Monday, May 3, 2010

The Sabres Will Probably NOT Suck Forever

A few weeks back, an otherwise positive Jerry Sullivan column contained the following line: "In Buffalo, people are conditioned to expect the worst — from their elected officials, from their weather and from their professional sports teams."  That started a conversation among some of my Twitter friends (Paul from Hockey Rhetoric, Kate from The Willful Caboose, and Joe from Joe from NYC are the ones I remember chiming in but if I've forgotten you, I apologize) about whether or not that was true.  All of us had slightly different opinions, but the one thing some of us did agree on was that people like Jerry Sullivan, whether he'd admit it or not, play a large part in that conditioning.

I read somewhere that dogs who are home alone for long periods like to have the TV or talk radio on.  They're comforted by the sound of human voices.  Mark turned on WGR for Marlowe before he left for work this morning so I happened to catch part of Sullivan's appearance on Howard Simon while I was getting ready.  I'm admitting up front that I didn't hear his entire segment so it's possible I missed the build up to this but in the portion I did hear, here are some of the things Sullivan said, paraphrased because I'm too lazy to listen to the segment again: "Who's going to play defense next season?", "It's possible no one will pick them to win their division again," and "They might not even make the playoffs next season."

Really?  Next season?  We're already burying next season's team?  That's ludicrous.  You know why?  BECAUSE NEXT YEAR'S TEAM DOESN'T EVEN EXIST YET!  That's just pessimism for the sake of pessimism.  Is it really that hard to try and be positive about something that hasn't even happened yet?  Can't we save the complaining and criticism for stuff that's already happened (so we can all use our finely tuned hindsight)?  Sullivan and Simon were discussing the parity in the Eastern Conference and how the postseason has shown that there's not a ton of difference between the top playoff teams and the bottom playoff teams, but why does that have to be a negative thing?  I'll give Simon credit for addressing that.  He made the suggestion that since everything is so equal, a couple of upgrades could make the Sabres one of the better teams in the conference but Sullivan couldn't deal with that suggestion.  Why?  BECAUSE EVERYTHING HAS TO BE BAD ALL THE TIME.  EVEN IN THE FUTURE.

Bucky Gleason spent all of last season telling us that the Sabres were two years away from having what they felt would be their best team.  That's still a year off.  Isn't going from being a non-playoff team to being a division-winning playoff team improvement?  Aren't they still, in fact, on track for being good next season?  Why can't Bucky say that?  It works with what he's been saying all along.  What's so hard about saying "They're still on track and there's reason to be optimistic" instead of "This season was a disappointment."  Or why can't it be a disappointment and progress?  Things do work that way sometimes.  Why the need for black and white?

I'm just, I don't know, I'm sick of it.  I don't want puppies and rainbows all the time.  If Sullivan had been saying he was worried about next year's team because he didn't quite believe the Sabres were going to make the needed changes well, that would be a valid criticism based on pass actions (or inaction) of Darcy Regier.  I'm fine with valid criticism.  I absolutely agree that there are changes that need to be made to the team, and I hope they get made.  But the Sabres were just eliminated a week ago.  No one's even won the Stanley Cup yet.  I'm willing to give the Sabres brass, oh, a FEW DAYS OF THE OFF-SEASON before I decide next year's team isn't going to win the division or make the playoffs.  And you know what, before the implosion at the end, which yes, is important, it was a good season.  Here are ten good things about the Sabres 2009-2010 season:

1. Ryan Miller showed that he can be an elite goalie and for a few weeks, was the toast of the entire country.
2. Tyler Myers not only met but exceeded what were very high expectations.
3. Henrik Tallinder and Jochen Hecht returned to form and were both important, if lesser noticed, parts of the Sabres success.
4.The Sabres had one of the best penalty killing units in the league.  Only a pulled goalie in the final game of the season kept them from being THE best.
5. Mike Grier surprised a lot of people who thought he was washed up by being a big contributer to the team on the ice and off.
6. Patrick Kaleta became a better hockey player.
7. The Sabres won the Northeast Division.
8. The Sabres made the playoffs.
9. Ryan Miller was nominated for the Vezina.
10. Tyler Myers was nominated for the Calder.
11. Tyler Ennis came up from Portland at the end of the season and was one of the best forwards on the ice.  (Try this idea on for size, people complaining that Ennis should have been up in January:  Maybe he was so good in April because the Sabres let him play top line minutes all season in Portland.  Maybe he wouldn't have been ready in January.  What about that, HINDSIGHTERS?)

