Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nikita Zadorov and three leagues, none of which are best for him

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Thanks to Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald, light was shed upon the Nikita Zadorov dilemma yesterday.

Going back to last Friday, Sabres head coach Ted Nolan was asked about the dilemma but he said that he couldn't "answer that question straight up." Zadorov has been a healthy scratch through the first six games of the season, but was not sent back to his junior team, the London Knights. Questions were being raised, and all that Nolan could say was that the team was "trying to do the best with the situation."

That situation has Zadorov as not quite ready for the NHL. He should be playing in the American Hockey League. But, as we know all too well, the agreement between the Canadian Hockey League and the NHL has no provisions for allowing 19 yr. old CHL/NHL tweeners an opportunity to develop at the AHL level. It's deja vu all over again for the Buffalo Sabres as they went through this same situation last season with Mikhail Grigorenko.

But there's a twist with "Big Z" this year.

According to his agent, Rolland Hedges (via the Hoppe piece,) St. Petersburg of the KHL owns Zadorov's rights and the team will not release him to his junior team. They allowed it last season, but this year they won't meaning the defenseman, as of right now, either plays with the Buffalo Sabres or heads to Mother Russia under the control of St. Pete. And that's why Buffalo has been "stashing him away" for the first six games of the season as they try to figure it out.

(A quick aside, word today is that CSKA Moscow may be the owner of Zadorov's rights)

The Sabres seemed to be in a pickle when the Hoppe article quoted this from Hedges, “[Zadorov] just wants to play hockey, whether it’s for the Buffalo Sabres or whoever owns his rights. He knows who owns his rights. He knows he has to go back to Russia. He has no control in that.”

That was before today when Buffalo AGM Mark Jakubowski, via a tweet from Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, said that "[Zadorov] is under contract with London and that's the only place we can send him."

Perhaps Jakubowski can relay that message to Hedges so that he can get that through to the powers that be in the KHL as it would seem a legal document, such as a contract, would supersede simple "rights" to a drafted player. But that's what attorney's are for.

What we're left with is a player caught in a tug of war between three hockey leagues, none of which is best for the player. "From a development point of view," Hedges was quoted as saying, "the issue is what’s best for Nikita Zadorov. Everybody has a different answer for that one.”

And a reason why they have said answer.

For the Sabres, they drafted him and they want to keep a close eye on his development, especially after he came into camp with conditioning issues. Zadorov has stated time and again that he wants to play in the NHL, but he still doesn't know what it takes to be able to play in the NHL. He's learning that now. The club is investing the time and money and look at him as a big piece of their future. To lose Zadorov would be a pretty good blow to the depth of the organization.

The London Knights are off to a slow start and could use Zadorov's presence on the back end. The whole reason for the CHL/NHL agreement is to maintain a quality CHL product by keeping the best players it can on the ice. Both the Knights and the league would love to see him back.

Mother Russia would love to have a defenseman like "Big Z" and would pay handsomely to have him in the KHL.

And, a cut of Zadorov's salary, of course, would go to Hedges, his agent. Right now Hedges isn't making very much in Zadorov's case and it sounds as if he's trying to push the issue.

But for Zadorov, it's not about money. Or at least that's what he's been saying since being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft. He has said repeatedly that he "wanted to play in the best league in the world, the NHL."

Zadorov appeared on Hockey Hotline with Kevin Sylvester soon after he was drafted and was asked about any pressure from back home and the potential lure of the KHL. He said that it was the most "popular question for [a] Russian" at the NHL Combine. "Every team asked me this question," he said. "They asked, 'If you play in here (in North America) for a couple more years and you don't make it to an NHL team, and a KHL team asks you if you want to come and get some money. Like a lot of money?' [would he leave?]"

He told the guys on the Hotline that his answer was, "You guys don't have money here?

It was a poignant statement in the form of a question that was delivered with child-like simplicity. And it came from a young man who knows the ropes but refuses to get caught up in them.

Jakubowski returned St. Petersburg's serve with his statement today and it looks as if this issue is far from being resolved. Right now Zadorov is with the team on the west coast. Whether he plays or not is up to the coaching staff.

Zadorov has been consistent in his statement about wanting to play in "the best league in the world." There's no reason to believe he's blowing smoke. In fact there's an honesty about him that makes it seem as if he's incapable of doing something like that.

