Sunday, September 25, 2011

Darcy Regier Talks About Kotalik and Morrisonn

Ales Kotalik and Shoane Morrisonn were waived yesterday.

No big surprise.

The Sabres were over the NHL salary cap by about $3.6m. Their combined salaries of $5.075 represent enough cash to get under the cap by about $1.4m.

The team will need to add a 7th defensemen and if Marc-Andre Gragnani ends up on the roster, the Sabres will be in the vicinity of $850k under.

Kotalik and Morrisonn did not play in any preseason games. Regier pointed out that if they were to play in the preseason, and were injured to the point where they wouldn't be on the opening day roster, their salaries would count against the cap. If that happened, the team would need to shed salary by some other means.

Goalie David Leggio and LW Derek Whitmore were also waived with the hopes that they will clear. Both played in Portland last season with Leggio playing well enough  to earn his first NHL contract this off-season.

The 26 yr. old Whitmore, is from Rochester, and should he clear, he'll be coming home.

For the full Regier interview via WGR, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sabres Upgrade In Talent Is Evident Vs. Montreal

The qualifier for this piece is that it's only preseason.

But the game last night vs. Montreal at the Bell Center certainly gave us glimpses as to why the Sabres went after the players they did in the off season.

Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino were all brought in to bolster a Sabres line-up that had just lost a hard fought seven game series to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Leino was playing in his second preseason game, Regehr and Ehrhoff, their first as the Sabres downed a prospect-laden Habs team 3-1.

So how did these three do?

Lets start with Leino.

For the second straight game, Ville Leino was centering a line with Tyler Ennis on his left and Drew Stafford on his right. The line, in a way, mimics his line in Philadelphia with Ennis as a quick Daniel Briere-type and Stafford as a semblance of Scott Hartnell.

The line apparently worked well in practice and Lindy Ruff decided to give them two full games together to see if it translates well into a game situation. Ruff knows that the two situations can be mutually exclusive and as of right now, that's the way it seems.

Last night, Leino's line was virtually non-existent. Not much pressure on the forecheck, not much cycling, not much of anything really. That's two games running and Ruff will probably re-evaluate the workings of that line in relation to the rest of the team as he works out the kinks this preseason.

In his defense, though, to expect Leino to go through what he did this summer--different city, different position, different linemates, different expectations--and come out smoking would be a lot to ask. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it took him four or five months to get acclimated and adjusted to the point where he feels comfortable and can let his natural abilities come forward.

Robyn Regehr

The complexities of offense are not a problem when it comes to Regehr as he plays a simple, stay-at-home defensive game predicated upon snarl. And last night we got ourselves a glimpse as to what he is all about.

The Sabres haven't had a d-man like him since Jay McKee bolted for St. Louis back in 2006. Quite possibly, the Sabres may never have had a d-man who brings to the table what he does.

Regehr has a presence about him that affects the entire team. A couple of his hits were earth-shattering, as expected, and he was rock-solid in his own zone.

What a great addition to the team in general, for the young defensemen in the system, and for young-stud, Tyler Myers, in particular.

As a pairing for the first time, it would seem as if Regehr said to Myers, "Have at it, I've got your back," and that's what the kid did. He was all over the ice in the offensive zone for the first 30-40 minutes looking more like a fourth forward than a d-man.

The Regehr-effect upon Myers also showed on the back end. We all know that the kid can skate, and we all know that he's pretty solid in his own zone. What we saw last night, and it's something that's a continuation of last years Flyers series, is his willingness to get physical as he plastered a couple of Canadians to the boards.

Regehr's presence will affect the team on many levels, especially when it comes to the defense. Perhaps Ryan Miller put it best when he said (from,) "I'm excited for Regehr. Great guy off the ice, but on the ice, I think most people agree he's not such a nice guy. I think that it's a good attitude to set up our (defense) corps with. The other team is going to know they have to go through guys with that attitude."

Christian Ehrhoff

Christian Ehrhoff (center) had a strong debut in the
Sabres 3-1 preseason win over Montreal.
The first of two eye-brow raising free agent contracts this off season went to Ehrhoff. The clamor and derision heaped upon Sabres management for this contract was relentless throughout the summer.

But the team felt as if the former Vancouver Canucks d-man would be a strong, veteran addition to the team.

All summer, Ruff was adamant in saying that Ehrhoff would fit right into how the team wanted their defense to be active in the offensive zone. And last night, we saw first-hand what he was talking about.

Ehrhoff, the game's first star with a goal and an assist, jumped into the offensive zone last night finding open ice, especially on the powerplay. And when he buried a wicked, quick wrister in the upper-corner, we found out why Ruff had also emphasized that Ehrhoff is a shooter.

