Forward Drew Stafford sits at his stall in the Buffalo Sabres' envy-of-the-NHL extravagantly renovated locker room, attempting to keep his frustrations in check and hopes buoyed.
It's not lost on Stafford in the midst of these spare-no-expenses surroundings — the fine hardwood paneling, glossy pictures, cushy lounge, high-tech gadgetry and players with lucrative long-term contracts, including his own — that the Sabres haven't come close to fulfilling their end of the Stanley Cup-contending dream new owner Terry Pegula laid out when he took over 11 months ago.
"You're definitely disappointed. There's some frustration in here," Stafford said. "With all the changes, new players, new locker room, new ownership, all the new stuff, there's going to be high expectations. And when that doesn't work out the right way, it's tough."
For all the money spent — the $6-plus-million Pegula paid to upgrade the players' area was nothing compared to the nearly $140 million he committed to contracts this offseason — there have been minimal results, leaving little joy in a town that's affectionately redubbed itself "Pegulaville."
Their star goalie, Ryan Miller, acknowledges he's having difficulty finding his swagger.
"It's tough when things aren't going your way to keep believing that it's going to go your way," Miller said. "I know so far this season it probably hasn't been quite the level I need to be. But I don't feel I'm too far off."
This is still not what anyone signed up for after the Sabres spent the offseason pulling off a series of bold moves. It began during a weeklong stretch in late June, when Buffalo acquired veteran defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff in trades, and then landed forward Ville Leino in free agency.
The expectations grew even higher in September, when the team signed Myers to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension.
Those high hopes have come crashing down with a fan base that's grown anxious.
Even worse, some fans are questioning the team's passion.
"The only time we saw this team have heart is when the veterans were injured and the young guys were up," Chad Thomson said. "I wouldn't mind them dumping some of the veterans."