Putting Down Roots

A Review of Sabres Embedded Episode 7

On Wednesday, March 16th the Buffalo Sabres YouTube channel released the latest installment of its “Sabres Embedded” series. The Buffalo Bills football team has a similar recurring video series that was produced by the same group within the two local organizations who share ownership.

This writer must humbly submit to you the opinion that the Sabres version of the show has delivered considerably more engaging, entertaining content in recent years. I thought I’d review this most recent installment and compare it against past videos like the October 2020 episode about the Taylor Hall acquisition or the *chefs kiss* that is last September’s behind-the-scenes on the draft which saw the Sam Reinhart trade rend hearts.

There is an artistry to composing these videos. They’re normally only 10-20 minutes long so you’re really compiling a series of moments into something that is bigger and more effectual than a mere montage but nothing that is so insightful its going to make a certain couple shutter on the superyacht. Above all the front office approves these so there has to be at least a gentle infusion of team propaganda to get it off the ground. If you can get two or three moments that illustrate a snapshot in time for the organization you really knock it out the park. When you don’t have big moments all you can really do is hit us in the feels, and a diverse array of feels if you are so skilled.

Putting Down Roots, Episode Seven of Sabres Embedded, did just that. The introduction is real red-meat team comradery playing hackey-sack in the bowels of Key Bank Center before looking ahead to a trip to the Curling Center later in the video. You get Tage Thompson talking about how close the team is in a way that would seem pointed at a certain former player if it didn’t seem so sincere. Thompson seems to be the focal point of this video as we’re taken to his condo where we meet his wife and dog (the dog even has its own Instagram). This video is clearly going the feels route early in our first Sabres Embedded interaction with Peyton Krebs when we discover the new Sabre is bashful in front of the camera. We discover Thompson’s longtime partner had a battle with cancer that gave him a newfound perspective on life. From the personal to the professional the framing is brilliant when we shift to his move to center which has seen his production unexpectedly explode this season.

As we get plenty of in-game audio and subtle team propaganda interspersed with warm moments between Thompson and Krebs the latter delivers what is certainly the quote of the episode: “Just because I got traded for Jack Eichel doesn’t mean I’m not Peyton Krebs still.” This is the human side of the business that is hockey and its what the Embedded series does well when its not recording quotes from the owner that will come back to haunt them within six months. We also discover Tage Thompson will soon be welcoming his first child before spending the back half of the video at the Curling Center. Finally we conclude on a Thompson family dog-walk mixed with more game highlights as the resurgent center says him and his wife want to put down roots in Buffalo.

Before comparing this episode with others its important to note a few subtle details. Alex Tuch is off in the background and in a few game highlights. I heard from other Sabres fans that the lack of Kyle Okposo left something to be desired considering how he could roast the young guns in a funny way. Though its funny when early-on we discover Tage Thompson likes buying NFTs the roast is brief before we start getting our heart strings played like a string instrument. One not-too-much-older player who gets a couple of speaking parts is Jeff Skinner, particularly in the Curling Center. Most all of these trained hockey players all struggle with another ice-bound sport there which is played for laughs.

There is something intangible I can’t quite put my finger on with Jeff Skinner whenever we get behind-the-scenes content on him. Jeff Skinner rides a couple lines in this sport we hockey people don’t yet have all the best words to describe. He’s a pretty skater, proud of his figure-skating experience, and a big smiling, all positive kinda guy in every public comment or story ever published about him. Normally guys with that kind of salary number hanging over their head tend to be the epicenter of controversy and media consternation. Have you ever heard a negative thing about Jeff Skinner the guy? From anyone? Ever? In a league that helped bankroll a show called “Hockey Culture” to rehabilitate its image in a time when its facing down the reckonings of racism and an array of other abuses and coverups it’s refreshing to have someone wearing your laundry that both understands the changes needed in “Hockey Culture” and puts his best foot forward in his personal disposition.

For fear of saying too much on a guy who didn’t feature prominently in this video I’ll leave the Jeff Skinner talk at this: the man has immaculate vibes, I just don’t know how else to put it. When he picked Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” as his goal song it was so simultaneously predictable and cute that even the old grumps got a kick out of it. In other words: Jeff Skinner unites Sabres fans in a way few players have in the drought era. When he’s scoring he’s the full package. Jeff Skinner tangent over.

Regular viewers of Sabres Embedded will remember the sympathetic returned calls of Sam Reinhart after he was traded last year two videos ago. As heartbreaking as that moment was that episode can only be as high as second to the second-ever Sabres Embedded in any ranking of these seven episodes so far. That video almost exclusively covered the trade that brought Taylor Hall to Buffalo. In that episode we hear through a closed door Owner Terry Pegula tell General Manager Kevyn Adams that getting Taylor Hall would mean they’re not only going for the playoffs but “…we’re trying to win the Cup.” In retrospect the quote is so wildly off-base that you almost feel bad for Terry before you remember some of his other quotes in recent years.

Trying to rank these videos almost demands two separate tiered categories even though we have so few as of the writing of this article. One category would be event videos where either a Draft or a Free Agency period is covered in some detail with a focus on the Front Office. The other category would be character videos like this one focusing on one or more players in the pursuit of really tugging at your team pride and compassion for these human beings. The prior series “Beyond Blue & Gold” which ran for several years before the Embedded series was more focused on the latter category of character profiles. In both cases I am more interested in the stuff that builds team lore and as cute and moving as the character profiles can be it’s the Front Office-focused episodes that have really left their mark in this Embedded series.

I am going to rank the seven episodes of Sabres Embedded so far as such:

1.    Taylor Hall (Ep. 2)

2.    Draft 2021 and Sam Reinhart (Ep. 5)

3.    Draft 2020 (Ep. 3)

4.    Draft Lottery 2020 (Ep. 1)

5.    Dylan Cozens Rookie Season (Ep. 4)

6.    Thompson and Krebs (Ep. 7)

7.    Don Granato (Ep. 6)

When you look at the content of the Sabres Embedded series so far it shows what a turbulent couple years its been for the club. Naturally a more competitive team in the standings will merit more interesting behind-the-scenes pieces. That said, if this core and the young players coming into are to be the group that finally pulls the Sabres back to league-wide relevance then we will look back at this series, when it began, and think how serendipitously it kicked off a new era. With so many organizational false starts and failures in the last decade that would be a refreshing outcome for this young video series.