While Buffalo Sabres fans continue to complain that interim head coach Ted Nolan has not turned the worst team in the league into a Stanley Cup contender in just two months, a more grounded sense of reality is being utilized at the executive offices of the First Niagara Center. Even though Pat LaFontaine has not announced a new general manager for the team, someone is still putting together deals that are bringing new faces to the Sabres’ roster.
Linus Omark was brought into the organization in the middle of December to see if perhaps his potential could be fulfilled in Buffalo. Omark spent two seasons with the Edmonton Oilers and the winger showed a great deal of promise as a playmaker. But in five games with Buffalo, Omark has yet to log a point and there is already talk of cutting him. The team could opt to send Omark to its AHL affiliate in Rochester, but the Sabres already have plenty of prospects to look at with the Americans. The last thing the Sabres want is more prospects.
On Thursday Jan. 2, the Sabres were embarrassed by the Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-1. There is a good chance that Zenon Konopka, who was a center for the Wild at the time of the game, was watching the game thinking that he was glad he did not play for Buffalo. By the afternoon of Friday Jan. 3, 2014, Konopka had been placed on waivers by Minnesota and picked up by the Sabres.
Konopka is no spring chicken as he just turned 33 years old yesterday. He has played 323 games in the NHL, scored 12 goals, put up 17 assists and has had 1,049 penalty minutes. The Buffalo fans gave a collective groan when the news of Konopka was announced over social media at the thought of another “goon” joining the team. But what Buffalo fans have to realize is that it costs the Sabres almost nothing to look a guy like Konopka over. His salary is cheap and the Sabres can waive him if they do not want him.
Konopka is an entrepreneur who owns his own business and he is a very smart man. He also holds one of the highest face-off winning percentages among active players in the league right now. He is a guy that likes to get involved with charities. He should remind Sabres fans of an old fan favorite named Rob Ray. He is worth at least a look.
On a championship hockey team, each player has a role. When Nolan first started to work with John Muckler to put together the Sabres’ roster in 1996, Nolan had a role for each player in mind. Muckler quickly filled those roles and the Sabres found success as the hardest working team in hockey.
Former Sabres general manager Darcy Regier took the same approach and put together a team that challenged for the Stanley Cup in 2005. But injuries caused that team to fall short of its championship goal. When B. Thomas Golisano bought the Sabres, he closed the team’s wallet and Regier was unable to continue his work. When Terry Pegula bought the team, Regier was given an unlimited budget to build a champion, but he had lost his touch and the Sabres faltered.
While the Sabres wait to see who the next general manager will be, the team will continue to bring in players and try them out to see if they fit into one of the roles that Nolan has in mind. When the general manager is put in place, then Nolan can work with that GM to put together the championship team that Buffalo has been waiting for.
In the meantime, Sabres fans have to be patient and learn to evaluate talent right along with the coach. The problem is that Sabres fans have absolutely no patience. When a lack of patience is paired up with unrealistic expectations, the result is pure frustration.