Every cheap hit in the last few years, every embarrassing fistic melodrama, is entirely the fault of Milan Lucic for running over Ryan Miller and getting away with it.
This was not only on the ice when no one from the Sabres tried to fight him in the immediate aftermath, but also because the League barely even gave the incident a second look. Dug a deep chip into the organization's shoulder, and ever since the league — including the Bruins (but not Lucic himself) — has been paying the price.
That incident led the Sabres' abhorrent and incompetent general manager to go out that summer and acquire John Scott and Steve Ott in a misguided and ultimately tragic pursuit of "toughness," and that summer also gave Patrick Kaleta a three-year extension for the exact same idiotic reason.
The incident in which Scott tried to hit Loui Eriksson's head, in such a way that it screwed up and off his body like a bottle cap, is just the latest point which highlights why the Sabres don't deserve to even compete in the National Hockey League this season, and the reasons why are obvious.
What, for example, was Scott, who is widely known as perhaps the most pathetic actual hockey player in the NHL (even Paul Bissonnette has the bomb of a one-timer, right?) doing on the ice against the other team's top line in the third period of a game his team was losing by two goals?
The answer wasn't "generating a goal that would bring the team back within one," though at this point in the season you could probably say that about any Sabres player not named Thomas Vanek or Cody Hodgson, because they're almost as useless in attack as Scott is. The Sabres have 14 goals this season in 11 games, which is just sad. You'd have to think even a pretty-good AHL team would have more than that.
The hit was so clearly intended to do what it did, though, that it leads one to ask a very simple question:
How stupid is Scott, really?
All the evidence you've ever needed came as he was sitting in the box, waiting for word that of course he was getting five and a match penalty. He literally said, incredulous that this was the call, "Headshot?"
With a question mark.
Can you imagine how dumb, or at least ignorant, you have to be to drill someone in the chin like that a good second after he releases the puck, see the guy helped off the ice by two teammates, and try to act as though you did not in fact do the thing you just did? If he thought he was fooling anyone, he's an idiot. If he thought he didn't hit Eriksson in the head, he is absurdly negligent and has no place in the league.
Well, he has no place in the league regardless, but you see the point.
On the other hand, maybe Scott really didn't know it was a headshot, and his brain does work about as well as he plays hockey. In that case, he is just a dangerous idiot, unaware of his own injurious capabilities. At least George had the common decency to take Lennie out to the pond and put him out of his misery. That the Sabres continue to not only pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars, but use him in the lineup just about every night, tells you all you need to know about the kind of malicious intent with which they enter every game.
(Scott, by the way, definitely seems like the kind of person who accidentally hugged a rabbit to death as a kid.)
The problem with suspending Scott is that this does nothing to hurt a team that apparently needs to have an entire library's worth of books thrown at it before it gets any kind of message.
Give him five, 10, hell even 40 games. What happens? Oh no, they can't dress a useless piece of trash for those games! What are they going to do, call up a good player from the AHL and give him more minutes than John freaking Scott? How will they ever deal with that kind of tough bounce?
(This goes without mentioning, by the way, that Scott is somehow not a repeat offender and likely won't catch as much in the way of a suspension as all that.)
But it's all for the team, right? That's why Scott still has a job in this league, isn't it? Well when given the chance to talk about the incident, Scott predictably turtled, preferring instead to say nothing — or maybe because he couldn't find an primatologist to translate his grunts and gestures. Instead, he let his teammates offer their own sheepish no-comments because there was nothing they could say that wouldn't have been seen as stabbing him in the back.
Obviously, though, the continual use of Scott is an organizational imperative. They have more skilled players they could be using, but they choose not to because of toughness and the importance placed on it by this misguided and woebegone circus of a hockey team. Perhaps it's to serve as a distraction from the fact that the Sabres employ two of the dirtiest players in hockey, and seem not to discourage those that don't fall into this category from similar behavior.
Wednesday's incident, for instance, overshadowed the fact that Kevin Porter tried to board Torey Krug earlier in the game. If he had waited an extra half-stride, the crosscheck he put right between the numbers while the rookie defenseman was trying to retrieve the puck near the endboards would have resulted in a major penalty, rather than a minor, and likely a call from Brendan Shanahan.
That it didn't is only happenstance, and perhaps incompetence on Porter's part. I'd say you'll get 'em next time, kid, but the team just put you on waivers.
Of course, not even having John Scott act as a diversion isn't enough to hide what a dirtbag Patrick Kaleta is. The fact that there are players in the NHLPA upset that he's even wasting union resources appealing the suspension tells you the low opinion his brethren have of him, largely because of what he's likely to do to them the second they turn their back to him on the ice. Kaleta's actions at any given moment of his career are highly likely to be inexcusable, probably even among his teammates, but he's still getting 10 minutes a night in Buffalo over the course of his unfortunate career.
It's only fitting, really, that Steve Ott is the captain of this ship of fools.
