Sunday, May 29, 2011

Which Buffalo Sabres' Unrestricted Free Agents...

...will be a part of the Pegula Rewards Program?

The decisions this season will not be as difficult as, say, 2007 when Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were up for a new contract. Nor will it be on par with last off-season when decisions were made on d-men Hank Tallinder and Toni Lydman.

Still, it's a new regime this 2011 and some UFA decisions will need to be made concerning current Sabres. And GM Darcy Regier is still in charge.

A quick look at Buffalo's UFA's and whether they could/should be a part of the future Blue and Gold:

--Tim Connolly--A classic case of not cutting your losses and, worse, compounding them by doubling down.

Going back to Connolly's 1999 draft-class, take out Daniel (#2 overall) and Henrik (#3) Sendin and you have one of the worst first round drafts in decades.
Tim Connolly

The #1 overall pick that season was one of the all-time busts--Patrick Stephan. The #4 pick, one pick before the NY Islanders selected Connolly #5, was Pavel Brendl. Other notable first-round picks include:  Taylor Pyatt (#8,) Branislav Mezei (#10,) Jeff Jillson (#14,) David Tanabe (#16) and Barret Heisten, who was the Sabres first-rounder (#20.)

Connolly, along with Pyatt, came from the NY Islanders in the Michael Peca deal. The dismantling of "the hardest working team in hockey" was in full swing with that trade, and it seems as if Regier wanted Connolly to be the centerpiece for his team-building philosophy.

There's no denying that Connolly had mad skills to center the top-line for the Sabres, as witnessed by his 11pts (5g, 6a) in eight games of the 2006 playoffs when he was a force. Unfortunately he had zero goals in three playoff appearances since.

Injuries plagued his entire career, but Regier stuck to his player. And the losses mounted after Connolly was felled by a concussion in the 2006 playoffs against Ottawa.

He was never the same after that. Nor was the league, for that matter.

Yet, Regier held firm.

The Connolly timeline after he was knocked out of the 2006 Ottawa series:
  • re-signed by Regier in the 2006 off-season to a three-year contract extension while recovering from a concussion.
  • because of that concussion, played only the final two regular season games of the 2006/07 season, but played 16 games in the playoffs producing nine points (all assists) that playoff year.
  • played 48 games in the 2007/08 season, the team missed the playoffs
  • played a total of 48 games in the 2008/09 season. Was re-signed to a two-year extension with a 50% bump in salary at the 2009 trade-deadline. Regier's logic? That Connolly's return from injury and subsequent re-signing was like bringing in a top-two center without giving up anything in return. The team missed the playoffs
  • Connolly plays in the most games (73) since the 2002/03 season and scores a career-high in points (65,) but misses the final nine regular season games with a foot injury. The team finishes 3rd in the Eastern Conference in the 2009/10 season.
  • Connolly and fellow top-two centerman Derek Roy, do not score a goal in a six-game loss to the underdog Bruins in the 2010 playoffs. Regier called Connolly a "top-20 center in the league" at the 2010 end of season press conference based upon Connolly's career best, regular season production.
  • His production falls noticeably in the 2010/11 season and his plus/minus plummets from a plus-10 the previous year (his fifth year in a row on the plus-side) to a minus-10, the Sabres enter the playoffs as a #7-seed.
  • Connolly is felled by a Mike Richards boarding penalty in game six of the 2011 playoffs. His ineffectiveness on offense relegated the center to a big-minute checking/penalty-kill forward. He had no goals in the playoffs again.
WGR's Paul Hamilton, when asked about Tim Connolly on numerous occasions throughout this past season, simply said that "he's shot."

I agree, and so is the decade-long Tim Connolly experiment.



Veteran d-man Steve Montador
may have some thinking about
where he wants to go next season.
 --Steve Montador--"Monty" came to Buffalo via FA in 2009 with a rep for playing a tough, physical game. But what really caught my eye as I watched him on a daily basis, was how well the 6', 200lb. d-man moved the puck up-ice. Plus, he could put up a reasonable amount of points. Which was all well and good.

