A Letter to the Buffalo Sabres

To the Sabres,

There’s been a lot of anger, frustration, and even apathy floating around your organization. The fans have gone from hopeful to disappointed to upset to apathetic. The largest problem is that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. After Darcy Regier told the masses that there would be “pain” in the coming seasons, most were incredibly welcoming to hear the news. That press conference showed the fanbase that the organization rightly realized that the window of contention for this team had passed, and it was time to burn it down and start again.

Certainly, there was a ton of arguing amongst the fans as to the merit of “tanking” and whether or not high-draft picks were worth the idea of theoretically throwing a season. It became moot, though, once the Sabres had accumulated young uber-talents such as Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, and Sam Reinhart in relatively short order. That’s when the carousel really began.

There were seasons where promise was shown under coaches such as Dan Bylsma and for a 10-game stretch, Phil Housely. All of that goodwill was undone in some spectacular fashion, such as with long losing streaks, or dissension in the locker-room.

You’ve tried multiple GM’s in this time. One that decided to rip through the premium assets that the aforementioned Regier had acquired to try and speed up the rebuild. The acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly was a great one, the trade for Robin Lehner was not. The second GM decided to trade O’Reilly, a player-type the Sabres had needed since the departure of captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in 2007. The return was pitiful and the effects of the move are still felt league-wide. It could theoretically explain why current-GM, Jason Botterill is having such trouble making in-season trades. Organizations saw what he was willing to trade O’Reilly for and are looking for similar returns.

Then, you signed Ralph Krueger to be your next head coach, and while it was met with mixed results from fans, the players seemed to love everything about him early-on. This showed with a red-hot start by the club. Hope began to mount, and whispers began around the league that Buffalo might finally have found the answers to their 15-year old questions since contention was out of the question.

Cracks in the armor started to show themselves. The 50th Golden Season was off to a great start, and fans were excited about the promise of alumni returning, theme nights, and other things that the organization could do to celebrate the team’s anniversary. Aud night went relatively well, both on the ice and in the stands with the multi-colored shirts that were given out to celebrate the former barn’s seated color-scheme. Slowly though, fans started to realize that names on some of the alumni jerseys were spelled incorrectly, most notably Dave Andreychuk and Mike Robitaille.

90’s Night saw ridiculously awful knock-off replica jerseys from the red and black days for the alumni. The logo was off-centered and the team made no attempts to have the current team wear the fan-favorite sweater, even in warm-ups. What’s really concerning, is no one, outside of the fans, seemed to care.

The losing has continued after the All-Star break. Injuries have taken their toll, but there just seems to be no desperation by the organization to fix it, and that’s leading to the worst problem a pro sports franchise can face; fan apathy.

My wife has asked me why I’m not yelling at the TV, and why Sabres’ hockey hasn’t taken the same priority that it used to. I give her the same answer:

I’m tired. I’m tired of being so emotionally invested to an outcome I already have figured out.

I’ve hung onto every detail that surrounded the organization, from draft picks, trade rumors, and if the popcorn vendor’s blisters have healed properly. If it had to do with the Sabres, I wanted to know about it. After some of the “tank” seasons, I was hopeful but more passive with the team. I had hoped that each move that was made would make the team better in the future, but for the most part, they haven’t. Certainly, there has been solid play in stretches, but nothing sustainable, and nothing that has ended the league’s longest playoff drought.

I still love everything about the team and the city, and that’s where the rub lies.

My father passed away this past year, and if there was a bigger lover of all things Buffalo, I’ve never met them. We moved away 28 years ago, but he was born and raised there, which linked our family forever to Western New York. It wasn’t just the Sabres, Bills, Bandits, and Bisons that he was interested in. He would watch and record all TV shows that discussed anything to do with the Queen City. He and I spent many nights at the Aud, at Rich Stadium, and just consuming Buffalo sports anywhere we could. He passed away, like every other father who passed Buffalo sports onto their children, without ever being able to celebrate the city of Buffalo as a world champion of a major sport. It crushes me daily, as it does the other sons and daughters who are experiencing the same thing as me. But it’s also why we stick around.

We all live with hope. We all want to live in a time where we can say our team is the best in the world. That was the dream of our families, and we will continue that dream, because that’s who we are. Certainly, if you look at the rink today, you see scant attendance figures, but that’s because we’re tired. It’s less about the fact that we don’t care, which most will claim to be the case, as it is that we’re just emotionally exhausted from having our hopes raised, only to be dashed in some spectacular fashion.

The overly-frustrating part, is that it seems, from an outsider’s point-of-view, that people in the organization don’t feel our exhaustion, or quite frankly, don’t care. There’s lots of talk about patience, but how can you expect that from a fanbase that’s been stretched so thin that the line between sanity and patience is gone. The coaches seem engaged and the players will, for the most part, say the right things in the post-game scrums. However, the lack of attention to details by promotional groups, all the way to the inability of the GM to finalize changes to the roster are what really upset the masses.

The issue is, we’ll come back.

Sure, there may be some stragglers that won’t ever spend another dollar on Sabres’ merchandise, but for the most part, we’ll be back. The desperation is palpable for a winner. The Bills’ recent resurgence to post-season relevancy has rejuvenated Bills Mafia and has given all-purpose Buffalo sports fans something to hang their hat on, but it also leads to more frustration, as the Bills brass has been able to overhaul and change an entire organization in less than half the time of their cross-county counterparts. Yet, we’re not going anywhere.

Sure, you may hear lots of boos from fans that are disenfranchised, but it’s because they’re passionate. They want, expect, and hope for better, they deserve better. They deserve not to feel as though they’ve been taken for granted, they deserve to feel like they can fly their colors with pride. Their family lineages trace back to bleeding blue and gold (and red of course, for the Bills) and they deserve so much better than what you’re giving them now.

Despite all of this, we’ll come back. We’ll come back when you show us you have a plan; when you show us that little details matter; when you show us that you care. Once all that happens, the masses will return, and they’ll all be chanting, “Let’s Go Buffalo!”


Craig Schutts
Craig Schutts
Millersville Alumni; Life-long Buffalo sports fan; Part-time writer and podcaster until they throw me out!
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