Before that, though, Ehrhoff showed his puck-moving ability as he took a Derek Roy faceoff win, drove deep into the Montreal corner and fed Jason Pomminville through a maze of players for an easy tap-in.

The Sabres did not have anything close to him last season in that department, and if it's any indication, a team that was in the top-five in defenseman scoring last year will be even better this season.

Once again, it's only preseason, and the Sabres iced a veteran group vs. a prospect-laden Montreal Canadians team. But what we saw last night, at least from Regehr and Ehrhoff, gives a glimpse as to why the Sabres brought in the players they did, cost be damned.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who Will Wear Letters On Their Sabres' Sweaters?

In 2008, two days before their October 10 season opener vs. the Montreal Canadians, Head Coach Lindy Ruff announced that recently acquired d-man Craig Rivet would be named team captain.

It was a somewhat surprising move considering the fact that he'd been acquired a mere three months earlier in a trade with San Jose', with the operative word being "somewhat."

Ruff had used the rotating captain thing for the 2007/08 season--the first season without departed co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere--trying to find out which player had what it takes to lead the team. Although there may have been a player in his eyes which could take the reigns, none, it seemed, felt themselves worthy, and it ended up with the team voting Rivet captain.

“The players showed a lot of instant respect for him and what he’s done,” Ruff said as he introduced the new Sabres captain. “Was I a little bit surprised? Yeah. I’ve liked, and loved actually, what he’s done in practice and games. But to come in and garner that much respect and trust from his teammates in a short period of time… it says a lot.”
And now, "Deep Thoughts," by
Lindy Ruff. "Who Will Be
My Captain This Season?"

Three years later, the Sabres are once again looking for a captain as Rivet was off to Columbus on re-entry waivers late last season.

The Core Is Older, But Have They Matured?

"The Core" consists of these players who were brought up in the Sabres system and were/are looked to for leadership:  Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Paul Gaustad and to an extent Drew Stafford. One other player, although not drafted by the Sabres yet has been with the team for eight years and may be considered a core player, is Jochen Hecht.

All have worn the "A" (save for Stafford,) two--Pominville and Hecht--wore the "C" during the 2007/08 captain's rotation season and all (save for Hecht) are entering various stages of their primes.

With four years under their belts since the departure of co-captains Drury and Briere, and with varying degrees of success both individually and team-wise, the jury's still out as to whether or not one of the group has emerged as captain material.

Is it deja vu all over again for
the Sabres and incoming
d-man/leader, Robyn Regehr?
In a bit of deja vu, recently acquired d-man, Robyn Regehr, like Rivet, has leadership attributes and may end up wearing the "C" in Buffalo. It would be easy for the team to vote him captain considering he wore an "A" in Calgary.

And the same quote Ruff used to describe Rivet can be used to make a case for Regehr, “I’ve said all along first of all [a captain has] to be the guy you want to follow on the ice,” Ruff said. “[his] actions on the ice dictate more than what he can say in the room... He’s got good character. He’s going to be right there for his teammates.”

This time around, unlike 2008 when "the core" players were mired in youthful insecurities and shunned the responsibility of the captaincy, there may be players on the team this year who feel as if they are ready to lead.

Leadership Qualities That Teammates Follow

2007 NHL Hall Of Fame Inductees:
Mark Messier, Scott Stevens,
Ron Francis and Al MacInnis
"The guy you want to follow," pretty much sums up a hockey captain. Some have it when they come into the league, are named captain real early and are successful (Sidney Crosby.) Some adapt after the initial shock of the weight (Ron Francis.) For some it's a process that's either short-term (Joe Sakic,) mid-range (Mark Messier) or long-term (Dave Andreychuk.)  And then there's some, as we come to find out later, who never had it to begin with (Alexei Yashin.)

But for the majority, it's the mid-range process, where they enter their prime after hundreds of games on the ice, much like where this current crop of core players are right now in their careers.

In a November, 2007 piece, Paul Grant of interviewed four 2007 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees who were all captains in the NHL, and who had all hoisted the Stanley Cup, about what it takes to lead.

The "Captain's Captain," Mark Messier along with NJ Devils' Cup-winning captain Scott Stevens, Calgary Flames Cup-winner and St. Louis Blues captain, Al MacInnis and Hartford Whalers captain/Pittsburgh Penguins Cup-winner, Ron Francis all chimed in on what it means to be the guy that you'd want to follow.

Comfortable In Your Own Skin

Ron Francis played 23 years in the NHL, scored at a point/game pace for over 1700 games, won the Lady Byng Trophy three times, and was captain of the Hartford Whalers--the team that drafted him 4th overall in 1981--for six of his ten seasons with the team. He won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992.

He was one of the 2007 Hall of Famers interviewed by Grant, and although he didn't win the Cup as captain of the team, he does provide an important jump-off point.