If he wants to play in the NHL and he has a contract with the London Knights, a team who would love to have him back, it's up to Hedges to "do what's best for his development" and get this issue resolved with St. Petersburg.

Until then, Zadorov is be sticking with the Sabres as a healthy scratch, although he is getting practice time with the team. The Sabres know full well his desire to play in the NHL. Everyone wants to. But at this point in his development, Zadorov doesn't know what it takes to play in the NHL.

Now, even though he's not played in a game this season, not only is he learning what it takes to play in the NHL, but he's also learning about some of the B.S. that can come with the job.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A manic weekend ends on a high, and a quick look at the coming week

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


When Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton tossed a touchdown pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins with one second left to somehow pull out a victory, emergency rooms across Western New York let out a collective sigh. The area side-stepped a sports calamity the likes of which may not have been seen before in Buffalo.

The Sabres started it by getting shutout in back to back home games (Friday and Saturday.) According to Elias Sports Bureau, it's only the second time in franchise history Buffalo has been shutout in consecutive home games. The only other time it happened was in 1972 when they were shut out 2-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 17 followed by a 4-0 shutout at the hands of Ken Dryden and the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 20.

For their part, the Bills were set to give fans a reprieve from the malaise as they entered Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday with a game against a poor Minnesota Vikings team. Buffalo ended up as 6.5-point favorites which may be the largest spread as a favorite since Doug Marrone took over as head coach last season.

But, were it not for Orton and Watkins, with quick plugs to tight end Scott Chandler and wide receiver Chris Hogan both of whom made huge plays on the game-winning drive, sports fans in Buffalo would have been out of their minds.

Be it known that the Bills did their very best to give the game away. They gave up six sacks, were flagged for eight penalties and turned the ball over four times (1 INT, 3 lost fumbles.) Somehow, the gods smiled upon them and they were able walk off the field with the win and a 4-3 record.

It was Kim and Terry Pegula's first win as owners of the Buffalo Bills.

The tandem of Orton and Watkins is a study in extremes, but they're getting the job done.

Orton, a fourth round pick (2005,) is a much-maligned veteran QB with an inconsistent history whom the Bills plucked off of his sofa late in the off season to serve as a back-up. Watkins was taken with fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft after the Bills and GM Doug Whaley sent their 2014 first-rounder (9th overall) and their 2015 first rounder to the Cleveland Browns to move up.

In Watkins case talent evaluation trumps the mathematics of a trade calculator as 4 > 9+x, save for a scenario where x would equal 5 or less. In other words, the Bills gambled that they would be getting a superstar talent in Watkins, the top offensive talent in the draft and they gave up the equivalent of two upper-mid first round picks to land him. The only scenario that would be deemed a failure is if they totally crapped the bed and finished with a poor record giving the Browns a top-5 pick.

Which leads us to the Buffalo Sabres.

They probably won't need to worry about having to trade up to land a top-four pick this year as they've plummeted to 29th place after only six games and are looking like a bottom-dweller. They may do some wheeling and dealing to take one of their lower first rounders and try to move up if there's a player they like, but it's almost a certainty that they will not be trading out of their top pick for upper-first rounders, no matter how many are offered.

It will be weird when the team gets to the point where, eventually, they'll be drafting only one player in the first round. It was odd last year after going consecutive years with two first rounders. We kept waiting for GM Tim Murray to announce that they moved back into the first round, but it never materialized. No worries. In 2015 they'll have three first round picks which will be a lot of fun for the first day.

Planned? Absolutely. The Sabres received exceptional value for star players who never could gel as a team. From Gaustad to Miller and all players in between it was a case of parts being worth more in individual trades then they were worth collectively while trying to play as a team.

Unfortunately, when moving what little veteran talent they had during the purge, the Sabres left a huge void both offensively and in net.

Last season the team finished with an historically low of 150 goals scored, the likes of which hadn't been seen in the post-Original Six expansion era of the NHL. Granted, it would take a collapse of epic proportions this season, like an imploded building being sucked up by a sinkhole, for the Sabres to eclipse the 1928-29 Chicago Blackhawks for worst all-time. In only their third year in the league, the Hawks scored 33 goals in 44 games for an average of 0.75 goals/game. But at 1.17 goals/game the Sabres are on a pace to record a sub-triple digit, 95 goals/game.

