Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 30, 2008

SABRES DECLINE: String of decisions leaves faithful to wonder

BY Tim Schmitt

tschmitt@gnnewspaper.com

Autographed pictures of National Hockey Leaguers Mike Foligno, Pavel Bure and Doug Gilmour line the back room at Clancy’s,

a quaint Pine Avenue lounge that once included Sabres’ play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret among its ownership group.

On a Thursday night with the Sabres still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, Niagara Falls’ Wayne Vigue sits at a raised table with his wife and friends, his eyes more focused on the Quick Draw monitor than the big screen TV directly in his view. Even if Vigue, a longtime Sabres fan, wanted to check up on his team, he’d have to swing his head back toward the bar — the biggest screen is showing an NCAA Tournament game that nobody’s watching.

“It’s pretty sad, but at this point, I don’t really want to watch (the Sabres),” Vigue said. “I feel like they’ve already bought the farm.”

Vigue’s point is a good one — figuratively and literally. Buffalo’s playoff aspirations are all but dead heading into the last week of the regular season, and since a crop of unrestricted free agents have deserted the team, the Sabres have usurped most of their minor-league talent, leaving just a token handful of prospects for the future. And nobody’s sure where the Sabres’ farm club will be located next season — no formal agreement has been made with Portland, Maine, even though it seems the feud between the team and its longtime affiliate, the Rochester Americans, has reached irreparable measures.

It’s a long fall from just one year prior, when the Sabres had their claws firmly entrenched in the collective psyche of Western New York. As the team ran to its first-ever Presidents’ Trophy for being the NHL’s best regular season team, game nights were just short of regional holidays. Fans gathered inside and outside HSBC Arena, and wherever friends or family could watch the game on TV.

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