 I doubt that anyone slated him for a top-four d-man role, yet that's where he found himself earlier this season along side Jordan Leopold. And he played pretty well, leading the team in plus-minus. But, as was the case throughout his two years in Buffalo, he was inconsistent.

In 2009/10 he played well, then was benched, then was probably the best d-man in the six-game loss to Boston in the playoffs.

In 2010/11, he was excellent, then dipped, then got better, then got worse.

Basically, this is something you'd expect from a young d-man, not a 30-year old who'd been to a Cup Finals(Calgary, 2003.)

I like the guy as a tough leader, despite his propensity for turnovers and mental errors in his own end. And ya gotta love a guy who will drop the gloves for his teammates despite rarely winning a fight. But the fact is, the Sabres can get that type of play from their youngsters who, unlike Monty, have plenty of up-side.

It comes down to a numbers-game. The Sabres are full of young d-men and they have a back-log in the system.

Thanx for the hard work, Monty, and good luck. Someone will give you a contract worth more than the Sabres offer and some team will get you much more playing time than you'll likely see in the Blue and Gold.


Sabres winger Mike Grier may be
ready to hang up the skates. Let's
hope he remains with the team
in some front office capacity.
 --Mike Grier--The amazing thing about Grier was how many breakaways the 36 yr. old got this season. After losing what little speed he had throughout 12 years as a hard-hitting, hard-playing, hard-charging winger, somehow, someway he was able to get behind the d and go in all alone. Not that he had a scorers touch or anything like that, but he broke free.

When Grier bolted in 2006, it was a big loss for the team, as well as the fan-base. He was a decidedly different player from the core--less talent, more heart--and to have him walk away was like ripping a piece right out of you.

His return was welcomed, but it was painfully obvious that he was near the end of his career.

And his playing career should come to an end. But, a guy like him with his smarts and passion should not be let go again.

How does Assistant GM/Director of Player Development, Mike Grier sound?



Rock solid veteran
Rob Niedermayer
 --Rob Niedermayer--Another veteran war-horse along the lines of Grier, only with a Stanely Cup on his resume.

"Nieds" did what he was brought in for--provide leadership in the playoffs. Of course, there was a time when the Sabres were a long-shot to make the playoffs, and he certainly wasn't helping much. He didn't score his first goal of the season until the 53rd game.

 But in the playoffs he was everything they'd hoped for--leadership in a checking role while putting up a few points.

Would the Sabres want him back at $1.2m?

I don't think so, nor would it be fair to offer him less to stay. Nieds is very close to retiring and the Sabres are at least two big pieces away from contending.

As of right now with the team as is, it doesn't look as if there'd be a match. But, if the Sabres were to add those pieces and had the financial wiggle room to play him in a limited role for the regular season then an increased role in the playoffs, I would re-sign him. Even at $1.2m.

I like what he brings to the table.


Willing pugilist, Cody McCormick
--Cody McCormick--Became a fan favorite after being called up from the minors during the 2010 playoffs. He endeared himself by going all out every shift and his game, so unlike "the core,"  was encapsulated in one play that saw him charge hard to the net taking out both goalie and the cage.

McCormick's a fourth-line/energy player. A dime-a-dozen-type of player, he can play LW and center and gives you his all in a limited role. He's a tough customer and willing pugilist.

All-in-all, he's a solid fourth-line player who's hard work and dogged determination has earned him a spot in the line-up. If, somewhere down the road a better role player comes along, then so be it.

As for now, he's in.


Yeah, I'm Matt "Friggen" Ellis.
Gotta problem with that?
 --Matt Ellis--As mentioned above with someone possibly (eventually?) replacing a fourth-liner, so is the case with Ellis.

He was a hard-working energy guy for the Sabres and was in the line-up until he was, essentially, replaced by McCormick.

Quick story on Ellis:  Much to the dismay of Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, Darcy Regier plucked the left-winger off of waivers in October of 2008. That was a mere four months after the draft-day, trade-up by Regier with Lombardi to select Tyler Myers.

