Almost every Sabres fan looks back on the summer of 2007 with scorn.
You know, that summer Darcy Regier let Danny Briere and Chris Drury leave via free agency, essentially destroying a team that’d won the President’s Trophy the year before. While Regier’s moves were unpopular (and that’s a major understatement), there was a little bit of logic behind them.
The franchise was still headed by penny-pinching owner Tom Golisano, and the team had a group of promising young players (Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, Tim Connolly, Clarke MacArthur, Dan Paille and Patrick Kaleta) that looked ready to take the next step in their careers.
Vanek was coming off of a 43-goal season. Pominville and Roy had put up over 60 points apiece. Connolly put up 55 points in 63 games in ’05-’06, but had injury concerns. Gaustad and Kaleta provided a spark with their physical play on the lower lines. Stafford, MacArthur and Paille were relatively high draft picks progressing nicely who seemed ready for NHL time. Unfortunately for Regier, none of the aforementioned players ever filled the void left by Briere and Drury. Five years later, the team remains middling.
But if you’re reading this, you already know that. You also know that there’s a new group of youngsters nipping at the ankles of the old core, ready to take control over the team’s identity. As good as Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Corey Tropp, Marcus Foligno, Brayden McNabb and Luke Adam have looked, and as excited as we still are over grabbing Cody Hodgson, there are still questions over whether or not any of these players can handle being “the guy,” and we aren’t likely to know for another couple of years.
It’s like basketball in a way, though to a lesser degree because hockey is more of a team sport. There are always talented young guys, and they’ll put up above-average numbers and flash dominating play based on those talents alone.
But the great players hit a point in their careers when they realize just how good they are. It’s like a switch goes off, and suddenly a guy knows that he can score whenever he touches the ball (or puck).
Guys like Kobe and Dirk hit game-winning daggers because they know they can.
Want a metaphor for your everyday life?
I bought a house last summer and moved out of my parent’s place for the first time (except for a year I barely remember at SUNY Oswego). It’s been almost a year, and I still haven’t adjusted. It’s not like my place is a complete mess, but you don’t realize the little things your parents do to keep things in order until you’re forced to grow up and do them yourself. The original core never grew up.
Briere and Drury left in ’07, and the guys who should be leaders on this team are still looking for someone to do the little things that’d put the team over the top. There’s a confidence that the best players develop that missed the Sabres’ old core. Vanek, Roy and Pominville have all had their moments, but none of them developed into the consistent threat we (and Regier) thought they’d be.
And it’s not Regier’s fault. It’s not Golisano’s fault. It’s not even Lindy Ruff’s fault.
It falls on the players, and if Myers, Ennis, Hodgson and co. want to take this team farther than the “old” core, they’ll have to find a way to take the step that old guys couldn’t.
Mike is the newest contributor to Buffalowins. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.