Sunday, April 23, 2017

Ode to Tim Murray

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-22-2017


I'm going miss Tim Murray, especially his candor when addressing the media and some of the off-beat language he used when making his point. I'm also of the opinion his tenure was cut a bit short when ownership decided to clean house.

One of things most in the Buffalo media talked about after the news of his firing hit was Murray's relative honesty when asked a question.  Even if he said he didn't want to address something, he'd still dance around a bit before giving a little insight into where his head was at on the subject. And the colorful words Murray used at times was refreshing especially with the parade of droll GM's the Buffalo sports community was subject to in both hockey and football dating back to the last century. Like when he talked with owner Terry Pegula about the trade for Evander Kane, who wasn't exactly a choir-boy off-ice. Pegula asked him about the move and Murray said that "he answered as best he could.

"It's not all unicorns and rainbows and jujus," said Murray of Kane and his off-ice issues, "I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts."

If you talk to any old timer, the stuff that goes on today is mere child's play compared to what athletes did decades ago. It's a different era and a different world. Even locker room talk and the antics that went on are now taboo and subject to intense scrutiny. When Murray talked of an incident post-game in February when his franchise center Jack Eichel verbalized his dismay with the home crowd's booing of the team. Murray's response, "[Eichel] certainly won't get his pee pee slapped by me for being a little more outspoken," a figurative expression with literal roots dating back to a different era.

That's all well and good for us outside the rink as within Murray's wry smile there seemed to be a precocious, child-like throw-back to the irreverence of days gone by. Hell, even the great Punch Imlach, the Sabres first coach and GM, had those qualities, going so far as to draft Taro Tsujimoto, a fictitious Japanese hockey player from the Tokyo Katanas (Japanese for sword,) in the 11th round of the 1974 NHL Draft, as a way of voicing his displeasure with the slow, lengthy draft process.

But the product on the ice is what matters and instead of Murray's Sabres taking a step forward this season, they were beginning to spiral out of control. Discord and disconnect ruled the roost as his team went from 81 points in 2015-16 to 78 points last season. There was plenty of blame to be thrown around from players to coaches and Murray was on the hook for the team he assembled.

Murray stormed onto the scene in Buffalo with brazen blockbusters in his first year-and-a-half of his rather short stint as a first-time GM. He finished the work of former GM Darcy Regier when he traded goalie Ryan Miller to St. Louis in February, 2014 less that two months into his tenure and lead the franchise through an ownership approved "rebuild" that completely gutted the organization of talent. Bolstered by a ton of draft picks and prospects from his predecessor Murray elected to speed up the rebuild by acquiring young-vets.

There were two unhappy young-vets available whom Murray traded for, the aforementioned Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. Murray was able to land both as the primary pieces of blockbuster trades but used a boatload of draft picks and prospects to do so. Murray got himself two good players in Kane and O'Reilly and he furthered his young-vet theory by trading for goaltender Robin Lehner at the rather steep price of a first-round pick in 2015.

The Lehner deal was consummated with his former Ottawa Senators team whose GM was his uncle, Bryan Murray. Whether or not there was something else in the works may be up for discussion, but we'll never know as Bryan Murray stepped down from his GM position in April, 2016. But in the world of the NHL there are always backroom deals as Tim Murray mentioned when it comes to the upcoming expansion draft and the new Las Vegas Knights team.

While on WGR550 radio Murray was rather honest when talking about how he's approaching the upcoming expansion draft and how he may have already done a favor for new Knights GM George McPhee who at the time was GM for the Washington Capitals. "I’ve had a conversation or two with George on who I wouldn’t like to lose (in the upcoming expansion draft) and how we can make that happen. Maybe I’ve done a deal with George in the past that was considered somewhat of a favor. Maybe I’ve had a conversation with him reminding him of that, and he remembered the wordage of that deal word-for-word, which I was very happy to hear."

