|Former Sabres' d-man, Craig Rivet|
For the last three seasons, we Sabres' fans have watched the decline of the rugged defenseman and former captain.
His early years in Montreal were marked by a style of play that endeared him to Montreal fans--as well as hockey fans in general. Rivet, at 6'2" 210 lbs. was the consummate team player, he was a defensive defenseman who was never afraid the throw a hit or grapple/joust with an opponent to clear the crease. Although he wasn't the biggest d-man, he did not back down when battling much bigger opponents.
An assistant captain with the Canadians, Rivet was also known for dropping the gloves with anyone to protect his teammates.
His career in Montreal stretched for the better part of 11 seasons. In the 2005/06 new-NHL, he was able to maintain that rugged quality while upping his offensive output as witnessed by his best production at that time.
The San Jose' Sharks traded for Rivet in the middle of the 2006/07 season and he continued his offensive output as well as his rugged style of play.
It was only after his trade to the Buffalo Sabres, at the age of 34, that the effects of his gritty game began to take its toll.
The Sharks traded him to the Sabres in the 2008 off-season in the second year of his recently inked four-year contract.
Heralded as a gritty player that would help toughen-up a Buffalo team that was considered one of the softest and easiest teams to play against, Rivet was voted by the team as captain.
He opened up the 2008/09 campaign as exactly the player that was expected--hitting, blocking shots, clearing the crease and dropping the gloves in defense of his teammates.
Although he had played 64 games that season, it's estimated that only the first few weeks were played injury-free. The rest of the season saw him endure injuries ranging from shoulder to knee.
The 2009/10 campaign saw him play in 78 games, at times playing some of his best hockey as a Sabre. It was widely thought that he played that entire season injured and his play at the tail end of the season showed it.
At the age of 35 he entered the 2010/11 season in the final year of his contract. Injuries once again plagued him and the speed of the game, which was present throughout his time with the Sabres, now even more evident as the opposition seemed to skate circles around him.
He looked real slow. He looked shot, and his body seemed to be failing him. This last season saw Rivet go from injury to press box to ineffective to press box to waivers, eventually ending up in Columbus with the Blue Jackets. In what may be his last game in the NHL, he was ejected after jousting and hacking at a Buffalo Sabre in the last game of the regular season. The player he engaged with was 5'9", 160 lb forward Tyler Ennis.
Two factors had contributed to Rivet's decline--his individual style of play and the overall speed of the NHL, which had really kicked into gear in the 2006/07 season.
The speed of the NHL is blazing which left, or is leaving, many of the big, tough NHL defensemen known for their hitting, in the dust in their early to mid 30's.
Here are a few players whose decline, like Rivet's, could be attributed to the aforementioned factors:
|Derian Hatcher throwin' 'em down|
|Former Sabre's d-man Jay Mckee blocks|
a shot with the Blues at the tail-end
of his 14-year career
|Sheldon Souray (left) goes at it|
with Calgary's Jarome Iginla
|"JovoCop" in Phoenix|
The speed of the game relegates any big, tough, defensive/shutdown d-man to a window that limits their effectivenss to their prime years. As they get up there in age, the body, while trying to keep up with the game, starts breaking down. Although the will to keep up is there, the muscles stretch and tear trying to do things beyond their capabilities, with their sharp decline in performance being directly attributed to the speed of the game.
We're also going to keep this in mind when looking long-term at the Sabres' own players, including Myers (and possibly Mike Weber) who's one player that looks to be headed for a lucrative long-term contract with the club.
The "Rivet Rule Of Thumb": Be very wary of physical d-men and/or shot-blockers once they are into their 30's, odds are they're gonna end up road-kill sooner rather than later.