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Sabres Central

Sabres in a tailspin
By Rick Anderson
February 14, 2001

This seems like deja vu all over again. Looking at last year's Sabres Central articles, I find a very similar tone in them. The Sabres were not getting the job done. They were losing to teams below them in the standings. Callers on radio sports talk shows were calling for Lindy Ruff's head and demanding that Darcy Regier make some trades to shake the club out of its doldrums.

Below are the links to articles I wrote last year and they easily could be used today.

SABRES SHAKEUP MUST BE MADE!

Ruff is squirming on the hot seat!

Darcy Regier is patient to a fault

Sabres lack of scoring has Ruff in a tizzy

Last year and this season are getting to look more and more like mirror images. The only difference is that the Sabres started off terrible last year, but came out of the gates scoring and actually doing very well on the powerplay this current season. Maybe the beginning of this season was smoke and mirrors, but whatever it was, it's not the true picture of the Sabres.

What we have in the Buffalo hockey team called the Sabres is a fish rotting from its head down. The blame goes throughout the organization and no one escapes the fault.

Let's go to the rotten head first. John Rigas, the aged owner of the Sabres, promised to go out and get the needed ingredients to take the Sabres over the top. He did this during the city of Buffalo's rally two years ago in Niagara Square after the Sabres had lost to the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Finals. Since then, he has loosened his tight purse strings on the Adelphia fortune very rarely.

Rigas has not provided too much of anything recently in the form of support for both Ruff and Regier. He's letting them hang out to dry as he claims big losses with the Sabres. However, the Sabres are selling out most of their games and his lease with the city for HSBC has been restructured and the loans that they owed for the construction have been forgiven at the taxpayers' expense.

Regier has his hands tied by Rigas. There is a set figure the Regier has to offer Peca and the Sabres are making an example out of him. It would not be too surprising if they make him sit out the entire length permitted by Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is 3 more years. That would hurt both the Sabres and Peca. The Sabres needs are urgent. To allow Peca to rot on the sidelines is inexcusable.

One of the knocks on Ruff is that he has a very difficult time getting his troops motivated for the below average teams. This has been the Sabres trade mark ever since Lindy took over the club after Ted Nolan was fired. The Sabres seem to have no trouble getting up for the elite teams, it's teams like Atlanta, Columbus, Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay that give the Sabres fits. This is absolutely intolerable! These are paid professionals, not pampered prep school kids. In the real world, outside of the over-hyped world of professional sports, people have to perform at peak levels or fear losing their jobs. Not so in the fantasy land of professional sports. And the Sabres are at the peak of the non-achievers.

Ruff's job is to get these loafers into gear for each and every game. He has done that at times, but the team has taken on the personality of their coach. Just like the Buffalo Bills took on the wishy-washy look of then head coach Wade Phillips, the Sabres are doing the same.

Last season the excuse was handed them through the media, the expression "Stanley Cup hangover." The team took to that excuse like a fly on a water melon. They cherished that hangover and played it over and over in their heads and on the ice. Ruff even took it to note in his post game conferences last year.

This season there isn't any excuse except the fact Michael Peca is holding out. Maybe that's the Sabres fly in the ointment this year. Peca is not happy with the contract negotiations being held with Regier and the Rigas family. He has stated that he wants out of Buffalo and told the Sabres to stick the captaincy on another player. That feud between Peca and management may not be on the conscious minds of the Sabres players, but there's no denying the fact that they keep hearing about it in the news and maybe from Peca himself. The fear that they soon will have to face the Scrooge Sabres management may have a direct effect on their play.

The players in the locker room have to be talking about their friend and captain, Peca. Do any of these players want to put their body on the line, block a shot that may lead to a serious injury when the Sabres management will not compensate them for their efforts? Why even put out 100% if the Sabres front office won't come even close to 70% come contract time, the players could possibly be thinking.

Whatever is happening, it isn't pleasing to the eyes of the fans who shell out good money to see their favorites play. The Sabres have no identity this season. There's no grit, no hustle, no desire to do what they know they have to do to beat opponents. There have been flashes of brilliance, like last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Ottawa. But on the whole, the team is a study in inconsistency.

The players who have to take the forefront and lead this team are falling down on the job. Doug Gilmour, until this last week, has looked like a Ghost of Gilmour past. Miroslav Satan doesn't even resemble the same player of two years ago who scored 40 goals. And this comes during his last season before his contract is about to expire. He should look at what Peca is going through if he thinks that he will get even the smallest of raises in his next contract. The way he's playing this year, the Sabres would be right in asking him for a refund on this year's contract.

Then there is Curtis Brown. Who? That sums it all. Brown has been nonexistent the entire season. The Sabres $7.5 million dollar man, Dominik Hasek has been as inconsistent as the rest of the team. Hasek has had games where he has flashes of the old Dominator, but it is sadly apparent that he will never regain the form that won him 5 Vezina Trophies.

Hasek's backup, Martin Biron looked sharp in his earlier outings this season, but his past couple games begs the question of whether he's actually ready to take over the reigns once Hasek does retire. Although Biron has not been floundering in the nets, he hasn't displayed the take charge charisma of a Byron Dafoe or other young goalies in the league who are starting to make a mark for themselves.

The list goes on and on. Every player is not performing up to the level that they have displayed in the past. The only exception could possible be Stu Barnes, who sometimes appears to be the only player hustling for the Sabres. But even he has been in a mini-funk as of late.

A major shakeup is needed to get this team playing desperation hockey again. Ruff isn't doing it. Regier isn't helping Ruff out by supplying him with the much needed firepower the team so sorely lacks. Rigas is off in his Adelphia Never Never land. His cable empire is his main focus, the Sabres are definitely at the bottom of his list.

The Sabres are about ready to conclude the easy part of their schedule. They have been abominable in those games. Losing to Columbus, Montreal, Florida, Tampa Bay and Atlanta are lost opportunities to not only catch up with teams in front of them, but also to put some distance from the teams chasing them for the last playoff spot.

After Thursday's game with Atlanta, things suddenly get very tough for this struggling team. Starting Saturday, the Sabres have the Devils, Ottawa, the Devils again, and Phoenix. Then they get a semi-break and play a home game against Tampa Bay. If history is any indication, that will be another loss for the Sabres.

Then the schedule gets even tougher for the Sabres. Starting March 1, the Sabres begin a grueling stretch with games against Philadelphia, Colorado, Dallas, Boston and Edmonton. Come the last two weeks of the season, the Sabres could be looking up at the playoff teams with no chance of securing the final seed.

The time to act is now, before it's too late. The fish is rotting quickly and the stench will be unacceptable for the fans. The Buffalo Sabres patrons have been patient so far. But as Wade Phillips can testify to, once Buffalo fans get on your case, you're as good as gone. If the Sabres think they have it tough now, wait until the media starts having a hey day at their expense. The first blistering shots have been fired by the media. The fans are now voicing their opinions. Unless if Ruff and his battalion of loafers are deaf, they are going to hear constant tongue-lashings that would embarrass even the most seasoned veteran.

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