It won't (shouldn't?) be that bad for the season, but it looks pretty ominous for the rest of the month at least. The NHL schedule-makers put the smack-down on Buffalo. They have the Sabres on a three game west coast trip (back-to-back, Anaheim/Los Angeles and San Jose') followed by a stop in Toronto before heading home to close out the month vs. Boston. Of that grouping, only Toronto (22nd in the league) finished out of the top-10 last season with the Kings winning the Stanley Cup and only Toronto (26th) finished outside the top-10 in goals against last season. (Any idea which team could be a target for the Sabres second win of the season?)

An inept offensive team like Buffalo is going to have a pretty tough time against a group like that, especially with an NHL-worst powerplay that hasn't scored a goal in 17 opportunities. In fact, the team has only four players who've scored a goal to begin with--Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno, two each while Torrey Mitchell has one.

Hello, Monday, what a great way to start out the week, eh?

On a positive note for Sabres fans, the Rochester Americans look like they're going to have a pretty good season.

Granted, it's only three games in, but the Amerks have plenty going for them. They have scored 14 goals to start the season, never scoring less than four in a game, while giving up only seven goals against.

The organizational reset that's been going on for the past year has stocked Rochester. On offense they have a strong group of veterans lead by Luke Adam, Phil Varone and Matt "friggen" Ellis. AHL rookies like Mikhail Grigorenko and William Carrier are joining younger players like Joel Armia and Johan Larsson up front while the team seems to have landed a good one in Akim Aliu when they signed him to a 25-game tryout.

The defense is strong with a stout group lead by team captain Drew Bagnall. Youngster Chad Ruhwedel looks as if he's ready to break out (1g, 3a) while rookie Jake McCabe has all the tools, but just needs to put in some time on AHL ice.

The Amerks and head coach Chadd Cassidy also have goaltending. Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov are quality goalies with varying degrees of experience, but who both have proven to be very capable in net.


**********

For the coming week, the Sabres will be playing on Wednesday Oct. 22 (10:30pm,) Thursday Oct. 23 (10:30pm) and Saturday Oct. 25 (4pm.)

The Amerks get into the groove of their season. They host the Rockford Ice Hogs on Oct. 22 (7pm,) and the Adirondack Flames Oct 24 (7pm) before travelling to Glen Falls, NY to take on the Flames on Oct. 25 (7pm.)

On October 22, Sabres fans will get the opportunity to see the consensus first overall pick in the upcoming 2015 NHL Draft as Connor McDavid and his Erie Otters take on the Niagara Ice Dogs at the First Niagara Center.

McDavid's competition for first overall status, Jack Eichel, has already hit the ice in Buffalo as he was a part of the All-American Prospects Game held at F'N Center on September 25th.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rivalry Saturday

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Both the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres face familiar foes today as the Amerks hit the road for a game with the Toronto Marlies while the Sabres play host to the Boston Bruins.

Rochester kicks things off at 3 pm with a match in Toronto. The Marlies swept the Amerks in the playoffs in the 2012 and 2013. Last season the teams split their 10 game series winning five apiece. The Amerks have won two of the last three.

Forward Johan Larsson and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel lead the team in scoring with four points apiece (each with a goal.) Mark Pysyk, who was sent to Rochester yesterday along with fellow defenseman Jake McCabe, should be in the lineup this afternoon. Pysyk played extremely well last season with both Buffalo and Rochester and looked like a lock to make the Sabres opeining roster. He played one shift in his first game of the preseason and went out with a shoulder injury.

Pysyk's assignment to Rochester should be deemed nothing more than a conditioning stint. When he's ready he'll be back up in Buffalo. Tonight he'll be on the top pairing with Drew Bagnall.

McCabe isn't expected in the lineup until the Amerks begin a three games in four night stretch on Wednesday in Rochester vs. the Rockford Ice Hogs.

In addition to keeping an eye on Larsson and Ruhwedel, Mikhail Grigorenko and Joel Armia are looking to rebound from sub-par performances in a 6-4 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Grigorenko was held to one shot and was a minus-3 while Armia had only two shots and was a minus-2.

Rochester's Akim Aliu, who is on a 25-game tryout with the club scored his first two goals of the season in the loss vs. the Bulldogs. He played 14 games for Hamilton last season.

Forward Tim Schaller had a memorable game vs. Toronto last season when he singlehandedly brought Rochester back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period of an April 5th contest. Schaller's hat trick tied the score and Phil Varone scored the game winner with :45 left to keep their playoff march going.

