No city in professional sports is more skilled at welcoming new coaches and GMs into their family than my hometown. In part, this is because Buffalonians are a highly hospitable people. You say your car is stuck in a blizzard and you have no way to get home? Come on in and warm up until the plows can clear the streets. Can I get you some coffee? A beer?
The ability to welcome strangers into our community may be injected into the bloodstream of Buffalonians at birth, but there is a sad and slightly disconcerting aspect to all the generosity we extend to Jason Botterill, Phil Housley, and all those who came before them. Sabres and Bills fans are not only a highly hospitable people, we are also a desperate tribe. A sweaty cloak of false bravado and oncoming despair covers us every time we enter an arena or stadium. In our hearts, we know it’s only a matter of time until “Let’s go Buffalo!” morphs into “Dear god, why are you torturing me?!!?”.
Only weeks into Botterill’s term as GM, Sabres fans are currently entrenched in “Let’s go Buffalo!” mode. There is a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel known as a playoff drought and that light’s name is “Botts”. Non-ironic exclamation points conclude every reader/listener comment related to the new hire: He was instrumental in hiring Sullivan! Matt Murray is sorry to see him go! He likes it when the farm team wins! He has an MBA!!!
We’re mere hours into Housley’s term as coach and many fans are still hyperventilating at the arrival of the Next Great Sabres Savior. Forget your non-ironic exclamation points, Housley’s arrival dictates that all communication be conducted in all caps. HE’S A HALL OF FAMER! HE COACHED THE STRONGEST DEFENSIVE GROUP IN THE NHL LAST YEAR! PK SUBBAN LOVES HIM! MAYBE HE CAN SAVE ZACH BOGOSIAN! (side note- anyone who believes the Bogosian thing is INSANE!)
This is the beautiful and complicated mess of a city that Botterill and the Bogo Whisperer are walking into. Welcome to Hockey Heaven, gentlemen, all of us have full faith that you’ll turn our team into a Stanley Cup contender again, and all of us secretly believe that there’s a good chance you’ll be fired within the next 36 months.
Look, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s Stanley Cup victory parade. I like what I’ve seen and heard from both Botterill and Housley so far and like every Sabres fan on the planet, I desperately want to see them succeed. The suggestion from here is simply to refrain from purchasing #6 throwback at the Sabres Store and see where we are in a week, a month, or a year down the road. We are, after all, talking about a guy who isn’t on Rob Ray’s Christmas card list. "I played with Phil Housley and he treated me like [crap] while he was here.” Ray said to The Buffalo News back in 2003, “He's someone, to this day, I still hate. He showed you no respect and pretended that he was 'the man' and never gave you a chance as a young guy to fit in. I have a problem with that guy."
If Buffalo sports history teaches us anything, it’s that it is wise to refrain from the use of exclamation points and all caps when discussing new coaches and GMs. I’m confident Rob Ray would agree that we should let both of these guys work a little before we reach any sweeping conclusions about their future value to the franchise. Maybe these new hires will be the next Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier, or maybe they’ll be the next Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier.
On matters related to Botterill, he’s about to accumulate a measurable body of work as a GM very quickly. It’s expected that the Sabres roster will look noticeably different in three weeks than it does right now. Will Botterill be able to find a top four defender or a scoring winger without giving up too much in return? Who will the Sabres select with the eighth pick in the entry draft? Will GM Botts find some way to answer my nightly prayers over the previous 11 months and unload Zach Bogosian and his onerous contract on the Las Vegas Knights?
As for Housley, his job performance starts to be evaluated when the team hits the ice in training camp. How will he handle the postgame press conference after one of his young players makes a stupid, critical mistake— especially if that young player’s name is Jack Eichel? Will the team play a system that’s fun for fans to watch and players to play? If the defense doesn’t show noticeable growth by midseason, how will Housley handle the criticism of media and fans?
Things are already very interesting here in Sabreland and they’re about to get even more interesting.
What do you think of the Housley/Botterill hires and the future direction of the team. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Follow Tim Hirschbeck on Twitter at @TimHirschbeck.