Francis was named team captain at a very young age and it was a difficult transition. One point that really jumped out as he talked about what it takes to be a captain was this, "It's about being comfortable in your own skin," he said.

It's a factor that pretty much eliminates the younger Sabres' players still trying to find their niche in the NHL. That includes Stafford, who had a breakout season last year yet is still trying to find consistency. Although young defensive stud Tyler Myers seems to exude leadership qualities and has garnered plenty of respect in his two NHL seasons, he not only has youth against him right now, but must also master the intricacies of his position.

Other Sabres like Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe could be future leaders and seem comfortable in their game, but like Myers, are still very young and, like Stafford, will need to show consistently over the long haul.

Lead by Example

Former NJ Devils captain Scott Stevens and former St. Louis Blues captain Al MacInnis were both big defensemen who won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Stevens, a stay-at-home d-man, was noted for his intimidating presence and vicious hits. MacInnis was best-known for his blistering slap-shot and offensive acumen recording 1274 points in 1416 NHL games.

Both stressed "lead by example" first and foremost when talking about being a captain.

"Lead by example," said Stevens, "that's the biggest thing. It's more about work ethic, coming to play every night, working hard in practice, showing up for practice, showing up for games, and what you do off the ice, how you carry yourself, because everyone is watching you. All the players are watching you."

Said MacInnis, "You want to lead by example. If your teammates see the work ethic that you put in, the consistency that you put in, not only games but in practices, I think your teammates will follow."

None of the Sabres' core in the mix have the intimidating presence of Stevens, yet all have the some of offensive acumen of MacInnis.

But, do any of them lead by example both on and off the ice? Does Lindy Ruff have, in his words, "that guy you want to follow" amongst his core players?

The NY Rangers, lead
by Mark Messier,
hoisted the Cup for
the first time in 54 years.

For the past three decades the benchmark for leadership has been "The Captain's Captain," Mark Messier. After leading the Edmonton Oilers to five Stanley Cups in the 80's, Messier headed to Broadway to a team that hadn't won the cup in 50 years.

In the '94 playoffs, with the Rangers down three games to two vs. the NJ Devils, Messier guaranteed a victory in Game 6 and backed it up with a hat trick in their victory.

The Rangers downed the Devils in seven games and went on to win their first Stanley Cup in 54 years as Messier scored the game winner in Game 7 versus the Vancouver Canucks.

Messier's career is legendary. and when looking at what it takes to lead, he said, "I think the biggest thing, if you had to pick just one, would be trust." He continued, "Your players have to trust you. They have to be able to look at you and know that you're consistent in your approach and your philosophy and what you believe in. Establishing a relationship where they can trust you is very important."

Who Will Ruff Be Looking To This Season?

Back in 2008, it would seem as if none of the core players had the trust of their teammates. It could probably be said that none felt comfortable enough in their own skin to take on the reigns of leadership as well.

With training camp underway , and the season set to begin in less than a month, Ruff, a former captain himself, will be looking at his options--he could go with the alternating captain thing (which is highly unlikely,) he could continue using four alternates and no captain (which would be a good possibility) or he could look at his group and name one captain with two home alternates and two away alternates.

But who would be the guy that the team would "want to follow?" Who amongst the core is comfortable in themselves, leads by example, and would be a player that the team would trust?

Ruff's Core Options 

Jason Pominville

Pommer is the type of player who's game is as consistent as the sun rising. He's a smooth skater who plays a smart game with no fanfare or flair and Ruff counts on him to play in all situations on the ice.

People tend to get caught up in numbers and point to his statistical decline in production, which isn't to the point where it's alarming. And they also yearn for him to play a game that's not his style--they expect a more rugged game, more hits, more aggression.

But, that's not Pominville. He is comfortable in his game and it's easy to forget that when Drury and Briere left, he had his best statistical season in 2007/08 while taking on the mantle of leadership that season.

The subtlety with which Pominville plays the game is usually lost upon the casual fan, but a look at the penalty kill in his absence shows just how important he is to the team. And, although he will never show the bravado of Messier, and probably will never have the "Captain Clutch" moniker of Drury, he will be on the ice at every crucial point and the team will count on him to do what he's always done--take care of the task at hand.

As a player who's been in a leadership role for the last four seasons and as a veteran that the youngin's can look to for guidance, he would make a solid, if unspectacular, captain.

Derek Roy

We all know what Roy brings to the table, and over the past four years, he's consistently put up offensive numbers. Unfortunately, many times it's been at the expense of the "team-first" philosophy, as evidenced by more than a few sit-downs with Ruff.

