Rather than talk about the 1-8-1 beginning to the Sabres season, my Ol' friend Don and I were caught up in the upcoming game with Boston and the rivalry that stretches back to the early 70's. He wasn't as cantankerous as usual, but he did become somewhat animated.
bsn: Did you watch the NBCSN Rivalries segment last night featuring Boston and Buffalo?
Don: Yup. Brought back some great memories. You know what I'd forgotten, maybe didn't even realize the significance of at the time? Brad May smoked none other than Raymond Bourque. Made him look like a rookie out there.
bsn: Yeah, that was a great piece. Do you think there's a "rivalry?"
Don: Well...in order to have a true rivalry, it's best to have two teams that are good with a lot on the line. With Buffalo stinking up the league right now...well...yeah, there's still a rivalry. Doesn't matter. There's a long history. These teams hate each other and have for decades.
bsn: I don't know. Colorado/Detroit is a rivalry. Toronto/Montreal.
Don: Colorado/Detroit is still a rivalry, but it was much better when the stakes were higher. Maybe Toronto/Montreal is the truest of rivalries, kinda like the Yanks and BoSox. Every game is for the heart and soul of Canada. There's an intensity on and off the ice. On both sides.
bsn: Yeah. It would seem as if there's a feeling of having a rivalry coming from the Buffalo fan base, but out of Boston, it's, like, whatever.
Don: Yup. Boston has had a great beginning to the century too. In all sports. Even got "The Curse of the Bambino" off of their backs.
bsn: The Bruins players said in that piece that they still get up for the game.
Don: Yup. At least there's an intensity on the ice. It'll be fun tonight. I think they have at least a little bit of respect for the Sabres. At least not to take them lightly. The Sabres have done pretty well against them over the past couple of years. And with John Scott annihilating Thorton, there might be a bit more respect there as well.
bsn: Think the Scott/Thorton thing will add to Sabres/Bruins lore?
Don: Hell yeah. He crushed Thorton and then went to the bench and started pointing fingers as to who's next. Signing Scott was one of the biggest moves for the Sabres, at least within those terms. For the life of me I'll never understand why people think that John Scott is completely useless.
bsn: Well. He can't skate very well. Has, like one goal in 8000 games. Ummm...
Don: So what? Tell me, how much of a difference does a fourth line player like, sayyyy, Kevin Porter make? He has a handful of points at the NHL-level, tries hard, works hard, spends some time on the PK. But...does do anything that really makes a difference for this team?
bsn: At least he can skate.
Don: That's not the point. As is stands right now, he's one of the many vanilla players on this team. John Scott made a difference. The Bruins may be a better team, with better players and better depth. They may have a ton of grit, but they're not gonna hit the ice and intimidate the Sabres.
bsn: They're still tougher and grittier for the 56 minutes Scott is not on the ice.
Don: Maybe. But having Scott do that has a ripple effect. I was listening to Roby on WGR today and he was talking about Jim Schoenfeld and Wayne Cashman going through the Zamboni doors. For me the greatest, coolest fight ever. Roby was on the ice and what Schony did, he said, was give his teammates a spine. From then on, said Roby, sitting in the lockeroom after the game with a bloody face was honorable. The punches didn't hurt. He said you didn't even feel them and he actually said they felt good.
bsn: Yeah. They said in the Rivalries piece, someone did anyway, that if you weren't tough, you acted tough and played tough.
Don: Absolutely. And it was because of Shony. Among others. Roby also talked about having three or four guys that could stand up to the "Big, Bad Bruins" and because of that, they took their intimidation elsewhere. Ya gotta remember, those were tough days in the NHL. They didn't pull a movie like Slapshot out of thin air. And the Sabres were a fledgling franchise at the time.
bsn: Is Mike Weber on the ice because he's one of those three or four guys?
Don: Ummm...he's not intimidated. Which is a good thing. Steve Ott is one of those guys. So is Patty Kaleta. He's another one. Sometimes the Buffalo fans drive me friggen' bonkers. Fans from another team will say Patty's useless. No he's not, he's a legit fourth-line, energy-guy. And they'll say he turtles. No he doesn't. He took on Milan Lucic. Stood toe-to-toe. And actually skated off the ice afterwards imploring the fans to get into it. The Sabres won that game handily.
bsn: What did you think of the suspension?
