BUFFALO – KeyBank Center hasn’t always been the NHL’s quietest venue. When the Sabres roared out of the 2005 lockout and briefly contended for the Stanley Cup during winger Jason Pominville’s first tenure here, the rink was often raucous and among the league’s noisiest.
Of course, 10 or 12 years ago, the Sabres regularly won games and ranked among the league’s highest-scoring teams. If you attended a game, chances are you’d witness something special and leave with positive memories.
The games had some bang for their buck.
This season, the Sabres earned the fewest points (62) and scored the fewest goals (198). In three of the last five years, they’ve ranked last in points and scoring.
Attending a Sabres game hasn’t consistently been an exciting experience for about seven years, the last time they made the playoffs.
“I’ve seen the other side of it,” Pominville said last Monday as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers and held exit meetings. “This city is amazing when you win. It’s definitely tough when you lose, and we saw it this year. Look at the Bills. It’s pretty amazing to see how everyone hopped on board with them, which is great.
“But I still feel like this is a hockey city and when you win, there’s probably no better place.”
Winning usually cures all ails. But the Sabres would start generating more excitement if they simply possessed an attitude “we’re going to outplay teams” and “outwork teams,” winger Kyle Okposo said.
“That’s when it gets fun, because the building gets loud, you’re making plays, you’re doing the right things,” he said. “People can sense, the fans can sense, that guys are working and guys are playing well. We just didn’t have it.
“Understandably so, as a fan, they’re quiet because we’re not doing the work. We’re not playing with that edge, we’re not playing with that jam that we need to electrify the building. That’s all on us, it’s all on our play. It wasn’t good enough at home.”
Naturally, attendance suffered tremendously this season. The Sabres averaged 17,982 tickets sold for their 40 home dates in the 19,070-seat arena, their lowest number since 2005-06.
As the season dragged on, crowds typically looked to be about 12,000 or so, with huge chunks of blue seats showing. Fans had trouble selling their tickets for $6 online, the minimum on many ticket-selling sites, or even giving them away.
The Sabres are expected to experience a sharp decline in season-ticket renewals for next season.
“We feel their pain,” Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said of the fans Wednesday. “I understand where we’re at right now. I think you saw in the player exit meetings the last couple days there’s disappointment from their standpoint. They understand how passionate the fans are in Buffalo and how much we all want playoff hockey.”
Botterill talked about players turning their words into action and some of what makes him excited – he mentioned slick center prospect Casey Mittelstadt and the success of the Rochester Americans – about the future.
“But I’m also aware of we have to earn their respect back,” Botterill said. “It can’t just be about words, we have to have better results.”