Could our long regional nightmare soon be over?
The Buffalo Sabres – absent from the playoffs for the past seven seasons – on Friday night made Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin the No. 1 overall pick in the National Hockey League Draft.
The last postseason game Buffalo played was in the spring of 2011. Terry Pegula had just taken ownership of the team in February. Lindy Ruff was the coach, Ryan Miller the goalie, and Tim Connolly, Craig Rivet and Thomas Vanek were still Sabres.
In the so-called real world, Osama bin Laden was killed May 2, 2011. It was the year of the Arab Spring; and Jerry Sandusky from Penn State would be indicted in the fall.
Yes, it’s been awhile.
Of course, the climb back into NHL relevance will demand patience. The Sabres finished dead last three times in the past five years. The Las Vegas oddsmakers at Bovada rate Buffalo a 66-1 long shot to win the Stanley Cup next year. (Four teams are longer shots.)
But there’s a sports cliche that all teams are 0-0 in the standings when the season opens. That gives Western New York fans all summer to nourish hope, visualize success and make deposits of positive energy into our karmic accounts, giving us a psychological nest egg that can sustain us when rough patches hit.
Every time Dahlin shows up at KeyBank Center for a practice, a scrimmage, or just a photo opportunity, fans are going to pack the house, fill their Instagram feeds with pictures of the Swedish phenom and generally generate good vibrations.
If sports are an escape from reality, by all means let’s go. The news headlines are full of horror stories about immigrants, anger over politics, tariffs, climate change, gerrymandering and other daily outrages. There’s nothing wrong with tuning all that out for awhile and getting high on our own supply of hockey passion.
The last two NHL teams making the No. 1 overall draft pick – New Jersey (Nico Hischier, 2017) and Toronto (Auston Matthews, 2016) – made the playoffs the following season. That holds no guarantees for Buffalo, but it plants another seed of hope.
So does the fact that Jack Eichel and young Casey Mittelstadt – the Sabres’ first-round picks in 2015 and 2017, respectively – will be on the ice with Dahlin.
The NFL Bills broke their own playoff drought last season, one that had lasted 17 years. One playoff game in January doesn’t get you a parade, but it definitely made getting up in the morning for work and brushing snow off our cars a little easier to take.
Our city hasn’t yet reached the promised land known as Hockey Heaven, but it’s nice to dream about another playoff run, when we can fly Sabres flags on our cars, pump more money into the pizza and beer economy and feel like our team’s quest for the Stanley Cup is our own.
In the meantime, let’s relax and enjoy the ride. As the tennis star Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”