Thursday, January 29, 2015

Should the Buffalo Sabres claim Mike Richards? Plus quick-pops.

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I’ve always been a fan of Mike Richards. He was a pick of former Philly GM Bobby Clarke who was pretty good at drafting top-notch centers with skill and bite. I love the 2003 draft class, which is one of the best in draft history, where Richards was picked 24th by the Flyers.

When Richards was at his best, his two-way game was amongst the best and he was extremely tough to play against. Although he crossed the line in this writer’s opinion, landing a couple of dirty hits which left David Booth and Tim Connolly injured, the way he masterfully disguised them was sheer genius. His style of play was in lock-step with an old-school attitude in that he’d do anything for the team on the ice. Kind of a throwback to the Broadstreet Bully days captained by Clarke.

Richards’ drive, cunning and chutzpah were attributes that were missing on the Los Angeles Kings in 2011 and I’m a firm believer that he is the main reason they were able to get over the hump and finally raise the Stanley Cup. Not the lone reason, mind you, but without him I’m of the belief that the Kings don’t get it done.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ramp-up to the trade deadline, plus some final thoughts on "Gus the All-Star"

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Hope y'all had a great All-Star break.

The Buffalo Sabres were off for eight days save for Zemgus Girgensons and the front office. While his teammates were spending time away from the ice tasting normalcy, Girgensons was busy rubbing elbows with an elite group of players in Columbus, OH for the All-Star festivities.
And while his players were off on their break, Sabres GM Tim Murray and his scouting staff were in the field taking in junior and college games. Murray, it's assumed, also had his phone attached to one ear as trade-deadline season is set to kick in.

If there's a player that as close to untradeable as one can get on a last place team, Girgensons is the one for the Sabres organization. As for the rest (save for Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorove, maybe,) there will be waves of emotions rising and falling as the NHL heads towards the March 2 trade deadline. If that's not enough, they'll be riding those emotional waves while trying to play the game of hockey on a last place team that comes back from an eight-day All-Star break with a west coast trip on the heels of a 11-game losing streak.

It's no surprise that the Sabres are in last place, but what's surprising is that they've managed fall to the bottom of the league only because of their recent losing streak. Even after 11 pointless games they're still only two points below the Edmonton Oilers and six points behind the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes who both have a game in hand on Buffalo.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Amerks in the balance. Don Stevens talks Rochester Americans

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The Rochester Americans are a few games into the second half of their season and are still trying to pull themselves out of a muddy first half. They were the highest scoring team in the league and were rolling along to begin the season but since that strong 6-2 start they've gone 11-21-1-0. The Amerks went from the top of the conference all the way to the bottom now sit second to last with 35 points, seven points out of a playoff spot.

"It was a huge surprise," said long time Amerks broadcaster, Don Stevens. "In looking at the roster at the start of the season and with the way they started, I thought it was going to be an outstanding year.

"But the wheels fell off."

Particularly troublesome was that they played a good chunk of their home games already and have managed only four wins on the road thus far, two of them coming last week. Before that three-game trip, the Amerks were on a 10-game road losing streak. But, ironically, the road may be where things began to turn around.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What to do with an eight-day break? Depends upon who you are.

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Save for center Zemgus Girgensons, the Buffalo Sabres will be off until January 27 when they kick off a three-games-in-four-nights west coast swing starting in Calgary. They'll head to Edmonton on the 29th and Vancouver on the 30th to finish off the month.

Girgensons will be the lone Sabres participant at this weekend's All-Star Game in Columbus, OH. Although his team-leading 13 goals and his 22 points are hardly All-Star worthy, he was the top vote-getter as his Latvian countrymen helped propel him to the top with  1,574,896 votes. Second place in the voting was the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane with 1,232,201 votes.

While Girgensons is in Ohio's capital rubbing elbows with the NHL elite, rallying with the National Champion Buckeyes and participating in various events of joy and happiness this weekend, it will be a desperately needed break away from the rink for his teammates and the coaching staff. The Sabres extended their franchise record losing streak to 11 with a 6-4 loss at Detroit last night and full reset might be in order.

Sometimes it's just best to drop back and punt rather than continue beating your head against the wall and the All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time. The stats and video are there for review, but an 0-fer for January and 11 regulation losses in a row pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

GM Tim Murray, Year-1--Timelines and Transactions for the Sabres

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On January 9, 2014 former Sabres President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine hired Tim Murray, then assistant general manager for the Ottawa Senators, as the new GM of the Buffalo Sabres.

It's been just over a year since then and the following is what he and the team have been up to beginning with the latest, which happens to be over a month ago:

Someday (hopefully) this team will remember the lumps they've been taking

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The Buffalo Sabres head into tonight's matchup vs. the Philadelphia Flyers on a franchise-record nine-game regulation losing streak. Losing tonight for a 10th consecutive time would be nothing new to the team as they finished last season with seven losses (one in the SO) and opened up this campaign with a three game losing streak for 10 in a row. But losing a 10th game in a row in regulation is something that hasn't been done at all since 2006 when the Pittsburgh Penguins with rookie Sidney Crosby did it from January 6-23.

Pittsburgh, of course, won the 2005 draft lottery prior to the 2005-06 season and picked Crosby first overall. He would score 39 goals as a rookie and his 102 points would place him 6th in the league. Even with that production, as well as solid contributions from the likes of Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi and John Leclair, the Pens still could only manage 22 wins, one less than a 2003-04, pre-Crosby team which went 23-47-8-4 (eight ties and 4 OT losses.)

With their losses mounting and a bottom-dwelling finish in the offing for the second year running, the Buffalo Sabres have often been compared to the Pens as well as the Chicago Blackhawks of that era when both of those franchises were reaching bottom during their rebuilds. Both teams would eventually come out of depths to raise the Stanley Cup.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hang in there, Sabres fans. No one said it would be easy

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Ya gotta hand it to the hardy souls who were at the First Niagara Center enduring last night's excruciating 7-0 loss at the hands of a Minnesota Wild. A Wild team that came to town limping left looking like a four-time Stanley Cup Champion. It was an ugly game for the home crowd and although the boo-birds did come out, it was nothing like October and November of 2013, when a chorus of boos came raining down seemingly moments after the drop of the puck.

Throughout last night's the game the fans endured, moreso in state of shock then anything else, as a big mess unfolded before them. There was a brief moment of excitement when Buffalo's Nic Deslauriers got everyone's blood pumping in unanimous decision over Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. I'm pretty sure the 20 yr. old Dumba had no idea what he was getting into when he dropped the gloves with Deslauriers, but he eventually shook of the three shots he took to the head and went on to score Minnesota's fourth goal roughly half-way through the game.

Former Sabre Thomas Vanek had a goal and an assist, both on the power play. Another former Sabre Jason Pominville had three assists and somehow I get the feeling that if he managed to light the lamp last night the house may have erupted in applause as there was really nothing else to cheer for.