His on-ice demeanor, at 28 yrs. old and in the midst of his prime, still leans towards immature. An example came early last season. WGR's Paul Hamilton pointed out, after a drubbing by the NY Rangers, that while Ennis was on the break streaking up ice and looking for a trailer, Roy was trailing, albeit far behind. He was busy complaining to a ref about a non-call.

His issues with diving and complaining to the refs are well documented and known throughout the league. And although they've abated over the past year or so, you're left to wonder whether he has it within himself to shuck those tendencies. Can a leopard ch...(well, you know the rest.)

Roy seemed to be turning the corner on maturity last season, but he ended up injured and missing the entire back-half of the season. During his season-ending injury, the Sabres got on a roll and went from 11th in the conference to 7th, and on many occasions it was said that "team-play" lead to the surge.

Roy is a valuable point-producer for the team and he plays in all situations, but he doesn't seem as if his teammates will follow his lead anymore, especially when his team missed the playoffs two straight seasons and were bounced in the first round with him in a leadership role. Nor does it seem as if the team will look to him as the one to guide them out of dire straights.

As the team transitions to the "new core," should Roy be looked upon as a leader? Or should he be left to focus upon his game?

Thomas Vanek wore the "A" last season.
Is he ready to take the next step?

Thomas Vanek

Vanek is an interesting case study in the maturation process of a highly skilled player thrust into extreme circumstances.

His incredible sophomore campaign made him multi-million dollar, poachable commodity and his transition from third line player on an offensively deep team to a top-line player on a team devoid of top-line talent made for a difficult on-ice transition.

The departure of Drury and Briere also left Vanek to his own devices when handling both on and off-ice pressures. He, basically, had to figure things out on his own, and because of all this, his maturation process was slowed.

But Vanek has shown continual progress the last few years, and he seems to have quietly passed through numerous thresholds to reach the point where he's become a complete player.

And last season he really came into his own as a leader on the team. Early in the season with the team in a deep funk, he was pivotal in overtime wins--scoring an overtime goal vs. Washington and harassing Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamuis into a turnover that lead to a Myers overtime goal.

When Roy went down for the season and with Rivet in no man's land, Vanek seemed to willingly take the reigns of leadership and the Sabres went on a run that got them into the playoffs.

It took a while, but Vanek finally seems comfortable with who he is and what he's capable of.

Throughout last season WGR's Paul Hamilton looked at Vanek as a captain via extremes saying he would either be great or it would be a failure.

As of now, it could be said that the former would apply more so than the latter. He seems to have the internal drive to continue to grow, mature and bust through doors that are blocking his path.

And it showed last season that he really wanted to take on the mantle of leadership.

Paul Gaustad

Throughout his seven seasons in Buffalo, the big forward has taken on responsibilities thrown his way while playing a sound game for the Sabres. "Goose" is solid in his own end and is more than capable on the faceoff dot.

He has the respect of his teammates in the locker room and has a presence about him to where his teammates will follow his lead.

Unfortunately his lack of offensive acumen has limited him to third-line minutes which is determent to his being named captain. But you can bet that, even though he may "only" wear an "A" on his sweater, every teammate will look to him for leadership at one point or another.

Still In Transition, But In Much Better Shape Than 2007

Four seasons after the departures of Drury and Briere, the Sabres are still in a period of transition when it comes to naming a captain. But the team as a whole has matured and is in much better shape after four seasons of various successes and failures.

That being said, the results for this core without the departed co-captains are two seasons outside of the playoffs and two seasons of getting bounced in the first round. Granted, there are a myriad of reasons for the teams' lack of success, but the bottom line is that they didn't get it done.

The closest they came to a breakthrough year was last season with Roy out and Pominville sidelined by, and/or recovering from, injury. With Rivet on the bench as well, the leadership void seemed to be filled quite competently by Vanek.

It was still a very young team, especially on defense, and it seemed as if they played well over their heads during their playoff push.

With that being said, there are really only two choices for captain this season:  Robyn Regehr or Thomas Vanek.

Either would be a good choice.

Were Regehr to be named captain, it would seem as if the team continues in it's transitionary mode and is looking to allow Tyler Myers to develop as the future captain of the team two or three years down the road.

Of the core mentioned above, Vanek seems to be the only one who's separated himself from the others and should he be named captain, it would be yet another threshold for him to breakthrough and conquer.

The choice for letters this upcoming season:

"C"--Thomas Vanek. Another step for Vanek and I think he's ready for it as he turns into the complete package. He's proven his mettle over the last two seasons and is the only Sabre to bust his way meaningfully on the score sheet in the playoffs. His willingness to play through pain and do what's necessary for team success is a strong foundation to continue to build trust in himself and of his team mates. Of Hamilton's previously mentioned extremes, I'll take the former and say that it will be a success.

"A" (home)--Jason Pominville. The team always had a tendency to get fancy at home, but Pommer helps the team dump that.

