(Photo Courtesy of NHL.com)
On matters related to the the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres, every yin quickly calls forth a yang.
While Sabres Yin excitedly points out that this year’s team has already recorded more points than either of the last two collections of misfit toys did in an entire season, Sabres Yang stares at the team’s place in the bottom third of the standings and shakes its head.
Sabres Yin happily notes that this season has seen no extended losing streaks filled with misery and pain, but Sabres Yang reminds us that there have been no notable winning streaks this season either.
Sabres Yin takes pride in the fact that Buffalo is now the top-rated NHL television market in the country, while the Grandmaster and Overlord of Sabres Yang, columnist Mike Harrington, characterizes the Buffalo fanbase as “overrated and not knowledgeable.”
Welcome to The Bipolar Express, a Sabres team that can be both incredibly fun and maddeningly frustrating to watch on any given night, a young team not nearly as bad as their record indicates and not nearly as good as their fans want them to be. Each exciting morsel of good news this season seems to have a small dark cloud hovering overhead. For every Reinhart there is a Moulson, and for every Risto there is a Bogo.
Absolute truths are hard to find on a team as enigmatic as this one, but here is one truth that will drive Grandmaster Mike to publish one hundred self-righteous myopic tweets if spoken aloud: for the remainder of the season, losses are more valuable than wins.
It is understood that this is a touchy subject in Sabreland. Most of us have spent the previous two seasons either openly rooting for our favorite hockey team to lose or wearily delivering ethics lectures to the pro-tank portion of the fanbase. None of us wants to reboot that contentious debate ever again, yet there is no denying that every loss over the remainder of the season will bring the Sabres closer to adding one more elite-level player to their roster, and every win will steer the team toward a valiant march to 23rd place and a lower-level prospect.
If you were among those fans who didn’t recognize the value of a top draft pick last year, I could understand your mindset even if I didn’t agree with you. Sam Reinhart had been sent back to juniors after looking like a boy among men in his nine-game tryout in the beginning of the season. McDavid and Eichel were unicorns on skates, an impossible hockey dream that some fans didn’t want to entertain for fear it would never come true.
This year isn’t last year. McDavid and Eichel are no longer mythological creatures, they are living, breathing young superstars and one of them is wearing a Sabres jersey. Reinhart is no longer getting manhandled in the corners by mediocre defensemen, he has blossomed into a multi-tool forward worthy of being chosen second overall in the 2013 draft. How can anyone who has watched #15 and #23 play hockey this season be indifferent to the opportunity of seeing yet another potential superstar step up to the podium and shake Tim Murray’s hand in First Niagara Center this June?
You’d think the Sammy/Jack combo would whet a fan’s appetite for more top-five draft picks on the roster, but the predominant sentiment I hear out in Sabreland this year is that fans are all done with this losing stuff. No more suffering, no more crossing your fingers and hoping for a Sabres loss, and no more praying for high draft picks. Two elite-level draft picks is apparently our max limit. Everything from here on is all about winning.
This would be a perfectly reasonable sentiment if wasn’t so counterproductive to the growth of our hockey team. If the Sabres aren’t going to qualify for the playoffs, the next best thing is to finish as low as possible in the standings and increase the opportunity to draft a great player. That was true last year, it’s true this year, and it will be true in any ugly season yet to come.
Spare me the suggestion that a late-season winning streak will serve to boost a young team’s confidence and “teach them how to win.” Here’s something that will actually teach the Sabres how to win: go draft Auston Matthews and watch him score hundreds of goals alongside Eichel and Reinhart for the next 10 years.
Rooting for the Sabres to play great while hoping they lose as many games as possible over the next five weeks won’t be nearly as much fun as attending playoff games, but it’s a small price to pay for a team that will be great over the long term. This is the burden we bear in rooting for The Bipolar Express.