This is always a strange time of year with the Sabres done for the season, the NFL draft approaching, the Masters in the books and Major League baseball in the first few weeks of a 162-game schedule. Add a mid-April ice storm, and it made for a dark and dreary Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.
Nearly every year, Buffalo is ranked among the top TV markets for the Stanley Cup playoffs even with the Sabres' absence for seven straight seasons. Last season, the region had one of the highest ratings for the NBA playoffs, too. If you looked out the window over the weekend, you understood why.
Allow me to apologize in advance for coming across like a miserable crank, even by my minimum standards. Although it could be a case of seasonal depression, I may very well suffer from offseason depression. The official cause is unknown, but it likely stems from years of watching the playoffs on television rather than covering them. I wonder how many Buffalo fans suffer from a similar disorder.
Sad but true: In the past seven years, the professional team I covered most in the postseason was ... the Cleveland Indians. Over the same period, Buffalo fans have watched their team appear in one playoff game, the Bills' 10-3 loss to the Jaguars that was among the more forgettable NFL postseason contests in years.
Sorry, is this too depressing? I'd be happy to change my tune if the Bills or Sabres gave me an opportunity the way all four teams did last season in local college basketball.
Between Ryan O'Reilly coming to accept losing and Richie Incognito's strange exit from the Bills, we think, Buffalo's pro teams could use a little good news. Imagine the vibe if the Bills fail to land a quality quarterback in the upcoming draft.
Years ago, the Sabres would carry local sports through of dog days of April, sometimes into May and once into June. In another era, the Sabres were criticized every year because they failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs, not because they failed to make them.
Buffalo fans actually thought life was tough between 1983-84 and 1991-92, when the Sabres suffered first-round knockouts seven times and missed the postseason twice back when the league had either 21 or 22 teams. The Sabres had six coaches during the nine seasons, including all-time great Scotty Bowman.
(Quick, name the Sabres' two 30-goal scorers the last time they reached the postseason. Thomas Vanek is easy. He had 32 goals and 73 points in 2010-11 but was criticized by fans for not scoring enough. The other: Drew Stafford, who had career highs of 31 goals and 51 points in only 62 games that year.)
Since 1999-00, the last time the Bills and Sabres made the postseason the same year, they have combined to miss the playoffs 27 times in 33 seasons and had another year wiped out by the NHL lockout. Including the first Super Bowl, the two franchises have played 99 seasons without winning a title.
Darcy Regier once told me the pressure to win was more intense in Buffalo than most places because there was no escaping the wrath when the Sabres fell short. He was right. People living in bigger cities have more options. The Rangers, Islanders and Knicks missed the postseason this year, for example? No big deal. Fans in New York quickly shifted toward the Yankees and Mets.
When the Sabres missed the playoffs, they were pummeled until the Bills opened training camp. The Bills were ripped for missing the playoffs until the Sabres missed the playoffs again. People whine about sports writers being negative in Buffalo, as if perennial losers should be showered with sunshine. The Bills and Sabres took turns missing the postseason for six consecutive years, for heaven's sake.
OK, so the Bills ended their playoff drought after 17 seasons thanks largely to a fluky pass by Andy Dalton. Yes, the Bills appear to have the right people in charge. It doesn't change the fact they haven't scored a postseason touchdown in 18 straight years, haven't won a playoff game in 22 years and were bracing for a step backward this year.
The Sabres? They've been hit with so many uppercuts to the chin that they're begging for a left hook to the head. Every April for seven years, we've been reminded of the distance between the Sabres and teams participating in the playoffs. To get in the proper mood, all you need is a working TV and a dark, dreary spring afternoon.