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Capped Success

by on May 7, 2013

The best way for a small-market team to compete is to make its market large. Every plea for corporate socialism by billionaire sports owners is made with the implication that success means dragging down those who are already successful. Take Buffalo, which was once a rather economically robust city with a population to match. Permanent decline isn’t inevitable, except for any team whose roster is amassed by increasingly middling general manager Darcy Regier.

But there will be no upswings as long as they choose to carry sandbags. Just like New York State’s attempt to tax citizens into prosperity has somehow not paid off, the Sabres seem intent on rewarding failure. If Terry Pegula ran his hockey team like he did his energy acquisition concern, he’d have generated as much as much energy as a solar-powered watch. The outage was most obviously seen in the wake-like atmosphere in the arena this season in a building that should be overwhelmingly electric.

The ruling billionaire and skating millionaires he employs should all be ashamed that the postseason press conference was the most entertaining portion of the season. Thank juvenile reporters who can’t differentiate between being critical and confrontational. Buffalo News staffers acting like indignant jerks was the most unsurprising development since Drew Stafford’s unwillingness to sweat. The news and opinion sections at the legendarily unfortunate rag are just as awful as the sports page in journalism’s worst drive for consistency.

But the childish jousting distracted from the real issue, namely an exasperating hockey side asking fans to pay more to reward failure. Count on local print media to make the city’s professional hockey executives look less like putzes by comparison.

The only thing that has gotten less satisfying results than the Sabres has been the league in which it plays. The salary cap was supposed to make teams with small natural fan bases competitive in an affordable manner; instead, it’s helped made the team in question uncompetitive at great expense, which is especially cruel to fans who wish they could cash in promises.

Most outrageously, Sabres management claims they have to milk fans for even more in order to qualify for the benefits of revenue sharing. They just don’t get enough of a share of income from attendees: the league mandates teams like the Rangers share what they’ve earned in what doesn’t quite reflect the true spirit of sports.

Perhaps a penalty for managing to be financially successful is the Manhattan franchise’s penance for actually benefiting from salary limitations that keep it from issuing ridiculous contracts to relatively underachieving players who then became impossible to trade. The Rangers horrifyingly benefit from the cap, unlike the team at the state’s other corner.

But at least the Sabres will rack up Cups once the salary cap kicks in one of these seasons. In fact, the team has declined under conditions that allegedly level the playing field.

The club’s most infamously memorable moment of the ceiling era was losing co-captains Chris Drury and Danny Briere on the same day to the small markets of, respectively, um, New York City and Philadelphia. The team somehow forgot to replace the duo, although in their defense it’s only been six years. Rebuilds don’t happen overnight, ingrates.

The Sabres are seemingly attempting to provide a comparison for Buffalonians who want an obvious metaphor for the area’s unfulfilled promise. Residents who are also hockey fans must be doubly punished for their optimism.

The only thing more depressing than missing the playoffs seven of the last 11 seasons is how many times GM-for-life Regier used the word “suffering” to classify the immediate future. Rebuilding implies that there’s a worthwhile structure being replaced. Instead of reassembling the debris of a ruined castle, the Sabres have grand plans for reconstituting the dirt pile.

Everyone cheering for the Sabres long asked for an owner who was a billionaire fan willing to spend, and we don’t know how else to phrase the wish. Costs are up while results are down in what’s as perverse as Tyler Myers suddenly playing as gawkily as one would assume he would upon first glance.

Parity is only an admirable result if it’s earned, not handed to lowly teams through Harrison Bergeroning the game. With the cap in place, the franchise has no excuse for shamelessly demanding more from fans who only deserve to be ripped off by owning shirts whose lists of championships is obsolete. The league dragged down the affluent without benefiting the indigent. It’s almost as a neatly perverse trick as Darcy keeping his job.

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