The Arizona Coyotes won’t be entering a hostile environment Thursday night on the road. If anything, it might feel oddly like a home game.
The Buffalo Sabres host the Coyotes in a battle of the two worst teams in the NHL. With only a handful of games left in the season, the playoffs are clearly out of the picture. Enter tank mode.
“Tonight’s atmosphere will be interesting because you’ve got fans that are so into this, they want to cheer against the Sabres because they’re cheering for the long-term interest,” Buffalo WGR 550 morning sports radio host Jeremy White told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Thursday. “I know there are people that have busted out Coyotes jerseys from 1997.”
Mediocrity in sports is a curse. Like most years, if your team is bad, you want them to be really bad. Otherwise your favorite team will get stuck with a ho-hum draft pick and continue to be mediocre. But this year, finishing with a top pick is even more crucial.
There is a special reason to be bad this year. Actually, there are two special reasons. Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Both players are supposed to be instant stars that can bring the worst team out of the ashes. According to White, the Sabres have had that in mind all season.
“It’s been a whole season long thing,” White said. “We knew the team was kind of aiming towards the bottom. We knew they’d be in the mix for this.”
The worst team in the league is guaranteed at least one of the first two draft picks. Everyone else will have to sweat out the lottery and pray that Lady Luck smiles on them.
The Coyotes are ahead of the Sabres by five points with eight and nine games left to play, respectively. The two teams match up twice in the next five days, so if you were to ever seen a team not play their best, this would be the time. But White expects both teams to continue to play their hardest.
“I think you get 100 percent fair effort from both teams because that’s really the tough part of it is that you support your team and you don’t dislike your players,” White said. “We’ve got guys on the team that people really like, and you just want them to have just a couple more bad days or if you got the flu, and if that flu lasted a couple more days, that would be great.”
So that’s what the theme may be Thursday night: Cheer for the Coyotes now to cheer for the Sabres later?
“It’s going to be a very, very strange atmosphere,” White said. “Bars around the area explode when the other team scores. When they played Dallas two nights ago, the Sabres were up 3-2 in the third. Dallas scored two goals late to win it, and bars go crazy because it’s one more step. These players will be worth it for both these teams. They absolutely will be worth it. There’s a reason that these two franchises are all in on this and it’s because the guys that run the franchises, they know it. It will be worth it.”