PART I: Long Rebuilds
The first part of this I’ll keep short, as I feel I’ll spend a great deal of time on the poisonous hobby of observing the 2012-13 Buffalo Sabres this year. It amazes me how much traction is being given to the notion of what Thomas Vanek calls a “long rebuild” and Darcy Regier’s notion of “suffering.”
Let’s combine the two buzz phrases into one stunningly clear notion: When your team is among the youngest in the NHL and still barely missed the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that looks like a garbage salad covered in fertilizer, there does not have to be a “long rebuild” to become a contender. In fact, the idea that a “long rebuild” should occur in for more than a handful of franchises per decade is pretty hilarious to me.
What Darcy Regier’s true job is this summer is to choose between of the first two of the following three feats and then do the third no matter what:
1) Convince Ryan Miller to sign a reasonable extension.
2) Trade Ryan Miller for a nice package that includes a big bodied forward prospect with some offensive skill and mettle while signing or acquiring a veteran goalie who isn’t a total tire fire.
3) Show Thomas Vanek by your other personnel moves that it matters less who your goaltender is than who comprises his supporting cast. Extend him.
Now maybe Vanek wants out regardless, which is a major bummer. Maybe you need to keep Miller and hire a gutsy coach who will tell him he darkens a room quicker than a blackout. Adam Oates has clearly done some things for a certain Russian scorer. But the fact of the matter is that if your general manager is walking around telling people it’s going to be a while, then he has zero faith in his offensive draft picks (Zemgus, Grigorenko, Armia) and even less in himself.
Either way, stop talking like a character in a Dostoevsky book. As Ryan Nagelhout espoused so well, you run a hockey team, not Homeland Security. Not enough free agent fixes? Trade your precious assets. Nothing in the trade market? Take an offer than doesn’t make you super happy but improves the team immediately. In any event, stop pretending this is the Edmonton Oilers of 5 years ago and show a little gumption.
By the way, Miller’s personality drives me nuts and probably the locker room, too, but he’s pretty good at goalie. If you can’t find a good deal, exhale and enjoy his talent.
PART II: Sabres-less Playoffs
How many suns does it take to match the fire of my detestation for Sabres-less playoffs? Several. It’s not because I’m a massive fan, rather because I hear other buildings going nuts for their team and think about how I’d rather have that going on in Downtown Buffalo.
But I can’t do what I did last time and not pay any attention to the playoffs until the Cup Finals. Fact remains I enjoy the sport of iced canes. So I’m going to eliminate franchises one-by-one until I find the team I’d least hate watching lift the Cup.
16. Toronto — This is a slot normally-reserved for Ottawa but the Senators have Cory Conacher (Canisius College) and Toronto has the suits that turn the Air Canada Centre into a bus stop.
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Clarke MacArthur and probably Tim Connolly in a jersey and no pads.
Hate rating: watching my lower half burn alive
15. Ottawa — Conacher is a nice story and most of the players left from the Neil/Drury days are long gone. Plus, they won’t win.
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Chris Neil
Hate rating: watching your sister marry a member of Nickelback
14. NY Rangers — If the Rangers win, then the Sabres can’t hire John Tortorella. If the Sabres can’t hire John Tortorella, certain members of the media won’t have to learn what it’s like to have someone rudely answer awful hockey questions. Biggest reason: New York Ranger fans and that silly goal song.
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: really isn’t one to see.
Hate rating: Woah-oh-oh-woah-oh-woah HEY HEY HEY
13. Los Angeles — They just won last year and Mike Richards is scum sauce.
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Jeff Carter. Again.
Hate rating: Meh.
12. Vancouver — I don’t have a ton against Vancouver as a team or city (well, besides the riots), but I do have a problem with the other team from the Class of 1970 arriving on the trophy scene first. I also think it would be hilarious to hear Regier after watching Derek Roy and Zack Kassian both toss that trophy up, but it would also cause multiple brain melts in Buffalo and that could lead to many auto accidents.
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Roy
Hate rating: This hotel room smells like smoke. Is that a dead armadillo on the pillow?
11. Boston — I’d drop them down a ton, but I like me some Lucic plus maybe there city deserves a sports high five.
I have to watch THAT guy lift the Cup?!? Brad Marchand
Hate rating: The neighbor is mowing the lawn at 7 a.m.
10. Chicago — I have very little against the Blackhawks, but I’m not just into the idea of them winning again so soon.
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Ray Emery
Hate rating: Sitting through an episode of a TV show a second time because your significant other “wasn’t paying attention the first time.”
9. NY Islanders — The only thing I really have against the Isles winning is the theoretical resurrection of tons of “loyal” Long Island fans who haven’t been to a game in years but are huge fans. “Look at my Benny Hogue jersey!”
I gotta watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Matt Martin.
Hate rating: “Bro, I’ve been waiting for this day for-ever.”
8. Montreal — I actually really like Montreal. It’s the best place to see a hockey game and the fans treat you pretty well. Love Carey Price, too. Unfortunately, they then come down to our house and become the most annoying road fans on Earth. Plus they fired Randy Cunneyworth for not being French.
I have to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Tomas Plekanic, Sabrekiller MD
Hate rating: “Why do I still have this cough?”
— Dividing line —
7. St. Louis — The Blues deserve one. I can’t help but think of Al MacInnis and Adam Oates and all the Blues who made the playoffs for 400 consecutive seasons only to consider the Conference Finals a crowning glory.
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Brian Elliott
Love rating: That nice kid down the street finally got his dream job
6. Anaheim — Yes, they too won it recently, but Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne are amongst my favorite players of all-time and I love Bruce Boudreau (read his auto biography/memoir… it’s fun).
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Koivu
Love rating: Hey! My huge friend started exercising and will live longer!
5. San Jose — They’ve been around for 22 years and have real ardent fans. Would you have wanted hockey fans to crap all over your celebrations if May Day launched you to a Cup? Raffi Torres is a toolbox, but as the Rolling Stones sang “Every team has a Torres, don’t they?”
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Tim Kennedy
Love rating: “An inoffensive team wins the pennant! An inoffensive team wins the pennant!”
4. Detroit — They are always good and rarely offensive. They go about their thing with class and their uniforms are sweet. The only bothersome thing is their fans not showing up til the Cup
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Handsome Hank Zetterberg
Love rating: Sure, I guess we’ll have pizza for dinner tonight
3. Pittsburgh — It’s good for the sport to have a team that’s always awesome and a GM being rewarded for getting after it. Sidney Crosby is a gem.
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Jarome Iginla
Love rating: “Dude, I just found a VHS copy of Macho Man’s Wedding. Candlesticks!”
2. Washington — The Ovechkin resurgence coupled with Adam Oates as head coach (one of my all-time favorite players) … good stuff! The smack that would come from that Russian once he got a ring would put Patrick Roy to shame.
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Ovie
Love rating: Kid on Christmas
1. Minnesota — A cradle of American hockey that had its hockey heart ripped out and moved to Dallas solely for short-sighted money and expansion reasons? A team that can be rewarded for spending big on good free agents? A team with a bunch of Cup-worthy characters? A goalie fighting multiple sclerosis? Jason Pominville?
I get to watch THAT guy lift the Cup: Josh Harding
Love rating: That lamp your wife made you bring to Antique Road Show is worth $10,000