Dredging up memories of a season to forget - The Buffalo News

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Dredging up memories of a season to forget

Good riddance to this Sabres season.

But I’m here, as a public service, to bring you this nugget of good news: It will never be this bad again. You have survived.

Now, I fully expect the Sabres to be terrible in the standings again next year. But I’m quite confident we will never see six months of this kind of insanity get repeated.

Think of it all. Here’s what came off the top of my head about all that’s gone on since September, and I’m probably missing 10 things.

The unveiling of the Turdburgers. A preseason brawl. Player selection fines. An in-over-his-head coach wearing gardening gloves during practice. A general manager backed into a corner to create ways to save his job and ensuring suffering by opting to start four teenagers for an NHL season, a first in the league in 18 years.

Suspensions. Whispers of a team out of control. The embarrassing snub of former captain Jason Pominville and the triumphant return of Lindy Ruff.

The long-overdue firing of the GM and coach – whose names aren’t worthy of being repeated in this space today.

The arrival on their white horses of Ted Nolan and Pat LaFontaine. An overtime Buttgoal. The hiring of Tim Murray. The trade of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott, not stunning for its finality, but stunning coming an hour before a game and forcing a HarborCenter employee to suit up as a backup goalie. The bizarre and still unexplained firing, er, resignation of LaFontaine the next day. The trade deadline massacre of the roster.

There was minus-30 degrees (Fahrenheit!) in Winnipeg, 84 degrees in Fort Lauderdale, tornado warnings in St. Louis and a harrowingly turbulent late-night flight to Detroit.

Injuries, injuries and more injuries. The goaltending corps being decimated to the point the season finale was spent with No. 6 man Connor Knapp between the pipes. There was the final game ending with Ville Leino, he of the $4.5 million cap hit, heading into buyout land with 18 more scoreless minutes and even clinching the shootout loss to the Islanders with one final pathetic offensive attempt.

There was the triumphant team Hall of Fame induction of Dominik Hasek and the emotional farewell to Mike Robitaille on Sunday, and you greeted both with roaring ovations. Rick Jeanneret, now into his 70s and two years from the retirement we all dread, even chest-bumped Robitaille.

Robitaille patted his heart as he walked off the ice. And that was to all of you.

Forget a low moment for the season. Saturday’s game in Boston, where five players were injured and goaltender Matt Hackett was stretchered off with what sources say is a complete tear of his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, might have been the lowest single game in the franchise’s 44-year history.

The Sabres should never look like the Washington Generals, like somebody’s foible. But the lineup they’ve had the last month would not be a playoff-caliber one in the AHL.

The Sabres had never lost more than 45 games in any season in their history. They lost 61 this year. Sixty-one out of 82! And that includes 51 in regulation. They finished 2-16-2 in their last 20 games.

And you still came.

The Sabres played to 97.4 percent of capacity this year in First Niagara Center. They’re 11th in the league in average attendance – and seven of the teams above them play in bigger buildings.

That was noticed in that locker room. Nolan had a meeting after the game with his shirtless players who had just given fans their sweaters as part of Fan Appreciation Night ceremonies. He told them a new attitude starts next season because fans in this town deserve better.

We’re a great hockey town and right now we’re dead inside. Nolan and Murray know that. They’re determined to fix it. Don’t expect them to waste any time.

Assistant coaches Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen, Jim Corsi and Jerry Forton are all expected to be let go, and sources say that ax could fall as soon as today.

The same goes for longtime strength and conditioning coach Doug McKenney, as Nolan has been openly critical at times of the team’s physical shape. He promised changes in that area again after Sunday’s loss.

Nolan went 17-36-9. People love him but wins and losses will start to matter in the next two years. Take away shootout winners and Sabres players scored 150 goals – the lowest total of any NHL team in the expansion era.

It’s an inexcusable indignity to a franchise with the heritage of the French Connection and one that had a 300-goal season just seven years ago.

The Sabres went 13-21-7 at home, their fewest wins downtown since 1971-72. They were 8-30-3 on the road – the worst record for an NHL team since the 2005 lockout and making them the first team to lose 30 in regulation away from home since the 1999-2000 expansion Atlanta Thrashers.

Buffalo’s 52 points overall equaled the 2000-01 Islanders for the fewest in the league in this century.

A dozen and maybe more of these players won’t be here come October. Will we even remember most of these guys in, say, three or four years? Will most of the nine goalies be a trivia answer? How about the five backups in five games that included HarborCenter’s Ryan Vinz? Will anyone remember Jamie McBain? Alexander Sulzer? Zenon Konopka? Matt D’Agostini? We’ll remember Leino, of course, for all the wrong reasons.

It can’t get any worse. It’s not possible.

Well, maybe it can. The draft lottery is Tuesday night. The way this season has gone, can you really expect the Sabres to win something important?

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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