In Buffalo, the human gesture machine, Milan Lucic, brings his lighter wallet (thanks to an NHL fine) and his hard-head to the F'N Center tonight.

The B's are off to a rather slow start going 2-4 to kick off the season. They took it on the chin 6-4 in Montreal for the Habs home opener after giving up four unanswered goals in the second half of the game.

Canadiens' fans really got to Lucic during the game, riding him for stupid remarks in the handshake line during last year's playoff loss to Montreal. After entering the box for boarding Alexie Emlin, Lucic made his obscene gesture, one for which he was fined $5000 and later apologized for. “I’m not proud of what I did there and I want to apologize for embarrassing the Bruins organization,” Lucic said. “I also want to apologize to our fans also apologize to the Montreal Canadiens organization and to the Canadiens fans. I know they can get under your skin sometimes, but they are great fans. Apologies for my actions, I regret what I did.”

Regardless of where the teams are in the standings, it's usually a battle and as bad as the Sabres have been for the last couple of years, they're still 5-5-0 in their last 10 games vs. the Bruins; 6-3-1 at home.

One thing to watch tonight is a backup goalie vs. the Sabres as the team has had the tendency to make them look like Hall of Famers. Tonight Boston will have Niklas Svedberg in net. The 25 year old Swede is making his third career start. He's 1-1 in his other two starts giving up two goals in each game.

Brian Flynn will be in the lineup tonight replacing Sam Reinhart. Flynn has recorded a goal and an assist in each of his last two home games against the Bruins.

Reinhart, who was skating on the fourth line the last two games will be in the pressbox observing. “It’s one of those things. He’s a young player that’s still learning,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said of Reinhart. “So we’ll let him watch a game and let’s see how he comes from that.”

Reinhart has been rendered ineffective since he's donned a Sabres uniform. In five regular season games for the Blue and Gold he has registered only two shots and is a minus-1.

There's no need to rush Reinhart back to his junior club, Kootenay Ice, at least from the Sabres' perspective, but Kootenay is sporting a poor 3-6 record and have only 20 goals, which is tied for second worst in the WHL.

Jhonas Enroth is back in the net for the Sabres coming off of a 1-0 loss/34-save performance vs. Florida last night.

No changes are expected in the Sabres' lines save for Flynn coming in to center the fourth line in Reinhart's place.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Sabres host Florida tonight as the roster begins to take shape

Reprinted with permission from hockyebuzz.com


When the Buffalo Sabres opened the regular season on October 9th, they had five players injured--G, Matt Hackett; F, Patrick Kaleta; F, Johan Larsson; D, Mark Pysyk; D, Jake McCabe.

Hackett is still recovering from a knee injury after a nasty collision took him out last season while Kaleta is back on the ice in a non-contact uniform.

Kaleta was hit in the face by a puck that, according to the winger, “Broke a bunch of things in there." He went on to say that behind his full face shield are three plates and 14 screws which are now a part of him. And although he still has blood in his eye from the slapshot, “I went through all the tests with my eyeball," he said, "and I’m blessed and lucky my eyesight is good, knock on wood, so far. Everything else was pretty much crushed, I guess." Save for his spirit.

He's back on the ice skating with the team after being out only three weeks and he's itchin' to get back out there. “I’m probably going to let the plates and the screws settle a little bit. Other than that, once I get the green light, I’m ready to go whether my face is broken or not.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tyler Myers, Sam Reinhart, and other thoughts

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


The Tyler Myers rumors are cranking up again fueled by TSN's Darren Dreger.

For Dreger, it's becoming old hat to trot out Myers' name in his Insider Trading segment. Back in February when the rumor mill was cranking for the impending trade deadline, Dreger was invited on WGR Radio to discuss word that the Sabres' were getting interest in Myers from teams like the Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers and the always present Toronto Maple Leafs.

Dreger noted that Sabres GM Tim Murray wasn't actively shopping Myers and that a rebuilding team should at least entertain offers for a perceived top-pairing defenseman. He emphasized that Myers would not just be given away and mentioned that Murray would probably looking for a young roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.

As the trade deadline came and went with Myers staying put, rumors subsided until July when the Detroit Red Wings were said to be interested in him. Wings GM Ken Holland was looking for a right handed d-man during the stretch run and had his eyes set on Vancouver's, Alexander Edler.

