As the news of the Eric Staal trade hit, I couldn’t help but wonder what the Buffalo Sabres, as a franchise, were thinking about the reaction. Social media starts in with, “Hey, a move!”, and then all the players on Sabres Twitter chime in with their best.
There are the roasters of the team, of which I am often one. There are the hockey folks, and the numbers folks, and the hockey folks that are also numbers folks. There is the “nothing this team can ever work out” crew. There’s also the fans that might have forgotten about the team’s existence until the news broke.
Through it all, I pictured someone down there monitoring Twitter and reading all the posts from Sabres fans and thinking, “They’re still out there.”
It’s a pretty dark time for the franchise, and for the sport to another degree. There remains uncertainty about hockey revenue, the salary cap, fan attendance, and all the economic issues that come with the next hockey season.
I opted not to renew my season tickets, but who knows if I would have jumped back in with the right offseason. The Sabres have snagged me back each and every year for more than a decade.
This time, it’s different.
There’s the uncertainty of when the season begins, where the games would be played, and whether or not fans would be allowed to attend. That’s to say nothing of the product on the ice, which has dealt Sabres fans a number of losses over the last few years.
Getting fans to buy back in? Well, I would imagine it’s going to be a challenge.
With reports of an internal salary cap, general manager Kevyn Adams likely has less freedom to do every last thing his heart desires. But that doesn’t mean that they have to be doomed.
With only four forwards under contract as of Thursday - Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo, Jeff Skinner, and now Staal - there is an awful lot of flexibility for the new general manager.
With just over $40 million in cap space committed, the Sabres have big decisions to make on a few restricted free agents:
- Sam Reinhart
- Victor Olofsson
- Dominik Kahun
- Lawrence Pilut (I guess, maybe?)
- Brandon Montour
- Linus Ullmark
Then, if you’re thinking ahead, there’s what to do about defensemen Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju.
There are lots of armchair general managers out there that are beginning to lay out their plans on what the Sabres can do, but I’m short of that stage right now. I’m just past looking for signs of life, that the team is still “out there”. That they’re alive.
It had been months since any sign of life, but then the Staal trade broke through. A tiny ray of sunlight through the longest and darkest storm the Sabres have, maybe, ever endured. Is Staal some savior? No, not by a long shot. But it’s a sign that they’re still out there. Much like their own fans that have been lost to ineptitude or malaise, or anger, or whatever emotion you’ve got left for them.
It feels like they’re starting at zero, but with Eichel and a couple pieces.
The cupboard is not bare. The wallet, reportedly, isn’t stacked. But the room to make the right moves, and a pathway to it does exist.
We know very little about what Adams might want to do, but yesterday he referenced a short-, middle-, and long-term plan.
Let’s hope the short-term plan works like gangbusters, because I think the league and the franchise might have some pressing concerns once we get to the long-term. And the Sabres need something, anything, quick.
Wednesday was a solid start. Staal comes with some game left, and some hockey credibility. Maybe they woke the crowd up a bit, if even ever so slightly.
If you’ll excuse the hockey cliche, how about using that one good shift and building some momentum, eh boys?
It hasn’t been pretty, but I know that there are a lot of Sabres fans still out there. They’re ready for change and they’re still hopeful that the Sabres are too.