Going into this season, everyone expected it to be a challenging year in Buffalo as GM Darcy Regier infamously stated that Sabres fans will need to endure “suffering” before the team is good again. While the growing pains and bumps in the road are to be understood with a very young team slowing developing and learning to adapt to the NHL game, what cannot be tolerated is the team’s poor work ethic. Such a lackadaisical effort is simply an abomination in the blue-collar community of Buffalo.
A Culture Change is Needed
Though the Sabres currently find themselves sitting at the bottom of the league standings, there inability to show up on a nightly basis is nothing new. For the last several seasons the Sabres compete level has been in constant flux. The team has always hit stretches where they’ve been outworked and out hustled en route to a losing strike that eventually dooms their season.
Even after turning over most of the roster, switching ownership and switching head coaches, the Sabres continue to struggle with the same issue. With the roster being comprised of young talent looking to prove their worth and etch out a place for themselves in The Show, many expected to see a hungrier hockey team this year. However, that hasn’t been the case. If anything, their compete level has reached an all time low.
Part of the problem is the team’s best players haven’t been their hardest working players. If one was pressed to forge a list of the most diligent Sabres, the likes of Zemgus Girgensons, Mike Weber, Steve Ott, Nikita Zadorov and Cody McCormick would be the names to appear instead of the likes of Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, Mikhail Grigorenko and Tyler Myers. Sure there is the old adage “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” but in the NHL the most successful teams and players are those that are both talented and work hard. Only having half of the formula will lead to mediocrity. In the case of the 2013-2014 Sabres, they’re not talented nor do they work hard so they find themselves on the path of utter embarrassment.
Improving For the Future
The Sabres lack of competitiveness has for awhile been an issue that has ben well documented. The real focus should be put on how to remedy the problem.
Both former head coach Lindy Ruff and the incumbent Ron Rolston have tried benching players, demoting them to fourth line duties and even putting them in the press box as health scratches. However, none of these tactics have worked, at least not for a sustained amount of time.
One move which certainly didn’t send the right message about working hard was waiving Patrick Kaleta. While it’s easy to argue in favor of the move from a player safety standpoint and for getting the Sabres organization out of the NHL’s doghouse, it sends the complete wrong message to the Sabres locker room. Kaleta has always been one of the most devoted players on the team to only find himself cut loose.
The case with Ruff seems to be that it was time for a change as his voice became trite. With Rolston, he appears to be in over his head. The coach is a great teacher of boys, but not a leader of men. The combination of the team’s losing ways and reckless play has lead to severe scrutiny of Rolston.
Although it is still early on in his tenure, it appears that Rolston is not the right man for the job in Buffalo.
One constant during all of this has been Regier. Fans for a long time have been calling for his firing. The GM position like the head coach position also needs a change from the long accepted status quo. The type of players Regier has brought in simply haven’t meshed well and haven’t had the right components to be successful in the NHL.
The team needs new management that will come with a fresh perspective, to facilitate the change Sabres fans have so desperately been waiting for.
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.