That fell through and to make matters worse in Hockeytown, Detroit, uncharacteristically, was unable to land top free agents on July 1st. "Our hope was to acquire a right-shot defenseman," GM Ken Holland said at the time. "We made offers to four or five. For a variety of reasons, they chose to go elsewhere."

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press was making the radio-rounds in the first week of July when Myers' popped up on the radar and she speculated names like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tartar or Tomas Jurco would be in the mix plus "a defenseman, and a first-round pick."

In a Free Press article, St. James described Myers in a way that may have had her wondering why the Sabres would part with Myers at this time. "[He] stands a towering 6-feet-8, the only D-man who can look Boston’s Zdeno Chara in the eye without craning his neck. Myers is only 24, but already he has played 318 NHL games since joining Buffalo in 2009-10, the season he took home the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year on the strength of 48 points in 82 games.

"He is good offensively (he has hit or come close to 10 goals four out of five seasons) and valuable on the power play, where he has 13 of his 41 career goals.

"In 2013-14, Myers had nine goals and 22 points in 62 games, averaging just under 22 minutes per game. He is a very good skater, plays in all situations and can serve as a shut-down guy. Myers makes mistakes (like everyone else), but he has franchise defenseman written all over him, and he is still two or three years removed from even entering his prime."

Which begs the question, why would the Sabres part with Myers?

Murray and former GM Darcy Regier gutted the defense-corps to make room for the charge of the youngins. Myers, at the age of 24, is the oldest of this young group. Mark Pysyk, who should be in the top-six upon returning from injury, is 22 yrs. old and Rasmus Ristolainen is 19. In the hopper are Jake McCabe (21) and Nikita Zadorov (19) who are skating with the team but will probably be headed to the AHL and junior respectively. Twenty-four year old Chad Ruhwedel should not be dismissed either as he's making definitive progress in the AHL.

This off season Murray was able to sign veteran stay-at-home defenseman, Josh Gorges. With head coach Ted Nolan taking off the chains and Gorges holding the fort, Myers has had free-reign on the ice and has been showing the form that made him rookie of the year. He's averaging over 26 minutes a game and has an even plus/minus rating. Although he's yet to hit the scoresheet, not much space is being created by a group of forwards that has only four goal scorers thus far this season. Scoring will come.

Add that to the fact that the Sabres gutted it out with Myers as his play steadily declined in the three post-Calder Trophy years before bottoming out under X's and O's head coach, Ron Rolston, and it doesn't make a lot of sense for the Sabres to move him. Unless the return is off the charts.

Myers is in the third year of a 7yr./$38.5M contract he signed under the previous regime. His $5.5M cap-hit is very attractive anywhere along a team's top-three defensemen, which is where he is on any team in the league. And it's attractive to a team like the Buffalo Sabres who could have their top defenseman locked into that salary for the next four seasons.

Again, with all of that going for the team with Myers, it just doesn't make a lot of sense for the Sabres to trade him now. Unless you're in the media and need a story.


**********

The Sam Reinhart experiment has gone on one game too long.

Against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday Reinhart skated on the fourth line for 6:39 with, obviously, no special teams time.

Regardless of where he was drafted or what his skill-set is, Reinhart's game has not translated to the NHL yet and any more games he plays on the fourth line would further that point.

He has shown glimpses of what he has to offer and you can see that he's a sponge soaking up his environment, but the simple fact is this, he's not physically ready for the NHL. It's a man's game. The players on that ice are at work. They're busting their asses at a job that pays them more than they'll ever make anywhere else and they're willing to do anything to keep it. That would include laying the body on an underdeveloped, 18 yr. old who just happened to be the second overall pick in June's draft.

If the Sabres are truly committed to player development, they'll send Reinhart back to junior. It's looks to be another rough year in Buffalo, so why expose a kid to a losing environment? Unless you're Zemgus Girgensons who has the physical and mental makeup, being in an environment like that will only hinder player development.


**********

Speaking of Girgensons, people are starting to hop a ride on the "Latvian Locomotive" and are now starting to guage what his upside might be.

Many questioned his skill-level and projected him out as a top-nine/bottom-six type of grinder with a decent, yet limited, scoring touch. And rightfully so as last year he scored only eight goals and 22 points in 71 NHL games. The prior season in Rochester he had six goals and 17 points in 61 regular season games for the Amerks.