Don: A bunch of crap. Not the fact that he was suspended. Just the length in light of other suspensions. Yeah, he has a record. But I really think if he wanted to he could've taken off the guy's head and put him on a stretcher. Kinda like that one guy did.
bsn: You mean Max Lapierre?
Don: Yeah, that douche. No question Patty has douche-like qualities, but that hit Lapierre laid on...who was it?
bsn: Dan Boyle.
Don: Right. Drove his face right into the boards. And he got what? Five games. Shanahan doesn't like Patty. Probably reminds him too much of Claude Lemieux. Probably could care less about the Sabres as well.
bsn: You think the league has a vendetta against Kaleta?
Don: Yeah. Well, kinda. They choose to throw the book at him whenever possible, while others they'll give the benefit of the doubt to. By the way, the guy he hit scored a goal in the next game.
bsn: Well, if he wants to play in the NHL, perhaps he should take Matt Cooke's advice.
Don: Really? Matt Cooke is a changed man? You watch. When the stakes get higher, his natural instincts will come through. Like a drink in front of a recovering alcoholic.
Listen. Having this shit happen to Patty K. makes me like him all the more. Having John Scott on the team makes me like them more. I'm really tired of Darcy Regier's soccer-mom team that he iced the last 10 years. You want a standard? Place any of those Buffalo Sabres players back in the 70's. If that guy could play back then, not necessarily be a Shony or King Kong Korab, but a player with a spine who could play his game; that should be the standard by which all present and future Buffalo Sabres should be judged.
bsn: So who amongst this team do you think could make it back then?
Don: The obvious gritty ones like Ott, Patty, Scott, Weber. McCormick could've made it back then if there were 30 teams like there are now. Vanek could score in any style NHL. Foligno. Maybe Stafford.
bsn: How about the youngsters?
Don: It'll be interesting to see how Nikita Zadorov plays tonight. I think he's one of those guys. Love his demeanor. And I think it's genuine. He gets a gleam in his eye when it comes to hitting. Tonight is a great test for him. Larry Robinson. Did you see the top-10 defenseman spot afterwards? Great piece on Robinson. He didn't necessarily look for trouble, but if you came in looking for trouble, he'd beat ya down to size. It's too early, but I'm wondering if Zadorov has a little Robinson in him.
bsn: That would be cool...
Don: Speaking of Robinson. If Pegula wants to really turn his hockey operations around, he should go after Robinson after the season is over. I think the Sharks have a golden opportunity to win the Cup this year. After that I'd offer him a VP of hockey ops position and let him work with the incoming group of youngsters.
bsn: You think he'd come to Buffalo?
Don: Money talks. And Pegula's got it. And Robinson deserves it. And he has the hockey knowledge and winning attitude. Bring him in. Let him decide who the GM is and then get themselves a coaching staff.
bsn: You think Regier's gone?
Don: Not now. At the end of the year. The knucklehead fan-base is calling for his head. Sheesh. Regier is doing a fine job tearing down his core and getting usefull assets in return. There's no reason to think that he can't add another two or three top-60 picks over the next two drafts as well as maybe a prospect or two for dealing Vanek and Miller. Maybe even Stafford as well. What's the difference if this crappy team has him as GM for the year. It won't affect the product on the ice this season.
bsn: Yeah, but the fans hate him.
Don: So what? They're overreacting. Look. The way they should view him is as a journeyman quarterback with a weak offensive line. And no running game. That QB should take all the lumps while the team rebuilds the line. The QB of the future can stay on the sidelines without getting hurt, without getting thrown into a toxic situation. Next year, it's all his.
bsn: Hmmm. Interesting. But do you trust him?
Don: Darcy has two things to do collecting his paycheck--continue getting assets for his "core" and take the heat from the fans. That's it. Assistant GM Kevin Devine seems to be in charge of personnel. At least with the drafting part. Not sure how much input he had into the likes of Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett.
bsn: Who wins tonight?
Don: *shrugs* Sabres? I guess? How about 3-2? Might even be a shoot-out. I see two, maybe three fights, with Foligno dropping them, maybe Scott. Maybe Weber and probably someone unexpected. Maybe Zadorov?
bsn: You really think so? That they'll beat the Bruins?
Don: I don't know. Look. If Rolston really wants to motivate his team, they should skate, dress and spend the next half hour watching the Rivalries piece, then follow it up with the Roby audio. That's the Buffalo Sabres and how they can rise again.
An all-time classic: Shony and Cashman
Patty K. takes one on the chin for the team