Last summer Steve Ott came over from Dallas in a trade for Derek Roy.
Most Sabres fans were elated: in comes anti-core player, out goes one of Darcy Regier's "core" players. In other words: in comes grit, out goes soft-but-skilled.
In the short time that Ott has taken the ice for the Sabres, he's become a fan favorite with his rugged style of play as well as his production.
Many even wanted him named captain after Jason Pominville was shipped to Minnesota at the trade deadline.
That's how beloved he is in Buffalo.
Ott has battled many an opponent on the ice in defense of his teammates. And now he has himself an off-ice battle with the Sabres fans who are booing and mocking his teammates.
The fan-base has witnessed years of poor play for many years at the F'N Center. Much of that poor play has lead to losses. It even lead to the eventual firing of long-time coach Lindy Ruff.
But the fans of Buffalo seem to have taken booing the home team to another level.
In a game vs. Boston with the game tied, they booed the team when the powerplay languished.
Sunday night vs. New Jersey, the Devils pinned the Sabres in their own zone for more than 2 minutes, which is an eternity. Eventually Kevin Porter took a cross-checking penalty to end the onslaught. The Devils scored 5 seconds into the powerplay.
For the rest of the game, They gave a Bronx cheer on many occasions when the Sabres cleared their zone.
The boo-birds also came out throughout the game, a game they eventually won in a shootout.
So, in essence, not only do the Sabres have to overcome the opponent, but they also need to overcome a very ornery "home" crowd.
Ott was on WGR's Howard Simon Show this morning and gave his take on the booing (via Howard Simon):
"It's completely ridiculous," he said. “Its disheartening when we get hemmed in our zone and they’re basically mocking us. When you get up past the blue line and you finally get it in their zone after a minute and a half shift where they didn’t even have a scoring opportunity. I guess you can say it was more of the mocking of my teammates that probably pissed a lot of guys off including myself. You're a fan of the Buffalo Sabres and hopefully, you come to cheer us on and motivate us."
Pretty sure that statement didn't sit well with the fan-base. And if it weren't for Ott's stature with the fans, the e-mails and texts the show received after the interview would have been much more negative than the 50/50 split the host said it was.
I can imagine if Ryan Miller came out and said the same thing. There would be a strong contingency grabbing their pitchforks yelling, "Miller is a friggen cry baby who should take his ass and his $6M salary and get the hell out of town!!!"
One can understand the frustration of watching cute, uninspired/uninspiring play that more often than not ends up in a loss. It's been going on since the 2007/08 season.
But most of the players that were on those teams are gone and there are a lot of fresh faces who were not a part of that.
Ott continued, "We've got a lot of young players on this team and they definitely don't deserve to be booed. They deserve to have that excitement and energy. It’s definitely not their fault for the last six years of frustration that's gone on.”
And it's not their fault. They're doing the best they can with their God-given talents, their individual will and what limited knowledge rookie coach Ron Rolston gives them for guidance.
The booing by fans is ridiculous. In some ways and in some instances, there is probably a large group of fans who are subconsciously booing their own piss-poor existence. They look upon the Sabres (or Bills) vicariously as a way to make them feel better about themselves and their existence.
That's what entertainment is for.
And when they cannot derive any satisfaction from their life or from their escape, out come the boos.
That's life for the Buffalo players right now. And they'll need to overcome it, as if overcoming their short-comings, youth and their mid-season bottom-feeder standings wasn't enough.
One of the good things is that players without thick skin will wilt under the pressure and be exposed for the soft players they are.
We've already seen some of them either shipped out or not re-signed: Roy, Tim Connolly, Pominville, Jordan Leopold and Brad Boyes to name a few. Drew Stafford seems to be another one who's set to exit.
All of these players are of the same ilk: soft-but-skilled.
All of them a part of Regier's grand plan.
Players like Ott and Patrick Kaleta and even Nate Gerbe all play an honest game and have thick skin.
Miller and Thomas Vanek have loads of skill, but have also passed through a myriad of thresholds to make them mostly impervious to the negativity of the boo-birds. And, if they desire, they'll be able to take their talents elsewhere after next season as UFA's.
As for the youngins like Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Brian Flynn, Mark Pysyk, etc., it's a good learning tool and will eventually flesh out any dishonest, wimpy players coming up through the ranks.
And as the team moves forward, purging the core and building for the future, one should look at this stretch to see who's performing under these stressful circumstances. These are the ones that will be able to collectively push Sisyphus' boulder up the hill and (hopefully) over the top.
Steve Ott was absolutely right to call out the fans, as much as the fans have every right to boo.
There's one thing the he, along with Miller, needs to stress to his teammates though: that in no way shape or form should this team be playing for the fans.
Fans are fickle and generally uneducated. There could be multiple reasons why they're in the mood they're in.
It's not that Sabres' fans don't "deserve" a championship with all the heartbreak they've been through. In fact in a fair world Buffalo would be at the front of the line.
But no man or team for that matter should be looked to as a savior for a community. It doesn't work that way. Just ask Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills.
Simply put, the Sabres should be of the mindset to win a championship for themselves first.
They should be playing for their own pride as well as their teammates. They should also be playing for their coaching staff, the management team and their owner who put the crest on their sweater.
Then and only then will the team be able to bring the Cup to Buffalo.
The players still need to acknowledge the crowd and should continue to salute them at center ice.
But they should never look upon themselves as a "savior" first, Buffalo Sabre second. It doesn't work and will only lead to more boos.