The best of the Sabres tank narrative

We’ve reached new levels of stupid when it comes to the Sabres 2014-15 regular season. The Sabres have inched closer to 29th place over the last few weeks despite holding the last spot in the NHL while continuing their largely inept play on the ice.

As we approach the two biggest games of the year as it pertains to the hopes of securing the best chance to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, those who are both pro- and anti-tank continue to make some very curious points or arguments related to their cause.

Honestly.

I wrote something last night in an attempt to ease some of the tension related to the Sabres run of points over the past week and the inexplicable play of Anders Lindback. I thought I’d add to my thoughts on the tank and all of the ridiculous arguments and opinions related to it today with a slightly more easy-going post that highlights the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard or read as it relates to the Sabres rebuild, the tank and the potential to maybe finish 29th instead of 30th.

Buying a McDavid Sabres jersey – Seriously. What’s wrong with you? He doesn’t play for the team. He may never play for the team. Yet you’re going to spend at least $150 (plus customization) to get a McDavid jersey. If the Hockey Gods exist, I’m sure they’d really smile down on this decision. #hockeyIQ

Fire Nolan – Maybe you’ve missed it, but the Sabres have actually managed to produce worse offensive and defensive numbers than they did last season when they were historically terrible. Ted Nolan is widely regarded a great motivator who always gets the most out of his players. I won’t deny that premise nor would I argue that it’s a bad trait. However, he and his staff have shown little capability to actually stay on pace with any other team in the league as it pertains to the strategic side of the game. Yes, the roster is terrible but the Sabres haven’t been able to execute any sort of effective system (at even strength or on special teams) all season.

But yeah, let’s fire the coach who has helmed a year and a half of historically bad hockey. Not only do you risk a surge of success under a new coach, but you also would remove the man who hasn’t shown a penchant for player deployment or running an effective penalty kill. Even if you’re worried that Nolan’s motivational skills will help the team eke out a few more points, I wouldn’t worry. They’ve been thoroughly dominated for the entire season. There’s no reason to change that now.

The GM doesn’t matter – This gem is actually of the 2013 vintage. A brilliant point made by Jeremy White which I assume was related specifically to the ease of picking first (just pick the best player) but eventually morphed into an argument that you don’t need an effective GM to build an elite team, simply top picks.

We actually took a long look at how Cup teams have been built in recent years. As it turns out, top picks are equally important as good cap management and adept acquisitions. So the GM matters a little bit. It will especially matter should the team not wind up with one of the wunderkinds at the top of the draft.

No player would ever tank a game on purpose – Here’s another mind bender that’s been brought up quite a bit this season. It’s actually making the rounds in nearly every city the Sabres Road Show makes a stop in or those towns where other tank candidates reside. To say an NHL player – or any pro athlete for that matter – would purposefully take a dive is ridiculous. These are men who dedicated their lives to reaching the peak of their industry while carrying a major competitive streak along the way. Of course the players don’t want to lose games. Their jobs depend on it. Look no further than Anders Lindback. He all but punched his ticket back overseas with consecutive seasons of below average play but has suddenly caught a hot streak in recent weeks. There’s no indication that this short hot streak will earn him a contract somewhere next year, but this is his livelihood, of course he wants to succeed.

Real fans wouldn’t root for their team to lose – I support this premise, to an extent. I can’t get myself ramped up to root for the Flyers or the Bruins. That’s gross. What I can do is accept losses as better for the greater good. Clearly the team wasn’t built to win. This isn’t a Cup team, it’s a club in the middle of a rebuild. It’s okay to have realistic expectations. It’s also okay to understand that if they happen to finish last they’re going to get a generational talent who should drastically speed up the rebuild. Look at the big picture, people.

A taint on the sport any way you cut it – Hehe, he said taint.

We’ll suck forever if we don’t draft in the top-two – The difference in skill between McDavid and Eichel and the rest of the draft class is stark. Losing out on one of these two would truly suck as the team and fanbase has sat through two really bad seasons with a fairly specific light on the horizon. However, it’s not as if the Sabres don’t have last year’s #2 overall pick sitting in the pipeline or anything like that.

It’s no mistake that the Sabres have one of the deepest and most talented pipelines in the NHL. Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov headline a young, talented core that should set the Sabres up for success for many years to come. Would a player like McDavid or Eichel drastically enhance that core? Of course. But the player Tim Murray would draft at three would do a hell of a lot for the organization as well.

Stop playing Lindback/Neuvirth/Enroth – It’s downright astounding that the Sabres could have three different goalies experience the level of success we’ve seen this year. Success being defined as not abysmal play in this case. Lindback’s played seven games. He’s not winning the starting job and a six-year deal off seven games. He may not even save his NHL career off seven games, yet people need him to stay on the bench.

While it would probably help the tank a bit if Matt Hackett saw a bit more time and it would certainly help if Lindback got off his flow a bit. But you can’t openly throw games. At some point you have to remain somewhat competitive (tell that to the Coyotes, I know). This was brought up on WGR the other day and I have to agree, short of laying down and throwing games on purpose, you can’t really ask for much more. Because the next logical step – which it what people are asking for – is fixing games. That happens to be illegal.

