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O Captain My Captain

An issue that has been topmost in the mind of Buffalo Sabres fans is the lack of leadership in the locker room in recent years. Ever since the double loss of Chris Drury and Danny Briere, there appears to be a growing vacuum where a proven leader is needed on the team. While the captain of the team has the responsibility of being the public voice of the team, leadership is an inherent quality in human beings, and does not need a letter on the front of the jersey to be displayed. How many of the current issues plaguing the Sabres are stemming from a lack of leadership?

Read on after the break, there are lots of questions that need to be answered.

A big problem the Sabres have had is holding a lead. Whether they’re up by one goal or three, no lead has been unsurmountable for Sabres opponents. In the same vein, once the Sabres fall behind, they have often been incapable of coming back to tie the game. They simply do not show the mental strength as a team to keep their focus and get the job done. The ‘core’ of the squad have been playing together for quite a few years now, playing in Rochester and eventually making their way up to Buffalo. At this point the expectation is that the players from that group are familiar enough with each other and are able to motivate each other, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Paul Hamilton of local radio station WGR 550 asked a very relevant question in a recent article – are the Sabres holding each other accountable? Is that the job of the captain, or the leaders on the team, or should we expect that every single member of the team be able to ask the tough questions of each other? We have seen coach Lindy Ruff take a hands-off approach when the question of leadership has come up, letting the players talk things out among themselves. Remember, this is not a Timbits Minors team; most of the players are grown adults, and should know why they are here in the NHL and what they are getting paid for. New captain Jason Pominville prefers to not vocalize his thoughts and attempts to lead by example, but is that enough?

The European trip at the beginning of the season was supposed to work as a team-building venture, where the players came closer together and bonded to form a solid group. After visiting the veterans’ hospital in Germany many players observed that they felt humbled and inspired. Has the mojo gained on the trip started dissipating already? Are the players tuning out the coach and the leaders in the locker room? Are the cushy confines of the shiny new locker room clouding all the inspirational quotes and messages emblazoned all over the walls?

Leaders on a team work like the glue that hold the whole unit together. Some of the characteristics of superior leaders include: knowledge of the mission, a defined vision, ability and competency, communication skills, an ability to inspire, desire and ambition, and a strong work ethic. Do you feel that there are players on the Sabres that possess these qualities? If the team is losing its cohesion this early in the season, do they really have the willpower to overcome the trials and tribulations that come with a long playoff run?

Team president Ted Black in a recent interview said “We are going to win a Stanley Cup. It may not happen this year. It may very well happen this year. But we’re going to do it or die trying.” Maybe this statement needs to go up on the wall of the locker room too, and players not buying in need to start packing their bags and moving elsewhere.

Talking Points