The prevailing theme is that Murray's rebuild with young-vets was flawed. With the set-back his team went through and his firing this week, old clich├ęs are being tossed around with the emphasis upon rushing things.

Murray may have been on the precipice of turning things around. He knew the teams flaws, especially on defense where another of his trades, the one for Dmitry Kulikov, blew up in his face, and he may have had a plan to fix it, but he didn't say what the Pegula's wanted to hear when he met them for the end-of-season meetings.

I'd like to have seen him around for one more season tp see how he addressed the flaws throughout the hockey department from Buffalo to the Rochester Americans to the now defunct Elmira Jackals formerly of the ECHL. He has some good talent coming up to Buffalo and will also have more talent heading to Rochester for their rookie seasons. During the next three seasons we'll be seeing Murray's draft picks come through the ranks as they continue their developmental process.

Where it all leads is up in the air but if the Pegulas move takes this team forward, good for them and good for those of us in Sabreland. That said, I'm going to miss Murray. He may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but for those who got him and how he approached things, it was a pretty cool ride.







Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pegula rolls solo in important press conference

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-21-2017


I highly doubt anyone thought earlier today that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula would roll solo with his most important presser since buying the team six years ago. Thanks to Sabres TV we saw Pegula stand at the podium by himself answering questions about the present, future and, unfortunately, an unpleasant past.

Everyone who's ever watched a Terry Pegula presser knows how awkward he is in front of the microphone. He'd much rather be doing other things or answering questions about the positives he and Pegula Sports and Entertainment have done like HARBORCENTER and Canalside. But after firing both his general manager and head coach yesterday this was a time for him to take ownership of his team.

It was a ballsy move considering the many questions surrounding the state of an obviously flawed franchise, but in his opening statement he stood at the podium stating that "we" as an organization weren't happy with our season and, very humbly I might add, said that "accountability starts with me."

The theme of his approach going forward will start with three words that he repeated throughout, "discipline, structure and communication" a theme that Pegula and his wife Kim decided upon after meeting with former GM Tim Murray and former head coach Dan Bylsma. Later in the rather brief presser he added a fourth, "character."

After watching the Sabres play this season, and also following them in the media, it's not surprising that those three words would be the foundation moving forward. Lack of discipline on the ice reared it's head in the many times they failed to buy-in while off the ice it manifested itself in the Sam Reinhart saga when he was benched after breaking a recently installed zero-tolerance policy on tardiness late in the season. This Buffalo team was a mess with structure out the window and an obvious lack of communication between coach and players and more than likely between GM and owner.

When Pegula mentioned character, one couldn't help but think about Evander Kane's off-ice issues, said to be severely frowned upon by Kim Pegula. Another event was the Ryan O'Reilly bout with a Tim Horton's wall two summers ago. And one couldn't help but think that as owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills the bouts with stupidity that some of his football players had must have come to the fore in the addition of character. Murray said of Kane that he had warts, and that some of the best players of all time had warts, but Pegula just busted out the Compound W.

After a rather humble opening statement Pegula was thrown into the fire by a question about Jack Eichel and how much his discontent played into the firing of Bylsma, as well as Murray. The transition from defense to offense began as he quoted Eichel's agent Peter Fish, "I don't know where those stories come from. It's ridiculous. Pegula called it a "complete fabrication" and "not a true story."

Later in the Q&A Pegula would get on the offensive again when asked if the rumors of talking to former LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi before firing Murray. "We didn't talk to anybody," he said flatly, "pure fabrication.

"Put that in the 'Jack demanded his coach be fired' category."

All-in-all not much was said about the immediate future of the franchise save for head amateur scout Jeff Crisp handling the amateur side of things with "several people" heading the pro side. Pegula said that their goal is "to build a stronger organization top to bottom" but would not reveal if he's ready to put a Hockey Ops person in between him and the GM. A hint may have come when he answered with a definitive "no" when asked about a direct link between GM and ownership with no go-between.

