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Sabres Central

By Rick Anderson
Sunday, December 19, 1999

The time for patience is over. An immediate change must be made if the Sabres are to survive their downward spiral from the Stanley Cup Finals last June. The fans are showing their displeasure over the current Sabres state of affairs by their comments to radio and TV sports talk shows and the slip in attendance. The current chaos on this hockey squad has gone on long enough and an shakeup must be made before the next century, which is less than a week away.

The back-to-back games the Sabres played this weekend highlights the need for immediate action. The games against Florida and the New York Islanders were very winnable games, if only the effort were put forth by the players. Managing only a tie against the Islanders, the absolute worst team in the National Hockey League, is the last draw. If the Sabres stand pat right now, the chances of making the playoffs appear very slim.

One only has to compare the team that took the Dallas Stars to six games in the SCF to the one attempting to skate now and the contrast is shocking. The Sabres team that came one video review of a bogus goal from going to Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals was a much different team that today's edition. There isn't any chemistry on this team. The team back in June put so much intensity into its game and clawed and scratched for victory it got. This year, the players just don't have that attitude and willingness to sacrifice everything for the team's success.

Where can the blame be pointed for the Sabres horrid play this season? Unfortunately, the blame is spread throughout the organization. Let's start at the top. Sabres owner John Rigas opened his mouth and said something I'm sure he regrets saying during that noon-time rally downtown last June. He made a promise that has been haunting him ever since.

"I will supply the tools to get the job done," Rigas said in front of a throng of 20,000 honoring the team for their successful season.

In analyzing that statement, one must assume he meant bringing in players who would take this team to the next level. If all he meant was making sure all the free agents were signed, he should have said so. He gave the Sabres fans the false hope that he was going to dig deep into his money filled pockets and finally spend a small fraction of his billions on a couple goal scorers. He has not done so as of yet and the Sabres fans are losing their patience. It is starting to show at Marine Midland Arena, where the last sellout was December 4th against the Rangers. Six of the last seven home dates have drawn less than a full house.

General manager Darcy Regier has been successful in maintaining the bottom line during his tenure here. We must give him credit for not following the lead of the New York Rangers and writing blank checks for star players. However, there comes a time when someone must be brought in to address obvious shortcomings with his team. He did bring in Stu Barnes and Rhett Warrener last year, and those were good additions to the team. But this season the Sabres have yet to break the .500 barrier and their inability to score has cost them dearly. Waiting any longer could very well cost the Sabres any chance of making the playoffs.

The Sabres coaching staff must share a lot of the blame for the dismal season the team is experiencing. A coach's job is to get the team ready for each and every game - no exceptions. The Sabres have come out flat in almost all of their 15 losses and 5 ties. Lindy Ruff must bear the responsibility for the less than stellar effort the Sabres have put forth this year. He has juggled lines, benched players and brought up a couple kids from Rochester. Even so, the Sabres continue to struggle, primarily on offense. The powerplay continues to be the Sabres Achilles' heel. Against the Islanders Saturday night, Buffalo got the man advantage 7 times, including one two-man advantage opportunity. The result: ZERO! Battery dead! The Sabres now are ranked dead last in NHL powerplay efficiency. One goal in their last 47 attempts. The Sabres seem to get more scoring opportunities while playing shorthanded. From now on, when the Sabres get the man advantage, it should be called the "powerless play."

"I've never seen us miss the net so much," lamented Ruff. "That hurts you. The power play cost us the game again."

"There seems to be a lack of confidence on our power play, and that's what's hurting us offensively," said James Patrick. "Tonight was a microcosm of that."

The powerplay is so bad that Ruff would do better to bring in the Rochester Americans best powerplay unit just for man advantage situations.

"If we had an answer in Rochester we would bring it, but I don't think there's an answer there," Ruff reasoned. "Obviously, we need somebody for our power play because the guys that are here aren't getting it done."

Making a trade is only the start. Why do the players play so well in the post season, but terrible in the regular season? The Sabres have been slumping in the regular season for almost exactly a year now. The coach has to light a fire under the Sabres' rear ends, but the players are supposed to be professional and not really need that kind of motivation any more.

The Sabres effort on the ice thus far has been appalling. This is supposedly the same team that went to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. The team we are paying big bucks to see is only a shadow of its former self. Even the shadow is now dissipating.

The Sabres have forgotten that the key element to the game of hockey is scoring goals. The players on this team have already traded their hockey sticks for golf clubs and are taking divots with almost every shot. The Sabres have indeed become the duffers of the NHL.

The clock is nearing midnight for the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres' Y2K glitch just may be missing the playoffs. A trade for a goal scorer is essential for this team if they want to make the playoffs. The time is now for Darcy to get off his duff and get on the phone. He better get a proven goal scorer in here before the it's too late.


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