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The Buffalo Sabres And The Ewing Theory

What was your first reaction when you heard Derek Roy was injured and would miss the rest of the year? I imagine most of you thought the same thing that I did: Well, there goes the season. However, since losing their most productive offensive player the Sabres have hit a bit of a hot streak. There are many possible explanations for this mini-turnaround, and one that's been floated out there by many sports media fans (I saw it first from WNYMedia's Christopher Smith) is The Ewing Theory.

Before we dive into this debate, let's first get a bit of background on the Ewing Theory for the uninitiated. Though it was created by a man named Dave Cirilli in the mid 90's, the Ewing Theory was popularized by ESPN's love-him-or-hate-him sports blogger Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy. The Theory was born from the observation that Patrick Ewing's Georgetown Hoya and NY Knicks teams always seemed to play better when he wasn't on the court, whether due to injury or foul trouble. After the Knicks made the 1998-99 NBA Finals without an injured Ewing, the Theory was born and has since had numerous historical and present day examples backing it up, many of which can be read in Simmons' own article right here.

So, to sum things up, the Ewing Theory needs three components:

1. A superstar who's never won a championship.
2. Said superstar leaves the team through injury, free agency, or trade.
3. The media and fans subsequently write off the season for having lost said superstar.

With the loss of Derek Roy, the Sabres seem to be candidates for a Ewing Theory turnaround (and yes, I realize that Derek Roy is not considered a "superstar" by anybody other than his parents, but let's substitute "best player" in there for the sake of argument.) Let's examine the evidence for and against, shall we?

Pro-Ewing Theory

As we stated before, all three criteria for Ewing Theory candidacy are hit here, especially the third one. Everyone and their mother was throwing in the towel on this year after they heard the bad news. However, since Roy's injury, the Sabres are 4-1-1 in six games, and many supporting players are stepping up in a big way. In the past six games, four players are averaging a point-per-game or greater: Drew Stafford has posted 8 points (5-3), Jason Pominville has put up 7 points (2-5), and Thomas Vanek and the lowly Jochen Hecht have each scored 6 points (3-3.) Heck, Ryan Miller even managed to toss a shutout in there for good measure. But, like the double rainbow, we must ask ourselves what does it mean?

We have a few realistic theories as to the better play of the team. As is often the case, these types of injuries can be a galvanizing force in the locker room, banding teammates together in order to show the world "we can still do this without him." Also, lesser players (such as Hecht) are now the beneficiaries of Roy's minutes and opportunities. It doesn't take a Ph.D in Mathematics to hypothesize that more opportunities = more production. Or you could just chalk the whole thing up to Simmons' black magic.

Anti-Ewing Theory

Sure, the Sabres have won a few games, but we've already seen a streak or two like this out of them. Even after getting 9 out of a possible 12 points, they haven't gained any ground on 8th place - they're still eight points back. The production from those four players is the type of production we should expect from them more consistently; those guys are four of our best offensive weapons, after all. And aren't all those players the guys we always complain about as being streaky? How long will this streak last before we're seeing more "Pominville hasn't scored in seven games" headlines?

Furthermore, the win streak comes against mostly Western Conference teams, teams the Sabres have performed well against in recent history, and with a schedule that allows for some rest in between showdowns. Once they get back to playing back-to-back games in the East they'll go right back to being a sub-.500 team. Finally, Roy's not the team's superstar - Ryan Miller is. As long as he's on the ice the Sabres don't fully qualify for Ewing Theory status under Simmons' rules.