Archive for February, 2011

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What’s Next?

February 24, 2011

- If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I am a fan of The West Wing. One of Josiah Bartlet’s favorite things to ask on the show is “what’s next?” Terry Pegula answered that question for us on Tuesday: what’s next is winning a Stanley Cup. Before that (or to aid in that), the immediate “what’s next?” is to attract players to Buffalo. We all know that players fall in love with Buffalo once they get here, it’s the getting them here that’s been the hard part. Gossip about how previous management treated the players ran rampant throughout the league, and no matter how much current players talked up the organization, players were reluctant to come here. I have a feeling that Pegula’s true enthusiasm for the team, the sport and the city is going to shine through and that we may be seeing free agents start wanting to come here during free agent season.

- I said on Twitter last night that Pegula must be feeling like a kid in a candy store. He’s met his hero Perreault, was surprised at center ice by the French Connection, and had an entire arena full of fans chanting his name. Where else can you go from there?

- According to Thomas Vanek’s official blog, Pegula is throwing a party at the arena for not only the Sabres players & staffers, but also their families. I really do think that is a nice touch, as the families are just as important as the players themselves. And if you continue reading Vanek’s blog, it seems that his mini backyard rink is the site of quite the ruckus when Leopold & Lalime bring their kids over. I really like hearing warm and fuzzy anecdotes like this one, as it stresses how close some of them are off the ice. We rarely hear stories like this from the media because warm and fuzzy generally doesn’t sell papers or gross ratings points. I’m not saying I want an entire sports report or sports section full of warm and fuzzy, but the occasional bit would be nice. And can someone tell me how the Sabres can have a no-Twitter policy, but yet Vanek can still blog? A blog is still social media. Just saying…

- The decision to waive Rivet was shocking on one hand because he’s the team captain, but yet not shocking because the guy has had his rear permanently glued to a seat in the press box for a good chunk of this season. It’s going to be fascinating to see whether another team picks him up on the re-entry wire, or whether he just fades back into the press box for the remainder of the season if Darcy can’t pull a trade out of his hat.

- I’m decidedly not a fan of Pegula calling out local sportswriters for being tough on players. By their play – or lack thereof – players help sportswriters make the case that they are soft, fragile, clumsy, lazy and whatever other adjective has been used to describe some players lately. Writers write what they see. They aren’t paid to be the team’s spin doctors (that’s what PR guys are for*). Sports writers are meant to be objective news reporters, or in the case of commentary, present their arguments in a logical and hopefully fair manner. It’s not the owner’s job to plead the case for his players. The players should be able to handle a little criticism from the media. They’re professional athletes and grown ups. They shouldn’t be running to PR/management every time the media has a negative thing to say about them.

*I know PR isn’t spin. Put your rotten tomatoes down.

That’s not to say that the media is blameless in its somewhat contentious relationship with the team. There are times that issues have been hashed and rehashed until they’ve just turned into a talking point that seems to be included because it’s expected. I think that both sides need to move on and just start with a fresh slate now that there’s a new man in town. What’s in the past is in the past. Move on.

- Finally, and this is completely not hockey related, I watched the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery before I left the office today. There’s always something exciting and awesome about a space shuttle launch. I mean, it’s 6 very brave men and women sitting on top of a rocket getting hurtled into the great unknown. There’s a lot that can go wrong (and has).  The fact that the shuttle program is winding down and there is no viable replacement in sight makes me kind of sad for what this current generation of kids is going to miss. My parents, as most baby boomers, grew up in the midst of the Cold War and the space race. As kids, they lived through JFK promising a moon landing and the growth of the Apollo program. They encouraged their kids – my peers – to study math and science so that they could be astronauts some day. Game shows targeted to kids regularly gave away trips to space camp. The way things are going, my generation is going to be the last one to grow up with space travel as a “regular” thing. What’s next after there’s no shuttle to hurtle people into outer space? Do we not strive for the moon or further exploration because there’s budget difficulties and cuts have to be made somewhere? Who knows. I feel like this scene from the West Wing encapsulates why space is still so important:

What’s next, indeed.

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A New System, Volume 2

February 19, 2011

Note: if the Sabres aren’t going to put in the effort on the ice, I’m not going to put in the effort to discuss their lack of effort. See how that works? Blogging’s fun, right?

Anyway, the news that the Sabres hired Ted Black to be Larry Quinn, 2.0, got me wondering about potential changes that could be coming for the Sabres. I’m not going to speculate on the hockey related changes, since right now I’d like to send most of the team on an all expenses paid trip to a gulag in Siberia; so I’m going to talk today about the changes I’d like to see off the ice.

