For the third year in a row, the Buffalo Sabres cleaned out their lockers today and said goodbye to their season, two days before the other half of the league begins their playoff run. Mysterious injuries were revealed, plans were laid out for the future, and there was much talk of what went wrong, as there tends to be after seasons like this.
However, as I was reading through the quotes coming out of the basement of the First Niagara Center, a familiar feeling came over me when I heard this quote from Mike Weber (quote taken from John Vogl's TBN article):
"We’re not joking around anymore," Weber said today as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers in First Niagara Center. "There has to be a new standard here. I know that word has been thrown around for a couple years here with talking to all of you guys – 'We’ve got to change the culture, we’ve got to change the standards' – but enough’s enough. Joke’s over."
Those strong words are telling from someone who, as one of the more experienced veterans, holds some type of leadership position in the locker room. But here's what Mike Weber had to say about this exact topic at this exact time last season:
"As a team we've got to go in a different direction here and change the culture."
"Guys need to be held accountable and I think a lot of that's been lost here the last couple years...Guys need to be consistent, myself included. Everyone needs to be held accountable when they're not playing well."
For two consecutive seasons we've heard talks about accountability, standards, and culture change. The Sabres have seen plenty of change this season, which is a good thing, and Ted Nolan has brought higher standards of accountability to the team than they showed under Ron Rolston (also good) but the Sabres obviously still have a long ways to go.
I don't bring up these quotes to harp on Weber's play this season (his -29 and awful possession numbers do that well enough) but to point out how the well-worn tropes of hard work, accountability, and a winning culture only go so far on a team like this. I think we can all agree that the hard work was, for the most part, there this season thanks to Ted Nolan, and we all saw how that worked out. The thing the Sabres need most is talent, which they'll get in abundance over the next 2-3 years. All the hard work and locker room accountability in the world ain't gonna beat the Blackhawks, or Bruins, or Avalanche.
Will the young players coming in to the organization need the support and positive examples from veterans and coaches? Yes. Will they need to enter a culture where hard work and preparation is not just expected, but demanded? Absolutely. But the first step towards a better season starts on June 30, not today.
Enough's enough indeed, Mike. Let's get some better players in here first, then we'll talk.