant every word of the last post I wrote.  Which is why it's crazy that after Friday's game I'm suddenly full of joy and optimism.  I feel completely rejuvenated!  Ordinarily I'd think I'm a total sucker, but I'm just going to chalk it up to life as a sports fan especially when your team is full of a bunch of talented but inconsistent little brats.  That's right, it's all their fault.

Things I liked about last night's game: Derek Roy and Jason Pominville combining for a very nice goal, Mike Grier leading the way and shrugging off a puck to the head, the Sabres finally giving a pretty good effort for 60 minutes, the Bruins finally looking like the average team that they are, Tyler Ennis buzzing everywhere and scoring one of the most deserved empty netters ever, Paul Gaustad taking a little chop at Zdeno Chara, Cody McCormick and Craig Rivet piling in to help when Chara fought back, Ryan skating in and dropping the gloves, Patrick Lalime's postgame dance, and of course, Ryan Miller's kicking pornstatche.  (I spent a lot of time debating this today and the other Sabre I'd most like to see in a pornstache is Toni Lydman.)  Game 5 finally looked like what I anticipated the whole series looking like

In the end it's Ryan that really gives me the most hope though.  He's been fine in this series overall, but with the exception of the first overtime in Game 4 he hasn't been RYAN MILLER.  He hasn't been the goalie who can steal a game.  When he skated out to the scrum and then threw his blocker or glove (I can't remember which it was) down on the ice, I thought, "Yes!  There he is!"  That's our guy.  That's the guy who has led with his attitude all season, really for the last three years.  If that guy shows up in Game 6, forget it, it's over. 

So for the next 48 hours or so I'm going to embrace the words of Andy Dufresne, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.  And no good thing ever dies."  So here's to hope.  It's a lot more fun than disappointment.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Word of the Day: Disappointment

I'm an optimistic person by nature, and I think that's carried over to the Sabres more often than not.  But can I be honest?  I'm not feeling it.  I want to believe they're going to come back from a 3-1 deficit.  I really, really do.  But I don't think they can.

I listened to Lindy Ruff's postgame press conference again after work today, and it bothers me even more than it did last night.  Tim brought up a very good point in the comments on the last post: The Sabres, for the most part, played really well, and maybe Lindy didn't want to throw them under the bus.  If you tell a team that played well that its best wasn't good enough that could have a negative impact.  I think that's a valid read on the situation especially since Lindy has definitely used the media to send messages to players before.  But I don't know, to me that response was too emotional to have much calculation behind it.  I heard a coach who was fixated on a bad penalty period.  And that's a bad thing for a few reasons.  One, he's the coach and players take cues from him.  If he can't let go of that call, players aren't going to either.  Two, you can't do anything about a bad call.  It sucks, but you have to deal.  And three, that call, for all the kvetching it caused, did not lose the game for the Sabres.  It was a bad call.  It sucks that the Bruins scored a goal on it.  But after the penalty was served, the score was still 2-1 in the Sabres favor.

Twenty-four hours later, I'm not angry, I'm not heart-broken, I'm just really disappointed.  The Sabres looked so good in Game One.  It wasn't a perfect game by any means, but they looked like they wanted to win.  They fought for pucks, they pushed back and sometimes they even pushed first.  I think they really proved some naysayers wrong in that game.  But then we didn't see that team again until the last five minutes of Game 3 when they were, for all intents and purposes, down 2-1 in the series.  Why?  Everyone knew this series was going to be tight and low-scoring.  In series like that there's probably going to be at least one night when you play really well and lose.  Why would you give away two games?  I don't understand it.  I've never understood that about this team and some of these players.  I find that so frustrating as a fan, maybe even more frustrating than watching a team that's just plain bad at hockey.

So that's where I am.  I want the Sabres to advance.  I want some pride and desire to kick in.  But I don't think this team, as it's currently constructed, has the heart or mental strength to win three straight games against the Bruins of right now.

That said, please, please, PLEASE prove me wrong.