Black has a background in television, so let’s start there in discussing how things could be improved. First, drop the asinine arrangement that exists with MSG for road games against the Devils, Islanders and Rangers. If K-Syl and a camera crew can schlep over hill and over dale to cover the rest of the team’s away games, then there is no reason why they can’t cover games in New York and New Jersey. So what if the home team already has MSG cameras there? The Sabres should not be the redheaded stepchild of the MSG broadcast empire. In addition, K-Syl needs to have someone on the road with him to interact with. He’s perfectly cromulent as a solo host, but really shines when he has someone to banter with and respond to. And for the love of everything holy, give the man a box to stand on when interviewing certain players!

Continuing on with TV improvements, whatever happened to those intermission features talking about the players, their charity work, their odd or interesting hobbies? We used to see at least 3-4 minutes of feature during each intermission. Now, it’s 3-4 minutes of The Whip with a brief recap of game action interrupted by commercials. We know the players have personality and charisma in spades and are active in the community. Why is the team not taking advantage of these things? Was it because of poor reception to the Sabres lifestyle show hosted by Maria Genero a couple years ago? Selling the players as something other than soulless automatons spouting the latest party line helps sell interest in the games. Selling interest in the games allows for more viewers on TV and potentially more butts in the arena seats.

Golisano’s attempts to keep the team within a specific budget level affected the TV side of things. Fortunately, the changes that need to be made are minor and things are easily fixable.

Moving on, the team needs to expand its communcation efforts, specifically on the social media side of things. I’m not saying the team needs to go all New Jersey Devils on us, but there are some subtle improvements that can be made. Let’s start with Twitter. The team has a loyal fanbase on Twitter that shares news, discusses the game and even offers witty commentary. We know that the Sabres organization and Sabretooth have their own Twitter accounts. One of the PR guys has a Twitter account. Pegula’s daughters have Twitter accounts. For the love of Lindy Ruff, let the players have personal Twitter accounts! Look at Mr. BizNasty out in Phoenix. Sure, he put his foot in it on occasion, but he is overseen by a PR department member and yet still manages to let his true persona shine through. I think he and the other NHL players out on Twitter have shown that you can interact with fans and show them a slice of life in the NHL without the world coming to an end. The team can establish a Twitter code of conduct covering things like trades, locker room discord, picking up puckbunnies, discussing late night antics, etc. These are grown ass men, for pete’s sake. I think the Sabres would be surprised at how much response the player’s would receive. (Of course, that does require that the fans cooperate and not act like pompous, know-it-all arseholes towards those players that do engage on Twitter.)

Along a similar line, the team needs to work on expanding communication efforts to prompty announce transactions. Don’t rely on print journalists, radio hosts, 6 bloggers and East Side Eddy to do it for you. Lift the cone of silence once and a while. You’d be surprised at how much the fans and the media will appreciate it.

I’ve saved what might be the simplest improvement for last. We know that a serviceman/woman attends a home game for free through Butler’s Tickets for Troops program. The recipient is announced and acknowledged by the crowd at the rink.  How about making it a regular announcement so that the folks at home know about it as well?

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A New, Upgraded System

February 13, 2011

We here at Shots Off the Crossbar are big fans of The System. However, it is about time that Lindy Ruff slightly adjust The System. I’m not saying that The System should be completely thrown out the window, but that The System should be upgraded.

Upgrade #1: Ryan Miller needs rest desperately. He shall be relegated to his apartment with a 100% full DVR, a laptop, a full refrigerator and Patrick Lalime to order takeout. His only role during this time is to sleep, watch TV and get some rest. He may not leave the apartment until the DVR is completely empty. If he tries to leave the apartment before the appointed time, he shall be met by several bloggers with their keyboards of fury at the ready, at which point he will be so intimidated and have no choice but to return to the apartment and finish watching TV and resting.

Upgrade #2: While Miller undergoes the Seven Days of Sloth portion of the upgrade, Patrick Lalime will be quietly stripped of any goaltending responsibilities and Jonas Enroth will  be called up from Portland. Lalime will serve as a goalie of affairs for Miller and Enroth, attending to equipment and morale.

Upgrade #3: Drew Stafford shall be cloned and the Stafford clone shall start wearing #55 sweaters and assuming Hecht’s place in the lineup.

Upgrade #4: Tim Connolly should be sent to a farm upstate where he can live out the rest of his days in scholarly pursuits.

Upgrade #5: Jason Pominville will change his pregame Timmy Ho’s muffin order to a banana nut instead of a berry. The added fiber will lead to regularity, which will hopefully translate to on-ice regularity.

Upgrade #6: Patrick Kaleta will calm the heck down and stop looking for trouble and let trouble find him. To ensure this will happen, Kaleta will be fitted with a goofy buzzer inside his helmet that is remote controlled from the bench. When Kaleta is wandering dangerously close to the trouble line, Patrick will zap him before he steps over the line and does anything detrimental to the team.