"A" (home)--Robyn Regehr. Regehr will be in charge of making sure it's F'N difficult for the opposition at The Center.

"A" (away)--Paul Gaustad. "Goose" brings it on the road to help guide the team in enemy territory.

"A" (away)--Tyler Myers. Myers will have the chance to develop into the Norris candidate that's within him. Regehr as his mentor will help with that and guide the kid as to what leadership is all about.


I forgot about Vanek's dream. It could change everything.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Let's Roll, Big Guy

He's 6'8" tall, comes in at nearly 230 lbs. and can skate like a breeze. Oh, and the Sabres just extended the 21 yr. old to the tune of seven years, $38.5m.

At $5.5m per season for the extension, Tyler Myers is being looked upon as a franchise d-man and with the seven year extension, it makes him a cornerstone of the team well into his prime.
The re-signing of Tyler Myers represents the
beginning of "the new core."

All Sabres fans should welcome this as the beginning of "the new core."

We know what "the core" has done over the last four seasons. With the departures of the co-captains in 2007, the team went two seasons without a playoff appearance and followed it with two seasons of one series and out. No bueno.

Gotta remember, though, those players, Derek Roy, Jason Pomminville, and Thomas Vanek along with guys like Jochen Hecht plus d-men like Brian Campbell and Hank Tallinder were all "new-NHL" babies.

GM Darcy Regier has a penchant for drafting soft-but-skilled players, especially during that time period--the Jim Benning scouting-era. They were also reared in Rochester for the "new-NHL" mostly by Randy Cunneyworth and a little bit by Brian McCutcheon.

With "the new-NHL" history and as the Sabres go full-force into the Terry Pegula-era of new ownership, they'll start with none of the above mentioned, save for Regier. Kevin Devine took over the Amateur Scouting Dept. in 2007, Ron Rolston takes over for Kevin Dineen who took over for Cunneyworth, and Kevyn Adams takes over for the departed McCutcheon. Both Rolston and Adams were brought on board this past off-season.

Tyler Myers, for his part, represents the first long-term commitment by the team to a player drafted by Devine.

We all know the story (I hope.)

Devine and his scouts loved Myers and convinced Regier to go after him. Regier and his counterpart in LA, Dean Lombardi, ended up with a swap of picks for Buffalo to move up one spot and prevent any other team from jumping in to select Myers. Regier made the pick and the rest of history goes like this so far:
  • Myers heads back to Kelowna for the 2008/09 season and leads the team to the Western Hockey League Championship while being selected as WHL MVP.
  • In 2009, he helped Canada win a Gold Medal at the World Junior Championship. It was his second international gold medal, he won his first in April, 2008 as part of the Canadian IIHF U-18 Championship team
  • The Sabres signed him to a two-year entry-level contract in 2009 and after a stellar camp and preseason, the Sabres decided for an extended look into the beginning of the 2009/10 season.
  • In an unusual move by the Sabres, they decide to keep him with the big club instead of returning him to junior.
  • Myers wins the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year as he helps the team make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
  • After an inauspicious start to the 2010/11 season, Myers rebounds in the second half, along with the team, and the Sabres make a strong push to get into the playoffs again.
It's interesting to note that last season the Sabres d-corps initially suffered because of the losses of Tallinder and Toni Lydman, two veteran d-men who helped solidify the back-end during Myers' rookie season. Although they were replaced by veterans Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn, the drop-off was significant, as witnessed by the atrocious start and poor first half of the season.

When Craig Rivet found himself on the bench more often than not, you had a defense-corp that was full of very young d-men still trying to find their way in the league.

All of that contributed to the dreaded "sophomore slump" he was mired in, but Myers rebounded rather quickly and tallied 10 goals, 14 assists and was a plus-10 in the final 54 games of the season.

With only one year left on his entry-level deal, the clock was ticking for Regier to get him re-signed.

Nothing was mentioned about any negotiations this summer and when word finally leaked, the rumors was that he would be receiving a six or seven year contract for somewhere around $5m. That Regier and the Sabres kept a lid on negotiations is not too surprising, that the deal was amicable and easily reached caught some by surprise.

"We had two sides that wanted to stay together," Myers' agent, J.P. Barry, said [of the deal] by phone [to the Buffalo News', John Vogl]. "Tyler wanted to remain a Sabre, and having this done at an early stage was something that he wanted. He's happy that the club approached him about wanting to do this early."

Done deal. "Tyler ain't goin' nowhere," said Pegula.

It's just another in the long line of things that Pegula and Co. have gotten done in a very short span. "We're investing our hearts," said Pegula at the Myers press conference. "We want to build a team and not only the team, the whole organization, the Sabres are a first class organization and they are going to continue to be. We're walking around here like we're winners, and that's our goal."

