Last week, I was talking to an old friend about the sense of dread that comes from being a Buffalo sports fan and how manufacturing optimism has become a taxing and fruitless exercise. In recent years, many have skipped "hoping for the best" and gone straight to "expecting the worst."
Terry Pegula must have sensed Sabres fans were worn out after his hockey team finished in the basement for the third time in five years. In a letter to season-ticket holders last week while announcing a freeze on prices, Pegula the fan seemed none too thrilled with Pegula the owner.
Pegula said fans deserve better. He was willing to accept his share of responsibility for the so-called rebuild. To me, it was a blatant attempt to limit the damage after another long, miserable season. Had he jacked up prices again next season, the Sabres might as well have moved their home games to HarborCenter.
The Bills haven't sent letters to their season-ticket holders warning them about a difficult season, but they have dropped enough hints in recent months. They're likely taking a step back this season. Their roster is littered with holes, they play five of their first seven games on the road and they'll have an inexperienced quarterback.
Here's something that should cheer up Buffalo fans, however: In a 48-hour period this week, the Bills and Sabres could make dramatic turns for the better.
Really, it's true.
On Thursday, the Bills will take two first-round picks into the NFL Draft, including No. 12, with hopes of finding the next No. 12. They have six picks in the first 100 and nine across seven rounds. On Saturday, the NHL will hold its draft lottery in Toronto. The Sabres have the best chance of nabbing the first pick.
If enough falls in Buffalo's favor, both franchises could land players capable of altering the trajectory of their futures. All it takes is the Bills to make the right decisions and the Sabres to catch a break. Maybe fans will someday look back on this week as a pivotal period in local sports history.
There's always hope, right?
In the event you've been in captivity, the Bills have been searching – begging, pleading, praying, kicking, screaming – for an elite quarterback since Drew Bledsoe threw for 4,359 yards in 2002. This draft has been hailed the best for QBs since the Bills took Jim Kelly in 1983, which is good considering they need another Jim Kelly.
Debates about how the Bills should proceed have raged across taverns and dinner tables for months. My friends have been arguing for weeks. Jerry Sullivan and Vic Carucci had a heated discussion in the media room last week. Carucci and Jay Skurski had dueling columns in the newspaper. It has been practically nonstop on radio.
But there has been no dispute about the top player going into the NHL draft. You're not going to hear me describe any prospect as a "generational player" before he plays his first NHL shift, but Rasmus Dahlin has the ability and smarts to become the NHL's best defenseman since fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Sabres had the best odds to win the NHL draft lottery in 2014 and 2015 and wound up with the second pick overall in both years. If the math falls their way Saturday, they'll have two players they can build around. All they would need is about dozen more, but they're almost certain to improve.
Folks, it's all good.
Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott have shown more competence since their arrival than any GM-coach combination since John Butler and Marv Levy. They executed a needed roster purge and accumulated draft capital you see today. It's hard to fathom them overpaying for a QB with so many holes elsewhere.
If they land the right quarterback for the right price, good for them. It doesn't matter if it's Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen. Any one of them would rouse Buffalo like nobody since Kelly. If the Bills fail to land a top quarterback, they should get two quality players in the first round.
Really, the only way this could go sideways would be the Bills paying the ransom and selecting the wrong guy. Beane and McDermott weren't hired solely to find a franchise quarterback. They were hired to improve the franchise. Ideally, it would include a quarterback who can help them turn into perennial playoff contenders.
It's my duty to remind you about the long list of quarterbacks that were picked in the first round and failed to meet expectations. Between John Elway and Kelly, there was Todd Blackledge. Twenty years ago, the nation was divided on whether the Colts should select Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.
If you're asking yourself, "Who is Todd Blackledge and Ryan Leaf?", that's precisely my point. My advice, as always, would be to proceed with caution until the kid gets under center and shows he can play. There's a greater chance he'll become the next J.P. Losman or EJ Manuel than Aaron Rodgers.
Let's not forget the Bills were desperate for a franchise quarterback when they traded with Dallas to move up and grab Losman in 2004, a draft that supposedly was rich in elite passers. It cost Buffalo several draft picks, including 20th overall the following year. The Packers selected Rodgers with the 24th pick in 2005.
Maybe this will be the year things start turning around. Maybe fans who have come to expect the worst outcome, for once, will actually get the best.