Incoherent Thoughts

Odds and ends because I cannot be coherent right now:

-- That goaltender interference call on Cody McCormick was straight up BS.  The officiating in general has been horribly inconsistent.  How can a hit be a penalty in one game and not in a another?  How are players supposed to get any kind of bearings when rules are constantly changing, especially in the playoffs when things tend to get more physical?  It's ridiculous.

That said, the officiating is no excuse for the Sabres losing tonight.  They could have kept the game at 2-1.  They could have put it away in overtime when they were controlling play and Ryan Miller was showing everyone why he's a Vezina finalist and a should-be Hart finalist.  But they didn't.  They were the victims of a bad call, they gave up a goal, and then they crumbled and gave up another one.  I was really disappointed to hear Lindy let the team off the hook in his postgame interview.  I know it was the heat of the moment, I know he's not necessarily going to ream his players in public, but it does make me worry that players aren't be held accountable.  At some point, the players have to play.  Too many of them coasted after winning the first game.  It's crazy that they had to be down 2-1 in the series before they decided to play hard enough to win battles and fight back.  I'm not going to get into what should be done in the off-season because it's not the off-season yet, but the core, it is rotten.  Can a team win three games in a row?  Sure.  Teams do it all the time.  Can this team win three playoff games in a row?  I want them too, and I'll cheer for them like they will, but I'm not convinced.

-- Speaking of Lindy's postgame interview, it is CRAZY that the Sabres are not giving us a postgame show in the playoffs.  I guess I just got used to it during the regular season, but I really wanted to see and hear how the player reacted to this one.  I know some people probably don't like to watch stuff after losses especially heart-breaking ones like that, but I think some of our guys are really entertaining and interesting to listen to in those situations, particularly Ryan Miller and Lindy Ruff.  I don't give the Buffalo News props very often but kudos to them for getting audio up on Sabres Edge within a couple of hours of the end of the game, especially considering that the overtimes probably threw them into some deadline chaos.

-- Big ups to Toni Lydman and Steve Montador.  A few small issues aside, they've been great, the best defensive pairing of the playoffs, I think.  There was a short Tallinder vs. Lydman discussion on WGR the other day, and while I love Hank and think he's been fine in the playoffs, they made a pretty good case for re-signing Lydman instead.  And he's made a good case for himself against Boston.  (This is, of course, assuming that the Sabres re-sign one of them which is not necessarily a given.)

-- Poor, poor Ryan.  He deserves better.

-- This probably goes without saying but overtime playoff hockey is both the most exhilirating and the most devastating thing in all of sports.

-- Okay, it's the next morning now and the anger at pretty much everything has dissipated.  Now I'm mostly just disappointed.  I think it's true that Sabres management wasn't expecting the team to make much noise this year, that they think their best team is a year or two off yet, but I admit, I thought with some breaks in the other series the Sabres had a chance to go deep.  At the very, very least I thought they'd get out of the first round.  Even down 2-1 I didn't think we were going out in the first round.  Now?  Ugh.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's Crazy But...

... I have a really good feeling about tonight's game.  Like, REALLY good.


I Miss Jochen

Before the playoffs started I had a good Jochen Hecht post in mind.  I was going to write about what a really good season he had, how he really answered his critics, and how happy I was for him.  Jochen got freakin' hammered by everyone last season, and while a lot of it was deserved, the extent of the criticism was unfair.  A lot of people went beyond getting on to him for poor play last season and moved into disregarding every season before last.  Was he a disaster last season?  Yes, totally.  Was he always really, really bad at hockey?  Come on, get a clue.  But then Jochen got hurt, and then he was going to be out for weeks, and the timing just didn't really work for the post.

Well, I miss Jochen.  And I think the Sabres miss him too.  Jochen is not the most skilled guy in the world, but thee ae two things you can pretty much always say about him: he plays hard and he plays responsibly.  Those are two things the Sabres - many of them at least - aren't doing right now.  Having one more veteran in the line-up who doesn't clearly panic when in trouble and just reliably does what he's supposed to would be helpful right now.  This series might be more geared for hard-working two-way forwards like him.  If the Sabres lose this series I think you could make an argument that the Sabres miss him almost as much as they miss Thomas Vanek.

I feel pretty badly that as the playoffs have gotten here I've kind of fallen off the face of the earth.  The semester is winding down at ECC and I've had something major to work on or turn in every day for the last few days.  That finally slows down some after the algebra test I hand in today so I'm hoping the Sabres will get it together and keep playing so I can get back in the swing of things here.  I have a weird thing about people calling games that aren't technically must win-games must win-games but tonight is pretty close.  Let's do it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Listen to Ryan Miller

Jeez, who scheduled the playoffs to start at the end of the school semester?  I spent the time I was going to blog writing an essay on Brown vs. the Board of Education and whether or not it accomplished what it was supposed to.  If you're interested in reading it, email me.  (That's a joke.  You don't want to read it.)

So here's the nutshell version of what I was going to say: There was a lot of stuff to not like in Game Two.  A lot.  Tim Connolly was very bad.  When the team needed someone to respond Derek Roy went overboard and tried to score all by himself.  (Highlight of the game was a guy behind us responding to Roy-Z trying to carry the puck through all five Boston players by yelling, "PASS IT, YOU IGNORANT SLUT!")  There were some lazy, lazy forwards.  Some bad turnovers in the waning minutes.  They gave up a two goal lead to an opponent that doesn't have much offense.  But I will cut the Sabres a little slack for deflating a bit after watching Thomas Vanek crawl off the ice.  Yes,they should have responded better, and losing Vanek for whatever amount of time it ends up being (one game would be awesome) won't be a good excuse for crapping out in the series, but you know, these guys are human.  In their place, that would definitely make my heart sink.  And when all is said and done, it's one game.  Sabres fans as a group are prone to panic after a bad game in the regular season.  Everything is even more escalated in the postseason.  But I don't think it's time to panic yet.  I said on Twitter last night that no one ever wins sixteen straight but Ryan Miller might have said it in even better:

It’s tough. But no one said you’re going to walk through the playoffs. The good part is they don’t tell you what order you have to win. You just have to win four.

 Ryan knows what he's talking about.  And hey, at least we're not Sharks fans.  (AHAHAHAHAHA!)

(I promise I will write something more substantial as soon as I can.)

Quick Thoughts

In retrospect, the last post might be one of the most tragic things I've ever written here.  Jeez, Thomas Vanek cannot catch a break.  Even if he does come back, you know whatever that injury is, it's going to nag him and probably affect his skating.  Boo hiss to that.  Theoretically yes, the Sabres should be able to move on to the second round without him.  He struggled all season and the team still did fine.  But what a bummer.  In addition to being really sad for us and the team, I'm really sad for him.

I actually originally wrote about this on yesterday's post but ended up taking it out because I didn't really feel like complaining too much after the first game, but I'll mention it now.  I hate, hate, HATE the way penalties are tossed out during the playoffs.  I don't mind the increased intensity of the postseason - I love that the hits get harder, and the players get mouthier, and I don't have a problem even with there being more fighting - but I do think the officials have a responsibility to keep things under control.  I'm not sure they did that in the first game of the series.  They let too much go for my taste and that's on both sides, from them and from us.  I love that we got Toni Lydman taking swings at and from Milan Lucic, but I don't like players giving out bad hits and other cheap stuff.  And don't give me that old line about the officials not wanting to affect the outcome of the game because that's a flawed argument.  By not calling penalties, they're still affecting the outcome of the game, they're just doing it in a different way.  If something would be called in game 1 or game 41 or game 81 of the regular season, it should be called in the playoffs.  We play by one rule book for 82 games and then toss it out when we get to the important part?  I don't understand that.  I've never understood that.  I think it's one of the most stupid things about hockey.

In other news, Mark and I stopped in at the Sabres Store before the game because he wanted to look at the playoff shirts.  I wasn't planning on buying anything and then I saw this:

Not only is that Hank on a t-shirt, Toni and Jochen are there too!  Like that's ever going to happen again.   Even though one or two of those guys will most likely be gone next season, I had to buy it.  I had to!  It was practically made just for me.  They almost could have titled it "HEATHER B.'S FAVORITE SABRES."  Honestly, this t-shirt might have ended up being the highlight of my day.

