Green With Wonder

by Ryan

You’re going to see it on Wednesday.

Sometime before puck drop you might get a look at the case; and sometime during the game the Blackhawks will get a lead and Mike Bolt will start shining it up. On Wednesday night the Stanley Cup will be up for grabs, and that means the season is almost over.

I have to admit it’s been hard getting into this playoff run after the Sabres were eliminated. I really don’t have a good explanation for this: I don’t love hockey any less and it sure hasn’t been a boring postseason. Still, I would rather not see either team remaining win the Stanley Cup, but by the end of this week we won’t have much choice.

When you really look at the roster of each team it’s pretty easy to figure out why I don’t like either squad. First of all, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers. Come on now. Still, lately I’ve been thinking about the players on those teams, and how important roster construction is to winning in the playoffs. It’s something that always seems to come up on our game day podcasts, whether it is the value of goaltending or picking up guys like Ville Leino or Claude Giroux to make a real impact when it counts.

However, what is most interesting about these teams is the fact that they each have a major free agent aquisition on their roster, both of which come from the Buffalo Sabres. Brian Campbell and Daniel Briere are each very close to winning a Stanley Cup on another team, and whether we like it or not, one of them is coming away with a championship at the end of the week. So here’s my question: What does this mean? Think about the way the Sabres do business. They have a franchise goaltender they signed long-term and work from within to draft and develop talent before they cost too much to keep on the roster.

When you look at the big salaries on Philadelphia and Chicago you see something much different. These are two teams that don’t seem very worried about consistent goaltending at all. In fact, they have never really seemed worried about goaltending in Philadelphia. They have made big free agent signings and struggled through long stretches of failure, getting top draft picks back in return for that failure. So if the Sabres are unwilling to go to those lengths to acquire talent in the free agent market, or keep that talent on the team with big contracts, how are they ever going to get to the Stanley Cup Finals? What does it mean if ex-Sabres are having successful careers after they are done with the Sabres?

Well, it means nothing. The sample size is far too small to say the Sabres are completely wrong in what they do, and in reality what has made the Flyers and Blackhawks so successful this spring is getting great value out of the role players they already have. This hasn’t been a series revolving around Hossa or Campbell, it’s been about Dustin Byfuglien, a Blackhawks draft pick. The big guns these teams have brought in make a big difference, but they are not the difference in the ultimate hockey series.

After your favorite team gets eliminated from the playoffs, the remaining hockey games are filled with envious admiration of what the other teams have. It feels like it’s been months since the Sabres’ last hockey game, but what strikes me about the teams left standing are not their ability to throw big money at free agents, or even their superstar early-round draft picks. Rather, what I want more than anything is to see role players step up, to become more important than anyone ever believed they could be. We’ve seen it between the pipes for both teams, with goalies (at times) overachieving and previously nameless, faceless wingers scoring game winners.

The term we like to toss around is “clutch,” and it’s been a very long time since we’ve seen someone on the Sabres live up to the term in the postseason. When it comes down to it, I miss that more than I miss the dollar signs.