“I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you”- Wilco
Actually they are about you, Buffalo Sabres. I’ve tried very hard not to get excited about the team this year, and so far I have done a pretty good job with it. I didn’t go out and buy a third jersey, and I didn’t move heaven and earth to get down to training camp.
Sure I loved the off season moves, but that wasn’t going to get me. Just because they did it right once in the last five years doesn’t mean things are going to go well once the puck drops. Miller or Pominville could become the Marc Bulger of hockey. Afinogenov could implode and injuries can add up. Maybe Rivet is over the hill, and Connolly is always a stiff breeze away from getting a limb amputated. You never know what can happen with a middle of the road team, and so I held off hope that “this is the year”, as the Cubs fans say.
The power rankings and predictions poured in, and the Sabres found a nice little spot around the bottom half of the conference. The nine spot seemed ideal for them, and sometimes they sat as low as 11 or 12 with the Leafs sneaking in front of them. Okay, that didn’t seem likely, but I could see this team underwhelming again, especially with the captaincy floating around like a magic raffle ticket.
Then I read James Mirtle, and everything crashed down from there. Where did he pick the Sabres to finish?
To be honest, I was shocked to see them that high. I had been lulled into that sense of security that comes with low expectations, almost settling on the fact that this year won’t be exciting. To see James pick them to win the division after so many people put them right out of the playoffs was refreshing. Shocking, but refreshing, and for the sake of my sanity I wanted to know why.
So I asked him. This is what he had to say:
I just think the Sabres really underperformed last season given their talent level, and that some of the young players took a while to grow into their roles. There was a big transition in terms of leadership last year, but they’re still a very dangerous team. What they’re now lacking more than anything is a stud on the blueline.
The Eastern Conference is going to be wide open this year, and with Pittsburgh running into injury problems, I think there are a lot of “surprise” teams that could finish near the top. The same three teams aren’t going to win the divisions every year, even if that’s what a lot of preseason picks tell you.
When you really think about it he is absolutely right. We all know this team underperformed on all levels last year, and even so they were an offensive juggernaut. If they get even close to their potential they are a playoff team, and if you break up that ten game losing streak with a few extra points they were a playoff team last year.
Revisionist history, yes, but when you consider this team is almost identical to last year’s squad with improvements on the blue line and in net it’s not hard to forecast the postseason with that rationale. To give them the division is dependant more upon the other teams, but Ottawa and Toronto are certainly question marks, and the pressure will be on Boston and Montreal to live up to the expectations suddenly thrust upon them.
Last season both Montreal and Boston were expected to miss the postseason. The critics missed something in both squads, so what’s to say James is wrong about what he sees in Buffalo?
The events of the last two days have only solidified my belief that James Mirtle may be right. With the naming of a permanent captain, one of last year’s major problems suddenly evaporates. This is a Sabres team with direction, leadership, and an identity. To have a player make that big an impact in a month is pretty impressive, and knowing the players voted him in only makes the move more poignant.
This suddenly isn’t a pick up hockey team swapping jerseys around and wondering where to turn. There are a group of players this team trusts, and a vetrean defenseman they look up to. With a core of players locked in and the prospects taking shape, you can only raise your expectations about this team. I wasn’t ready to admit that just yet, but I’m just about convinced now that things are moving in the right direction.
This wasn’t much of a depression, but you have to think they can only go up from here.