Okay, I promise more coherent thoughts tomorrow when it's not 2:09 a.m.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thomas Vanek Makes Me Happy

My relationship with Thomas Vanek is hard to define.  If you asked me to list the Sabres entire roster in order of personal preference, Thomas would be middle-ish.  Not buried at the bottom but not way at the top either.  And yet, I have a very hard time saying mean things about him and feel oddly protective toward him when other people do.  I've written before about how there are certain players I just root for.  I feel happy for their successes on a more personal level.  Thomas is definitely in that group of players. 

I think my sympathy lies largely in what a sad sack he is.  When Derek Roy plays like crap, he doesn't appear to care at all.  I'm not convinced he even notices.  When Thomas isn't producing, however, you can practically see him planning his leap off the roof of HSBC.  He's despondent.  He knows what his role on the team is and it bothers him when he's not carrying it out.  Derek's way is probably more healthy, but Thomas's is more appealing, at least to me.  As a fan, all I really want at the end of the night is to feel like the players care.  Thomas cares.  He sometimes cares to the point of being a bit of a headcase, but for me, that's kind of endearing.

So I was really happy to see Good Thomas Thursday night.  He was clearly one of the best players on the ice, and if he plays like that for the whole postseason well, good things are going to happen.  As happy as I was to see him play well, however, I was even happier to see his postgame interview.  He sounded fantastic: focused, confident, and relaxed.  And as we've established, relaxed is not a word that can be applied to him often.  He's clearly flipped a mental switch.  More than any other guy on the team, I think he needed the regular season to end so he could start over with a clean slate.  I wanted to give him a big hug.  I hope we hear "Roy to Vanek!" many, many times in the next couple of months.

On a side note... I've been a huge critic of the Buffalo News over the past few years and while Bucky has gotten most of my ire, Jerry Sullivan has gotten his share too.  I would hardly lump the two of them in the same category however.  I think Bucky is extremely condescending to his audience and I don't think he's a particularly good columnist.  The few email exchanges I've had with him were pretty unpleasant.  (And they were all before I was blogging because I have to admit, if I were Bucky I probably wouldn't be very nice to me at this point.)  But I've found Sully to be smart and willing to engage - I think he might even like the occasional back-and-forth - and most importantly, he can freakin' write.  He and Mike Harrington are head and shoulders above everyone else in the sports department in my opinion.  Sully wrote a really nice little column about Jochen Hecht a few weeks back and then followed it with a very positive end of the season Sabres column.  Good stuff.  But today he crushed it out of the park with his column about Patrick Kaleta and Tim Kennedy.  He made me cry because seriously, how amazing must this be for those two kids?  In the morning I'm buying a paper and putting that one away somewhere because it's a keeper.  If you haven't read it yet, click on the link and check it out.  Believe me, I would not send you to the TBN website if it wasn't worth it.

I'm going to Game 2 so expect a full report later.  WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Tribute to Toni Lydman

Seriously, what does Toni Lydman have to do to get interviewed around here?  I know, I know.  Thomas Vanek looked great, Derek Roy was skating hard and hitting people, Craig Rivet had a crap-ass season but scored the game-winning goal, and Ryan Miller was his usual steady self.  But Toni Lydman fought Milan Lucic!  (Kind of!)

That fight was somehow awesome, awful, and adorable at one time.  Toni's heart clearly wasn't in it - even when Lucic had him on the ground, Toni was still clutching his stick in one hand (yes, that's what she said) - but god bless him he kept coming back for more.  The swing, scurry away, swing, scurry away cycle was hilarious.  And then him mouthing off at someone - I couldn't tell for sure if he was yelling at the penalty box or the bench - complete with that gesture where you put your fingers under your chin and flick them out?  (Does that have a name?  I don't know.)  Classic.

