BUFFALO, N.Y. – As if the worst start in franchise history isn’t bad enough, Buffalo Sabres President Ted Black braced his team’s win-starved fans for potentially more tough times.
That’s the message Black issued Thursday during his weekly show on WGR-AM, by emphasizing the Sabres’ intention to stay the course in developing their prospects this season.
“When we’re in a transition year like this, it is going to be difficult. It’s going to be difficult to stomach the short run,” Black said. “The fans that follow this team, they signed up for this team, they signed up for a rough road.”
Rough as it has been so far, Black isn’t shying from the frustration and criticism directed at management.
“I’m not going to go anywhere and hide under a bed and wish I didn’t have to do this or that,” he said. “I’m going to do my damndest to turn this thing around.”
The Sabres are essentially at Square 1 after making the decision last season to overhaul an aging, high-priced roster.
At 1-9-1, Buffalo has surpassed its worst start to a season, previously a 1-7-1 start in 1993-94. They Sabres can’t score, having managed two or more goals just four times. They’ve yet to score first, and have been outscored by a combined 14-1 in the first period.
And Buffalo can’t even manage to get a lead. The team’s one win came in a 4-3 shootout over the New York Islanders on Oct. 15, in a game Buffalo never led in regulation.
Otherwise, the Sabres have held a lead once, in a 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay, for a combined total of 9:35 of ice-time, which is by far the shortest span of any NHL team this season, according to STATS LLC. The Florida Panthers (3-6-1) are next, having held a lead for a combined total of 58:53.
Add it up, and these are among the reasons the Sabres have been routinely booed off the ice by a once-loyal fan-base that’s grown increasingly frustrated. Chants of “Fire Darcy!” directed at general manager Darcy Regier, have become familiar during home games, where Buffalo is 0-6-1 following a 5-2 loss to Boston on Wednesday night.
“No one in here is proud of our record or proud of what we’ve accomplished this season or haven’t accomplished this season,” co-captain Steve Ott said. “We knew the transition was going to be coming on. Obviously, it’s hit us to start, and it’s hit us hard.”
This essentially amounts to the “suffering” Regier cautioned Sabres fans might be in store last spring in outlining his strategy to rebuild from the ground up.
The Sabres’ lineup features six rookies. And they are the first NHL team since 1995-96 to play at least four teenagers.
The roster could get even younger. The team hasn’t ruled out trading its two most marketable stars—goalie Ryan Miller and leading scorer Thomas Vanek. Both are in the final year of their contracts, and it’s unclear whether they fit in the team’s long-range plans or are interested in staying.
Vanek has already indicated he has no interest enduring a long-term rebuilding project. He suggested it might be better off for the Sabres to deal him to get draft picks or prospects in return as they did last season by trading three veterans, including captain Jason Pominville.
Vanek acknowledged Thursday this season has been the lowest point of his nine-year NHL career in Buffalo.
“I knew going into this year that this is what we were doing, and this is what we were going to have,” Vanek said. “It is frustrating? Is it fun to go home each and every night? No. It’s not, because you want to win. But at the same time, you’ve got to be realistic.”
The reality is that the Sabres could very well end up with the NHL’s worst record.
And that, according to Black, might not be a bad thing in the long run.
Black reflected to his days in Pittsburgh, when the Penguins struggled through several woeful seasons. In bottoming out, the Penguins stockpiled several high draft picks, lucked out in winning the Sidney Crosby draft lottery, which helped transform them into Stanley Cup contenders.
“For us to get back to where we want to be, and that’s building a championship, it’s going to come through the draft,” Black said. “We’re going to get through this. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get there, but we are going to get there.”