Monday, December 22, 2014

The Luke Adam trade should be the first of many.

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Prior to the Buffalo Sabres game at the Winnipeg Jets, the team announced that they'd traded LW Luke Adam to the Columbus Blue Jackets for forward Jerry D'Amigo.

Adam was taken in the second round (44th overall) of the 2008 draft. He was the third Sabres pick behind the two Tyler's--Myers (12th) and Ennis (26th.) With the Sabres lacking size and depth down the middle they plucked the 6'2" 203 lb. Adam from the St. John's Fog Devils of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Kris Baker of Sabresprospects.com echoed what the Sabres were seeing in the big center when they drafted him. "[Adam] goes hard at both ends, and was the leading scorer for St. John's this past season. With an Owen Nolan/Rick Nash type game, he's a responsible, soft-handed scorer who likes use his 6'2, 200-pound body to bang and create. His skating has prevented him from entering the elite tier of forwards."

Adam was AHL Rookie of the Year while with the Portland Pirates in 2011. He was the third Buffalo Sabres' prospect in a row to win the Award behind Nathan Gerbe (2009) and Ennis (2010.) In an odd twist, the Sabres affiliation with Portland lasted three seasons (2008-2011) and they had the rookie of the year in all three of them.

After a tantalizing nine goals and 10 assists through the first 27 games of the 2011-12 season for Buffalo, Adam took a major step back and ended up in Rochester. He played 52 of his 87 total NHL games that year, never touching NHL ice more than 12 games in one season (2013-14) after.

The skating issues really surfaced not only prevented him from entering "the elite tier of forwards," but it was also a huge hindrance at the NHL level as he never could catch up to the speed of the game.

Adam's last two contracts have been of the one-year/two-way variety indicating that the team really wasn't looking at him as part of the future, something Sabres GM Tim Murray discussed with the forward. "Tim's been honest with me and he said if guys passed me by (on the organizational depth chart), he'd give me an opportunity elsewhere," Adam said.

Sure enough, only two forwards have been called up this season--free agent Tim Schaller and 2012 first round pick (12th,) Mikhail Girgorenko. The Adam trade was announced the day after Grigorenko received his call-up.

D'Amigo was originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 (158th) and was traded to the Blue Jackets for Matt Frattin this past July. His trade to the Buffalo organization brings him back to upstate NY. The Binghamton, NY native played for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY before being drafted by Toronto.

Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy knows D'Amigo pretty well having coached him while an assistant to Ron Rolston for the USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2007-08 and '08-09.

Although D'Amigo won't put up the offensive numbers Adam did, he's a different type of player, one that the Sabres are laying a foundation with. "Jerry brings a tremendous work ethic to our organization," said GM, Murray, "and we know he’ll have an immediate impact with the Amerks."

In a tweet, Baker called D'Amigo "a good depth pickup for the organization. Has always made an impact - be it WJC or AHL playoffs. Still young and has more to prove."

This, undoubtedly, will be the first of many trades between now and the March 2, 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. During the next two months Murray will be looking at players on the team with expiring contracts like forwards Chris Stewart and Drew Stafford and defensemen Andre Benoit, Andrej Meszaros and Tyson Strachan. Also in the mix are pending UFA goalies Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. And those are just the obvious.

Last night the Sabres had their first dud of a game in weeks as they dropped a 5-1 decision at Winnipeg, a place where they haven't won since 1993. They're off until they host the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. In the interim, the NHL's trade freeze goes into effect, beginning Friday, December 19.

Thirty-two games into the 2014-15 season, the Sabres sit in 24th place thanks to a 10-4 run. They're still well outside a playoff spot (six points, with three more games played than FLA) and nine points ahead of the last place Carolina Hurricanes (with two games in hand.)

They're in no-man's land right now, the same spot they were under the former regime. It's something Murray said could be fixed and he has stated in the past that the team wouldn't forsake the future for a futile run to ninth place.

The Adam trade may be the first one of many to come.





Sunday, December 21, 2014

The curious case of the Colorado Avalanche

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


On the NFL network this morning, "tanking" came up in the conversation. There were accusations of tanking in the NBA and the question was posed as to whether or not it existed in the NFL.