We haven't seen Pegula at a Sabres presser for over three years and a lot has transpired. The hiring process of both Murray and Bylsma were done with him outside of the loop and it's something he said he regretted with the results being a second season outside of the playoffs after what he termed the Sabres "rebuild."

One reporter had a different review of the rebuild pointing to fans and media alike calling it a tank. Pegula was asked about his "point on character" and if he felt the organization was damaged in that respect from that "flawed plan, a plan that authorized and essentially hoped for losing as a way of building."

"I don't want to talk about the past," began Pegula, "but a lot of teams go through rebuilds..." The reporter mentioned that it was true, but not a lot hope to lose. "Hope to lose? We don't hope to lose," responded Pegula as he brought the past to the present.

The team tanked and perhaps they're reaping what they've sown. Some will let it go, while others while carry it to the grave.

Buffalo is in a rough spot right now with no GM to guide this team through the expansion draft, NHL Draft or free agency, not to mention the glut of 20 free agent contracts to decide upon as well as an extension for Eichel and a decision on whether or not to move forward with Kane.

Pegula is taking a methodical approach, which is good. He'll have the amateur draft covered with Crisp and even possibly former head scout and assistant GM Kevin Devine. He has Mark Jakubowski as his cap-guy and an AGM who handled much of the contract negotiations and he may tap into a trusted internal guy like Kevyn Adams for some help on the pro side.

Gotta give Pegula a lot of credit for standing up there solo in a position he's not very comfortable with, but then again, he owed it to Sabreland, as this mess is his.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Boom! Both Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma fired. Opportunity knocks

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-20-2017


It's been a rather contentious off-season for fans of the Buffalo Sabres as a very disappointing season turned to question marks in April as the NHL playoffs march on. Fans took sides when it came to who was most responsible for the step backwards the Sabres had taken this season with one side saying GM Tim Murray put together a poor roster and the other side saying the head coach Dan Bylsma couldn't figure out how to make things work on the ice.

Well, the owners of the Buffalo Sabres made it pretty clear today that they weren't happy at all with what transpired and fired both Murray and Bylsma. Here's the statement from the Pegulas:

"After reviewing the past season and looking at the future of our organization, Kim and I have decided to relieve General Manager Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma of their duties. We want to thank Tim and Dan for their hard work and efforts that they have put in during their tenures with the club. We wish them luck. We have begun the process to fill these positions immediately."

Word of the firing came when in the early part of an interview I was having with long-time Rochester Americans announcer, Don Stevens, and to show just how split Sabreland was on responsibility for the Sabres poor season, he mentioned one, yet I was thinking the other. Neither of us, however, thought that both Murray and Bylsma would be shown the door as I assume most in Sabreland didn't think this bombshell was coming.

The national media has already begun jumping on the move . Pierre LeBrun tweeted, "Constant turmoil with the Bills and Sabres. The passionate fans of Western New York deserve so much better."

It's a shot at ownership and I'm sure there will be plenty more. Some of the things that will be pointed our are the Bills 17-year playoff drought, even though the Pegula's have owned the team for only two of those seasons as well as the Sabres six-year playoff drought, all of them under the Pegulas with two of those seasons being devoted to emptying the roster for a scorched-earth rebuild. We'll also hear a lot about how they fired the Bills Rex Ryan after two seasons with three years left on his contract and that of Bylsma, who has the exact same scenario.

And while talking about paying former coaches not to coach for them, we can add in Murray who just signed a three year contract extension which kicks in this off-season.

That being said, the Pegulas should be questioned as to how they structured the Sabres post-tank years especially in light of what the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to accomplish this season.

The Leafs went into their rebuild and began by hiring Hall of Fame player Brendan Shanahan as President and Alternate governor. According to the Sabres Media guide Buffalo's President and Alternate governor is Russ Brandon, a marketing guru who's spent the last 20 years with the Buffalo Bills, becoming Chief Operating Officer in 2008 when he took charge of day-to-day football operations. The Bills have had seven coaches during that time and had a record above .500 only once.