Anyway, it seemed like the perfect night for a dry, self-deprecating interview from Toni Lydman.  He fought (kind of) one of the bigger, meaner guys in the league and lived to tell the tale!  I mean, how many freaking people are covering this series?  The Buffalo News alone had by my count, four writers there.  And on top of that awesome, awful, adorable fight, Toni played a really great game, I thought, easily our best defenseman.  But those defensemen, they never get any glory unless they score a goal.  And yes, I'm biased.  I don't know, maybe I'm the only one who finds Toni endearingly sweet and funny in interviews, especially ones that are really about him personally and not just the team.

That fight was the perfect embodiment of both an individual playing out of character and a team playing with a new edge.  I'll go into more detail tomorrow when I have some time, but for now I'll just say this: I was really, really excited and encouraged by that game.  I'd forgotten how every goal your team scores makes you feel like you're going to win the whole thing while every goal the opponent scores makes you want to kill yourself because it's all over, but overall, I thought we looked good.  Not perfect certainly but good.  Not a bad return to playoff hockey at all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Falling In Love All Over Again

I've started three different posts the last few days.  The first was about playoff predictions.  (I've seen even less Western Conference hockey this season than usual so that seemed kind of pointless.)  The second was about the number of talking heads picking Boston.  (Sometimes there are just no upsets, talking heads.  Also, I'm already tired of the words "Tuukka" and "Rask.")  The third contained some helpful guidelines for the PHWA members for voting on the regular season awards.  (Myers for Calder, Miller for Hart, make defense your primary guideline when voting for the Norris, don't give too much weight to +/- for the Norris or the Selke because it doesn't include PK stats which is when a defensive player should probably be doing his best work, don't automatically cast your Lady Byng vote for the forward with the most points and the fewest penalty minutes because a) it's lazy b) penalty minutes are not representative of a player's level of sportsmanship and c) a d-man will never win that way, and finally, no Caps.)  But I lost steam halfway through all of them because I don't care.  I really, really just want the playoffs to start.

I tried to tell myself the last couple of years that it wasn't SO terrible to watch the playoffs without the Sabres.  It was less stressful!  It was fun to cheer for teams that I ultimately didn't really care about that much!  It was amusing to watch other fan bases go crazy with joy, agony, and conspiracy theories!  But the truth is, the playoffs without the Sabres suck and they suck a lot.  What's the fun of watching games I don't care about?  It goes against everything that's great about sports!

Regular readers will know this about me, but I think after a two year break from the playoffs it bears repeating.  I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.  There was no hockey.  There were no professional sports teams.  When my Pittsburgh Pirates played (and lost) in three straight NLCS, I watched from afar.  I didn't go to the park, I didn't have fellow fans to debate, celebrate, or commiserate with, and I didn't have local TV or newspaper coverage or oodles of blogs and websites to pore over.

That started to change when I moved to Buffalo, almost ten years ago.  I watched the Sabres here and there, I knew the primary names and numbers, I knew enough to have identified certain players as favorites.  I clearly remember having a fairly in-depth conversation about the Sabres with a guy from Pittsburgh while waiting in the general admission line for the U2 concert in December of 2005 because it was around the time that people started saying, "Hey, this team might be pretty good."  But during the 2006 playoffs, everything changed.

Kate, of the Willful Caboose, is currently writing a (highly recommended) series of posts called "The Bandwagoner's Guide to the Sabres."  While the posts are mostly silly fun (although she totally nails Toni Lydman), at the very beginning of each one she mentions that lots of people's fandom is inspired by a playoff run.  It's a gentle reminder that hey, we all start somewhere and it's usually when the team is actually good at hockey.

For me, that is absolutely true.  As I said above, I watched the Sabres enough to have a somewhat intelligent conversation about them before 2005-2006, but that playoff run changed everything.  That's when I really fell in love with hockey.  I started to really become interested in positioning and strategy and match-ups.  That's when I really fell in love with the Sabres.  I knew all the players and where they came from and who they played with and what their strengths and weaknesses were.  I started figuring out their personalities.  I bought my first Sabres jersey.