Michael Irvin, of course, chimed in first saying that there's no way players would tank in the NFL. Boomer Esiason echoed the sentiments. Wish I was there to mention the saga of the Indianapolis Colts back in 2011 as a Colts team that had double-digit wins dating back to 2002 suddenly fell to 2-14.

I guess everybody believes it was a matter of coincidence that Colts QB Peyton Manning would be moving on at the end of the season and that the most highly touted quarterback since Manning himself was available at the top of the 2012 draft. Sure, Manning was injured, but you mean to tell me that they couldn't have found anyone better than Kerry Collins? Or his backup Curtis Painter?

After that dreadful season, the Colts made the smooth transition from Manning to another franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, and miraculously, they began a new string of double-digit wins that will continue this season.

Was it intentional, coincidence or pure luck (pun intended?)

The NFL doesn't have a draft lottery system. If you finish last, you get the #1-oveall pick. The NBA has a lottery system, one that allowed the 22nd place Cleveland Cavaliers to get the #1-overall pick with a 1.7% lottery chance.

The NHL revised it's lottery system this year to lessen the odds that the worst team in the league will get he first-overall pick but even so, the 30th place team is assured of getting one of two franchise players. Next year that will change. If your organization is entertaining the thought of tanking the season, this is the year to do it.

As of today, in the race for consensus #1 and #2 prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel two teams are trying to separate themselves from the pack--the Edmonton Oilers and the Carolina Hurricanes. Not far behind them is the Buffalo Sabres, a team whom many expected to be at the bottom as well as the Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes are somewhat surprising unless you factor in continuous ownership,  or lack of ownership, problems and the desparate need for a middling team to land a franchise-saving, generational player (see the 2005 Pittsburgh Penguins.)

The real surprise right now, though, is the 26th place Colorado Avalanche, the team Buffalo welcomes to the First Niagara Center tonight.

Colorado took the league by storm last season with a potent offense, good defense and above average goaltending. They finished atop the Western Conference last season with 52 wins and 112 points. Expectations were high for the team as most expected them to battle it out with the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues for the division this year as they prepared to avenge their seven-game, first-round playoff loss.

Yet they find themselves near the bottom of the league.

When it comes to rebuilding a hockey team, most everybody will point to Pittsburgh as a model to follow for the rebuild as they stripped away any talent they could for a few years while collecting a series of top picks. Some will point to Chicago with the Hawks landing Jonathan Toews (3rd overall, 2006) and Patrick Kane (1st overall, 2007) in back-to-back years, but they will fail to mention that Chicago won the lottery in 2007 and moved from the 5th pick to the top to draft Kane.

And some, like myself, have mentioned the Los Angeles Kings method of rebuilding where they did it without the benefit of a #1-overall pick. Drew Doughty was their highest pick at 2nd overall while key core players Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar were selected 13th (2003) and 11th (2004) respectively.

Now we can add the curious, roller-coaster rebuild of the Colorado Avalanche.

As the glory years of Joe Sakic the player-era were coming to an end after the 2007-08 season, the rebuild in Denver was set to commence. Sakic would retire after the following season as the team would finish in 28th place on the lowest scoring team in the league.

Colorado would finish out of the playoffs four of six seasons beginning in 2008-09 landing top-3 picks in three of those six seasons. In 2009 they picked center Matt Duchene 3rd overall and he would help lead the team to an 8th-place conference finish and a birth in the playoffs. The following season they would again plummet back to the bottom. After finishing 29th in the league in 2010-11 they plucked their present captain, Gabriel Landeskog, with the 2nd overall pick.

Despite the efforts of Landeskog and upstart Ryan O'Reilly (33rd overall, 2009) the 'Lanche would finish a middling 20th in the league and the following season they fell to the bottom with the second worst record (FLA) in 2012-13.

Colorado would win the lottery and select center Nate MacKinnon 1st-overall in 2013.

Those four players--Duchene, O'Reilly, Landeskog and MacKinnon--would lead the Avalanche to their incredible run last season. Duchene lead them in points with 70 (none of the four had less than MacKinnon's 63,) O'Reilly in goals with 28 (the other three had no less than MacKinnon's 24) and Landeskog would lead the team with a plus-21 rating (MacKinnon was a plus-20.)

Perhaps we should have known that Colorado would be sliding once again just based upon a recent history of bottom finishes followed by much better ones.