Sabres legend and Hall-of-Famer Pat LaFontaine was with the organization in the role of Vice President but parted ways with the Sabres not long after Murray was hired as general manager. No reason has ever been given for the split and it left a first time GM in charge of the entire hockey department.

The Leafs also have another Hall-of-Famer in GM Lou Lamoriello and an almost sure-fire Hall-of-Famer in head coach Mike Babcock, whom the Sabres courted but missed out upon. The Sabres had a head coach with one Stanley Cup but plenty of question marks as to how he got that Cup.

That the structure problem that probably lead to dysfunction and a season of disconnects.

There were a lot of reasons why the season went off the tracks and lack of depth certainly contributed to it. Murray built a roster that was pretty solid up front but when injuries hit, the replacements weren't quite ready. Lack of depth was a problem that stretched down to the AHL. And Murray's defense was in shambles all season, mainly because of injury but also in large part because they didn't have enough quality.

From the coaching ranks we had a coach that apparently wasn't on the same page as the team's star player--Jack Eichel. That disconnect also lead to reported discord between the veteran players and the younger ones.

It's not surprising that Bylsma was fired as coaches are usually first to go, especially when there's reported friction between him and the face of the franchise. But Murray was a real surprise.

Murray came into Buffalo with a ton of picks and potential in his arsenal and proceeded to come out with guns ablazin' as blockbuster trades became the norm. He took a lot of heat for the Tyler Myers/Evander Kane trade even though Kane looks to be the best player in the deal. That said, he also was the one that had off-ice issues which assuredly didn't go unnoticed by the Pegulas.

The Ryan O'Reilly trade was another big one with the Sabres getting one of the top two-way players in the league. Unfortunately Murray had to give up some prime prospects including a player in J.T. Compher, who may end up being O'Reilly 2.0, and defenseman Nikita Zadorov, a young player who had some off-ice problems but one who also played in a top-four role this past season.

Then there was the trade for goalie Robin Lehner. Murray gave up a 2015 first round pick for Lehner, a source of consternation from many in Sabreland as you don't usually give up a first-rounder for a goalie unless he's had some time to establish himself. Lehner was injured his first season in Buffalo and compiled a strong 2016-17, but even with solid numbers, many are not convinced he's a top-flight No. 1 goalie.

Put it all together and the Pegulas put an end to the dysfunction with in the hockey department. The process now is all about building a proper one although we're unsure of where they want to begin. Hopefully it's with a Vice President of Hockey Operations who will define what it means to be a Buffalo Sabre as throughout the Pegula's ownership, we're not really sure what they want to be.

The Sabres have a future superstar in Jack Eichel at center and have a strong No. 2 in O'Reilly. They have a top-pairing d-man in Rasmus Ristolainen and a good number of role players spread throughout the lineup. If Lehner isn't the No. 1 goalie of the future, Linus Ullmark is in the hopper having made great strides in Rochester this past season after playing real strong as a rookie during Lehners injury.

However, the Sabres also have a lot of dead weight to move and will need to make decisions on 20 free agents this off-season and should also be looking to extend Eichel beyond next season. The draft is coming up and the Las Vegas Knights expansion draft is before that meaning they'll need to formulate their protected list.

Today's news is a bombshell, but with all that said, it's an opportunity for the Pegulas to get it right beginning with the front office. If they don't, we'll just be going through this again.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

As the Sabres turn--a Disco Dan/Jack Flash conundrum?

Published by bockeybuzz.com, 4-19-2017


The old adage in Hollywood is "there's no such thing as bad press." Well, the Buffalo Sabres are certainly going to test that. It wasn't bad enough that they were chasited relentlessly for "the tank," and that this year their season went caput while two contemporary teams made the playoffs, now the team needs to deal with internal issues between a marquis player and the coach. Oh, and the backdrop has the Sabres missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season while the NHL's Buffalo Bills just finished a 17th season outside the playoffs.

