When I think about the Sabres this season, I think of Moral Orel.
If you don’t know the show, indulge me briefly. I have become a very nocturnal creature, and so most of my television consumption takes place at night. As you know there isn’t much on after 11pm, and so eventually my television was firmly turned to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. The nature of their programming is such that their lineup changes dramatically every few weeks. This means you see a whole lot of one show one month, only to not see it again for some time.
One of those shows they bombarded viewers with was Moral Orel. In the winter of 2008 the show was canceled, and to send it off the air they played it on 44 consecutive nights with commentary from the creators. It was interesting to hear someone talk about their show, and so it slowly drew me in. However, I didn’t get it at all. I knew it was a social commentary about culture, religion and a number of other topics; but it wasn’t necessarily hilarious and dealt with some really dark issues.
So dark in fact that there were times I downright hated it. What was the point of all this? Why did so many bad things have to happen to such a nice little boy? I knew it was a stop-motion cartoon and clearly not real, but I didn’t understand the point of all this. What was all this bad leading us to?
Eventually the show’s finale aired, and we found out.
Watching that out of context it is completely impossible to understand what’s going on, so I don’t expect you to do so. However, for me that ending was completely necessary to bring it all together. Suddenly everything makes sense: all the terrible things that happened in the show had context, and the show itself took on a completely different meaning. For me, the last episode of Moral Orel changed almost everything I thought about the entire series, and absolutely in a good way.
Now I watch reruns and things seem to come together, not because I’m watching it again but because I know what’s coming. I appreciate the way the show is shot and the depth the characters have. The music, the themes, everything seems to make more sense because I knew how things work out in the end. It’s not often that a show’s conclusion does so much to the rest of the episodes for me, let alone that it makes or breaks my appreciation for it.
In a way, I feel the exact same things about this season for the Sabres. There are times everything makes sense. Miller takes charge, the team seems to respond well and the wins come easy. Then there are the losses where the flaws are clear, and then times where absolutely nothing makes sense and I have no idea what to say about the team. In fact, there was a stretch of about a month where that happened, and in these moments I believe the Moral Orel Theory truly applies.
There is a lot to say about this team, where they are strong, where they are weak and what these things mean. However, I don’t think we will really know what to think about them until everything is all said and done. I have no idea where this season will end, but the more I think about it the more that ending is necessary to provide the proper reference point for evaluation.
That idea may seem obvious for all sports teams, but I think there is a distinction to be made. In 2007, the sky was the limit for the Buffalo Sabres. We knew we had a team good enough to win a Stanley Cup, and expectations were there to do just that. The banners that team hung signified something important: they were the best team in the league during the regular season, and deservedly so. There was something left on the table by that team we may never truly understand, but we look into the rafters and feel something that makes sense. Something tangible.
Even during some seasons, there are indicators of where a team is headed. A West Coast road trip that goes down in flames, an inability to beat bad teams or a terrible flaw: these are things fans can pick up on and know what to expect. An injury or meltdown in a game can signal the fact that a team
just doesn’t have it, and no matter how much we hate seeing that I think fans come to expect these signals.
So far, that feeling isn’t there for this team. They are a mere six points from another banner and at least a top three finish in the Eastern Conference, but none of that feels necessarily earned. We don’t know what to think of this team. There is Ryan Miller, the constant, and then there is the rest of the team. A group of guys doing the scoring. A rookie defenseman leading the way. A medley of 4th liners doing their thing. The enigma that is Pat Kaleta. A head coach and general manager who seem married to each other and just may be crazy enough to make it work.
These are the characters we watch in a season that still hasn’t made any real sense. We know a lot about them as individuals, but I’m not so sure we have a real understanding of the team as a whole, or where this thing is headed. The playoffs will give us that answer, and I think when everything is said and done we will be able to look back at this season and understand things much better. Why did Adam Mair play so much? Why did they struggle against Ottawa? Who was really pulling the strings on that team?
I don’t think we will really know until it’s all over, but I’m looking forward to finding out.