Maybe most importantly however, it was during that playoff run that I really fell in love with Buffalo.  The city that I was still struggling to settle into started to feel like home.  Co-workers who were acquaintances at best became friends because of the Sabres.  Endless conversations were had with friendly strangers.  I ventured out to new places to eat and drink.  The spring/early summer weather was perfect unlike Alabama where the pollen and heat are out full force by early May.  There was a buzz, an excitement, a hope, a bounce in everyone's steps.

I've learned in the time since then that all those things about Buffalo are true even when the Sabres quit playing hockey at the end of the regular season.  There's always a stranger willing to have a friendly chat.  There's good food everywhere and lots of friends and family to enjoy it with.  The first days of spring are practically perfect and the long winters only make those days seem even more beautiful.  And despite being disappointed and knocked down over and over, sometimes of our own doing and sometimes by circumstances beyond our control, there's always optimism.  Maybe not full-on belief that this time things will turn out right, but always a hope that maybe they will.

But despite learning all that, I feel it more when the Sabres are in the playoffs.  I don't know if it's really more present then or if sentimentally, I'll always tie together the postseason with that first blush of love but whichever it is, I love it.  Eventually I'll get into numbers and match-ups and opponents but for now, I really just want the playoffs to start so we can all fall in love all over again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This Message Brought To You By the Letters T and N and the Numbers 2 and 7

As Teppo would say:

¡oƃ sǝɹqɐs oƃ

Please click to enlarge.  It's adorable.

By my count, here are the things adorable about this photo:
1. Teppo
2. Teppo's girls
3. Teppo's girls wearing Teppo jerseys
4. Teppo holding a "GO Sabres GO" sign
5. Teppo holding a "GO Sabres GO" sign that was clearly lettered by one of his girls
6. Teppo holding a "GO Sabres GO" sign that was clearly letttered by one of his girls upside down

Some thoughts on the playoffs tomorrow evening.  For now let me just say, WOOOOOOOOOOOO!  PLAYOFF HOCKEY IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sleeping With the Enemy

The Sabres lost?  Eh, okay.  Have the playoffs started yet?  No?

All right, I'll get to the Sabres.  For now, in tribute to my Dallas buddies, check out this video of the ovation Mike Modano got near the end of what could be his last game in Dallas.  I know a lot of Buffalo fans have mixed feelings about the Stars and probably Modano, but for an athlete to spend as much time with one franchise as he did is pretty darn special these days.  Professional sports are a different world than they were fifty years ago, and players come and go.  As much as Buffalo was crazy for Chris Drury and Daniel Briere a few short years ago, doesn't it sometimes seem like they've already been gone forever?  In the end, Buffalo will be a blip on their career screens, and it'll be that way for many, many pros in every sport.  Modano spent twenty years with the North Stars/Stars.  Twenty years.  For an athlete and a city to be bonded as deeply as Dallas and Modano are well, heck, isn't that part of what sports are about?  Don't we all want that guy who's as committed to us as we are to him?  Here's hoping in 15 years we're all giving an ovation like this to Ryan Miller.  Grab a couple tissues and watch.

(I'm not exaggerating when I say there are very few things in pro sports that make me cry faster than a bunch of hockey players tapping their sticks for another player. It's such a simple gesture, but its simplicity is so lovely. It's one of the most perfect little things about hockey.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

For Tonight, I Choose Joy

Hey, I thought I told you guys not to vote on that poll!  Fourteen of you are terrible listeners!  No Legos at the end of the day for you.  Just for that I'm completely disregarding the poll!  HA!

Seriously, I was going to write a post about the feeling surrounding this particular team and if it's really as detached as some of the media - WGR in particular - seems to think it is, but I don't feel like it.  I'm feeling too good about the Sabres right now to get into it a place that could be negative.  If the feelings stay muted once the playoffs start, maybe I'll come back to it.  For now, it's on hold.