This may be a job for Sean Spicer.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray scheduled to meet with ownership today, there's a question as to what kind of remarks he'll be packing in his briefcase when he opens it up for Terry and Kim Pegula. Murray finished his end-of-season interviews with the players and hit the podium for the presser with question marks all over the place. He began by taking full responsibility for what he called "a very disappointing season" but distributed some of the blame to coaches and players. It was the second season Buffalo missed the playoffs with this core group of players and the second with coach Dan Bylsma on the bench.

Bylsma had the team Murray built at his disposal and finished with a worse record than the previous season. A shored up forward ranks and a full season of health from goaltender Robin Lehner wasn't enough to offset a weak defense, undermanned bottom-six and a number of long-term injuries to key players. Among the injured was franchise center Jack Eichel who missed the first 21 games of the 2016-17 season. However, the biggest problem may have had less to do with the above and more to do with rumors that Bylsma lost control of the room somewhere along the way.

There had been reports of a disconnect between players and coach in Buffalo for a number of months culminating with a report from WGR550 radio today that Eichel won't sign a contract extension if Bylsma is retained as head coach. From WGR's Paul Hamilton, "Inside sources have told me that Eichel has no desire to sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma remains the coach."

Eichel was drafted second-overall in 2015 after the Sabres and is the future of the franchise. He was the last player Murray talked with during last week's exit interviews and when the GM talked to the press a few hours later, he never gave an endorsement of Bylsma as the head coach moving forward. "He's my coach today," said Murray at the time before qualifying it later saying that things could change.

That change could be as early as today after Murray is finished meeting with the Pegula's.

Peter Fish, Eichel's agent, called the report "ridiculous" via John Vogl of the Buffalo News. “I don’t know where anyone is getting these reports, but they are ridiculous in a word,” Fish told Vogl. “Jack, he left Buffalo, he thought he had a real good meeting with coach Bylsma and a real good meeting with Murray. When he got home to Boston, he was genuinely excited with the thoughts that maybe they’re just a few players away from getting into the playoffs."

Not being in the playoffs might be a particular thorn in Eichel's side this season as he watches his contemporaries--Connor McDavid (2015, first-overall, EDM) and Auston Matthews (2016, first-overall, TOR)--battling it out in the post-season for the first time in their careers. The 20 yr. old Eichel has a competitive spirit and hatred to lose not seen in Buffalo since "The Dominator," Dominik Hasek ruled the crease, the last time the Sabres made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999.

"He's an extremely, extremely, competitive kid who hates to lose, he just hates it," Fish said. "He's just sitting there at the podium after a long season, World Cup, ankle injury, he missed the playoffs and he's got microphones in his face. Yes, his frustration level is there, but it's his frustration. He didn't get the team to the playoffs and he's frustrated and he wants to do better."

For some reason known only to those inside of the locker room, supposedly Eichel and a band of younger players tuned Bylsma out at some point. Veteran players were more apt to publicly say that they're professionals and they showed it on the ice by strictly adhering to Bylsma's system, but the big knock against Bylsma being rumored was that his system was too rigid and that his devotion to X's and O's created a disconnect that didn't resonate with the younger players, especially a talent like Eichel.

It's the second time that this has happened in Bylsma's two coaching stints.

Bylsma took over the Pittsburgh Penguins mid-season in 2009 and coached the team to the Stanley Cup that season. From thence came a decline and a gradual disconnect between Bylsma and his star players.

Here's what Chris Peters of cbssport.com wrote and thanks to our very own I'm That Guy, who posted the link and the following quote in the last thread:

"There are a lot of reports and rumors swirling that Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s days with the club are numbered and will get his walking papers any day now. One of the reasons, as reported by Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was that there was a disconnect between the team and its head coach, most notably between captain Sidney Crosby and Bylsma.