Girgensons is beginning to put those questions to rest as he displayed a slick set of hands in scoring both his goals as well as his shootout winner and he looks poised for a breakout year at only 20 yrs. old.

One of the reasons Girgensons was the only youngin to stay in Buffalo through the implosion last season was his stout constitution. The kid has thick skin and is not bothered by anything. In fact, it would seem as if the more difficult the situation, the more he looks forward to the challenge.

I wrote a piece on him back in July, 2012 focusing upon his skill and will.

According to former coaches, his will proceeded his skill and in the piece I grabbed a quote from an article by Kevin Snow entitled The Legend of Zemgus.

Jim Montgomery who was coach and general manager when Girgensons played for the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) said this about the kid, "If Zemgus has the belief that he can accomplish something, and there’s a challenge in front of him, then he’s going to attack it.

"His skill and will have been elite since day one. That’s why he was an NHL first round pick and that’s why he is signing an NHL contract today (at 18 yrs. old.) Whatever situation he is put in the coach is going to love him and his teammates are going to love him. He is the ultimate team player that helps you win every night.”

In watching his development, he didn't go Sam Bennett all-in and end up on the IR route. Girgensons took a measured approach, soaking in the game every shift. He was constantly in motion with the wheels in his brain churning while he used every degree of his peripheral vision to get a feel for the ice. He did that in Rochester and then again last season in Buffalo.

The difference between Girgensons and Reinhart, who is doing the same thing, is that Girgensons had an NHL-body at the age of 18 whereas Reinhart is not quite there yet.

Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle was on this at the 2012 Sabres Development Camp when he said Girgensons turning pro was a "foregone conclusion." Wrote Oklobzija, "Once he learned where he stood physically against other young pros, I think he knew this is where he should be. The vibes I sensed in speaking with him on Monday and again on Thursday made it seem pretty clear he wanted to be a professional hockey player now."

Girgensons is a fearless, two-way, heart and soul kinda player who still has plenty of upside. He has all the makings of a special player in this league.

One final note, Montgomery tweeted out (thx, Bill Hoppe) that the name Zemgus in Latvian means "one who eats lions."

Not "has the heart of a Lion," but "one who eats lions."



**********

I love it when the media jumps on a "darling" early on. It usually foreshadows a fall, however brief or long that tumble might be.

Sabres fans have a keen interest in what happens with the NY Islanders this season as they own the Isles first round pick in the 2015 draft. Islanders GM Garth Snow went to work to make his club a playoff team and avoid a possible lottery pick for the Sabres.

In May he solidified his goaltending situation by trading a fourth round pick for the rights for soon to be unrestricted free agent, Jaroslav Halak. Snow proceeded to re-sign him to a four year, $18M contract extension.

Next Snow would start shoring up his weak defense-corps.

In June he traded a conditional fifth-round pick for San Jose's Dan Boyle and on October 4th, the Isles announced that they had made separate trades for Chicago's Nick Leddy and Boston's Johnny Boychuk.

He also added some veteran presence to the forward group by signing Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin and added some depth with former Sabre Cory Conacher.

The result thus far has been very positive as the Islanders jumped out to a 3-0 start to the season.

Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski is leading the parade by touting the hot start of Brock Nelson and the Livestrong "knockoff bracelet" he wears that says "Prove People Wrong." Nelson said of the bracelet and the slogan, "It’s kind of a good slogan to carry around with you all the time."

Although I don't have the figures, nor do I have the desire to look them up, one can bet that Nelson now appears on at least twice as many fantasy lineups as before. His three goals and seven points has him in the company of Alexander Ovechkin and teammate John Tavares atop the leaderboard for points in the NHL.

It's too early to judge where the Isles will finish the season and even with their start I'm not convinced they'll make it into the playoffs. In their three wins, two have come against Carolina and in the other one they had everything go their way in a 6-3 drubbing of the NY Rangers.

Tonight will be a real good test against a big, strong, hungry San Jose' Sharks team. Even with a victory, the big test for the Isles, as with any pro team, is depth as the long hockey season drags on.



**********

Finally, the Sabres are at home facing the 0-2-1 Florida Panthers tomorrow night.

The Cats are off to a rough start with only three goals for, nine goals against and a home crowd vs. Ottawa the other night that only drew a little over 7,000 fans.

That's ugly.

Almost as ugly as goalie Roberto Luongo's 3.78 goals against average and .870 save percentage. Luongo is a seasoned veteran and will eventually right the ship, maybe even starting tomorrow night against the Sabres and their limited scoring ability (seven goals in four games.)