Ellis is presently the captain of the Portland Pirates and brings strong leadership to the team.

No reason why he shouldn't remain in that role again.


Patty Lalime (left) and buddy Ryan Miller.
 --Patrick Lalime--The consummate team player. But, unfortunately the Sabres needed much more than that, they needed a back-up goalie who could actually win games.

Lalime's record in two years as back-up for the Sabres--9-21-5.

Thanx, Patty, but Jhonas Enroth will take over from here.



Mark Mancari shouldn't hold his
breath waiting for the Sabres to
offer him a one-way deal.
 --Mark Mancari--Big right-winger scoring oodles of goals and putting up great numbers in the AHL.

Unfortunately, Mancari was never able to bring those numbers to the big-club.

Some may say that he never got a real shot as he spent most of his time in a bottom-six role.

(shrugs)

It's probably more of a case of Mancari not being able to catch-up with the speed of the NHL. He's pretty slow, and he lacks the grittiness that would befit, what amounts to a fourth-line, energy player.

He'll get a shot somewhere else next season.


The Pegula Rewards Program buffalosabresnow list:

  • GM, Darcy Regier--No
  • Head Coach Lindy Ruff--Yes
  • Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine--Yes
UFA Players,
  • Tim Connolly--No
  • Steve Montador--No
  • Mike Grier--Yes, in a front office role
  • Rob Niedermayer--Yes, if the Sabres are contenders
  • Cody McCormick--Yes
  • Matt Ellis--Yes, in two-way contract
  • Patrick Lalime--No
  • Mark Mancari--No 

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Radio Voice Of the Buffalo Sabres

Rick Jeanneret
Not to get too sentimental, but when I was a kid I had this little train radio. When the Sabres weren't on TV, I would listen to games on it.

It was orange and blue, AM-only, with the volume and tuning control-wheels on the back. The monotone pitch was very high coming out of a very small speaker.


1971/72 Topps

When Rick Jeanneret began his announcing career on WGR back in 1971, this is how I was listening to the games. It was a season that featured Sabres like Gil Perreault, Rick Martin, Roger "the Dodger" Crozier, Eddie Shack and Gerry Meehan.

It was a time when radio was the key link between me and games, even though there was a good amount TV coverage.

We had a single black-and-white TV in our home (dad controlled it.) It had three channels, which was standard throughout the U.S., but we were lucky living in Buffalo, we could get channels from Canada, most notably, CBC's Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday nights.

It had dials on the front and clicked when you turned them to get to a channel. When the knob broke off, you'd use a fork to turn it. And the cool things about using knobs, if you couldn't get the channel clearly when you clicked it into place, you could ease it in between to get a better picture.


The picture itself was usually less-than-clear, the huge and heavy picture tube took a couple of minutes to "warm up," and if things didn't work out for picture clarity, you turned to the "rabbit-ears" antenna on top and moved it around, clicked it's internal box or put aluminum foil on the ends of the antennae.

All of this was done to go from a "polar bear in a snowstorm" picture to a semblance of one.

But, radio was always solid when it came to following the Buffalo Sabres.

The difference between radio and TV is as simple as the difference between audio and video. When it came to radio, the announcer had to put the fan on the scene with nothing more than his play-by-play call.

Rick Jeanneret's foundation was in radio before he came to TV, and he brought those radio announcer sensibilities with him.

On a national level, Jeanneret is known for some memorable calls--"May Day," "Lalalalalafontaine," "Wow, Double-Wow" and "Now Do You Believe" amongst them.

On a local level, Sabres-nation knows him for "top-shelf where mama hides the cookies," "MIlllllllerrrrrrrrrrrrr" and "we're going to ooooooverrrrrrrtime."

These are all "highlight" moments and even though some of his "shtick" like "The Population of Pomminville..." does wear on you, one thing you cannot take away from him is how he calls the game.

While announcers today rely on video to help them along as they call the game, Jeanneret calls the game like he did when he was doing radio-only--verbally putting every move on the ice into the microphone.

