April 27, 2011
(Ed. Note: As the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. We've asked for these losers, gone but not forgotten, to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here is the crew from the Philadelphia Flyers blog Flyers Goal Scored By fondly recalling the 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres. Again, this was not written by us. But you're probably not reading the intro anyway.)
By Flyers Goal Scored By
"Here lie the 2010-11 Buffalo Sabres who, in the true spirit of the city, came close before failing."
It is unseasonably hot in Buffalo on this April afternoon. As the people wait 5 Alarm beads of sweat run down their red faces, some women cool themselves by making fans from their divorce papers.
Finally, the puttering of a worn-down pick-up breaks the silence. As it pulls alongside the grave site Sabres owner Terry Pegula hops out of the bed, grabs his bindle, and offers $88 million to an old man in an Argonauts hat, who declines the money citing he has no desire to start a Division 1 NCAA hockey team in Pennsylvania. The truck limps off into the now mild sunset.
"Apologies everyone. This is my first one of these, but I do believe that practice makes perfect, or better at least, so I expect to improve as the years pass," said Pegula.
Pegula pulls out a piece of cheese steak-stained paper, unfolds it and continues to speak as the crowd sits in a daze.
PEGULA: "First of all, I would like to pass along condolences from former owner, Tom Golisano, who could not be here because he declined my invitation. I'd like to thank him for rescuing this franchise from an embarrassing two years of embezzlement scandal and guiding it through almost a decade of mediocrity."
(Pegula pauses and looks at the crowd expectantly. He momentarily losses his focus as he stares at a child in a "Miller's Mass Murders" T-shirt. He regains his composure.)
"People said I was crazy when, upon purchasing the Sabres this past winter, I remarked 'We're gonna win the Stanley Cup. Then, you know what, we're going to win it again.' Since my immense wealth and the access it provides access to life-extending drugs and futuristic machinery, I do plan to make good on that promise. Whether you are around to see it too … well that is highly doubtful. I mean, if you thought I meant this year you've been sniffing the local air."
"For starters, I came into a situation where we still have the same General Manager and Head Coach we had when Bill Clinton was just beginning his second term as President. That's no joke, I had to look it up, but it's true. What did you think was going to happen? They were suddenly going to just become winners after 13 years?
"Granted, they did bring high profile defensemen Jordan Leopold(notes) and Shaone Morrisonn(notes) to The Queen City in the off-season, but even signing the most talented free agents available, which I want to make clear they did, wasn't going to make up for the fact that we let Raffi Torres(notes) walk. Torres. For nothing.
"But I am not here to assign blame on such a sad occasion, because even though it's my first true hockey love, the Philadelphia Flyers, that get to continue on their run at a 3rd Stanley Cup as a result of our elimination, I'm still as sad as if I were actually a Sabres fan. I truly am. The pain of a bad investment is a burden no businessman carries lightly. It also makes me sad that the wonderful citizens of the second largest city in the state, that's right, number two, give yourselves a hand..."
"...It makes me sad that a team led by one of your very own, a local hero from the half-man half-goat community of Angola, was unable to feed off of the success that teams usually have when they waive their captain in the middle of the season.
"Also, sad that assembling a group of no-name players like Kyle McCormick and Bobby Butler(notes) didn't lead to Lake Placidian levels of success, especially with the Olympic MVP in net. And I know the Olympics were 15 months ago but I'm still going to say it - Olympic MVP. There."
(A "boo-yah" comes from a small man in the LaFontaine sweater, members of the slowly sobering crowd nod in agreement.)
"Now, I cannot personally speak to the decisions made over the past few years, but when I look back, as a self-made billionaire business man, I do see an overarching and important trend: constant improvement. I believe the darkest of times are behind us. When the Sabres didn't make the playoffs with a 90-point performance in 2008 what did the franchise do? That's right, they came back next year and didn't make the playoffs with a 91-point performance. And then in 2010 the trend continued and your Buffalo Sabres won the Northeast.
"But only going six games into the playoffs, fans were still left unsatisfied. You cried for more improvement, so banished to the NHL wasteland otherwise known as not-the-Sabres were key defensive components and leaders Toni Lydman(notes) and Henrik Tallinder(notes). Brought to the Sabres was Rob "The Rocket" Niedermayer, and improvement you got.
"Seven… We went seven games into the playoffs, not six like last year. And I'll promise you this right now because I'm a promising type of guy -- we will make it into the second round next year before being knocked out by a team whose skill and investment to winning far exceeds our own. I've already commissioned a local artist to turn that distracting Rick Martin tribute behind the net from a '7' into a '2', so we do not forget our dreams and ambitions for the 2011-12 season.
"Yes, the future is bright. I stand here now and think about how much our team achieved with centers Mr. Glass and Ludo, of our child-sized wingers, of our teenage defensive core, our Olympic MVP goalie who we've luckily only wasted 9 years of his pro career, and it makes me tear up with joy.
"This is a happy time for Buffalo. This is a watershed moment in the city's history. For we well strive to achieve "A New Level of Almost" in this city in the coming years. A level of almost that would make the 1999 Buffalo Sabres cringe with ecstasy. We'll make the Bills of the early '90's jaws fall off with how many years we don't win in a row. Using Mike Grier's(notes) fielding skills and Tyler Myers'(notes) height skills we'll leave our newly formed MLB and NBA franchises in the rearview mirror of our used Miatas.
"So please leave this solemn occasion filled with hope. Hope that one day you'll look back and say, 'Hey Bubba, remember when we used to lose those early playoff series? That was way easier to take than this.'
"Believe in the sweet and sour, believe in the light and dark. Because I promise you, again, that your children might see a championship in this city one day. And your children's children definitely might."
The sun is now all but set and most of the crowd has dispersed. Rick Jeaneret plays "Amazing Grace" on the organ as Terry Pegula pensively watches a chubby man in a tight and worn No. 18 jersey disappear over a hill into the horizon. He takes out his phone and searches for "Sabres Grosek."
The eulogy was written by Flyers Goal Scored By. We can't stress this enough.