More from Rossi:

Crosby and Malkin felt they needed one another this season when they grew frustrated with Bylsma, the sources said.

Crosby and Malkin grew disenchanted with perceived harsh criticism they received from Bylsma during meetings, the sources said. They and other veteran players were unhappy with Bylsma's numerous meetings and long practices and the decreasing sense of fun within the Penguins' environment, the sources said.

Ownership believed Bylsma lost the dressing room this season, specifically the support of Crosby and Malkin, the sources said."

About the only thing missing from recent reports of disconnect in Buffalo was the "sense of fun" part. But anyone who watched this team through the last few months of the season could tell that this group of players lumbered through games often times with minimal passion.

Right now the Sabres have themselves a soap opera on their hands and it's sure to get noticed throughout the hockey world. Is it bad press? We shall see as there's a number of ways one could look at the situation.

Simply put, if the Sabres have any doubts about where this team will end up with Bylsma in charge, they need to pull the plug now. Murray is probably of the same thought as a disenchanted face of the franchise and/or a slow start to next season putting them in jeopardy of missing the playoffs again will probably mean a pink slip heading his way.

These are the days of our lives in Sabreland.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On coaches, the Sabres and the Leafs

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-18-2017


Bucky Gleason has a very cool article in the Buffalo News today about the coaching carousel in the NHL which, he writes, is enough to make one's head spin. With Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma's status up in the air as he awaits the result of a GM/Ownership meeting this week, there is the possibility that the Sabres will have yet another coaching change, the fourth one since Lindy Ruff was fired. Ruff's tenure lasted just about 17 seasons and at the time of his firing was a part of the longest tenured head coach/GM tandem in the NHL.

But Ruff and GM Darcy Regier's long-time tenure is the anomaly in a league where coaches are hired to be fired, as the old adage goes. Professional sports is about immediacy and hockey is no different these days.

Gleason sets the ball rolling by starting with present St. Louis head coach Mike Yeo and does a Chronicles-like unwinding of the many coaches hired and fired. It's a pretty noble piece that moves well and in the end the simple conclusion is that there are three possibilities that preclude a coach being fired: "A) the general manager needed a scapegoat for a lousy roster he assembled because, heaven forbid, it's the GM's fault; B) the coach's message grew stale; C) players underachieved."

He concludes with "the most common factor is D) All of the above," which seems to be where Bylsma and the Sabres are at this point.

GM Tim Murray's 2016-17 team was flawed, maybe fatally although maybe not because of injuries. That's what he and owners Terry and Kim Pegula will be discussing when they meet in Boca Raton, FL this week to discuss the season. We also know that there was a disconnect between Bylsma and his players. How long this disconnect existed is up for debate but it could go back to the middle of December when disturbing trends on a team getting healthy again were starting to make their way into the picture.

And, no doubt, there were players that underachieved, most notably on defense and in the bottom-six. However, the top-six performed very well, at least statistically. Even Sam Reinhart surpassed his rookie output this season.

Something just wasn't right this season for Buffalo which brings it all back on the coach.

Gleason uses Buffalo captain Brian Gionta as a way go hoist some of the blame on the players. The supposed disconnect between Bylsma and the players had a lot to do with the coaches system, to which Gionta said two months ago that coaching systems didn't vary all that much in the NHL. Gleason writes, " It was the 15-year veteran's way of saying most teams approach the game in similar fashion and, therefore, his younger teammates and others needed to stop whining about Dan Bylsma," then concludes, "there are no secrets in the NHL. Hockey always has been, and forever shall be, an effort sport."

All of that is true, and motivating players to play their hardest in an "effort sport" apparently isn't one of Bylsma's strong points, at least with this team.

Former head coach Ted Nolan was a supreme motivator who employed (at most) basic X's and O's principles while touting the value of hard work, effort and accountability. His teams almost always overachieved yet he was always ridiculed as a dinosaur with no value in the modern NHL.