I wrote that list without even thinking about it!  And I actually came up with 11 things because I accidentally had two number 4s.  It's not that hard to occasionally, just to switch things up, look on the bright side.

Going back to the first paragraph of this post - I know it seems like a very distant memory - I fell somewhere in the middle of the "Is Buffalo negative?" discussion.  I think there's definitely a streak of negativity here.  I think there is a fair share of Buffalonians who protect themselves from being disappointed by trying not to get their hopes up too high in the first place.  But one thing I love about Buffalo, maybe the thing I love most about it, is that I think Buffalo wants to hope and dream and have the best.  I do wonder sometimes if the suggestions that we're people who expect the worst, influence us more than we realize.  Does the negativity become a self-fulfilling prophecy?  That's who we're told we are so that's what we become?

I don't know.  What I do know is that I think I'll find something else to leave Marlowe with than WGR.  I mean, look at the poor thing.  This is how I found her when I came home.

"I hate the Sabres AND myself.  Kill me now."


Katebits said...

Jerry JUST said on air that his job is "reasoned, informed skepticism". I suppose that's true, but it's darn unpleasant.

Anonymous said...

until a Sabres or Bills club wins the whole thing there will always be some sort of pessimistic attitude permeating the fan base.

Maybe Jerry has become negative from being around here for so long....just a thought.


PKB said...

With almost any argument, I'm willing to listen to both sides even if I vehemently disagree with one of them. But I can't even listen to people like Jerry. I respect and admire his ability as a writer but I know it comes from a place I do not understand. I can't bring myself to look at the Sabres from his perspective. When he says some of the things you pointed out, I mean, those are indefensible. There is absolutely no defense. I can't even come up with an apt metaphor to compare to the sewage that comes out of his mouth sometimes. You presented it out perfectly.

Heather B. said...

Jerry JUST said on air that his job is "reasoned, informed skepticism."

This morning he was completely lacking in the "reasoned" area. I don't mind "reasoned, informed skepticism" but I think he (and others in the local media) often hit on the skepticism part while missing one or both of the other two. Not always but often.

Maybe Jerry has become negative from being around here for so long....just a thought.

Could be. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. :P I guess I just don't understand what's FUN about something that brings out such negativity and cynicism. Why invest anything in something that makes you so miserable and unhappy?

You're right about the "until a team wins" thing but I'm tired of the attitude that anything short of a championship is a waste. (And I'm not saying YOU have that attitude, Pete, just jumping off your comment.) Again, where's the fun in that?

It's just so DREARY. The negative press feeds into the negative fans feeds into the negative press and it's just a vicious cycle that goes on and on.

Paul, I think you hit on the big problem. Sully (and Bucky) are just coming from a completely different place than me. Not because they're journalists and I'm a fan (though that happens too) but because they're coming from "what's the worst here" and I'm coming from "what's the best here." Or so it seems.

amy said...

Burying next year's team before they've even hit the ice is a bit insane. You can't even really judge after UFA day, because no one really knows how the team's chemistry is going to work until they are on the ice and in a game situation. Sully's blowing hot air for the sake of blowing hot air and inciting the fans (and delivering ratings for WGR).

And poor Marlowe having to listen to the Negative Neds and Nancies on WGR all day. My aunt has her dog listen to WJYE during the day. I think that's why the dog sleeps all day, but what do I know.

Jonathan said...

Jerry Sullivan's buyout can't come soon enough.

He makes me angry every week, and maybe that's the point, it brings in callers. Instead of a reasonable, rational person, who won't.

Anne M said...

