It’s probably not a stretch to suggest the Buffalo Sabres have been disappointing this season. After a changing of the guard with coach Phil Housley and general manager Jason Botterill running the show, most fans understood there would be some rebuilding necessary.
However, few anticipated how the Sabres would completely fall apart at the seams this season, particularly on home ice. While their current 13-26-9 record is depressing enough, their 6-12-3 record at home doesn’t do justice to how poorly they played this season in front of their fans.
The icing on the cake was their recent 7-1 annihilation by the Dallas Stars at KeyBank Center. It was supposed to be a “kids day” matinee game that turned into a horror show on ice. What the heck is going on with this team?
Theories abound about why the Sabres are playing so poorly at home. This one from sportsnet.ca topped the cake for me:
“They say Kim Pegula does the firing. A 2016 NFL.com profile on her called Pegula “one of the most powerful women in American sports, and the de facto queen of Buffalo.” She referred to herself as “the Black Widow,” a moniker earned by her willingness to hand out a pink slip inside the Sabres or Bills organization. Hockey people say she makes everyone nervous. Maybe they should be.”
I have my own theory. At least it has more scientific support than assertions Kim Pegula makes people nervous, though it might seem just as ludicrous to some.
When looking at any conundrum of sorts, it’s important to “think outside the box”.
I’m not buying the theory that the pressure to perform at home is creating too much mental stress on the team. These are highly trained athletes who are used to performing under adverse conditions their entire lives.
So I asked myself what makes playing in Buffalo different than any other place?
After “processing” the issue it occurred to me some Sabres players might be suffering the same fate I did growing up in Western New York (WNY). It eventually became such an issue I eventually had to leave WNY because of it.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Specifically, my thinking is not about the lack of light in the winter months causing major depression in hockey players in Buffalo as much as it being a contributory factor in terms of being sluggish on the ice because of fatigue and feeling less mentally alert.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of the Winter Pattern of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Having low energy
- Weight gain
- Craving for carbohydrates
- Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
OK, bear with me before laughing at the suggestion that “winter blues” may be contributing to the Sabres performing poorly at home. Two other important factors add additional evidence this might be a factor worth considering.
- People with SAD may overproduce the hormone melatonin. Darkness increases production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. As winter days become shorter, melatonin production increases, leaving people with SAD to feel sleepier and more lethargic, often with delayed circadian rhythms.
- People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.
Consider a research report from Scientific American in 2009 that showed over 75% of American adults and teenagers were found to have Vitamin D deficiencies. It’s particularly bad news for African-Americans who suffer even higher levels of Vitamin D deficiency, especially if they live in northern latitudes.
The relationship between Vitamin D, seasonal affective disorder and lack of energy/decreased mental alertness remains poorly understood. What is non-existent as far as I could find in a cursory internet search was ANY research on Vitamin D levels or the effect of season affective disorder on performance in sports.
Graduate students in sports physiology need to take a look at this issue.
It will be interesting to see if the Sabres performance at home starts to pick up in mid-February as daylight increases at a faster rate. In the meantime, it wouldn’t be cost prohibitive to put full-spectrum lighting in the locker room and workout areas for players.
Also, it would be worthwhile to check players’ Vitamin D levels and treat those found to be deficient. This isn’t a complicated nor expensive process and the results could prove to be beneficial for players’ overall health and sense of well-being.
Part of what connected the dots for me on this issue came from listening to a recent episode of the John Murphy Show. At the beginning of the show, John and Donald Jones were talking about the sun shining in WNY on a cold, crisp day. They literally spent a couple minutes talking about how great it was to see the sunshine.
Several thousand people from WNY on my Twitter timeline gives ample evidence every day how the lack of light and “winter blues” wash over people in mid-January. It’s not a stretch to think some of the lethargy we are seeing on the ice from the Sabres might be caused by fatigue associated with the “winter blues”.
As crazy a this theory seems, at least there’s some scientific evidence supporting it rather than blaming the Sabres woes at home on Kim Pegula making people nervous.
Editor’s babble: I chose to write about the Sabres as my personal protest against having to endure another two week ‘love-fest’ for the New England Patriots (and no, I won’t be watching the Super Bowl for the first time since its existence). We’ll also be addressing other topics during the Bills off season. Thanks for riding along. You can find me on Twitter @RobynMundyWYO.