Can you call it a tank-job if you finish with a top-3 pick every other year? Or is it a matter of great timing that a team would finish near the bottom with high-quality players at the top of the draft those seasons?

I'm not sure what's going on in Denver, but their ups and downs over the course of the last six seasons, going on seven, is curious to say the least.

Based upon recent history and the way things have been going for them this season, maybe they'll end up with another top pick in a very strong draft. Wouldn't be surprising.

The Buffalo Sabres could use Taylor Hall, but do they need him?

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Or, better yet, should the Edmonton Oilers even think of trading him?

If one there's on thing the Darcy Regier-era taught us is that skill on the wing without top-notch centers can carry a team only so far. LW Thomas Vanek was drafted 5th overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, a draft which is considered one of the best, if not the best, of all time.

Despite Regier's claims that he had "two of the top-20 centers in the league" at one point, the farthest Buffalo ever made it with Vanek on the top line was the first round of the playoffs. Derek Roy and Tim Connolly just weren't strong enough in the middle to get them any farther.

There's no doubt Edmonton LW Taylor Hall has top-line talent, but at 23 yrs. old riding with 21 yr. old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at center, that upper-end skill has yet to fully blossom. Throw in coaching gaffes that date back to the release of Tom Renney, and you have a young kid who will have his fifth coach in four years once interim coach Craig McTavish hands over the coaching duties to formere AHL coach/associate coach/interim coach in training, Todd Nelson.

That's messed up.

One thing this front office nonsense will assure, though, it that the Oilers finish at the bottom of the league with the opportunity to draft one of two "franchise-type" players in either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Either of those two are looked upon as bonafide #1 centers.

The addition of McEichel, as the two draftpicks are summarily called, allows things to fall into place rather nicely for the Oilers. Either will take the top spot in the middle with Hall on one wing while Nugent-Hopkins can drop to a #2 role where he can really excel. Not to take away anything from Nugent-Hopkins, put there's the potential for a fairly significant upgrade on the top line which would certainly help boost the production of not only Hall, but the entire top-six.

With all of that unfolding in front of them short-term, any rumors concerning the trading of Edmonton's best player should looked at as either crazy or the media drumming up a story for the sake of having a story.

Having him land in Buffalo might even more far-fetched.

There's not a team in the league that wouldn't welcome top-line talent and the Sabres are no different. But would Buffalo be willing to give Edmonton an offer they couldn't refuse for Hall? One that would most likely start with top-pairing defenseman Tyler Myers?

It's fun to play, "Let's Make a Deal," and I'm not opposed to playing Bob Barker (something I'll delve into a bit at the end,) but the return for either Hall or Myers will need to be excessive and neither of those two rebuilding clubs would benefit by emptying the coffers for the other. Even though Edmonton's need for a top-pairing defenseman is, and has been, well documented and Buffalo has the ability to furnish them with it doesn't mean it would be a good hockey trade for either team.

As mentioned earlier, Buffalo tried and failed with a top-line winger aside a top-six center. That's why they drafted two centers with their first overall picks in 2012 and 2014. They also added a center with their second first-rounder in 2012 and drafted eight more centers during those three drafts. Strength down the middle was their weakness and their downfall.

After falling into the abyss under two owners, two general managers and three different coaches, Myers has been clawing his way back up to blueline prominence. He's a bonafide top-pairing defenseman who's ninth in the league in ice time at 25:25 minutes/game. Although his scoring is lacking at this point, he leads the team in points and is second amongst defensemen in plus/minus (minus-4.) Keep in mind that he's on the lowest scoring team in the league and one that was so bad at one point in the season the hockey community accused the Sabres organization of purposely tanking for McEichel.

In the eyes of the hockey world, the two hardest pieces of the puzzle to attain are a top-line center and top-pairing defenseman. In that scenario it wouldn't behoove management to send a top-pairing defenseman like Myers to Edmonton unless either a top-line center was coming back or the Oilers offered a to-good-to pass-up offer of Hall-plus as a return.

And that ain't happening. It has about as much of a chance of happening as Hall to the Sabres for a too-good-to-pass-up offer of Myers-plus.

Both teams are better off either keeping these young, highly skilled players or trading them to teams who have the assets and are willing to grossly overpay.

What they might be able to do is do more of a second-tier type swap.

