OPINION: Another year, another tire fire

Be careful if you think this is rock bottom for the Sabres, because it can get worse

Now I know how Ryan O’Reilly felt.

My love of hockey has also taken a beating thanks to the Buffalo Sabres.

I didn’t have playoff expectations going into this season, but I was pretty confident the Sabres would stay close enough to the pack that we’d finally see meaningful games in the month of March. That should not have been a big ask since the season didn’t begin until mid-January.

But here we are, going from February to March, and the Sabres' 2020-21 campaign is over.

The way the Sabres played during the weekend losses to the Philadelphia Flyers, it sure seemed like the players feel it's over too. Granted, they were without their best player on Saturday, their No. 1 goalie is out for a month, and one of their top-two defensemen is out of the lineup for the rest of the season, but let's face it: The Sabres have looked out of it since they came back from their COVID-19 pause in mid-February.

The team is not winning games, the big guns aren’t scoring, and one of the few proven goal scorers, who has yet to net a goal this season, was recently a healthy scratch in three straight games.

Fun, huh?

Unfortunately, losing is nothing new for the Sabres franchise.

We recently marked the 10th anniversary of Terry and Kim Pegula purchasing the Sabres, and the first decade of their ownership couldn’t have gone much worse. When they took over in February of 2011, the Sabres produced a late-season push that earned them a playoff spot.

As you well know, that was the last time the franchise was in the postseason. If this edition of the Sabres doesn’t have a miraculous turnaround, they will equal a National Hockey League record by missing out on the playoffs for a 10th-straight season. Since the Pegulas took over, the Sabres are 30th in points in the NHL.

Following the Rigas ownership, which ended with them going to jail, and the budgetary constraints of the Tom Golisano period, it felt like the dawn of a new era when the Pegulas took control. Paychecks would no longer bounce and the Sabres would now have money to keep their best players.

However, it didn’t translate into winning. The Pegulas have hired three general managers and five head coaches, and the Kevyn Adams/Ralph Krueger pairing doesn’t look any better than the previous general manager/head coach tandems.

When Lindy Ruff was here, he used to talk about a hope tank. I have to tell you my hope tank has been steadily drained over the years. If the Sabres were a car, the light came on a while ago and I’m just driving around on fumes, at this point.

I can usually find a way to have some hope or belief. I’m a New York Mets fan, so I have a lot of experience when it comes to convincing myself.

In case you forgot, we went through a 17-season playoff drought with the Buffalo Bills. General managers came and went, head coaches were fired every three years, and quarterback-after-quarterback proved to be average, at best. Now the Bills are a Super Bowl contender with strong management, good coaches and a very talented young quarterback.

It doesn’t seem like that will ever happen with the Sabres, who have been plagued by bad personnel decisions, subpar coaching, and a roster that isn’t good enough, despite the fact they’ve been picking in the top-10 of the NHL Draft for the last eight years.

If the Sabres can’t make the playoffs in a season where the league actually had 24 of its 31 teams advance and if they can essentially be out of a playoff race one-third of the way into a 56-game schedule, I’m not sure when they will ever play for Lord Stanley’s Cup again.

There have been stretches in recent seasons where you might have thought the Sabres' fortunes were about to change, but they were just stretches of short-term success.

Last season, they got off to an 8-1-1 start, but still missed out on the playoffs in a pandemic-shortened schedule.

Remember the 10-game winning streak two years ago? They were finding different ways to win, the games were exciting, fans were happy. Twitter was a great place to be during the games, and it was all amazing. However, they lost five-straight after the win streak, the season would go down the tubes and the head coach would be fired.

Of course, this does mean there is less stress in my life.

I watch Sabres games devoid of emotion. The last time I was emotionally invested in the outcome of their games was the tank season. I’ve come to expect losing from the Sabres no matter what roster changes were made in the offseason, or who is behind the bench, or who is in charge of the front office.

I find myself looking for other games to watch, so I can enjoy the NHL product. Sad to say, I was more excited about the Toronto Maple Leafs-Edmonton Oilers game on NHL Network on Saturday night than the Sabres' weekend series with the Flyers.

Wait, it could actually get worse.

I don’t even want to consider it, but unless things change fast, the speculation about Jack Eichel wanting out after the season will only intensify.

As bad as things have been over the last 10 years, at least we have been able to watch Eichel for half of the time. If I were him, I would certainly want out, because I’d be tired of the losing. He’s seen former teammates like O’Reilly and Zach Bogosian go elsewhere and win a Stanley Cup.

I don’t know what would keep him here, other than the team refusing to trade him if, indeed, he made such a request.

Someone recently called our show and asked, "When will all of this change?"

The answer is: I have no idea, and it might get even worse before it possibly gets better.

Darcy Regier wasn’t kidding when he said to prepare for some suffering.

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