Because seriously, you guys, maybe I'm crazy, but I'm feeling pretty darn good about the Sabres.  I've said all along that the Eastern Conference is average, and I still think that's true.  I think every team has weak spots and that includes the Washington team that lots of people seem really high on.  A lot of Sabres have really come on the last couple weeks.  Jason Pominville looks like a hockey player again.  Derek Roy looks like he might be bothered to care.  Tonight he scored a gorgeous goal AND picked a fight in the crease.  THAT'S my Derek Roy!  Steve Montador has been a freaking revelation lately.  The defense is really starting to chip in on the offense.  (Note to MSG: EVERY TIME TONI LYDMAN SCORES HE SHOULD GET AN ON-CAMERA INTERVIEW!  Thank goodness Mike Harrington understands you always get a post-goal quote from Toni.)  Lots of things seem to be coming together at the right time.

I think the last two years of struggle have made a lot of people - and I'm including myself here - forget that not only does a huge portion of the current Sabres roster have playoff experience, they have a lot of success, as a team and as individuals.  I don't know, maybe I'm setting myself up for disappointment, but I think I'd rather go into things feeling good and ending up a little disappointed then go into things expecting the worst and being right. 

And for tonight at least, the excitement is genuine.  I have my tickets to home game 2, I have next weekend cleared, let's get this on.  Let's go Buff-a-lo!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

(Quick note: I'll be blogging about the poll on the right at some point during the day on Monday.  Don't vote until then!  Okay, vote if you HAVE to, but I promise, I'll explain it more then.)

The snow is melting, the sun is out, and spring is almost maybe finally here. I'm currently sitting in front of the TV waiting for the first official baseball game of the year, and I'm very, very excited about this season. For some reason I've been craving a good baseball game for a while now. As a Pirates fan, I can't wait to see if Andrew McCutchen continues to play well in his second season. I can't wait to see if Garret Jones' sudden explosion last season was a temporary thing or if he's suddenly found a comfort zone at the MLB level. I can't wait to see if Pedro Alvarez makes the leap this year and if he's as good as everyone thinks he's going to be please.

Unfortunately, I will not actually SEE any of this because of Major League Baseball's ridiculous blackout rules. Buffalo is somehow considered part of the local market for both NYC teams, the Cleveland Indians, and yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite the ads for MLB.TV that blare, "MLB.TV. Baseball Everywhere. Watch all 2,430 regular season games LIVE or on demand in HD quality", all those teams are blacked out on MLB.TV and MLB Extra Innings. That's fine for the Yankees and Mets fans among us because we get those teams' regional networks. But Indians and Pirates fans? Crap out o' luck. As if it wasn't hard enough being a fan of one of those teams right now.

I feel like MLB might need a geography lesson. Buffalo and Pittsburgh are not that close to each other. Oh, sure they're a comfortable distance for a little road trip. I'll probably get there a couple of times over the course of the season to see the Pirates play. But I think to call Buffalo part of Pittsburgh's local market is stretching the definition of the word local juuuust a bit. I think MLB needs to use this test to determine local markets (if indeed such a thing is even necessary in this day and age). Can I make it from work to the stadium in time to catch a game? Use 5:00 as the standard since that's roughly when the average American gets off work and go from there.

Going by Google Maps, if I leave work at 5:00 and don't eat, change my clothes, or run into any traffic at all (a very unlikely thing in and around Pittsburgh), and park right out front, I'll get to PNC Park at roughly 8:35. Realistically we're probably looking at something more in the 9-9:30 range. That is decidedly too late to catch first pitch at 7:05. Therefore Buffalo is NOT local to Pittsburgh. It's really not that complicated.   Extra Innings would not cause the Pirates to lose me as a TV viewer because I can't see their local broadcasts and they would not lose me as a game attendee because Pittsburgh is a three hour minimum drive.  They're just losing  me as a viewer completely.  Which kind of sucks.

MLB, I don't have a lot of money for frivolous spending, but I'm willing to throw hundreds of dollars your way.  BUT YOU WON'T LET ME.  You're lucky I love you.  I'm betting on the Pirates finishing 25 or better.  Yes, that's probably optimistic.  Such is life as a Pirates fan.

Play ball!