Despite their efforts, the Oilers are still real weak on defense and it's been said for a while that they've been interested in defenseman Mark Pysyk.

Pysyk is an extremely smart, stay-at-home defenseman who can move the puck out of trouble. He's a 22 yr. old former first round pick (23rd overall, 2010) who's climbed every rung on the hockey ladder thus far, but is caught in a numbers game in Buffalo.

Right now he's in Rochester with two other defensemen with similar traits--Chad Ruhwedel and Jake McCabe. All are of similar size and stature and could be considered smart puck-movers but Ruhwedel and McCabe seem to be more instinctual offensively than Pysyk.

The Oilers could most definitely use stabilization on the back-end and Pysyk gets bonus points for being right-handed. If the Oilers are looking towards left-handed Darnell Nurse as their future, it would make for a nice match.

Although the Sabres, like any team, could use Hall, there's nothing wrong with going after another Oilers winger in Jordan Eberle.

With Pysyk and Eberle as primaries, any number of current players or prospects could be put in a package to get the deal done. Cody Hodgson in 24 yrs. old, under contract for four more seasons and can play a top-six role on the wing. Joel Armia is young, 21 yr. old right-wing wizard with the puck who's one of the Sabres top-prospects. Brady Austin is in his first professional season. He's big, can skate and adds a large presence to the blueline. Plus the Sabres have three first round picks in the draft this year.

Bottom line, the Sabres and Oilers could, and probably should, make a deal, but the names Hall and Myers don't seem to make a lot of sense at this point.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A great sports weekend gets even better today

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Things couldn't have gone better for Western New York sports fans over the weekend, unless you're a constant caller to WGR's Whiner Line.

The weekend kicked off a little early with the Buffalo Sabres downing the Calgary Flames 4-3. On Saturday there was a double dose of good news as both the Sabres and the Rochester Americans came out on top in OT by identical 4-3 scores.
And on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills bottled up almost sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rogers and his Green Bay Packers en route to a 21-13 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium making for a Monday morning full of call-offs and hangover cures.

Buffalo sports fans will get the week going tonight as the Ottawa Senators come to town tonight for a 7:00pm game that was originally scheduled for February 15, 2015. The brutal "Wall of Snow" November storm caused a game between the Sabres and the NY Rangers to be rescheduled. The NHL pushed up the Ottawa game to December 15 to accommodate the Rangers on February 15.

It will be the first of four meetings between the Atlantic division rivals.

The Sens will be facing a Sabres team that's on a roll. They're 9-3 in their past 12 games scoring 30 goals during that span while giving up 24 for a plus-6 goal differential. Not bad for a team that was a minus-41 in that department before this last streak.

Amerks finally find something to feel good about.

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


While the parent club was busy taking down the Florida Panthers on Saturday night for their ninth win in 12 games, the Rochester Americans were facing the back-end of a home-and-home against a team they've had little success against this season.

To say it's been a brutal stretch for the Rochester Americans would be an understatement. Six losses in a row, 2-8-0-0 in their last ten. Goaltending was erratic, defense inconsistent, and a once potent offense that was at the top of the league at one point in the season had lit the lamp a mere 11 times in last eight games. The team they faced last night, the Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL,) had just beaten them the night before and increased their record to 4-1 vs. the Amerks so far this season.

Crisis? What crisis?

Shall we go on?

Their leading scorers, Phil Varone, Johan Larsson, Luke Adam, Mikhail Grigorenko, Tim Schaller, and Joel Armia totaled four goals in the last eight games.

Armia has been sidelined with an upper-body injury for the last seven games and although one player does not an offense make, the big winger has a tendency to open up the ice for himself and his linemates. He had 15 points (6+9) in 19 games before his injury.

Joining Armia on the injured list are veteran defensemen Drew Bagnall and Nick Petrecki.

Bagnall's been sidelined the last four games while Petrecki has missed the last two. It left head coach Chadd Cassidy without a veteran presence on the blueline. Although his d-corps are gamers, they're very young. The "vets" on the back end are 24 yr. old Chad Ruhwedel and 23 yr. old Matt MacKenzie. Ruhwedel is beginning his second full season while MacKenzie has been bouncing between the AHL and ECHL the over the course of the previous three seasons.