What other System Upgrades would you recommend?

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Notes and Thoughts

February 5, 2011

I know, I know, I haven’t written a lot around here lately. I’ve been alternately sleepy & grumpy when I’ve come home from the office, and there are times I feel like I’ve said all I have to say during the day on Twitter. But then, a big news week happens and you just feel the need to blog.

- Thursday’s press conference was quite entertaining once I got the sound on my work computer figured out. The bittercakes expressed by Golisano and Quinn were off the charts. I can understand how they might be frustrated with the fans and media, since public opinion of them changed so radically after The Day that Hockey Died Drury & Briere left town. Up until that point, they were still operating under the perception that they were seen as the saviors of hockey in Buffalo and could do no wrong. Once Briere & Drury changed sweaters, the fans saw Golisano and Quinn for what they really were: shrewd businessmen focused on the bottom line, who may have been hockey fans on their down time. It might be a horrible reality check, but it happened. We – both fans and Golisano/Quinn – just need to move on. And hopefully, Pegula moving into the owner’s suite will all allow us to do so.

- I know injuries are never funny, but only Rick DiPietro could manage to injure his knee while getting punched in the face.

- Did anyone else notice the comedic awkwardness of Gaustad’s postgame interview last night? First, K-Syl needs to have a box or a stool to stand on when interviewing the really tall guys. It would make the shot look so much better. Second, Goose’s high beams were quite obvious in the neutral colored UnderArmour shirt he was wearing. It made for an awkward camera positioning, as the camera guy was trying to avoid the high beams and yet keep Goose and K-Syl in the shot, which was made all the more difficult due to K-Syl and Goose being on two different height planes! It’s a vicious cycle, and I don’t blame K-Syl for being short (lord knows, I live in heels to compensate for my lack of height), but when the interviewer is “yay high”, and the players are “yay-yay high”, there has to be a way to level the playing field.

- I enjoyed seeing Gaustad/Grier/Niedermayer as the dominant scoring line last night. These guys have all kind of faded into the woodwork from time to time , so seeing them step up and lead the team was a nice change of pace. Now if only the Sabres can get their muckers and grinders firing at the same time as their top lines. Then they might be a dangerous team.

- I can attest that there are plenty of Toronto & other Canadian residents in town for tonight’s game. They were all over the Galleria mall earlier today. They way they were carrying on at Lord & Taylor, you would have thought they had never seen shoes on sale before, LOL.

- Conan O’Brien has come up with what may quite possibly be the most adorably disturbing concept ever: the Lingerie Puppy Bowl.

- The pre-game spiel contained the title of “Leafblower” in regards to Ryan Miller. For the love of everything holy,why does no one run these things past a 12-year-old to avoid any innuendo or awkwardness? Why not call him “The Rake?” Oh wait, that might be awkward too. (See: here.)

- K-Syl dissed canned spaghetti during the first intermission break. I know what he meant, but there is nothing wrong with the occasional can of Spaghetti-O’s. Nothing wrong at all.

- I’m never, ever one to criticize ads (stop laughing!), but I’m confused as to why Ellen Pompeo was chosen as the spokeswoman for the Huggies/NHL PSA.? Google tells me she’s a member of their “Diaper for Every Bottom” campaign, but why not choose a “real” hockey mom? You could really have some fun with it. Imagine Mama Crunchy or Mama Niedermayer or Mama Staal giving that speech. It would add an aura of realism to the commercial. And I’m not saying this just because it’s a good idea, but also because I can’t look at Ellen Pompeo and not see Meredith Grey. The idea behind the PSA is a good one, it’s the talent I’m having a problem with.

- Goose’s goal tonight was scored off a nifty drop pass from Grier. This is the second consecutive game where the Goose/Grier/Niedermayer line has been one of the best for the Sabres.

- I may be one of the few people out there who doesn’t “get” Tumblr. I don’t mean to be all fuddy-duddy-ish, but I’ve never found it very user/reader/audience friendly.

- I know a lot of people mentioned it on Twitter, but it takes a real tough hockey player to pick fights with and target the littlest guys on the ice. The Leafs were especially guilty of it tonight, going after Gerbe, Ennis & Byron. The only problem with that strategy is that these guys have fire and will fight back if provoked hard enough.

- I’m sorry, but Rob Niedermayer giving Rob Ray a love tap with his stick during the third period was funny. I know Ray was kvetching about it messing up his suit, but it’s still fun to see the guys on the ice interacting and having fun with the broadcasters.

- Speaking of fun times, RJ informed us during the game that the upcoming Florida roadtrip is the Sabres annual trip with their fathers. Altogether now, awwww. I love that NHL teams promote these family bonding moments.

- I know it’s the Leafs, and the Leafs haven’t won in Buffalo in dogs years, but a win is a win. I will take the two points and go about my business.

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