Tonawanda News

March 24, 2013

DUVALL: Broken Sabres need a lot of fixing

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I’ve been watching hockey my entire life and I’ve never been more flummoxed by a team than this year’s Buffalo Sabres.

They have talent aplenty. They have some pretty tough customers. They have a new head coach for the first time in a generation. They have a locker room with a fireplace in it and laser zambonis. 

What don’t they have? Very many wins. Specifically, they have seven regulation wins this season. Seven.

If ever there was a time to admit the core of this team is rotten, you’d think it would be now.

And yet they sit, headed into Saturday night’s tilt with the Canadiens, four points out of a playoff spot and winners of a couple in a row. 

Yes, we’re officially at that point of the season: The one where they look poised to begin their heroic run to a playoff spot. Or a heroic run to ninth place.

As a diehard fan I can never root for this team to lose. But there’s a nagging feeling now that I haven’t had the other times this team has found itself in this place (and they’ve been here more times than I’d prefer to recall).

Maybe they pour it on, turn into one of the league’s hottest teams down the stretch and go into the playoffs striking no small measure of fear into a soft southeast division winner. Maybe, if they get a good draw and Ryan Miller gets hot, they even win a round for the first time since 2007.

All it’s going to do is paper over the fundamental problems with this roster and this franchise.

The Sabres are, in part, victims of higher expectations. When Terry Pegula bought the Sabres he famously promised the goal was a simple one: Win the Stanley Cup.

It was a break with years of mostly middling — though sometimes surprisingly good — teams, the goal for which always seemed to be make a good showing. Be a tough out. Win some games, maybe upset a complacent team loaded with aging, highly paid players who weren’t all that interested in trying to win. 

Now all of a sudden they look like one of the teams we once hoped to catch napping.

It’s time, as the preferred metaphor goes, to blow this thing up. 

Sabres apologists will say it isn’t Miller’s fault. They’ll say Thomas Vanek is a legitimate star. They’ll say Tyler Myers is young and has time to return to the Calder Trophy form of his rookie year. They’ll say Jason Pominville is a guy who plays well beyond his physical stature. They’ll remember the Drew Stafford who scored 30 goals and carried a team to the playoffs. 

But here’s the bottom line: Together, they’ve been bad or average far more often than they’ve been good and they simply aren’t good enough to meet their owner’s lofty goal of attaining Buffalo hockey immortality.

There are plenty of good players on this team who, if traded, would probably go on to success elsewhere. The Sabres can’t be afraid of missing out on that when the empirical evidence overwhelmingly suggests the whole of this team is far less than the sum of its parts.

Of course they can’t trade everyone. If general manager Darcy Regier is going to preserve what surely must be the last of his nine lives he should take a hard look at this roster and decide who stays and who goes.

And he must admit more players must go than need stay.

The reality is, unless they get a goalie in return, Miller has to stay. Vanek has shown me enough to merit a contract extension, though his habit of drooping into 15 game slumps (like he’s in now) is disheartening.

Pominville is the nominal leader of the team. That fact alone should punch his ticket out of town. Toss the ‘C’ on Steve Ott’s sweater and send a message to the players and fans alike: We’re a different team now.

Same goes for Stafford who’s amounted to little more than a flash in the pan. Get what little you can for him and cut your losses.

As for the biggest question — literally and figuratively — I vote we part ways with Myers, too. If he doesn’t turn it around soon the contract extension Regier gave him will ensure he’s a very tall albatross for the foreseeable future.

Sabres fans have said this many times before, but never with more urgency: Do something, Darcy!

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.