Above is video of Sam Gagner's overtime goal to put the Coyotes over the Sabres. The game was in Buffalo, yet the crowd cheered the Arizona winner. Cheered loudly, and spontaneously, to the point where if you're not a hockey fan, you might wonder if Coyotes fans travel particularly well. (They do not. And if Yotes fans had been in Buffalo last night, they would have been rooting for the Sabres.) We have reached apex tank.
Coyotes-Sabres was a matchup of the two worst teams in hockey, in a year when two players projected as generational, franchise-changing talents will be in the draft. The way the NHL draft lottery works, a team can only be leapfrogged once; it cannot slide more than one draft position. The team that finishes with the worst record will be guaranteed the opportunity to select either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Last night's game was for pole position, and Buffalo's chances are looking good.
It was exceedingly weird to an observer, and for some Sabres players, the fan reactions were annoying. Defenseman Mike Weber called it "a whole new low."
"I've always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don't even know if disappointed is the word. They score that first one, our fans are cheering. Late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don't even know what to say. This is extremely frustrating for us. We don't want to be here. We understand where we are. We understand what this team's doing, what the organization's doing, the place we've put ourselves in. But I've never been a part of something like that, where the away team comes into a home building, and they're cheering for them. Again, I respect our fans, I love our fans, I show up to work everyday to whatever I can for them, and to play hard for them and my teammates. Again, obviously I've never seen that before. I don't know what else to say.
"This is two years in a row now. Physically, mentally, this is...this sucks. To compound things, you have your home fans cheering against you, kinda. Again, I've never been a part of that, obviously, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger I guess, but this is a whole new low right now."
Weber's frustration is entirely understandable: players don't tank, front offices do. Both the Sabres and Coyotes have moved every valuable asset, and they would have been criminal not to. Between that and the fans actively rooting for you to lose, it's been a shitty stretch for the players.
But it's extremely unfair to knock the fans. It's not wrong to root for their team to lose, not when they're functionally rooting for the Sabres to get better in the immediate future. This isn't aimless incompetence. This is tanking with a purpose: the best draft prizes in a decade are right there, the sort of players who could turn around the moribund fortunes of two hapless teams. And if you miss out on them? A few more years where meaningless late-March victories over fellow standings bottom-feeders are the best you can hope for.
"It's a good feeling," Sam Gagner after scoring the winner. "It's what you play for, to win hockey games." Not always, Sam.