There is a very obvious subtext to the Buffalo Sabres' 2014-15 campaign that all of us are aware of. Since the team is in a rebuild and this summer's draft features not one but two incredible prospects in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, winning was not something that Sabres fans were overly concerned about.
But openly cheering against the Sabres at First Niagara Center? That's weak (chicken wing) sauce, folks.
That was the awkward situation in Buffalo on Thursday night, as the Sabres took on the similarly inept Arizona Coyotes. When the Sabres lost in overtime on a Sam Gagner goal for the Coyotes, the Buffalo crowd cheered.
I know a healthy streak of cynicism runs through all sports and yes, if your team can't be good, they may as well be bad this season, but go nuts at home in front of the TV, where only your cat will judge you. Because I guarantee the actual players that wear the Sabres logo on their chest are still trying out there.
“It’s tough to get momentum when your fans are rooting against you,” defenseman Mike Weber told the Buffalo News. “That’s the unfortunate part. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don’t even know if disappointed is the word."
And yes, you can say that these guys are millionaires with the best jobs in the world and that they should just suck it up, but keep in mind they are also proud to represent the city they play in, a city only a handful of them are actually from. They visit terminally ill children in the hospital and put their bodies and minds on the line every night for the amusement of others. They don't want to be playing so poorly and it's not a source of pride for them that the mounting losses give the franchise a great shot at McDavid, as good as he will probably be as a pro.
Management has designed and contorted this squad for a long-term vision that makes sense and I don't fault GM Tim Murray for his moves, because it is smart to stockpile assets and rebuild right now. But the players and coaches don't need to be taunted by that fact.
There's even a case to be made that cheering against your own squad is horrible hockey mojo. Will the Gods look at this display and decide that perhaps Arizona – which sits 29th overall in the NHL right now – should win the draft lottery, sending McDavid to the desert, instead? Sure, the benefit of this season's tank battle is that Buffalo would still get Eichel, a phenomenal center in his own right, but there are already a lot of Sabres sweaters out there with McDavid and the No. 97 on the back.
I think Buffalo's a great hockey town. I love going to Chef's for a parmed meatball sandwich and I love the atmosphere at First Niagara when the crowd is bumping because it's organic. And I prefer when the fans are cheering for the Sabres, no matter how good a certain teenager may turn out to be as an NHLer. Because I know the fans also love Zemgus Girgensons and Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta – and those guys don't want to be reminded of how often they've lost this year.