Man, I am so sick of these reporters and radio guys telling us what their job is. Newsflash, guys: your job is not actually mysterious. We all know what it is. We just don't always like the way you do it! Those comments about "it's my job to ..." are Exhibit A of their disdain for the fans. "These people are so stupid they don't even understand what a sports reporter does. I will explain it to them, using small words." Don't know if you saw this, but Pension Plan Puppets (Leafs blog) had a post last week about the relationship between fans and media, especially in the age of Twitter: So other fans are getting similar treatment from their media (though in the case of the Leafs, there are so many reporters covering the team that they have more variety and thus a couple of good ones in the mix).

Speaking for myself, I have basically given up on reading TBN or listening to WGR. I used to read TBN's Sabres page every single day and I know not reading it at all means I'm missing the occasional good story, but I'm fed up. I do have the Sabres Edge blog in my RSS feed and I occasionally click through to a post, but now there are enough people in the other hockey blogs in my feed (including this one) and who I follow on Twitter who link to important news or report it themselves that I don't need TBN's crappy coverage. I'm under no delusions that this changes anything at TBN, but I feel better for not giving them the page views I used to.

And definitely, no more WGR for Marlowe all day!

Mark B said...

I mentioned this on Twitter last night, but I don't think it's in Sully's character to be positive. Or at least he can't help but be negative. It's so sad really. And he's always been like that. Even going back to his days when covering a very good Bills team. So he's got no excuses there.

yosoychris said...

Heather, I think you're spot-on with your "vicious cycle" comments. I wonder if part of Buffalo fans' defensiveness also comes from our small-market, somewhat ignored by the national media status (whether real or imagined). Every team seems to have at least one guy in the local media who thinks it's his or her job to flank the pessimistic lines in order to keep the front office on their toes. Maybe part of Blo's problem is that we have 2 Nancies in Sully and Bucky. Does that make Harrington our "rational" guy?

Heather B. said...

Anne, I hadn't seen that PPP post so thanks for linking it. Very interesting. When I did that interview with Mike Harrington last year we talked some about the shifting relationship between journalists and readers and how many old-school journalists don't like readers having more access to them. They don't enjoy the interaction especially when it involves readers pushing back at them. Evidently there was a lot of protest when TBN started printing the writers' individual email addresses at the bottom of stories. I think it's pretty clear which guys at TBN are okay with - or even enjoy - the additional interaction and which ones don't.

Chris, I do think the similarities between Bucky and Sully exacerbate the problem. They seem to come to a lot of the same conclusions and share a lot of the same attitudes. There's no balance. I would love for TBN to find another columnist somewhere, one with a different voice. Again, I don't need all happy all the time, but I think there are plenty of ways to look at what the Sabres have done the last few years, even if you're ultimately critical. I don't know. This is probably ripe for a whole 'nother post of its own. Heh.

But yeah, I do think Harrington is the rational guy. Some of that could be because he's a beat writer and therefore doesn't have the forum of a column to express his opinion, but based on what opinions he's expressed on Sabres Edge and on his Twitter, I feel pretty comfortable saying he would at least be reasonable. When I have disagreed with him I could at least usually see where he was coming from. He's even admitted a time or two that :::gasp!::: a reader made a good point or even that :::bigger gasp!::: he was wrong about something.

Becky said...

Pessimistic or realist? Based on recent history I would have to say that what the Sabres will do is fairly easy to predict within certain parameters that have been defined by BTG's wallet. The insistence on relying on the kids they drafted is not a confidence builder for me. Any gelling of the team on ice seems to be mere luck, not a studied effort.

And I believe that one can be realistic and cynical without being unhappy and miserable. It is what it is, snf however it shakes out, I will still be a fan!

Heather B. said...

Becky, I don't disagree with your comment in theory, but I disagree that that's the take Sully was using in this particular segment. Like I said, if he had said he was questioning whether the Sabres would make the right moves or not, I think that would have been perfectly valid criticism. He wasn't doing that of he was, he didn't voice that.

I'd agree that there's a difference between pessimism and realism and I agree there's such a thing as a happy realist. I just don't think it applied in this case and I think it very often doesn't apply to local media.

As for BTG's wallet, I do think that's an overblown excuse. The Sabres spend money. They just haven't necessarily spent it wisely. That's probably a whole 'nother conversation though.