I fully understand that I am dating myself here. Surprise, Buffalo! I am old. But I digress; I vividly remember the Christmas that I got my first home video game system, the NES. It was glorious, with its directional pad and its two action buttons and 6ft controller reach, placing you just far enough from the television that you could play for hours without lambasting the image of an 8-bit Bo Jackson onto the forefront of your occipital lobe .
When I opened the box, the shrieks of joy likely prompted neighbors to wonder if they should call for help. It was the celly of all cellys – I rode the pony around the Christmas tree. I’m sure I spiked something. Was there an Icky Shuffle in there? Could have been.
Can you IMAGINE if I’d unwrapped that gift, unleashed my unbridled pleasure for the world to see and hear, only to open the box and find a brillo pad and some Mr. Clean?
Because that’s how this feels. Learning that Jack Eichel will miss the first month of the season was like expecting a kiss and getting hit in the head with a baseball bat. It’s like thinking you’ve won the lottery, but you’re looking at yesterday’s numbers. It’s like…terrible. That feeling deep down in your gut when you finally released the Jaded Buffalo Sports Fan that resides within us all and allowed hope to enter your cold black heart, only to have the hope painfully ripped from your soul like skin on a gym floor. The most pervasive and encompassing pain. Ever.
There are those who will try to sell you optimism. “It’s not that bad,” they’ll say. “We can still be OK.”
OK? OKAY? WE WILL NOT BE OK!! We will be sub-mediocre. Again. It’s not like our third line has Bonino, just waiting to jump up and produce. We have Zemgus Girgensons. Take note – there are no bigger Girgensons fans than I. I’ll rock my ill-fitting Z sweater anywhere, unabashedly. I joined the Latvians in their quest to propel Girgs into the All-Star Game. But Girgnensons is no Eichel. In his best season, the Latvian Locomotive had 30 points. Eichel had nearly that many goals in his first season.
On a team already suffering from opening day injuries, Eichel’s is the spoiled-milk frosting on a garbage pile cake. All of the hope for the playoffs, dashed on the stretched ligament of a 19-year-old kid.
Is there a possible bright side? Sure. For opening day, at least. The Montreal Canadiens have mismanaged all of the talent out of their locker room, so at least the Sabres’ roster doesn’t look so barren in comparison. Carey Price has not traveled with the team – he’s suffering from the flu. I bet he’s feeling a lot better now that Eichel is out, but, alas…he’s stuck hiding out in the bell tower of Notre Dame (or some other Montreal landmark.)
And we have Sam Reinhart, the Samwise Gamgee of the Buffalo Sabres. By season’s end, Reinhart had proven to be the future 1A to Eichel’s 1, the peach preserves to his peanut butter, the pepperoni on…well…you get the idea.
Buffalo fans are the discarded prom date, who had chased the class-president, cult of personality, brilliant foil to their worn-cardigan dressed persona. Reinhart is the one who comes and puts an arm around us, assuring us we have redeeming qualities, we just have to look deeper.
Only if you look deeper at this team, you might start crying again. All of our third and fourth line players are veritable third and fourth line players. On any other team, they’d still be third or fourth line players, if not stars on the AHL affiliates. We don’t have depth that makes other teams jealous, and that’s what we need right now.
So on my way in to work this morning, I stopped by a wishing well. I tossed a penny back over my shoulder and said, “Help us, Derek Grant. You’re our only hope.” And I cried. Violently sobbing, hunched over like I’d been kicked in the gut.
I’m better now. I’m OK. I’ll be OK. I’m just…oh God…I can’t….does anyone have a tissue?