The Myers extension represents the team's commitment to keeping their own players, is another example of Pegula reaching deep into his pockets to fill the roster with the best players they can get (and/or keep,) and it continues a definitive departure from the previous regime as the team continues to lock up players long term.

As camp practice begins today and as the team readies for the opening of the season, Tyler Myers will look to continue his development, which has already progressed at a staggering pace.

The only question mark going forward is who he'll be along side him on the top defensive pairing. And if the 2011 portion of last season is any indication, it won't really matter. Myers is primed and ready to roll.

So is Pegulaville.

Other links:


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sabres Prospects Take Traverse City Tournament

With all the attention being paid to Sabres free agent acquisitions this summer, the player development aspect of Terry Pegula's vision has gone pretty much unnoticed outside of Buffalo.

The Buffalo Sabres were a part of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament for the first time ever because their new owner, and the youngins, along with new Rochester Head Coach, Ron Rolston, did "Uncle Terry" proud with a 5-2 win over the NY Rangers prospects in the championship game.

There's much to be said when a team takes the championship in its first season and it's a big plus for Rolston as he heads into the professional ranks after years with the United States National Team Development Program. He did a masterful job of guiding the team throughout the tournament.

Foligno, who had two goals in the championship game, summed it up nicely, "When you make improvements and have new additions to the organization with rookies and bunch of guys who haven't made the NHL yet, and go into a tournament and pull a championship, it's exciting for the organization and exciting what's to come in the future for the Sabres," he told

Not to be forgotten in all of this, though, is the drafting of Kevin Devine. From 2008 2nd round pick, and captain, Luke Adam, to 2009 4th-rounder Foligno, to 2010 1st round pick Mark Pysyk, to 2011 3rd round pick Daniel Catenacci, the Sabres team had size and speed, plenty of snarl and showed that they have some finish as well. They scored 19 goals in the four games.

Some of the players like Foligno, Adam, Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb, will be headed to the Sabres training camp tomorrow and will be able to use the tournament to get a leg up on the regular Sabres. Said Kassian, "everyone's in game shape already."

For Foligno, he'll be ready for camp and is looking to take it to the next level, "My goal is to play as many exhibition games as I can and do as well as I can," he said. "I want to continue this strong effort I had in Traverse right through main camp. It'll be fun with all the guys and to get to play with pros."

Whether they're headed to Sabres camp or back to their junior teams, the guys should have a lot of confidence heading into their respective seasons.

They did their owner proud by winning this tournament. Pegula has let the organization know that he has their backs. And the Traverse City Team let him know they respect that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Belak's Death Brought Some Major Media Posturing, Riley Cote Brings It On Home

It's an article I'd been waiting for. An article that would take us into the world of the enforcer--the pressures, the pain and the adverse effects--through the eyes of player who lived it.

It was all that, and then some.

When word that Wade Belak was found dead, the onslaught of opinion concerning enforcers in the NHL would immediately come from every corner of the NHL community.

Many pieces written on Belak generally steered clear of directly linking his death with those of fellow enforcers Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, but most made sure to mention that there could be a possible link. And some NHL columnists, either subtly or overtly, mixed in anti-fighting opinions while editorializing about this summer's tragedies.

TSN's Bob McKenzie focused upon the passing of an outwardly "happy and well-adjusted" Belak, yet brought up all three and seemed to indirectly link them by not directly linking them:

"Like Boogaard, Rypien, and for that matter journeyman pro and ex-San Jose Shark Tom Cavanagh, whose mental health issues led to his suicide in mid-January, the death of Belak will impact the NHL and hockey community on every level.

There will no doubt be some hard questions asked of the NHL and NHL Players' Association in the wake of the death of three NHL tough guys in less than four months. Many will be looking for a link between the jobs Boogaard, Rypien and Belak did and what role it may have played in their deaths. Ultimately, those are questions that do need to be asked, though in a measured manner without leaping to unfounded conclusions based on wild speculation."

The Buffalo News' Jerry Sullivan did the right thing when he brought in former Sabres enforcer, Rob Ray, for some insight.

Sullivan tried, but he could not suppress his anti-fighting sentiment, though:

"After Belak's death, there was a cry to avoid jumping to conclusions and lumping the three deaths together. Each man's death is a separate and distinct tragedy, and it's an easy leap to implicate hockey fighting as the underlying cause.

Still, it would be naive to ignore the parallels (he lays out the role of the fighter as well as blows to the head and depression)...So if it's coincidence, it's a profound one."

Later in the column he jumped on his soapbox: 

"The NHL needs to acknowledge that primitive enforcing has consequences. The league has been progressive in dealing with concussions. But it needs to take a hard look at the psychological effects of fighting. Maybe it's time to legislate fighting out of the game by making it a game misconduct, instead of a five-minute penalty."