Yet, as Sabres fans watch the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth year in a row, it's not hard imagining a Nolan-coached team easily eclipsing the 78-point total that Bylsma's system-oriented team gathered.

And even if they didn't, there's one thing we Sabres fans could be pretty sure of.

When the Sabres met the Leafs for the final time this season at KeyBank Center with Toronto battling for a playoff spot and Buffalo in the role of spoiler, I'd almost bet the farm that a Nolan-coached team wouldn't have laid the colossal egg this team did in the embarrassment of that game. He'd have reveled in that playoff-like atmosphere.


*****

Speaking of that game.

Toronto eeked into the playoffs by one point. Buffalo had played a highly motivated game against the Leafs 10 days prior at KeyBank and totally manhandled them 5-2. Beating the Leafs again may have put them on the ropes to where they'd have missed out on the playoffs.

It didn't happen and much to the dismay of many a Buffalo sports fan, not only is Toronto in the playoffs, but they're leading the top-seed Washington Capitals 2-1 in the series. If a Sabres fan wants to beat his or her head every time they watch the Leafs this post season, they should do so against a 2016-17 Buffalo Sabres team picture.


*****

I get the consternation of Toronto in the playoff and as a Sabres fan I will always wish them to lose, expecting the same in return.

But when the anguish of a distraught fan comes in the form of "a little rant of 20+ reasons the Leafs have me bitter and salty," perhaps we're taking it a little too far.

When WGR550 morning host Jeremy White began is rant, I and every other Sabres fan can relate, but on the other hand, I get a kick out of watching Leaf Nation celebrate every goal as if it was the Stanley Cup winner.

The Leafs are a fun team to watch and it's good for the NHL as a whole that they're relevant again. Does it hurt a bit? Yeah, it does. Do I want to slit my wrists? Far from it.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Toronto was the epitome of health this season and I'd bet the house that if Auston Matthews was injured for 21 games to start the season like Jack Eichel was, they wouldn't be in the playoffs. In fact if they also lost William Nylander and Mitch Marner like Buffalo lost Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly, they'd probably not be in the playoffs.

Everything went perfect for the Leafs this season and more power to them. And it's great for the NHL that in it's 100th Anniversary season, Toronto is back in the playoffs.


That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Of the captaincy--Jack Eichel or Ryan O'Reilly

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-17-2017


There’s an amount of respect that should be given beat writers and media members who follow sports teams. Although this shouldn’t be confused with journalists covering human suffering in all it’s ghastly shapes and forms or those who are on the beat covering political processes that affect the vast constituency woven into our American fabric, sports journalists have a job to do and their sole focus upon the team(s) they cover is their livelihood.

Being a sports journalist in Buffalo has been particularly difficult, relatively speaking, when you consider that the Bills have been the laughingstock of the NFL for nearly the entirety of their 17-year playoff drought and the Sabres are beginning to enter snicker-territory as they just finished their six consecutive season outside of the playoffs. The Bills cast a particular pall over the Buffalo sports scene with their run of mediocrity while the Sabres took the dive away from middle of the road and were left to spin their wheels while supposedly climbing their way out of the basement of the league. A 25th place finish tells us that their not quite there yet.

So when a beat reporter or columnist opines about anything Bills or Sabres related, it's easy for us as fans to look at a piece and immediately have our emotions run the gamut anywhere from shrugging it off to ripping it to shreds.

