Back when Tim Murray was first hired, Jerry Sullivan wrote a column about it. Something that he said bothered me and while I have a problem with the particulars, it also represents something that drives me crazy about discussions about sports in general. First take a look at the column I'm talking about:
"Murray also inherits a touchy situation with his coach, Ted Nolan. Nolan is an immensely popular and politically charged figure in this town. It was short-term genius to make Nolan the interim coach, which helped to mollify an angry, disaffected fan base. But that makes it difficult for the new GM. Murray has the same dilemma as Regier when he took over in 1997. If he doesn’t retain Nolan, he’s a villain."
Short-term genius? Murray would be the villain? Um, what? Are we really venturing back 17 years to when people were obsessed with Nolan? I even listened to a radio host say Nolan is a folkhero here just yesterday.
I don't know if you can base this on a few callers or Sully's "prodigal son returning" narrative, but since being a hero means you need the public to be rescued or for them to believe in you, we should look at how F'N Center is empty and tickets can be found for 10 bucks, which tells me our "hero" resembles a guy who couldn't even rescue a cat out of a tree.
While I agree that there was some PR involved in hiring LaFontaine, Nolan's hiring was way more about his history with LaFontaine. In addition to Nolan coaching him in Buffalo, Patty was part of the group that hired Nolan in Long Island. I don't think this was really about making fans feeling good about vintage 96/97 highlights. For crap's sake, anyone below the age of 25 wouldn't really remember Nolan. Since our hockey fan base really took off after the first lockout, a big chunk of fans don't know anything about Nolan that their dads didn't tell them.
You know why I was happy? Because Darcy Regier was fired! They could have brought in Dick Jauron to coach the team and I would have probably been happy because the old regime was finished.
This is an argument style I've noticed a lot people, both mainstream media and fans, using. Whenever I hear a MSM person start a sentence, usually in a disgusted tone, with "ALL THESE PEOPLE THINK" or "Some of these people think" I automatically tune it out. Seriously, listen to a radio show or read a column and count how many blanket statements are made about what fans think. It is in the 100s per week. I mean, who on earth are "all these people" and why are they the ones that get to represent all fans everywhere? I've said it before and I'll say it again, WGR callers and message boards are not a good focus group for determining what the common fan thinks.
I cringe whenever I hear the Whiner Line and it has nothing do with the callers but the reaction to them. Hosts have always used the Whiner Line as a platform for dismissing terrible takes and throwing out the "Some people think this" card even though I think callers are just a bunch of idiots trying to troll everyone. Callers make up a small fraction of WGR listeners and WGR listeners make up a fraction of Buffalo sports fans.
Yet most shows' main topics and arguments are based on these ridiculous points of view. It just feels like the media is often trying to make an argument where there really isn't an argument to begin with. The argument exists because they're so desperate to be right that they start using exaggerations and straw man narratives. Fight the battle you can win, even if you have to make it up.
I'll admit that my arguments used to always involve hyperbole and straw men. Hell, they still do on certain occasions. Still, I really try to catch myself before I go there. I was at a bar the other day, talking Buffalo sports with someone, and I must have repeated the phrase "All these people think" 3 or 4 times. I have to stop this. It sounds as if I'm getting high and mighty with my counterpoint, arguing against ignorant, unnamed, unknown "people."
Sometimes I do fall into the trap of thinking that Buffalonians only like a blue-collar, rock 'em sock 'em hockey team. It is a played out narrative, but I've written about it many times. While there are some fans who want that, I think the number of fans liking that style has shrunk considerably. I don't think there are as many fans who are obsessed with Ted Nolan or Steve Ott or the blue-collar narrative as some people would like to think.
I think some fans and MSM are out of touch with what the common fan thinks. Evolution happens with society. 34-year-old me is not the same as a 34-year-old in 1997 or 1977. You always hear growing up how adults can't relate to kids even though they went through what they did and it because the times change the person, not the other way around.
As for Nolan, there's been a lot of talk about whether the Sabres should stick with him longterm. Even with Latvia's impressive showing in the Olympics, I'm indifferent to him. I thought when the Sabres hired him that it was a bit silly for us to hire a coach who hadn't been in the NHL in 7 years. I think he's gotten a little more out of the Sabres than Ron Rolston did but not so much that I can unequivocally say that Nolan is the right man for the job.
In the end, I feel the same way about Nolan that I did about Rolston. The roster is fricken terrible and I don't think it really matters who the coach is at this point. The bigger question is whether Nolan can develop young kids or coach high-priced vets.
That's a question I don't have the answer to and I don't think we will get it for another year or two. But I certainly know the answer isn't in the past and it's definitely not anywhere in arguments about what "fans" "some people" think.