Rooting against the tank/Tanking is despicable – This is a joint category that covers what I believe is a relatively small minority in Sabres Nation. However, there are indeed people out there hoping beyond hope that the Sabres wind up outside the top two picks. I don’t really understand the point of view to be honest. From a fan perspective, why wouldn’t you want a generational talent on your team? Buffalo was going to have to rebuild, it was plain as day during the lockout shortened season. So why not accept the short-term pain for a long-term gain? Since that dismal lockout year the Sabres have added Ristolainen, Zadorov and Reinhart in the first round alone. If the journey is capped with McDavid or Eichel the team’s core will be scary, scary good.

From a media perspective, why wouldn’t you want Buffalo to continue to grow as a hockey mecca? Mike Harrington has been one of the most outspoken anti-tank enthusiasts and while I’m sure most of it comes for his disdain for the morning show on WGR, I find it perplexing that he (or others against the tank) wouldn’t be embracing this in some form. The team you cover has the potential to not only add one of the greatest talents to enter the league this century, but also add to the framework to become a league powerhouse for years to come. I understand the moral side of it and the competitive nature of the game and all that, but it’s not like this was a decision made overnight. We’re in year three of the rebuild and things could turn around mighty fast if one of those two kids gets drafted.

Picking third is on par with Wide Right – I can’t believe this was a real sentence uttered by someone with a major voice in Buffalo sports media. Wide Right, No Goal, the Phantom Goal (Philly) and Homerun Throwback are actual Buffalo sports tragedies (if you will). Winding up with the third pick instead of one in the top two as a result of a garbage team playing slightly better than another garbage team hardly qualifies. As I said above, McDavid or Eichel would provide an incredible boost to Buffalo’s rebuild. Missing out on them would be a gut punch that would certainly alter the way Murray operates this summer. But it is not equivalent to the biggest let downs in Buffalo sports history. Get real.

After all, they’re just prospects – A line from Bucky Gleason’s column that surfaced around the World Juniors as Connor McDavid and Sam Reinhart helped lead Canada to gold. Bucky’s assertion that McDavid isn’t as special as every other hockey analyst, scout, writer, fan has made him out to be is laughable. McDavid, had he not been injured, was on pace to break Sidney Crosby’s CHL scoring numbers. Despite missing a month, he is within striking distance of the OHL scoring lead; a truly incredible feat when you compare his numbers to the current leader. Lastly, his numbers at the WJC were equal to or better than Crosby and Pat Kane’s who “jumped off the screen” more than McDavid did this season.

Here’s the thing that irks me about the stance The News has taken. For so long we’ve seen jokes or even columns centered around the “heroic march to 7-9” or the “heroic march to 9th”. Yet, when the Sabres commit to a full rebuild, as opposed to scratching and clawing in mediocrity, the News sees it as the greatest affront to the fans in history. Again, I understand the point of related to the moral and athletic side of it. I just think it’s odd that we’ve seen so many takes related to the stagnation of the roster and organization and when the steps are finally taken to right the ship, it’s the worst thing we’ve ever encountered.

Murray should be fired if they screw this up – The coup de grace. The exists a segment of the Sabres fans base who will have no issue pointing the finger directly at Tim Murray as if he was the person playing out the string for the Sabres. Tim Murray took over the Sabres halfway through the year last season and carried out the next steps of the rebuild beautifully. He gained very valuable assets and set himself up for taking a big step this season.

With McDavid and Eichel on the line, Murray built an average roster that was lacking in many aspects while keeping many of his prized prospects away from the big club. As the season progressed he has traded away two of the team’s best scorers, two of the team’s best penalty killers and role players and both of the goalies that started the season here. Both goalies had experienced lengthy hot streaks which posed a threat to Buffalo’s tank. Murray also made a huge trade that not only sets the team up for success next season, but brought in a player who is out for the entire year. Again. The GM went out and traded for a player (who is quite good, mind you) who won’t play at all this season. Along the way he acquired a pair of goaltenders with sub-.900 save percentages on the year who were certain to struggle to keep the team afloat.

If you compared Murray to a chef, you could say that he executed the recipe perfectly. But the thing about being a general manager is that once the pieces are in place you have to watch it cook. Murray controlled every aspect that he possibly could this season and if a historically terrible team who is the worst in the league by nearly every metric can’t finish 30th, then there is little else you can ask for.

The Sabres have eviscerated backup goalies, shot the lights out for a 10-game stretch in January, won a buttload of shootouts and have seen three different goalies go on career-best runs of varying lengths.

There are far more factors out of the Sabres control in this than those factors they can control. Accept that this team really can’t get much worse, the rebuild is almost over and Murray will be active this summer whether they pick first or fourth. It’s time to let the chips fall as they may and it’s definitely time to back off some of the hair brained theories floating around Sabres Nation.

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