Phil Housley was about a half-minute into his news conference after the Sabres' offered little resistance Saturday in a 7-1 loss to the Stars, when he provided a startling assessment. It made you wonder if he watched the same embarrassing performance the fans did before they booed his team off the ice.
"We come out and we're playing pretty good hockey," Housley said before trailing off into a tangent about the Sabres taking an undisciplined penalty in the first period and how they "sort of" deflated after giving up the third goal.
The Sabres looked uninterested from the opening faceoff, gave up a goal in the first five minutes and were getting outshot, 10-1, before showing signs of a pulse. Dallas skated circles around them and built a 2-0 lead while Buffalo confirmed why it has been outscored, 43-19, in the first period this season.
Otherwise, yeah, the Sabres were terrific.
"We got the period back from that point," Housley said. "We were starting to come and didn't capitalize in our chances. They're a good team. They capitalized on their opportunities. Would I have liked to see more fight and battle? Yeah, but I don't think it was that bad until it got to the point of 3-0."
It tells you something about the standards in Buffalo when that passes for pretty good hockey, but Housley wasn't kidding the sellout crowd in KeyBank Center or anyone watching from home. It was that bad, an utter waste of time and energy spent on a listless team and a first-year coach who appears to be over his head.
Remi Elie scored first when he poked home a loose puck while Evander Kane and his soon-to-be former teammates stood around and watched. Mattias Janmark scored a pair of soft goals to chase Robin Lehner. Sam Reinhart scored on the power play for the Sabres. Dallas added three goals in the second period and another in the third.
If you're looking for sympathy for the Sabres, or their fans, and suggestions of better days ahead, you came to the wrong place. The Sabres are a terrible hockey team in a terrible place, thanks to terrible ownership and a terrible rebuilding plan that was implemented before this long, terrible season.
The Sabres are getting exactly what they deserve after bungling one decision after another since Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the team in 2011. The Sabres will miss the playoff for a seventh full season under the Pegulas, which is hardly a coincidence given the sample size.
Long gone are the good old days in which delusional Buffalo fans anticipated instant relief with the arrival of wunderkind Jack Eichel and the far-fetched fantasy he would carry the Sabres into the postseason in short order. Wishful thinking has been replaced by the reality of his overpaid, underachieving supporting cast.
No matter how people felt about the tank, there's no denying that it created a culture in which players became entitled and losing became acceptable. And that's how the Sabres performed Saturday while adding another loss to the standings and crossing another game off the schedule as they play out the string.
"As unfortunate as you say it, it's probably a little bit the case," said Jason Pominville, once part of a winning culture in Buffalo. "You play on teams that haven't had success, and it's acceptable. But that's what has to change. Efforts like this aren't acceptable. Practices have to be a compete level that you need."
The Sabres' performance Saturday might have been a new low this season, but it certainly was nothing new. They've gone through the motions since training camp after gaining enough influence at the top of the organization to get veteran coach Dan Bylsma fired because, apparently, they didn't appreciate his communication skills.
Here's how it works, fellas: Players follow orders and give an honest effort. In return, they receive a handsome paycheck. Coaches and GMs make personnel decisions. For players to have any say beyond what happens on the ice reveals incompetence at the top and a broken chain of command.
For years, fans have continued drinking the Kool-Aid and clinging to the idea a savior is coming while enabling the very problems they've wanted fixed. The vast majority embraced the tank even though it made little sense. Years later, ownership continues cashing your checks.
Really, how much has changed?
Sam Reinhart was hailed as a first-line player when he was selected second overall, only to show he's a third-line forward. Eichel is a very good player, and the Sabres should be happy to have him. But they caused so much damage in getting him that they left little room for error.
Ryan O'Reilly signed a seven-year contract worth $52.5 million but has failed to justify the contract. Kyle Okposo supposedly was a top free agent, but he's grossly overpaid. Rasmus Ristolainen has all the speed and skill required to become a top defenseman but needed about 30 games to play like one.
A few years ago, fans rationalized that they needed to buy season tickets so they had priority for playoff tickets. Some have spent some $7,500 on season tickets over the past three seasons, plus parking, and for what? For a team that believed losing was required to obtain a top player who would carry them back to the postseason.
It's none of my business how people spend their money, a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago. Simple math suggests the Sabres' most loyal fans aren't getting enough bang for their buck. For years, the organization has taken fans for granted through false promises and rewrapped packages containing hope.
Last summer, it was firing the GM and coach.
Tim Murray became a cartoon character who overpaid for trades and wound up overpaying for players. He knew talent but never understood value. Bylsma was swept out the door with him. The wise play with the Sabres would have been firing Murray first and allowing his replacement to decide about the coach.
It never dawned on ownership that Botterill might have had Bylsma on his short list of coaching candidates. The two forged a good relationship when both worked for the Penguins. Indeed, Bylsma very well could have been hired by the Sabres … had he not been fired by the Sabres before they hired Botterill.
Housley showed up believing he would implement an up-tempo style while disregarding his own personnel. So far, it has been a failed attempt by a head coach to jam a square peg in a round hole in a way Rex Ryan certainly would understand. Then again, the Pegulas hired Ryan before firing him in less than two seasons.
And like Rex, Housley isn't fooling anyone.