The Buffalo Sabres announced that Rick Jeanneret
will be working a reduced schedule, in this
40th season with the club.
 Listen to some announcers while watching a live-stream from other cities, and you'll hear plenty of dead-air as they use video as a crutch to help them catch up with the game. Jeanneret does very little of that because, coming from radio, he's always had to be on top of the game.

He also has a full grasp of rosters which is a far cry from a lot of today's play-by-play men.

Once again, go catch other announcers via live stream and you'll hear full mention of the home teams players, along with mentions of the opposition's stars or better known players, but fringe players--those third or fourth-liners--are not mentioned because the announcer has no idea who they are.

Jeanneret does know these players. He knows their numbers and he knows their names and he uses that to put his audience on the scene with his voice.

By no means is Jeanneret perfect. His voice isn't perfect nor is his style perfect. Nor is his look. He's anything but ESPN, Syracuse-alum perfect.

But that, to me, is a very endearing quality in vanilla sports-nation.

So...

For those fans outside of Buffalo who can't stand Jeanneret, sorry. If you were a fan growing up in Buffalo listening to him, he's woven into the fabric of our sports experience.

For those Buffalo fans who nit-pick by calling him out for his libation-infused exuberance or claim that he rode the "May Day" gravy-train for years; I guess you don't hear it the way I do--through 40 years of listening to him call Sabres games

To me, all the little nuances of him--both good and bad--make him human. His humanity allows him to love the game as a fan with all the joys and frustrations that come along with it.

That's how he calls the games. That's who he is on-air. That's it.






Saturday, May 21, 2011

Brayden McNabb Takes To the Ice Tonight In the Memorial Cup

Recently inked Sabres d-prospect Brayden McNabb takes to the ice tonight in Day 2 of Memorial Cup action.

The 6'4", 216 lb defenseman will captain his Western Hockey League Champion Kootenay Ice in a match-up vs. OHL Champion Owen Sound Attack.

McNabb was just signed to an entry-level contract by the Buffalo Sabres. According to Fletcher Doyle of the Buffalo News' Sabres Edge, it's a three-year deal with salaries of $615K, $690K and $840K.

According to Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com, "as a 2009er drafted out of Canadian juniors, McNabb must be signed by June 1st for the Sabres to maintain control of his rights."

Here's the full press release on McNabb's signing from the Sabres web site:

Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier announced today the Sabres have signed defenseman Brayden McNabb to a three-year entry level contract. McNabb was a third-round selection (66th overall) by the Sabres in the 2009 Entry Draft.

“Brayden is a big kid with great offensive abilities, and he’s continued to improve every year in Kootenay,” said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier. “His outstanding performance in the WHL Playoffs was just another positive sign in his development, and we are thrilled to now have him under contract for the next three years.”

McNabb (6’5”, 216 lbs., 1/21/1991, shoots left) just finished his fourth full season with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, and is headed to the Memorial Cup Championship that begins this weekend in Mississauga. McNabb’s 27 points led all Canadian Hockey League defenseman in the postseason, and his 24 assists were more than any other CHL defenseman’s total points.

A native of Davidson, Saskatchewan, McNabb was tied for second overall in WHL Playoff scoring, and had a 12-game point streak from April 3-May 10 where he scored 21 points (2+19). He also posted a league-best plus-23 rating in the Ice’s 19 playoff games.

The 20-year-old McNabb improved his regular season point total for the third year in a row, finishing second among WHL blueliners with 72 points (21+51) in 59 games. In four full seasons with Kootenay from 2007-11, McNabb had 176 points (50+126) in 258 games, along with 419 PIMs.

***

Friday, May 20, 2011

Just Where, Exactly, Is Winnipeg? And What About Re-Alignment For the NHL?

Well...it's in the southern part of the Province of Manitoba, which is smack-dab in the middle of the country just north of North Dakota and Minnesota.