Sullivan keeps it surface-level for the most part, and Ray doesn't delve too deeply into the issues facing the modern day enforcer, although he does focus on the emotional toll of a borderline NHL'er--especially an easily replaced fighter--trying to keep his job in the NHL.

Four days before the Sullivan column, immediately after Belak's death, Greg Wyshynski, Yahoo's Puck Daddy, did a piece, Remembering Wade Belak, A True NHL Fan Favorite.

He delved into the "mischievous charisma" of a very likeable Belak and touches on the losses Belak's family incurred. Wyshynski also foresees the Sullivan-like soapboxes being erected and lashes out:  "So now it's the summer of Boogaard and Rypien and Belak, and the only people more annoying than the ones drawing conclusions about hockey based on these deaths are the ones fretting around those conclusions being drawn. It's a trend, it's a tragedy; hockey fans can already hear the ticking clock of '60 Minutes' preparing some sweeping condemnation of the NHL for allowing these deaths to occur."

After getting that out, he brings up something that hadn't, and still hasn't, gained alot of attention:  prescription meds, specifically--Oxycotin.

Wyshynski brings in a hockey voice who has struggled with depression for a long time, Theo Fleury. Fleury tweeted this upon hearing of Belak's death:  "Oxycotin is a synthetic heroine the side effect and the crash after would make anyone depressed."

And another tweet from the Wyshynski piece, from TSN's Darren Dreger upon hearing the news:  "Get rid of writing prescriptions for Oxycotin's, the most dangerous drug on the planet."

Those were two immediate reactions to the death of Wade Belak.

From the day that Belak was found dead, August 31 until yesterday, September 5, I cannot recall a piece that provided anything that either delved deeply into the world of the enforcer or the use painkillers by these pugilists. That was until Wyshynski's Puck Headlines provided a link to an interview with a former NHL tough guy:  Men's Health interview with former tough-guy/enforcer, Riley Cote.

Because Men's Health News is not within the inner circle of NHL journalism, the author, Mike Darling, has no reason to lump the three deaths together and/or jump on an anti-fighting soap box, although both ideas are inevitably touched upon. Darling provides the reader with a simple question and answer piece complete with full quotations from Cote.
In the interview, Cote doesn't hesitate when he says that fighting "played a big part in my decision to retire. It’s not natural to fight 82 times a year."

The physical wear and tear is obvious, but Cote added that there's more to it, "People say it's hard on the body, but I think it's more mentally draining than physically."

Cote talks about the ups and downs of his role about why he did it and, surprisingly, spends a good amount of time talking about the world of painkillers.

Prescription painkillers can take care of the physical ailments, and just as there's more to the enforcer role than just the surface-level, physical toll, there's also deeper, emotional aspect to their use. "These painkillers mask your emotional pain," he said, "They kill your ability to feel. Things that would normally bother you don’t bother you anymore."

This physical/emotional numbing through pills is readily available, he said, to any player who needs/wants it. Meds can be prescribed by the team doctor or found on the black market, the former being a part of a non-sports-specific culture, "Modern medicine," he said, "is all about popping pills. It's socially acceptable,"

Having "been against pharmaceutical drugs for some time now," Cote alludes to a problem that doesn't lie within the role of the enforcer, "At the end of the day," he said, "the NHL is fighting the pharmaceutical industry."

With the pharmaceutical industry as large and powerful as it is, any mention of painkillers in a negative light would have a hard time reaching the masses through the NHL, the NHLPA and/or the big media outlets.

I understand that the interview with Cote is presented through the lens of men's health. A healthy mind and body are the directives of the magazine. But when you combine Cote's understanding of painkillers with the tweets of Fleury and Dreger condemning Oxycotin, the ire of these three inside the world of professional hockey is directed at squarely at pharmaceuticals. It's not directed at the NHL, the NHLPA, the player, the role of the enforcer and/or the effects of fighting.

The major media was, is, and will continue to focus upon those surface issues while looking for links to the three deaths this summer.  But maybe, instead, they should start looking towards players like Cote who may have summed it up for them, "Any time you mix stress and personal issues with chemicals, and put it in a blender, bad things will happen."

He would know.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beneath the Surface, the Sabres Are Laying A Solid Foundation

The Terry Pegula bashing is relentless in blog world as hockey fans outside of Buffalo are ripping the Sabres for signing free agents Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino to long-term multi-million dollar contracts.


It feels good to be on the side of the equation that the Rangers, Flyers and Leafs have been on for the past decade and a half and while defending the spending can be invigorating, eventually it ends up being a waste of energy.

Simple fact, the Sabres, for a change, were given the green light to go after what they wanted. Dollars be damned.

