Niagara Gazette — Dear Mr. Terry Pegula:
I needed a moment to collect my thoughts after Wednesday’s Buffalo Sabres game against the hated Boston Bruins.
I say hated because the game was the “Rivalry Night” matchup on national television, the fourth time in the season’s first 11 games the hometown hockey squad’s been featured in front of millions (maybe) of non-traditional viewers. And after the team’s display, I’m happy we won’t be back there again until January.
It certainly was difficult to watch the third period of that game on television. Suffering, a buzz word thrown around by your underlings after the conclusion of last season, is only the tip of the adjective tree fans have used to describe their emotions so far, and I’m no different.
My problem is I see no point to this suffering. I see no point in cheering for your hockey team.
I bought in to the idea when team President Ted Black and – though he shouldn’t have been involved – General Manager Darcy Regier laid out their plans this past spring. I sat in the team’s media room with my contemporaries that morning and took what they said to heart.
We were promised a youth movement, had a coach forced upon us said to be phenomenal at teaching the game to young players. And the team certainly is young and in need of some teaching.
But that is the extent of what management got right. From personnel to coaching to man management to doing stuff to boost team morale to energizing a fan base, you have failed.
I say you because these are your employees. You’re responsible for their failures.
There’s so much wrong with this team, from failing to trade away assets Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, guys who I believe we’ll see become major league distractions to accompany their major league ability in the coming weeks, to a porous defensive play from the veterans, not the youth.
But the biggest disappointment in my eyes is the continued shaming of Mikhail Grigorenko.
For whatever reason, your head coach – the same guy who’s supposed to be a teacher – has it in his mind he has to try to win hockey games right now. He sets his lineup like it, at least. And nowhere is this more evident than his handling of the team’s supposed ultra-talented pivot.
When Lindy Ruff, your hero, was fired, part of the criticism centered around Grigorenko’s playing time, or lack thereof. It seemed the Russian, and no one else, was the reason Regier hired Ron Rolston to follow in Ruff’s footsteps. I just didn’t think it would be this literal.
I’m no hockey expert. But I have studied the game since I was five. I’m now in my 30s. And I can guarantee you having Grigorenko on the ice with Patrick Kaleta and John Scott is not a productive use of the 19-year-old’s time or energy.
Of you, I demand a new approach. I demand the actual suffering I’ve bought into, that we’ve all bought in to. That means ensuring Grigorenko, whether he’s earned the playing time to date or not, as much time on the ice as he can stomach. He should be close to puking from exhaustion, not because he’s upset with his situation. From now on, he earns his time going forward instead of from his past.
I don’t care if we’re bad because of him, I’m willing to accept that.
I know it’s a new concept for your team. It’s the reason a player like Drew Stafford, who shows up to play once every handful of games, plays on a line with Vanek and not the fourth line in Rochester, a place he should be calling home.
Your part starts with the simple change. You know the one I mean, the fans have been chanting it at every home game this entire calendar year. You give us that and you’ll give us a renewed sense of purpose. We’ll continue to support your team. That’s the new contract you have to live with, the one I think we’d all be willing, as Sabres fans, to honor.
Timothy Chipp and Sabres fans everywhere
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