The Formula

My fury’s rising faster than bus fare. Can someone clarify why there’s no structured narrative? No neat storyline to explain? — Exiles Among You, The Weakerthans

Jon K. Samson’s Jets all but ended the Sabres’ halfhearted playoff push on Tuesday night, and so his words will set the tone here.

How do I feel about the Buffalo Sabres? It’s a tough question to answer because the hockey itself feels buried under the layers of ice the game is played on. This half-season will be defined not by the product on the ice, but by the fact that all the fun the sport is supposed to provide was underneath a deep freeze.

We’re in the midst of an accidental culture war, an unhappy fanbase sick of stasis and finding few signs of progress that’s begun to unnecessarily navel gaze. It’s frustrating and not fun. It has created pointless distractions and infighting that only serves to further complicate things. All this talk about the role of the fan just adds another layer of ice to the freeze surrounding this team.

I’m not surprised that the Terry Pegula Era in Buffalo hasn’t been a rousing success thus far. This isn’t supposed to be easy. Winning a championship requires a lot more than goodwill and a blank check. When Pegula first took over, I wrote about the franchise in terms of soft drinks. The Sabres will never replicate the history and success of other franchises (Coke Classic), but they can do something different with the formula and create something new (Coke Zero).

The first two years of Pegula’s ownership have been an outright failure. This isn’t as shocking as the fact that, when you look at it, the team’s formula hasn’t really changed all that much. They held on to the same coach and general manager for too long. They could have started fresh, made bold moves to bring change and excitement to a franchise that has never delivered the big one. Instead, they chose to renovate a derelict property. They picked the hard way, and it took two years for most people to see it.

Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have had a good season or two surrounded by years of mediocrity. A few bottles of Coke Zero in an ocean of Shasta. Like many owners before him, Pegula was lured by the siren song of monetary alchemy. A checkbook can buy a lot of things, but it simply can’t transform substances. Now his franchise is adrift in a sea of shitty soda.

The formula may be changing for the Sabres, but the results are definitely not there just yet. It hasn’t happened fast enough. Believe what you want, but I definitely can’t taste the difference right now. Maybe that’s why everyone is getting distracted by squabbling and nonsense. Sometimes bitching about the packaging beats gulping down crappy cola.