Emotions were frayed Monday in Vancouver, less than 48 hours after the 101-point Canucks suffered through their Game Six elimination in Calgary, as somber players cleared out their Rogers Arena lockers and met the media. Reporters were told that on Wednesday, team president Trevor Linden, General Manager Jim Benning and coach Willie Desjardins will speak about the season concluded and look ahead.
Same thing in Ottawa. After Sunday’s Game Six loss to Montreal, coach Dave Cameron and General Manager Bryan Murray will have their say Wednesday morning. And Pittburgh, where Penguins president David Morehouse spoke on Saturday, coach Mike Johnston was heard on Sunday and embattled General Manager Jim Rutherford will speak Tuesday.
It’s a scene repeated in every NHL city, whether the principals are reviled or revered. Except in Buffalo.
For the second time in four years, the Sabres have refused to have an end-of-season session with reporters. They are the only NHL team, playoff qualifier or not, to not hold such a gathering. They are the only team to refuse to answer questions about the coming offseason.
And most important, they are the only team to not provide information to their fans about their plans moving forward. This is minor-league stuff all the way.
In 2012, after the final playoff near-miss of the Lindy Ruff/Darcy Regier era, the party line was “emotions are too raw” for management to speak. Never mind that all the players were left to do the dissection on locker cleanout day.
More of the same this year. All of the players spoke but management “needs to lay low” now. Sabres officials are trying to say General Manager Tim Murray had his end-of-season gathering the night they fired Ted Nolan but that’s an outright sham.
The session was called on 45 minutes notice on a Sunday night, undoubtedly to keep the media crowd down. It was exclusively about the firing of the coach. And it was cut off after less than 20 minutes by a club public relations executive.
The week prior to the NHL Draft Lottery, The News made a formal request with the Sabres to hold a respectable gathering looking back and looking ahead. Similar requests were made by other local outlets, including the Olean Times Herald and local television stations. All were denied by the team.
This is organizational arrogance to the highest degree, from an organization that has no business being so full of itself. Lest we forget, there have been no playoff series wins since 2007 and no playoff games at all since 2011. And the good bet is that won’t change until 2017 at the earliest.
(Let the record show the thought here is this decision isn’t on Murray at all and is above his pay grade. As everyone in the 716 and beyond knows, the GM is more than open with his thoughts to both local and national media).
The Sabres don’t want to look back. Fair enough. There’s no reason to belabor the embarrassingly blatant tank that will linger over this franchise forever, regardless of the results it may spawn. The lottery is over. They’re going to pick second and draft Jack Eichel. The tank is done.
It is absolutely time to look forward. Tanking has been asked and answered. Several times over. Sabres fans on social media are quick to say this lack of information makes no difference to them. Then why does every other NHL team do it? Why is it a rule in pro football and baseball?
The other answer I get all the time is we already know their plans. We do? Really? No, we don’t. Here’s some questions I’d like answered by Murray:
• The coaching decision: How much input will Terry Pegula have? Must it be a big name with experience like Rex Ryan was for the Bills (think Mike Babcock)? Does that preclude Luke Richardson?
• What aspects of Jack Eichel’s game will you be focusing on at the World Championships in Prague? And are you attending?
• What is the strategy for the second first-round pick in the draft? No thought of trading a first-rounder the last two years but how much is there now?
• In the wake of the signing of Evan Rodrigues, why the pullback in interest in Boston University goaltender Matt O’Connor?
• Is a buyout of Cody Hodgson under consideration or is the plan to move forward on the theory Ted Nolan lost him?
• Is Evander Kane better suited for a heavy puck-possession center like Eichel or a more pass-and-setup one like Sam Reinhart?
• Would it be a huge step back if Reinhart and/or Nikita Zadorov spent time in Rochester next season?
• What is the approach on NHL goaltending for next season? Keep Chad Johnson, re-sign Anders Lindback or look through free agency and trades?
• Is there a current center in the organization that might move to wing? How did you view Johan Larsson’s finish to the season and the impact he can from here?
• What is the organization’s concern level going forward about the health of Mark Pysyk, given no answer to his collapse in Rochester in February?
• With the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brandon Saad or Martin Jones available, what is the Sabres’ current theory on offer sheets to restricted free agents, given the scorn they draw across the league?
• Is there any interest in current free agents who finished the season here, notably Patrick Kaleta? Would there be interest this summer in any of the free agents traded away?
• What is the status of Rochester coach Chadd Cassidy? Will more veterans be signed to help the Amerks win and help nurture the young players expected to be there next season?
• Are you hopeful/expecting Hudson Fasching to leave Minnesota and sign a pro contract?
• Now that the McEichel season is over, do you plan to be around the NHL team more rather than attending junior or college games?
These are all top-of-my-head items. I’m sure there’s many more. No one knows the answers. If you say you do, you’re guessing. Did you think Murray would say what he did the night of the lottery?
This is the kind of information every team provides its fans at the end of the season. For an organization that has lost 120 games the last two years, they should be more transparent than ever and fans should be demanding answers.
Still, I’ll say this for the Sabres. They did one thing right as the season wound down: At least this year, they didn’t announce an increase in ticket prices on Fan Appreciation Night.