The aforementioned Ehrhoff and Leino signings represented largely known commodities at a known salaries and are near-term moves, albeit, with long-term consequences, directed at winning now with veteran players to fill in holes.

But, beneath the surface of the signings, Terry Pegula, through Team President, Ted Black, via GM Darcy Regier, is focused upon building a strong foundation through the development of home-grown talent.

The First Professor of Sabres University Adds To His Staff

Ron Rolston, noted for player development, was hired as Head Coach for the Rochester Americans. Black called him the "first professor at the University of Sabres." Regier elaborated, "...the reference to University was largely about doing things differently, taking more responsibility for the players' development and also demand the player take more responsibility for his own development."

Recently, Rolston cemented his Amerks staff by adding his assistant from the U-17 National Player Development Program, Chadd Cassidy. Cassidy has spent the last five years with Rolston.

It was also announced that former Sabres d-man, Jay McKee will be named as an assistant coach in Rochester. McKee just recently started his foray into coaching last season as a volunteer coach for the Niagara Purple Eagles.

We know what he brought to the table as a player, but the question is, can he teach (coach)?

It will be a learning process for McKee, and should he be able to transfer his knowledge of the pro game to the strong group of young defensemen in the Sabres pipeline, the Sabres are looking at a rock-solid defense-corps for years to come.

Grit And Leadership Back In the Fold

The McKee addition also represents a definitive direction for the Buffalo Sabres organization on other levels as well.

One of the tenants of the Pegula era is focusing upon players "who are not only statistically good, but winners, gritty players."

The "stay-at-home" McKee certainly fit that mold as he represented sand paper and toughness on the back-end for 10 years with the Sabres.

Early in August, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres President, Larry Playfair, announced former captain, Michael Peca will be the team's new GM. Although not directly affiliated with the Sabres, they are run by the Alumni Association and Peca will be about as close as you can get to the big club. He will be in charge of recruiting local talent that has seen the likes of Brian Gionta, Ryan Callahan, the aforementioned Adams and Todd Marchant skate for the team.

McKee and Peca both wore letters during their NHL careers and represent links to late-90's, fan-favorite Sabres team that was dubbed "The Hardest Working Team In Hockey."

Pegula Continues To Mend Wounds

On another level, their return into the Sabres fold also represent yet more moves by Pegula to mend past wounds.

Peca, affectionately known as, "Captain Crunch," was, pound for pound, one of the best hitters in the game, a former Selke winner and one of the most beloved Sabres of all time. His legacy in Buffalo was tainted, though, by a contract dispute, year-long holdout, and eventual trade to the NY Islanders for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt.

The wounds struck deep on all sides, and his departure furthered the decline of a Sabres team that made it to Game 6 of the 1999 Stanely Cup Finals.

Although McKee's departure in 2006 was not nearly as fractious as Peca's, he did leave the team for a big contract in St. Louis, much to the dismay of many Sabres' fans.

Both were tough, gritty players with ample talent who had an affinity for the Buffalo area, but through the business of hockey, ended up leaving.

Bringing the two back into the fold continues the work of Pegula to re-unite the Sabres family. Among the things Pegula has done in the very short time he has owned the team:
  • he mended a legendary rift that "French Connection" alum Rene Robert had with the team, and in one of the great Sabres moments, Robert, Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault skated on ice together for Pegula's home debut as new owner
  • he continued to embrace 40 years of Sabres tradition by flying in any willing Sabres alum for Alumni Appreciation Day in April
  • with Teppo Numminen's Sabres career marred by a "suspension" from the Golisano regime, Darcy Regier reached out to the former defenseman and has had talks with Numminen about scouting for the team. Interesting to note that Numminen was a scout for Team Finland and the Sabres #1 pick in this year's draft was a Finn, Joel Armia.
  • the Rochester Americans are back as the Sabres' minor league affiliate after four years in Portland, Maine

Let the Haters, Hate and the Whiners, Whine

All the headlines this past summer are fixated upon Terry Pegula shelling out big-bucks for free agents. With guns-a-blazin', the blogs are filled with the image of him as some Dan Snyder-type owner irresponsibly throwing money around simply because he can.

But what goes unnoticed are two directives presently being filled that fly under the radar of the haters and the whiners:
  • "I wanna keep not only statistically good players, but winners gritty players."
  • "There is no salary cap in the nhl on scouting budgets and player development budgets. I plan on increasing...our scouting budgets."

In addition to the above, an unquoted directive that seems to be making it's way to the fore--a dedication to Sabres' Hockey and bringing back players who best represented the team throughout the teams' 40 years of existence. Players like McKee and Peca.

When all's said and done, the haters will hate, and the whiners will whine, but Sabres fans know that some quality foundational work is being done within the organization.