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Mike Harrington: There's no end in sight for this embarrassment

Since we never hear the Sabres' goal song anymore, let me be the one to clear my throat first.

This team is a disgrace.

It is an embarrassment to the logo.

It is an affront to a franchise the Knox brothers brought here in 1970 that created our love of hockey.

There is no passion, not nearly enough effort, less thinking and an all-out malaise that makes you wonder if losing is preferred.

We thought that whole saga was done. Could have fooled me.

The Sabres are 6-16-4 after Friday night's 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh, a name-the-score special for the defending Stanley Cup champs. They have been shut out for three straight games for the first time in their history. Think about that for a minute. Friday's blanking was posted by a Penguins rookie named Tristan Jarry.

It's quite clear we've established that these players had no right to run Dan Bylsma out of town last spring. But so far, Phil Housley has had no answers either.

All Housley and associate coach Davis Payne have done is turn the league's best power play into its worst, a slapstick brigade that runs in slow motion and can't pass the puck or keep it in at the point with the same skill of a high school team.

And what about General Manager Jason Botterill? The narrative was that he was left a bad team by Tim Murray, and that's not entirely wrong. Murray overplayed his draft picks and overpaid his core players. But eight of the guys in Blue and Gold on Friday night were brought in by Botterill. That's nearly half the team.

In the wake of Friday's disaster against Pittsburgh, Botterill should make a trade immediately. No more waiting. Ship anybody out of here. Bring anybody in. Nobody can be worse.

And more important, what message is being sent to the fans and in the dressing room by doing nothing? Where is the message that this kind of incompetence on the ice will not be tolerated?

Similarly, Housley should do something too. Put somebody in the press box you wouldn't expect for Saturday's rematch with the Penguins. I'll give him free advice: The pretzels upstairs at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh are darn good. They have even cheese sauce available.

Anybody will do. Rasmus Ristolainen can take a seat for his ridiculous first-period assist to Sidney Crosby. Kyle Okposo looks lost. Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel take shifts off all the time. Johan Larsson and Zemgus Girgensons look like they'll never score again.

Botterill can pat himself on the back for the success of the Rochester Amerks and that's undoubtedly important to the organization, now and in the future. But let's not forget that once you get past Brendan Guhle, Linus Ullmark and perhaps Alex Nylander, there aren't any potential top-tier NHL players on that roster either.

This is a team with a combined cap hit of more than $69.3 million. Nine players -- nine! -- are hitting this club up for at least $4 million on the cap this season. I know Terry Pegula has money to burn in an oil well, but even he has to be thinking there's no bang for the buck.

And there are deeper meanings to this apparently lost season too. What must the NHL head office and NBC be thinking, with this sadsack outfit set for the Winter Classic in a month?

How will the Sabres be presented during the "Road to the Winter Classic" reality show? Those episodes, which start Dec. 13, could be very interesting.

Most of the Sabres had vacated the dressing room when the media entered. Ryan O'Reilly and Okposo were ashen as they spoke in hushed tones. Robin Lehner was a voice of insight as always but was as down as I've ever seen him.

"We're in a position that's mentally tough right now," Lehner said. "I feel bad for the fans. I really do. They deserve better than this. I don't have any answers. It's just very tough right now and it's not working on a consistent basis."

Most of the media had left the room and a couple stragglers were wrapping up with Lehner when Eichel and team president Russ Brandon were seen emerging to sit and have a private chat at Eichel's locker. Bet that one was a doozy.

Where do you begin with this mess? Zach Bogosian's return was up and down as you would expect for a guy who hasn't played since September. But on one sequence early in the third period, an open Bogosian at the right point took a Larsson pass -- and mishandled the puck so badly that it flew to the opposite blue line. It was guffaw worthy.

Victor Antipin's turnover created Tom Kuhnhackl's penalty shot goal. Ristolainen's pass across the slot to Crosby was mind-boggling. Ristolainen tried to feed Eichel a couple seconds earlier and the puck was batted away, right back to him. So Ristolainen tried it again.

Up the middle. Right on Crosby's stick. How is that play even possible?

"That might be the best pass Sid gets all year," cracked a veteran press box wag in from out of town.

"I made a bad play and they scored," Ristolainen said. "It should not happen at this level."

You got that right. This was the Globetrotters and the Washington Generals. It's hard to believe the Sabres have fallen this hard this fast.

"Guys in that room have to make a choice to turn it around," Housley said. "It's not going to be easy. This is going to be one of the mentally tough things they'll have to deal with in their careers. Hopefully we'll look back at this stretch and learn from it. Right now we're in the thick of it and there's no easy way out. It's about digging in, having a lot of pride and showing some emotion."

Right now, there's very little of that on the ice. The Sabres are 1-8-2 in their last 11 games. Housley spends days on end tinkering with lines. Part of you wonders if he knows what he's doing. Part of you says it's the only thing he can do.

How invisible has O'Reilly become? Can your $52 million, two-way dynamo really be minus-17 through 26 games for that price? Lehner is futile on breakaways and oddly susceptible to wraparounds, as Jake Guentzel's goal showed.

It's all so ugly. It's all so unacceptable. And there's four months left in this season.

Ristolainen's summary was spot on: "What are you going to say? It's brutal."

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