The intriguing "matchup," for what it's worth, might just be Cats defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was taken first overall at the draft this year and Reinhart who was taken with the next selection.

Ekblad has been earning the confidence of Florida head coach Gerard Gallant as the 18 yr. old has seen his ice-time increase over the course of the first three games. Former Sabres' defenseman Brian Campbell has been Ekblad's partner.

Gallant has liked what he's seen so far, “The kid is playing the way we want him to,” Gallant said (via George Richards of the Miami Herald.) “He’s looked good. He’s playing the way he did in junior although he’s playing against men, against NHL players so he’s not getting the scoring chances he did. Still, he’s putting the puck to the net, moving the puck and defending real well. He’s getting better every game.”

Fact is, there really is no matchup as Reinhart is regressing. But it makes for good headlines. I guess..

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No avoiding it, the "Pew Wee Sabres" are looking at a possible 0-4 start...

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


but luckily tonight they play another pointless team in the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Buffalo Sabres have never started out a season 0-4, and only twice in franchise history have they started 0-3. That would be last year and this year. Those are the positives for the club heading into tonight's game in Raleigh, NC.

But, on the flipside, they went 1-8-4 in the second game of back-to-backs last season, and according to head coach Ted Nolan, it may seem as if the team will be playing 3-on-20 when they hit the ice in
Carolina.

After yesterday's home debacle against the Anaheim Ducks, Nolan was asked how frustrating it was having only two players score goals in the three games played thus far (Zemgus Girgensons, 2 and Tyler Ennis, 2.) "Those are the probably the only two guys that worked," said Nolan. "It's pretty hard to have two forwards and maybe one defenseman that's doing it [on a nightly basis.]"

The defenseman Nolan might have been alluding to is Tyler Myers. He leads the team in average TOI/game at 25:24 and is sporting an even plus/minus rating so far. And that's with Buffalo's league-worst 4.67 gaa/game.

Interesting to note that both Girgensons and Ennis are also at an even rating.

Minus those three and maybe a couple of others, there's no sense of desperation on the team. It's to the point that some, like Andrej Meszaros, play as if they've checked out already. A mere three games into the season.

Changes are coming with the defense pairings. Meszaros and Andre Benoit have had their fair share of ice time and have been pretty atrocious. Meszaros has one assist and is a minus-6 while Beniot has zero points and is a minus-4. Nolan has been very patient to this point, "But," he said, "don't confuse my patience with avoidance. Never do that."

Tyson Strachan, who was rumored to be hitting the ice yesterday looks as if he'll get his shot today as Meszaros rides the pine in the pressbox.

And more line juggling looks to be on the horizon as Hodgson moved from wing to center dropping to the third line while rookie Sam Reinhart could be centering the fourth line.

Although neither goalie is innocent in this trainwreck, even while facing over 40 shots per game, they havent' been up to snuff either as the holes in their games have been exploited and they stand accused of mental lapses leading to a couple of softies.

Michal Neuvirth was in net last night and faced 44 shots from the Ducks, whom Nolan called the "NHL team" while the Sabres team that skated in front of him, one that Nolan referred to as a "Pee Wee team" mustered a grand total of 12 shots on goal. "You could shoot the puck down the length of the ice 15 times and probably hit the net on 10 of them," said Nolan last night.

The Sabres have been outshot 131-57 in the opening three games which can be attributed to a huge discrepancy in both talent and will. Lack of the latter has never been a problem with a Ted Nolan coached team, and once he gets things settled a bit, they should play much better.

Tonight they go against a Carolina team that has yet to register a point in it's two games. Early projections had these two teams battling it out for the bottom of the conference and league and it looks as if those are bang-on to this point.

Losing is never easy, even if a fan base like Buffalo's is prepared for it.

All that's asked of the players is that an honest effort be put forth. Nolan expects it and the fans would like to see it.

We'll see how long it takes for the players to get that message.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Matinee game plus the Bills, Bailey and the 2016 NHL All-Star Game

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


No one will ever be able to convince me that bad officiating has nothing to do with a loss.

Momentum plays a huge part in every sport and a bad call during the course of a game can keep a team from gaining or stopping momentum at any point in the contest. It happened yesterday in the Bills vs. New England as it did the week before at Detroit. What bad calls at crucial times do is keep a team at bay, just out of reach of the favorite (maybe, favored?) or it will keep an underdog team from getting too far ahead.

