Rebuilding an excuse, teams should be more immediate about change

I have always hated it when professional sports teams use the term “rebuilding mode.” I’ve been a lifelong Bills and Sabres fan, and consequently, I’ve heard it way too many times. To me, as a fan, the term “rebuilding mode” is just an excuse to make it acceptable for an organization to admit that know they have no chance of contending for a championship anytime soon. Fans who are okay with the term “rebuilding mode” should take a step back and think about what it really means, and the lack of promise that comes with it.

Obviously this idea is a result mainly of the recent blockbuster Miller-Halak trade the Sabres recently made, and I could get into what I think of that particular trade and why I do or don’t like it, but that’s not what this is about. This isn’t about the Bills, or the Sabres in particular, but rather what I think of the term “rebuilding” in the world of professional sports, and how my Buffalo sports fandom has made me feel this way.

College-aged Buffalo sports fans have gone their entire childhood, teen years, and soon enough college years, without a Buffalo Bills playoff season. It seems like the Bills have been in some form of rebuilding mode more often than not the past decade. Last year, they drafted a rookie quarterback projected to go in the second to third round with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Manuel was described as a “raw” player with “potential,” but was never described as NFL-ready. This year, head coach Doug Marrone is uncertain Manuel will be under center for the first snap of the 2014 season. Although the Bills are finally making sure they keep their best players by paying them what they deserve, who knows when the Bills will finally end their league-worst playoff drought, because it certainly doesn’t seem likely this year.

The Sabres, who missed the playoffs the last two seasons, haven’t made it past the first round of the post-season since the ‘06-07 season. And like The Bills, have never won a championship and are currently in all-out “rebuilding mode.” They’re stocking up on draft picks and young players for the future, but what kind of promise does that hold? It’s more of a gamble than a real solution, hoping that young prospective players will become stars, and that the answer to all our questions is a player who isn’t even in the NHL yet. The main payoff in the Miller-Halak trade is a first-round pick in 2015, and a conditional 2016 pick. Unless those picks turn out to be an elite talent of the likes of Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane, it’ll take a few years for them to develop into players that will help us make a post-season run. For all we know right now, both those picks could end up being busts. I’m 19, and the thought of being 22 or 23 the next time The Sabres are even in a position to win the cup isn’t something I can be excited about, even a little bit.

Aside from being the typical bitter Buffalo sports fan, I think the concept of a rebuilding mode in professional sports is a ridiculous concept in general, at least when talking about more than a single season. It’s alright to trade away an aging star for a hot new prospect, but it isn’t ok to trade away all hopes of being a competitive team in the near future. If a team was handled the right way all along, it would never have to be in rebuilding mode. Being in a state of rebuild is almost always a result of bad drafting, or a sign of bad planning ahead in the past.

Professional sports players have short windows of peak-performing ability and are paid a ridiculous amount. Every year, every professional sports team should be looking to contend for a championship. The difference between the great and not-so-great franchises in any professional sports league is the mentality of the management. A great franchise is never in rebuilding mode, they always want to compete. If at any given time they don’t feel like they can, they don’t trade away their best players and try to start anew, they go out and they get the missing pieces immediately, whether it be through trade or free agency.

Fans of great sports organizations expect greatness, and the management isn’t afraid to promise greatness, either. The next time you hear “rebuild” come out of your favorite team’s head coach’s or owner’s mouth, make sure to realize what it really is – an admittance that they don’t see great success anywhere in the near future, and an excuse for the lack of confidence they have in the current team. Especially as Buffalo fans, in a city that’s never seen a Lombardi Trophy, or had a visit from Lord Stanley, we should expect contention at the highest level now, not the future. It’s already been too long.

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