For the better part of this millennium the Sabres have been the small, undersized team smacked around by the league. There was the Chris Drury incident in 2007 and the Ryan Miller-Milan Lucic collision in 2011. Time after time, teams rolled into Buffalo, pushed the Sabres around and came out with two points. For years, fans and players cried foul and called opposing players goons, bush league, dirty, among many more unsavory words. Oh, how the times have changed. The bullied has become the bully, and the Sabres have constructed themselves in the image of something they once hated.
Becoming Tougher to Play Against
After getting beat physically night in and night out, the Blue and Gold brass made a conceited effort to make the roster bigger, stronger and ultimately tougher to play against. While bringing in players such as John Scott and Steve Ott, they’ve recently drafted the likes of Rasmus Ristolainen (6’4″, 219 lbs), Nikita Zadorov (6’5″, 228 lbs), Zemgus Girgensons (6’1″, 190 lbs), and Mikhail Grigorenko (6’3″ 201 lbs) in the first round of the last two drafts.
The Sabres have transformed themselves from a meek oft-pushed around team into one of the league’s toughest, if not dirtiest participants. It all began in the preseason with the much publicized brawl with the Maple Leafs that included enforcer Scott going after star forward Phil Kessel – a clear breach of hockey’s unwritten code. The Sabres then followed up such antics with Patrick Kaleta and Scott receiving long-term suspensions for illegal checks to the heads of their opponents. The team that once cried wolf every time an infraction was committed against them have now become the aggressors and have begun practicing the very acts that they once detested, becoming the new bad boys of the NHL.
An NHL Sideshow
When the Sabres decided to construct a more tenacious roster, they surely didn’t expect to actually get worse. However, that is exactly what happened as the team sits in dead last in the standings. Coupling their losing ways with their dirty play certainly hasn’t helped the team’s reputation around the league. Through the eyes of many, the Sabres have become a joke of a franchise. Their losing and reckless conduct make them appear as if they don’t even belong in the NHL. Much of the blame has fallen squarely on the shoulders of first-time-NHL coach Ron Rolston.
“Once John Scott has his disciplinary hearing Thursday for a head shot on Loui Eriksson, the Sabres will have two players serving suspensions of 10 games or more for dangerous hits on skilled players,” writes David Shoalts of The Globe and Mail. “Granted, Patrick Kaleta is a long-term miscreant, but it’s only since Rolston arrived that Scott, whose only use is as a fighter, started going after non-combatants like Eriksson and Phil Kessel. It’s hard to believe that is a coincidence.”
Shoalts hasn’t been alone in his criticism of the Sabres. Mike Milbury and Don Cherry (whose opinions should many times be taken with a grain of salt) and even the New York Times have been critical of the team’s actions. As Jeff Z. Klein points out in his NYT piece, even the Buffalo faithful are quickly falling out of favor with the antics as one fan believes the franchise and fans are being made out to “look like idiots.”
Whether these notions towards the Sabres are valid or not, they are sentiments that are widely share around the league. Therefore, the team must change their ways before all respect is completely lost. One thing we can all agree on is the team has made themselves out to be some of the biggest hypocrites in hockey.
As an American based in Amsterdam, Joe provides a unique hockey insight, bringing a global perspective to the game. Joe has several years of experience covering the game on both a domestic and international level, including being credentialed for multiple World and World Junior Championships.