Although the Bills didn't lay an egg in the second half because of poor or one-sided officiating, a couple of bad calls at crucial moments made their task much more difficult, if not insurmountable. That's how officiating affects the outcome.

It happens in football, it happens in baseball and it happens a lot in basketball.

Bad calls happen in hockey as well and may have something to do with the outcome, but it's something that can be countered by the great equalizer--the goaltender. A tough goalie can single-handedly swing the momentum back.


The Sabres have been getting some quality goaltending through the first two games, unfortunately there hasn't been nearly enough to cover all of the holes on this team. And that would include the holes in Jhonas Enroth's game.

Enroth has played well, at times standing on his head while facing 87 shots over the first two games, but he has gaping holes top-shelf which have been exploited. Add that to a couple of softies and you come up with nine goals against over the first two games with a .897 save percentage.

It's not all his fault as turnovers and defensive breakdowns routinely occur, albeit not with the frequency they happened to begin last season, and the Sabres did kick off the season against two quality opponents in the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks. Having the Jax score three and Hawks lay six goals on this team with this goaltender isn't all that far-fetched especially with the firepower Chicago has.

With the defeats comes the opportunity for changes and it looks as if a couple of changes will be made for today's matinee with the Anaheim Ducks.

Early indications are that Michal Neuvirth will step in front of the shooting gallery for his first start in goal on the season. Neuvirth played for Anaheim bench boss Bruce Boudreau for Washington from 2008-2012. Also, it looks as if Andrej Meszaros will be taking his two shots on goals and minus-5 rating to the pressbox in favor of Tyson Strachan.

Still on the injured list are defensemen Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk as well as forward Patrick Kaleta and goalie Matt Hackett.

Forward Brian Flynn looks to be a healthy scratch for the third straight game.

Tonight will be the first of a back-to-back with a contest tomorrow at Carolina and it will be the first of 18 scheduled back-to-back games Buffalo has on the season. Last season they went 4-9-0 on the first game while going only 1-8-4 in the second.

The Sabres have not done particularly well against the Ducks as of late going 4-6-0 over their last ten games. The two teams will meet again in Anaheim on October 22 as the Sabres kick off a three-game west coast road trip that features stops in Los Angeles and San Jose' before they come back east to finish out the trip in Toronto.

It's a part of a brutal October schedule that will also feature two tilts with the Boston Bruins. Of the 11 games, only three are against non-playoff teams (Carolina, Florida and Toronto.)


Over in Rochester, the Amerks came out of their season opening back-to-back home tilts with a split. They opened the season with a 6-1 win against the Adirondack Flames then dropped the following game 6-4 to the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Nine players scored goals for Rochester with Akim Aliu netting two. Aliu is on a 25-game pro tryout with the club. Of note is that he also had two goals in the preseason.

Forward Johan Larsson and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel lead the team in scoring with a goal and three assists each while Willam Carrier, Tim Schaller and Matt "Friggen'" Ellis lead in the plus/minus column with a plus-2 rating.

Nathan Lieuwen has been in net for both games. He's faced 58 shots allowing six goals against for a 3.02 gaa and a .897 save percentage.

Defenseman Nick Petrecki was auto-suspended for the Hamilton game for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of the Adirondack game. He pounded on the Flames Trevor Gilles sparking a brawl that saw Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia and Schaller all squaring off with dance partners.

Gilles was also automatically suspended for one game.

The AHL is reviewing the matter.

Down on the farm, prospect Justin Bailey is on a tear since being sent to his junior team. Bailey has a five game point streak with six goals and 10 points for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL and is also two-for-two in the shootout. On Saturday he scored his second career hat trick.

The 2013 second round pick (No. 52) was left off the U-20 Evaluation Camp this summer but according to Kris Baker in his Sabres Prospect Report for sabres.com, "maintaining the productive pace could land Bailey back on the radar come December when Team USA builds their (IIHF World Junior) selection camp list."

Bailey's father Carlton played for the Buffalo Bills from 1988-1992.

And, finally, the Buffalo Sabres are holding a press conference today with NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman on hand to announce that, according to the Buffalo News, the 2016 NHL Draft will be held in Buffalo.

The hits just keep rolling for the Pegulas. Now if they can get that off field/ice success transferred to their teams.