He hasn't faced supplementary discipline in a while, but the three suspensions and a fine he picked up early in his career tell you everything you need to know about him. Here he is running Gregory Campbell. Here he is low-bridging Stephane Yelle. This kind of thing is very instructive as to what the Sabres value: garbage, plain and simple.
Maybe he's good in the room, but leading by example? Hoo boy.
That game where he tried to take out Yelle's knees, he also took a number of other runs at Bruins players, then refused to fight Shawn Thornton, Shane Hnidy, Zdeno Chara, or Milan Lucic to back it up — as per The Code — and instead let Sean Avery take on Andrew Ference instead. When you're deferring in the honor and toughness department to Sean Avery, you're a coward and weasel of the lowest order, slumped so close to the ground that it's a wonder the front of his jersey doesn't have ice shavings on it after every shift.
This hidebound view of how to play hockey when you're not good enough to win is obviously pushed by new coach Ron Rolston, who's as complicit in Scott and Kaleta's actions as anyone else.
Again, Scott was out there in the final period of a two-goal game, and you don't send him over the boards with anything but malice. He might not have said, "Go take someone's head off, Johnny," but he didn't need to. That's implicit in putting him out there at all. Even if you were senseless enough to ask him to score, he's still going to be the scorpion that stings the frog taking him across the river; you can't expect him to not-do the thing he's only ever been asked to do.
This is true of Kaleta as well. Kaleta's role is to make sure everyone on the ice has their head on a swivel, and maybe thinks twice about turning to face the boards, because if they do, there's a good chance they're getting their faces mashed into them at 60 miles an hour.
Mike Milbury was overstating things when he said Rolston should be fired — again, the Sabres probably view this kind of thing as meritorious because of how deranged they've grown — but supplemental discipline? Absolutely. He already got a $10,000 fine for player selection (not coincidentally also involving Scott) a month ago. That was the preseason, and nothing even happened, really, as a result. This was in a real game, and did real damage to an actual first-line player. The fine has to be more considerable, and he should be suspended too. John Tortorella was suspended for a game in 2009 for squirting a fan with a water bottle, then throwing it into the stands, and really, this is so much worse.
And that's the thing: These are the kinds of players the Sabres can roll at any time, and if this is going to be their response every time they're down a few goals in the third period, the other teams might just stop coming out of the dressing room so they don't get one of their best players killed.
Maybe with no one else out there Buffalo can actually complete a comeback. There's still 71 games left of this season, and that's a lot of opportunity for someone to really get hurt very badly. Scott and Kaleta probably won't even be suspended for a healthy percentage of them.
If you're Miller or Vanek or anyone else with an expiring contract, how do you not demand a trade right this second? Who would want to go down with this ship? Not only is it taking on water at a rate that makes the Titanic look like a minor nautical inconvenience, it's also morally indefensible. Imagine having to answer questions about the latest disgusting on-ice incident du jour for another six months? Good lord.
Whether you'd actually be traded is another matter entirely, given that the guy running your team is just about the worst general manager in all of professional sports. Again, that Darcy Regier allowed his team to grow this bad is entirely entirely entirely the overreaction to the Miller/Lucic accident, and that's even after the terrible conctracts extended to Ville Leino (four more years at $4.5 million per), Tyler Myers (six more at $5.5 million a season), Christian Ehrhoff ($4 million per through 2021, at which point he will be pushing 40). Plus the Kaleta and Scott extensions this summer.
There's also the matter of the mishandling of Mikhail Grigorenko under his purview, and a litany of other baffling decisions, but it's only recently that even the dumbest of dumb Buffalo fans have started calling for his head. Filling the rink and chanting "Fire Darcy" is all well and good, but you dummies are still buying tickets.
And that's really all fanboy owner Terry Pegula cares about. Remember all the proclamations when he first bought the team — no, not the ones about winning multiple Stanley Cups, although, haha — that he wasn't in this to make money? "If I want to make money, I'll go drill another natural gas well," and whatever else he said. Well, ticket prices went up between $1 and $4 for 2011-12, between $2 and $8 for the partially locked-out 2012-13 campaign, and an additional $1 to $4 this year. During that time, the Sabres point totals dropped from 43 to 39 to 21 to (currently) three.
And also, Pegula is the one signing off on all transactions. He had to rubber-stamp the Leino and Ehrhoff and Myers and Kaleta and Scott contracts. He had to OK the Ott trade. He had to approve the Rolston hire. He has continually given his vote of confidence to Regier, who's done nothing to deserve it. Hell, he probably had to sign off on that third jersey.
From top to bottom, this is an organization bereft of reason, care or accountability, and it probably always will be because they're still selling close to 96 percent of their seats for home games. Nothing is going to change because nothing has to change. It's tough to say fans are complicit, per se, but by purchasing tickets they're voting with their wallets. And that vote is for disgusting, deleterious hockey. Straight ticket.
It's reprehensible and unjustifiable. And it's not going to change.
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. Here is his Twitter and here is his e-mail.
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