Philadelphia, PA – For the Buffalo Sabres, things are about as bad as they can be right now, but Patrick Kaleta certainly has a knack for making things worse.
The Sabres are in the midst of a season so trying that not even Lindy Ruff could survive it. The franchise let go of Ruff, the Sabres' head coach for 15- plus seasons before getting the axe last month, and that firing has barely moved the dial in terms of the team's performance.
Flash forward to the present and Buffalo is still sitting 14th out of 15 teams in the East and has lost six of its last seven games.
Yet, through all that's transpired in Western New York this season, Kaleta apparently still thinks it's all about him.
The physical forward was suspended five games by the league for a careless and dangerous hit he levied against Brad Richards of the New York Rangers on March 3. Kaleta was eligible to return to action in Sunday's game at Washington, but interim head coach Ron Rolston opted to make him a healthy scratch instead.
That perceived slight led Kaleta to sound off about how "pissed off" he was at not being in the lineup. It was a blatant display of selfishness and the rant could wind up being Kaleta's second-worst decision of the season, behind sending a defenseless Richards into the boards earlier this month.
"I'm pissed off. I want to play," an angry Kaleta said. "And especially after watching some things, sitting there watching the game, I want to play. I guess they don't need me right now I guess. I've been pissed off watching for the past couple weeks. No matter if you're a fan, a player, you guys know what's going on. You should be pissed off. You should play with a little piss and vinegar. You shouldn't be happy. We're not in position we want to be in. We have to work harder, come in and do something about it."
It almost seems like Kaleta caught himself midway through his speech and altered the tone of his comments to reflect that he was mad about the Sabres' current situation and not about his own playing time, but by then it's too late. With sound bites like "I'm pissed off. I want to play" and "I guess they don't need me right now" it's pretty clear to determine the source of Kaleta's anger.
Thankfully, Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, the emotional leader of his club, lined up Kaleta's comments and shot them down following Buffalo's 5-3 loss to the Capitals on Sunday. Prompted by a question from Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, Miller put Kaleta's earlier remarks in their proper context.
"That's just drama and he needs to just grow up if he's gonna say that to you guys," Miller fumed.
"You know what? He had a stupid play in a game. He sat, he was punished. He has to get over it and move on. We handled it. He doesn't have to go to you guys and say that stuff. There: I'm addressing it now and I'll go and talk to him about it. There's no reason to say that."
Nice job by Miller to take on the role of locker room sheriff because Kaleta's me-first attitude needed to be dealt with then and there. It'd be easy to say something safe like "we'd rather keep that stuff in-house" but Miller chose the right path by dismissing Kaleta's comments out of hand.
Also, kudos to the Sabres for making Miller's response readily available on the front page of the team's website. It wouldn't have been at all surprising if Buffalo had opted to have Miller's retort stricken from the record, but the club chose to display it proudly instead.
After all, Buffalo doesn't owe Kaleta any favors even if it has only picked up one win while he sat out the team's last six contests. The problems plaguing the Sabres are a whole lot bigger than Kaleta and what's ailing the club isn't going to be cured by a checking forward who is big on heart and short on just about everything else.
Hopefully, the public shaming can lead to some positive changes for Kaleta. If a guy who has zero points in 18 games this season can't figure out how complaining about his playing time may not be the best course of action then he probably needed the situation spelled out for him in clearer terms.
Maybe being told to "grow up" by a former Vezina Trophy winner and U.S. Olympic hero will help Kaleta see the error of his ways. If not, Kaleta could find out just how expendable a self-centered grinder like himself is when the trade deadline rolls around in a matter of weeks.
Nobody in Buffalo is happy about how poorly this season has gone, but if Kaleta wants to help make things better he should probably stop being so good at making them worse.