No further evidence needs to be presented of their youth than the plight of Jake McCabe last night. In the first period with the Sabres up 1-0, the rookie was schooled by TJ Hensick at the Buffalo blueline. Hensick lifted a sleeping McCabe's stick on the backcheck and went in 2-on-1 with Drayson Bowman. Bowman buried Hensick's pass top-shelf, blocker side to tie the game. On the second Hamilton goal, McCabe was caught in no-man's land on a weak shot-block attempt. He not only failed to block the shot, he provided a nice little screen.


McCabe, though, would forget the first period and rest of the game he was solid. "Jake's been playing really well," said Cassidy. "we forget sometimes that he's only 21 yrs. old playing in a league with men. He competes hard, he plays hard on the puck in the d-zone, finishes off guys and is difficult to play against.

"[But,] he's still only 21 yrs. old, we [need] to keep that in mind."

Cassidy really doesn't have a "youth problem" per se up front, but with Armia out there was a pretty big void in the skill department. The coach did some juggling in Friday's game by moving Varone from center to the wing and followed through with that on Saturday. On the other wing Larsson with Grigorenko in the middle. Like the Sabres, Cassidy pretty much has himself a one-line offense.

"It's a different group this year," he said. "Last year we had two lines grind it out and skill up top [in the top-six]. Larsson, Grigorenko and Varone, they'll have a lot of rushes through the neutral zone and they'll have a lot of possession time, but really, our other [three] lines get it in deep and get a touch on [the puck]."

With only one skill line right now, Cassidy said "It's more of playing to that identity and an understanding that everybody's got to play a little different. As long as you're playing to your strengths and you're helping you're team out, that's what we need from each guy."

Up and down the lineup the coach got what he needed from his guys. McCabe recovered well from a rough first period. Chad Ruhwedel had a bit of redemption on his game-winner as he'd been foiled on a golden opportunity earlier. Larsson had three assists including a sweet cross-ice feed to Ruhwedel. Makarov was solid in net, coming up big when needed. Adam played out of character and paid the price with two ice packs on after blocking a couple shots.

"We played desperate," he said. "Guys know that it hasn't been good. We've played well enough to be in games and have opportunities to win, but we didn't have that push to win hockey games. We did tonight."

It was the first game of a season-long eight-game homestand. In all they'll be playing 11 out of the next 12 at home before they hit the road for 11 of 12. Having them pull out a gutsy win beats the alternative and after an extremely rough stretch, Cassidy was pretty relieved.  "We found something to feel good about," he said.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Sabres world turned upside down

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com


Connor McDavid. Jack Eichel. Noah Hanifin. Their names invoke a holy trinity-like reverence in the world of hockey fans who are, and have been, looking ahead to the 2015 draft.

At one point early in the season, the Buffalo Sabres were supposedly a shoe-in to finish at the bottom of the league and land one of the draft prizes. Even with the league changing the odds of landing in the top overall pick (McDavid,) the consolation prize (Eichel) was nothing to sneeze at should the last place team lose the lottery. It got to the point where those two were mentioned so often that they've now became synonymous with hitting the jackpot and are simply referred to as "McEichel."

Early on this season it was beginning to look like a harmonic convergence was taking place in Sabreland where everything was to fall into place for the a rebuilding Buffalo franchise. While the Sabres were barreling to bottom of the league eventually assuring the organization of at least one of "McEichel," the lower ranks looked to be developing players in a winning environment.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nolan and Murray don't want any put-ons. Gotta belive.

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com



With snow hitting the northtowns and interest in the Calgary Flames low, there wasn't quite the announced 18,000 fans on hand for the game last night, but the ones who were there got a nice treat. For only the third time in 29 games the Buffalo Sabres scored four goals in a game as they came away with a 4-3 comeback win.

The Sabres seemed to have awakened from the stupor they found themselves in at the beginning of the season and aren't being kicked around anymore. Where once there were howls that the lowly Sabres were tanking, the press is now taking notice of a very strong 8-3-0 run over the past 11 games.

Last night they took on a Flames team that's well within their weight class and did what they do best as of late, endure an onslaught of shots and bury what few chances they had.

Case in point. In the third period and down a goal, Zemgus Girgensons found the back of the net at about the 12:00-mark. It was their first shot of the period and it brought their shot total to 13 for the game. Buffalo would get outshot by an incredible 45-19 margin.