With his purchase of the Buffalo Sabres, his many investments in the city of Buffalo and an upcoming purchase of the Buffalo Bills, Sabres owner Terry Pegula has shown his love for the Nickel City. A new chapter will be added to the history books of Buffalo’s NHL franchise this season as the club begins a new season of Sabres hockey.
Last year proved to be a treacherous one in which the Sabres set a historically bad pace for wins and goals per game. The club was difficult to watch at times. Offensively, the Sabres showed little signs of life. They tallied just 1.83 goals per game and had a 0.59 5 on 5 goals for/against ratio. Buffalo had the second-worst power play which scored on just 14% of it’s opportunities.
#Sabres scored 1.83 goals per game this season. That's the lowest total in the NHL since the 1935-36 Canadiens.
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) April 13, 2014
Under normal circumstances, most NHL fans have a reasonable expectation about their favorite club. These usually center on an expectation to qualify for the playoffs. Anything can happen in the NHL playoffs where the teams with the best overall regular season records often do not fare well while bottom seeds have managed to win a few championships.
Expectations get dicey when a club is in a rebuilding phase. Buffalo is in the midst of a rebuild so Sabres fans will enter the 2014-2015 NHL season with mixed emotions. Opinions range from a school of thought who cannot consider anything else but winning as an acceptable outcome. Others believe this season should be about watching Buffalo’s young talent grow through experience and don’t care so much about wins. Finally, another fan philosophy has come to terms with losing in the hope of future success.
Here is part one of a three part series on the different schools of thought that permeate the minds of Sabres fans as the club enters the 2014-2015 NHL season. Today’s focus is on the ‘win now’ philosophy. While this line of thinking is often front and center for most NHL fans, it is more of a dream than a reality for Sabres fans this season.
A sense of euphoria will uplift Sabres fans if the team contends for a playoff spot this season. However, the more likely scenario is that the Sabres will show improvement but will fall short of qualifying for the playoffs. Time will tell but the ‘win now’ philosophy may need to go on hold until the Sabres’ young talent emerges from the on-going rebuild.
Enduring a Frustrating Season
Let’s face it, fans who buy tickets to watch their favorite NHL club deserve to see a quality team on the ice that has a chance to win every night. We all battle hard for our money at our jobs, put up with workplace stress on a daily basis, and manage a lot to make ends meet. When we do have spare money and time, we want to use it wisely on things that we enjoy.
For many fans last season, watching and attending Sabres games became a difficult task at times. Some fans became disillusioned with the team. This was evident in the atmosphere at the arena on some nights last season. In the early-going there were some sell-out and near sell-out nights at the arena in which the crowd was very disengaged and quiet. Spirits were lifted once former GM Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston were replaced by new head coach Ted Nolan and GM Tim Murray.
Sabres have 38 points and need 88 for chance at playoffs. So 50 points away with 25 games left. What I'm saying is there's a chance.
— Kevin O'Neill (@KevinBuffalo) February 25, 2014
Prior to the recent rebuild, Buffalo fans have come to expect a decent product from their hockey club. Last season was historically poor. The club finished the year with just twenty-one wins which equated to winning 25.6% of the regular season schedule. The club was seven wins shy of tying the Florida Panthers for the second-worst record in the NHL. The playoffs were very far out of reach by season’s end and many fans were counting down the days to put a close on a very frustrating season.
The ‘Win Now’ Philosophy
After a disappointing and frustrating season Sabres fans are eager for change. The ‘win now’ fans are hungry for a competitive team. GM Tim Murray has added some new pieces including forwards Brian Gionta, and Zac Dalpe, defenseman Josh Gorges, Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros. Forwards Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick have also returned to the Sabres and the highly-touted rookie forward Sam Reinhart will have many fans excited. While many analysts feel the club will miss the playoffs again this season, the ‘win now’ fans feel anything less is a disappointment.
While there are reasons for the ‘win now’ fans to expect a more entertaining season in comparison to last season, these fans will likely need to allow more time before the Sabres are competing for a playoff spot. Some ‘win now’ fans are critical of Sabres’ management for not doing enough to improve the club for next season. While this attitude is out there, most fans are expecting it to take more time for the team to return to the playoffs.
Sabres' Brian Gionta: "There’s no reason why we can’t be a team that makes a legitimate bid for the playoffs."
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) July 1, 2014
The ‘win now’ philosophy is in the minority these days given the rebuilding status of the club. The Sabres are in the midst of a rebuild and rebuilds take time. In Buffalo, we’ve been down similar roads in the past with different GMs in the city’s professional sports history, yet Buffalo is still looking for it’s first major professional championship title in the modern era.
Buffalo sports fans are a tortured bunch with the likes of four consecutive Super Bowl losses and No Goal under their belt. The ‘win now’ ideology comes from the standpoint that these fans wants to see a major professional championship sometime before they die. While Buffalo is on the right path to accomplish this feat, the pure ‘win now’ fan may have a difficult time navigating the ups and downs of the 2014-2015 season.
Many analysts have pegged the Sabres as a club that will improve in comparison to last year but likely won’t make the playoffs. When thinking about the upcoming season, the phrase ‘it can’t get any worse, right?’ comes to mind. The 2014-2015 campaign likely won’t be as woefully bad as the 2013-2014 frame but ‘improvement’ might be just a relative term – relative to last year that is.
OK, the playoffs are still a stretch for the #Sabres, but they'll at least be competitive.
— Kevin Oklobzija (@kevinoROC1) July 1, 2014
While unlikely, the ‘win now’ ideology cannot totally be ruled out – stranger things have happened. However, the most probable outcome is that the club will need some more time before it returns to form. For those who have set the barometer high for the Sabres, the upcoming season might fail to reach expectations. With new off-season acquisitions, a new state of the art team facility called the Harbor Center, and an infusion of some of Buffalo’s up-and-coming young talent, there are many reasons for Sabres fans to be excited for this season.
Despite these reasons for excitement, qualifying for the playoffs and contending for a championship are not likely in the cards for the Sabres this year. However, the team will be more competitive and should be able to muster up more than twenty-one wins to trump last season’s disappointing total. This season might not satisfy the ‘win now’ fan but it should help the Sabres along the path towards becoming more of a ‘win now’ franchise in the not-so-distant future.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW