Darcy Regier spoke of suffering on Monday, as if hockey was a thing worth suffering for.
We speak of war metaphors and the agony of defeat in sports but when true suffering occurs in the real world, people seek refuge in games. It can be an obsession and a business, sure, but it is not everything. It never should be.
Regier spoke of suffering for the fans because he has felt pain this year. He is struggling to find success in his job. Despite a contract extension and a vote of confidence, he was forced to fire a friend this year. He’s had to get rid of longtime employees he’s seen grow from teenagers into successful adults. There is pressure to succeed and he is failing. Time is running out, and he wants more of it.
Asking fans for patience is understandable. Asking them to suffer is to unnecessarily inflate the importance of what it is Sabres fans do during the winter months. There are no chains. This is not torture. It’s sticks and blades and ice and, sometimes, it can make you feel something truly magical. The magic hasn’t been there lately, but its absence does not equate to pain.
Sports are supposed to keep the ennui at bay by letting us pretend we invest our leisure time in something that matters. As Corey once said in a podcast, it’s a thing we do to distract ourselves from death. To distract ourselves from terrorism and a bad economy and the fact that we are always on the precipice of chaos.
This blog was sparked from the dying flames of the Drury/Briere era of Sabres hockey. The majority of its life has been spent wandering in the ashes of mediocrity. It has been frustrating and—at times—utterly boring. This season in particular, 48 games after a mind-numbing labor dispute, has felt especially awful.
To call this season anything more than middling, though, is a disservice to the 41 fruitless seasons the Buffalo Sabres have played prior. It definitely minimizes how nihilisticly pointless the last six years have been. Game 7 in Philadelphia, starting the season in Europe and the lockout all feel like a distant dream. A hazy movie you watch through someone else’s picture window. Still, it was nothing close to suffering.
The only thing truly cruel about this season was the discourse that surrounded the team. At every angle it was the definition of insufferable, both in intolerance and conceit. From the media to fans and even the players, it was a plague no one was immune to.
That was clearly on display Monday, with a rattled Ted Black demanding forgiveness from media members after accusing writers of biased coverage. Gone was Black’s usual control, replaced by frustration and a correction to the Sabres’ perceived org chart. It all flows back to Terry Pegula, who wouldn’t show up to this kind of event, anyway.
One beat writer later said the assembled media was like a frustrated customer service caller pounding zero in an attempt to escape the automated system and talk to a human being. (“I WANT TO TALK TO TERRY! LET ME TALK TO TERRY!”) The caller’s concerns—while valid—are drowned in an ocean of frustration. Still, it’s hard to find any suffering there. It was definitely uncomfortable, and maybe a bit too warm, but everyone involved was spared a bloodletting.
Monday’s press conference was a horror show, but the fact that it happened is progress when you consider last year’s debate about whether or not the team should hold one at all. That fact alone is the beginning and end of the growth we’ve seen in a year. Regier asked fans to endure suffering because he expects it will get worse before it gets better. Or maybe it will stay the same. Either way, it’s far from heaven.
Two-plus years into the Pegula ownership, mocking the “Hockey Heaven” line is clearly played out. This isn’t heaven. It’s Buffalo. It’s the place you get when an owner assumes too much, fans expect too much and everyone—and I mean everyone—talks too much. It’s not a place of suffering, but it sure as hell isn’t much fun.