The Sabres and the Bills are getting ready to start up their respective seasons, and I thought it would be helpful to give a preview of each team in my own special way. My outlook on the Bills’ season may be a bit skewed because they have already looked terrible in one pre-season game and T.O. took his foot out of his big mouth long enough to stub his toe, thereby throwing doubt on to whether or not he will be able to contribute this season. But I really don’t think my opinion of the Bills would be any different back before any of that happened.
Ladies and gentlemen: Your Buffalo Bills, co-sponsored by the city of Toronto.
So, when it is all said and done, the Bills pretty much stole $10 million from Rogers Communication with that deal to move home games to the promised land of Toronto. I firmly believe that Ralph Wilson deserves his place in Canton. Without the efforts of Ralph and Lamar Hunt, the NFL may look totally different today, and the Bills would probably not be a part of it. But the whole Toronto thing was lame, and Ralph’s brutally honest assessment of our economy to the rest of the world was a slap in the face we just didn’t need.
That being said, the questions we are dealing with here are the prospects for the Bills’ 2009 season, and the prospects are bleak. There were some promising signs in the first pre-season game. Trent Edwards gave the impression that he may actually be able to manage an NFL game, and the linebackers looked like they might be able to contain the run. But any of that good stuff was completely overshadowed by the same problems that have plagued the Bills for years.
The offensive line cannot block, the secondary cannot cover and the defensive line can’t put pressure on the opposing quarterback or stop the run. Otherwise, the Bills are fine. Anyone who has disillusioned themselves into thinking that T.O. will propel the Bills to playoff status is ignoring the fact that one big mouth does not a team make.
The Bills are horrendous, and they are lead by a coach incapable of making competent decisions prior to, or during, a game. The best a Bills fan can hope for this season is to break even at 8-8 and miss the playoffs once again. What the Bills need is a competent general manager that knows how to construct a winning team and hire a real coach. Kinda like that Polian feller we had years ago.
And now, your Buffalo Sabres.
I will give the Sabres all the credit in the world for trying. Darcy Regier felt that the new NHL coming out of the lockout would be built on speed and speed alone. The clutching and grabbing would be gone, and the goons would be kept in check. It all worked masterfully until the playoffs, when it was revealed that the new NHL did not apply to the most important part of the season. A series of funky rule changes do not change the fact that hockey is a physical game dominated by fast and strong men with a talent for putting the puck in the net.
Unlike their Buffalo professional sports counterparts at 1 Bills Drive, the Sabres do manage to learn from their mistakes. It took a few years but the team is finally transitioning to the hard-nosed kind of team that wins playoff games. We have a world-class goalie in Ryan Miller signed for the next few years, and it looks like we will have Darcy and Lindy around for a while as well.
Darcy Regier is smarter than people give him credit for. This area is so desperate for a major professional sports champion that if there isn’t winning going on right now then the guys in charge feel the wrath of the fans. But Darcy understands that change takes time, and it looks like he is putting the final touches on another Sabre team that can compete.
This won’t be the year for the Sabres to make any real impact on the league. Trust me, I am as much of a die-hard Sabre fan as anyone, but the reality is that this is still a team in transition. There are still a couple of key parts missing like a back-up goalie we can count on, and toughness at the center position. There may need to be some changes made at defense as well. But there just may be enough there to build on. I can say with confidence that the Sabres’ potential for success in the next few seasons is significantly larger than the Bills.
George N. Root III is a Lockport resident. His columns appear every Wednesday. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.