Sure, playing in "little stanley cup" games in a lost season is a bit of a knock on this edition of the Buffalo Sabres, but then again there's not much really to get pumped up about when the team you're following is second-to-last in the league with a 20-34-11 record. And for the Sabres players, or what's left of them, when you've been bearing the burden of a disastrous season for well over two and a half months, it's hard to get up for any of the final 18 games of the season.
But, Toronto is coming to town and if players and fans were to find any life, perhaps a game against the Maple Leafs will be enough to get the blood pumping.
For those who say the Sabres have no rivalry with any team because their record over the past five seasons or so doesn't warrant it, that may be true to an extent. But this is the Maple Leafs and even though the distance between the two franchises is much farther away than the 100 or so miles up the QEW that separates the two cities, there's a rivalry embedded within that cares little for records.
The Leafs, of course, represent the self-described "Center of the Hockey Universe" with the modern version of "Hockey's Holy Trinity" perched high on their thrones atop Mount Maple Leaf. As for the Sabres, their the mutt that generally gets kicked around when something needs kicking.
And so be it.
Leafs team president Brendan Shanahan has done a remarkable job guiding the club out of the wasteland, GM Lou Lamoriello has done some nice work in following Shanahan's plan and coach Mike Babcock is...well...Mike Babcock. And thanks to him the Sabres and their ownership have some bulletin board material to look at.
Sure, Mike, those in Sabreland get it and we also get that you shunned Buffalo for Toronto which was expected. After all you did call the Leafs, "Canada's team" at your presser. Word has it that you were enamored with Toronto when you chose them and also weren't very pleased with the way the Sabres were doing things. Then again, the Sabres had just lost the draft lottery and the rights to Connor McDavid, but I wonder if you'd have dismissed your wife's preference for Toronto over Buffalo had the pingpong balls went in the Sabres' favor that year?Babcock was asked by a Toronto writer about the difference in the two teams' rebuilds. Gut-punch answer to #Sabreshttps://twitter.com/hashtag/Sabres?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Sabres> fans. pic.twitter.com/vVjA5XKU5O&mdash">https://t.co/vVjA5XKU5O">pic.twitter.com/vVjA5XKU5O— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March">https://twitter.com/ByMHarrington/status/970391934417227777?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 4, 2018
We also get the tweet from Mr. Harrington of The Buffalo News carrying that quote. Harrington has and continues to be adamantly opposed to anything and everything concerning Buffalo's tank job and won't miss an opportunity to let people know what he or other people think about it.
Fact is, the lottery did work out for the Maple Leafs and when you put Auston Matthews atop a good collection of forward talent with a future Hall of Fame coach behind the bench, good things happen. And when things don't work out exactly as planned and your GM miscalculates badly...well...you get the present Buffalo Sabres.
Yet, it's not the players fault in all of this. It's not Sam Reinhart's fault, nor is it Jack Eichel's, Ryan O'Reilly's, Robin Lehner's, Kyle Okposo's or any one else. This is the team that former GM Tim Murray and present GM Jason Botterill put together and the one that's coached by Botterill's pick, Phil Housley.
Next year the Sabres will start again with an influx of new players and another year of trying to get it right.
But that's next year and the team still has 17 games to play with four of them against their QEW rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. This will, oddly enough, be the first meeting of the season between the two clubs so there should be plenty of energy. The Leafs are locked into a playoff spot and always have a large contingent of fans follow them south to Buffalo making for a very raucous evening at KeyBank Center.
When the two teams meet tonight, ironically, the focal points of Babcock's barb concerning the draft--Eichel and Matthews--will not play as both are out with injuries. That leaves all the other draft picks and moves the teams have made over the past few years left to battle it out.
Buffalo players should take pride in this game even without Babcock's slight against the organization and, ultimately, the players who seemed to be looked upon as grubby little street urchins in the eyes of Leaf Nation. It's a chance to beat back the ostentatious invasion of the Leafs and their fans.
In a lost season with 17 games to go there really isn't much to play for accept these "little stanley cup" battles between the patricians of Mount Maple Leaf and the plebeians of Buffalo, this time with the words of Babcock to an adoring local media of how the Sabres and their organization suck.
Have at it boys.