“Pathei-mathos”, once said the Greek father of tragedy, Aeschylus. πάθει μάθος, as it reads in the ancient Greek, is translated loosely to “through suffering comes learning”. Suffering. There it is. The word muttered by Darcy Regier back in 2013 that has turned the former Buffalo Sabres general manager into somewhat of a prophet. There certainly has been plenty of suffering, so when comes the learning?
Allow me to illustrate what is contributing to the agony. The team’s play, to initiate, has been lackluster. The already-condensed front office and hockey operations departments have lacked continuity. The team’s arena is outdated, and the game-day atmosphere is a yawn. Fan giveaways seem cheap and thoughtless and, in the latest edition of anguish, the team’s 50th year seems to have become more of a folly than a celebration.
The whole thing seems as though it is an afterthought, and, quite honestly, it is. When your NHL franchise’s owners also own the big-ticket, an NFL team, it is an inevitable foregone conclusion to become second-rate in their minds. However, that does not excuse the Pegulas for letting the franchise become second-rate in its own league.
So where does the learning come in? Listen to local radio callers, open twitter, or strike up a conversation about the Buffalo hockey team at your nearest Western New York watering hole. The true sufferers have learned. It’s time for the organization to catch up.
Have the players suffered? A bit, surely, as poor team performance isn’t easy to swallow. Yet it is their job. They get paid to show up each day. Same goes for the coaching staff, the general manager, and the rest of the organization. They aren’t the real sufferers. The true pain has been constantly jolted into fans, day after day, for nearly seven years since Darcy became clairvoyant.
Will the team’s play ever pick up? Perhaps, but they are currently 10 points out of a playoff spot. Playoff races, let alone a spot in the dance, have been absent since the last lockout.
Jason Botterill has made some good decisions, but has displayed plenty of flaws. Ralph Krueger’s done well in some areas, and has been a punching-bag in others. Feel free to substitute those names also with Phil Housley, Tim Murray, Dan Bylsma, and Ted Nolan. It’s a revolving door.
With the wheels spinning on ice, you’d think the team would look to the rest of the league in order to steer the ship on the right track. However, in a time where teams are bulking-up their brain-trust around their general manager, the Pegulas have left theirs on an island. There hasn’t been an experienced “President of Hockey Operations” to guide first-time GMs Botterill and Murray, even if you count Pat Lafontaine’s infamous wash up on shore. Not even at least a special advisor to serve as a mentor and provide input and, on top of that, the analytics department consists of a whopping total of one person. Most importantly, not one person to recognize what the fans have learned, which is these league trends.
Even putting hockey operations aside, the Sabres’ last two people named President of the team, Russ Brandon and current President Kim Pegula, have held the same title at the same time with the Buffalo Bills. So not only did they lack extensive NHL experience and knowledge, but also had a bigger focus in another league. Deny all you want about the Sabres being postscript, but it is clearly obvious that the team does not get the full attention it deserves. How is that fair to the fans?
What happened to “Hockey Heaven”? Well, its not at KeyBank Center. For a guy vowing to exploit every resource, one can sure wish Terry Pegula will go drill another oil well for some arena renovations. Some new seats in the lower bowl doesn’t seem like much to ask, considering.
Places like Nashville and Vegas provide a unique and attractive game-day experience, and in Buffalo you can hear a guy whistling for a penalty while DJ Milk is encouraging the same kid to floss on the videoboard for the fifth consecutive commercial break. Every game is the same, and the team on the ice certainly isn’t providing the desired entertainment value. Again, the fans have learned this.
Even what has potential to be a cool, unique moment for fans has fell very flat. Fan appreciation giveaways consisting of tuxedo koozies and cheap sunglasses are unlikely to sit on display at home. A year that seemed promising to be a ride of nostalgia, instead has become more like bumper cars. Not only was 90s night cast an immediate shadow by their big brother’s playoff game, but the day faltered in fulfilling fans’ desires. Black and red jerseys were not donned by the players for reasons unexplicable, and the ones worn by alumni were knockoffs I could’ve purchased for $20 from an overseas distributor.
Even alumni handed the classic blue and gold jerseys had their names spelled wrong on them. This list included Mike Robitaille, a former Sabres employee, and Dave Andreychuk, the NHL’s all-time leader in power-play goals. If fans noticed, surely the alumni took note as well. So how didn’t the organization see what we all did?
And yet, the fans crave a turnaround. The gates are flush at home games for a lukewarm team, and visiting venues host plenty of blue and gold apparel wearers. Cheers and standing applause arise during “Let Me Clear My Throat”, even though the song represents some of the worst records in team history. Daily arguments occur amongst the faithful on how to improve a team that should’ve lost significantly more engagement than it has, and monetary investment in the team continues despite rising prices. There’s support despite the dwindling hope, and because of that, the Pegulas may never truly experience the suffering that the fans have.
Pathei-mathos. Through suffering comes learning. The fans have suffered, and in doing so have learned what is desired. So how can the Sabres organization get on the same page as its fanbase? As 21st century forecaster Darcy Regier once said, “it may require some suffering”.