I don't know how it happened, but it happened pretty quickly once the Sabres of '05-'06 started winning. Buffalonians got spoiled. The Sabres became legit ahead of schedule, and it screwed up the plan. Further screwing up the plan, was the '06 offseason.
Everyone knows what happened by now, but in case you've been living under a rock for the past three years, Drury bolted, Briere wasn't invited back, and the team paid mega jack for a good, but not great, player, in Thomas Vanek.
The Sabres are a small market team, and the easiest way to explain how a small market team has to operate is to simply say that small market teams can't make mistakes.
Mistakes cost money, money big market teams can write off or execute some funny math with and forget about. The math is rarely funny for small market teams.
Speaking of not funny, in the more-relevant-current-events corner sits Sean Avery. For those same few living under a rock, on a road trip to Calgary, Avery called super hot actress Elisha Cuthbert his sloppy seconds. For some history, Cuthbert is Avery's ex-girlfriend, and also the current girlfriend of Flames defenseman Dion Phaneuf.
Out of everything Avery has done, this is the comment which made Gary Bettman mad, and he suspended Avery. The Dallas Stars are taking the high road and pretending Avery doesn't exist. His teammates are saying he's classless and Stars' GM Brett Hull (always known in hockey for his humble demeanor), is disowning the player he brought to Dallas just a few months ago.
Avery was wrong to say what he said...out loud. But this isn't Avery's first transgression. And, Avery has rubbed his teammates the wrong way at every stop.
Nevertheless, the Sabres need to bring Avery to Buffalo.
The Sabres have made mistakes. They've locked up a bunch of their young players, and brought in Craig Rivet to add heart and chemistry to the team. Rivet was named captain by his teammates as the ultimate "we love the new guy" gesture. Problem is, Rivet doesn't have any heart either.
Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff is a great coach and canning him would be a huge mistake. But for too long, the team has cared about chemistry and happiness and by now, it's clear a lot of the players have tuned Ruff out.
Buffalo is a lot of things: boring, dirty, whiny, and poor being among them. Alas, and I'm sorry Detroit, but Buffalo is also hockeytown. People here live, eat, and breathe hockey. Players who love the game enjoy Buffalo because of the passion for players that the fans have.
Sean Avery, transgressions and all, would fit in Buffalo. Avery apologized for his remarks and if any coach can keep him in check it is Lindy Ruff. Yes, Avery is a jerk, but he is also a pretty good hockey player with a lot of heart.
Despite locking up a bunch of their core, a bunch of guys the team targeted as "guys who won't be wanted long-term," will be free agents at the end of the season. There are kids in Portland ready to make a contribution. It's clear now that the Sabres are in a transition year.
The team needs a shakeup. They need that scene that happens in every great baseball movie where the manager goes to the veteran, "I don't know what to do with these guys" and the veteran goes, "scare 'em." Nobody is playing with purpose and nobody is scared.
There isn't a team that could handle the redemption of Sean Avery better and there isn't a team who needs Avery more than the Sabres.