Starting Line

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The Buffalo Sabres open the 2013 season this afternoon at First Niagara Center.

While most of the hockey world went back to work on Saturday, the Sabres held one last practice and watched hockey on TV like the rest of us. They didn’t play last night, but plenty of former Sabres properties did. Derek Roy picked up an assist for Dallas in a win, Zack Kassian was a -1 in a loss for the Canucks and Mike Kostka picked up an assist in just under 23 minutes of ice time with Toronto.

I almost forgot about Mike Kostka. The Sabres signed him out of college the day before they picked up Derrick Whitmore in 2008. I even wrote a post about it, joking the two should start a law firm. Even back then, it was news for a slow news day.

Kostka played in the Sabres system for two years before getting picked up by Florida and traded to Tampa Bay. Then he got a contract from the Maple Leafs and made his way into their opening night roster. He played on a line with Nazem Kadri and Phil Kessel and defended a one-goal lead for Toronto in the final seconds of a win in Montreal on Saturday night. His name is all over the papers in Toronto.

In another time, many Sabres fans would care what Mike Kostka is doing with the Maple Leafs. We would read the Globe and Mail and get upset that the hated Leafs might–just like with Clarke MacArthur–get something valuable out of a guy we once had. This guy that we, no, that newly-extended Darcy Regier, let slip away.

readingThe outrage is missing these days because the focus is almost exclusively on downtown Buffalo and this group of Sabres. It’s because the unknown quantities on this team seem worth the extended look. The hype surrounding Mikhail Grigorenko alone is enough to make you wonder just what the next 48 games have in store for this Sabres team. There are always missed opportunities and players that slip away, but there is an overwhelming feeling that in the air that this team has potential.

It’s also evident that it’s not the end of the world if things don’t work out. The static nature of the general manager and head coach may upset some, but there’s enough evidence that roster moves can and will be made if it’s not working. The team has the ability to shuffle some pieces parts in and out, and so we no longer have to live and die with any one player.

There will be no more Tim Connolly or Maxim Afinogenov-like sob stories on this team. No one player has to work out. The career trajectory of Roy or Kassian or even Kostka won’t matter if Ott, Hodgson and Grigorenko can help build something special in Buffalo. Sabres fans, thankfully, seem to be far too occupied with that work in progress than anything happening with the opposition.

It will be nice to think about the Sabres again because we have good reason to think they can be something fun. Today, weird as it may feel, is about the things every opening day represents: hope. The Sabres are back to playing hockey, and we can finally get back to thinking about the day they ultimately get it right. Even after all these months, I can’t help but hope it happens this year.