In particular, the latest news hitting the Sabres, other than a "very disappointing season," in the words of GM Tim Murray, is the future of the captaincy for the team. There are many who say that being named captain is more of an honor and has very little to do with leading the team as all are expected to be professionals and play the game to their capabilities on a nightly basis. That may be true in the other major professional sports but I think of the captain of an NHL team directly contributes to successes and failures as they tend to embrace and/or define a franchise

Monday, April 17, 2017

Amerks end tough season on a sour note, but some bright spots emerge

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-16-2017


After making huge strides last season as the Buffalo Sabres emerged from two years at the bottom of the league with a season of progress before they took a step back this season. Among the issues that plagued Buffalo this season were key injuries, player/coach disconnect, vet/youngin disconnect, a weak defense-corps and severe lack of depth. Outside of disconnects on the Sabres, a troublesome aspect of the entire organization was lack of depth which was exposed when injuries hit hard, especially on defense and in addition to defensive woes in Buffalo, the Rochester Americans ended up feeling the brunt of it.

Whatever depth the Sabres had this season was stretched thin, something that didn't bode well for Rochester. It's a problem that's not unique to the Sabres/Amerks as an NHL club is constantly tapping into the farm team when injuries strike. With injuries mounting on the Buffalo blueline, the Sabres got help in the form of defensemen Justin Falk and Taylor Fedun, Rochesters top pairing. Both were called up in the middle of November and stuck with the Sabres well into December.

From November 12 when Fedun joined Falk in Buffalo to December 17 when he was sent back to Rochester, the Amerks went 4-11-1, were outscored by a 35-57 margin, were outshot 526 to 423 as a defense-corps of Casey Nelson, Eric Burgdoerfer, Brady Austin, Paul Geiger and Mac Bennett, and Brycen Martin, among others, were overwhelmed and undermanned. Rochester went from a middle of the pack 5-5-0 team to the lower levels of the conference.

The thin defense corps left goaltenders Linus Ullmark, John Muse, Jason Kasdorf and Jonas Johansson as ducks in a shooting gallery all season long. Ullmark had a pretty strong season for the Amerks going 26-27-2 with a 2.87 GAA and .909 SV%. He faced a league-high 1,678 shots while his 1,525 saves also were tops. Of note for those of us in Sabreland who watch shootout struggles from Buffalo's goaltending duo, Ullmark stopped 10 of 14 shootout attempts for a .714 SV%.

The Amerks were shut out 3-0 by the Albany Devils (NJD) last night and finished the season with a good stretch going 8-4-1 in the final 13 games. That included a 5-3 home win the prior night against the Devils to close out the home portion of the season. A couple of players also left the ice on the upswing. Forward Nick Baptiste finished with nine points (5+4) in his final eight games and Justin Bailey had seven points (4+3) in his last 10. Both will be expected to make a strong push for the Sabres roster next season as will forward Evan Rodrigues who played very well in his 30 games with Buffalo. Although four goals and two assists isn't mind-blowing Rodrigues held his own in a bottom-six role while showing he has the tools to stick with the big club.

Falk ended up playing 52 games for the Sabres and earned a contract extension from Murray in the process. Fedun is an unrestricted free agent and may be looking for greener pastures after he displayed solid two-way acumen at the NHL-level as his seven assists and plus-3 rating in 27 games would indicate. We're no sure if any bridges were burned this season, but he'd be a nice re-sign for the club.

When the team went in the tank for two seasons, the roster on both clubs was left in shambles. Murray began filling his NHL club with talent, but acquiring that talent sometimes meant plucking prospects from the farm system. That depleted system, especially on the blueline, really hurt this season and it will take more than one off season to address it properly. We can expect an influx of draft picks and free agents to make their way to Rochester this summer but how many and how much of an impact they will make is to be determined.

The Amerks recently signed defenseman Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd-overall) to an AHL contract and he looks to be a solid defender. "Flo" spent the last five games of the season with Rochester and was an even plus/minus. Up front they'll have Alexander Nylander in a scorers role should he not be able to crack the lineup and in goal, Johansson looks to be the starter next season as Ullmark looks to be NHL-bound.

Although it's not all doom and gloom over there, a 25th place finish in the league for Rochester isn't' exactly rainbows, unicorns and jujus either. Murray has a lot of work to do with both clubs this off season and building quality depth in Rochester is something that won't be overlooked.