The closest NHL city to Winnipeg is Minnesota/St. Paul (Wild) 385 miles south. To the west Edmonton and Calgary are about 745 miles away. (Mileage from timeanddate.com distance from Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Some other cities in the Western Conference:
  • Chicago--718 miles
  • Colorado--801
  • St. Louis--846
  • Detroit--849
With Atlanta vacating the NHL's Southeast division, what does the league do with realignment?

Well, to fill the hole in the Southeast Division, the natural choice would be for the Nashville Predators to head there. Getting out of a division that features Detroit and Chicago would certainly be a bonus, but the Southeast isn't exactly a cake-walk anymore with Washington and, now, Tampa Bay providing formidable foes.

The division would look like this:
  • Carolina
  • Florida
  • Nashville
  • Tampa Bay
  • Washington


It would be easy to just plug Winnipeg in the Western Conference, Central Division, but using the map above, a bit more realignment could be used.

The Dallas Stars head to the Central Division:
  • Chicago
  • Columbus
  • Dallas
  • Detroit
  • St. Louis
That leaves a hole in the Pacific, which will be filled by Colorado with the division looking like this:
  • Anaheim
  • Colorado
  • Los Angeles
  • Phoenix
  • San Jose'
Finally, the Northwest Division would look like this:
  • Calgary
  • Edmonton
  • Minnesota
  • Vancouver
  • Winnipeg
Sorry, Atlanta. If the move goes through (which is very likely,) I feel for the hockey fans.

That being said, welcome back Winnipeg. Good luck, you have your hands full trying to make it in today's NHL. Just ask the team that's heading your way, they just lost tens of millions of dollars over the last few years.




Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Sabres' Future Begins With Kevin Devine...

...and his merry band of scouts.

The following event, by itself, allows for Devine's inclusion in the Pegula Rewards Program. We flashback to the 2008 draft.

After a season where the Sabres finished 10th in the conference, four points out of a playoff spot, the team is set to select 13th in the NHL Draft.

Defensive needs are prevalent, as well as grit and toughness, as the soft-but-skilled Sabres are floundering in the post new-NHL. Also, with the loss of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, and only one center picked higher than the fourth round (Marek Zagrapan, #13-overall, 2005)  since Derek Roy (#32) and Chris Thorburn (#50) in 2001, there was a definite need at center as well.

They had two tough prospects as possibilities:  C Kyle Beach and D Colton Teubert.

Beach went at #11 to Chicago leaving two d-prospects, Teubert and and 6'7" Tyler Myers.





It's generally assumed that GM Darcy Regier gets the credit for making the move--in both the trade and the selection--for Tyler Myers.

But that's not the case. Kevin Devine was the impetus behind the drafting of Myers. He and his scouts were locked in on Myers with the Los Angeles Kings as the only team standing in their way and it was up to Regier to get the job done.

Here's how it went down (from insidesocal.com):

"The Kings, eyeing defenseman Colten Teubert, thought they could move down from the No. 12 spot and still get Teubert. They had a deal in place, with an unnamed team, to move down two or three spots but Buffalo, which held the No. 13 pick, was nervous about missing out on its targeted player. The Kings and Sabres talked, and the Kings agreed to trade the No. 12 pick for Buffalo's No. 13 pick, plus a third-round pick in 2009, UNLESS the Kings and Sabres coveted the same player.

How did they resolve this? Each GM got out pen and paper and wrote down which player he wanted to draft. They agreed to make the 12-13 swap if they coveted different players, so that the third, unnamed team wouldn't swoop in and steal Buffalo's targeted player. They showed each other the papers. The Kings wanted Teubert; the Sabres wanted Tyler Myers.

The Kings and Sabres made the swap. Buffalo took Myers at No. 12 and the Kings took Teubert at No. 13."

Call it luck. Call it an alignment of the stars. Call it whatever you want, but the insistence of Devine and his scouts got the Sabres Tyler Myers.

Kevin Devine will be entering his 12th season with the Buffalo Sabres this fall, the last four years as the Director of Amateur Scouting.

The Myers move stands on it's own as he jumped to the NHL from Junior and proceeded to with the Calder Trophy as 2009/10 Rookie of the Year. But it's not the only pick that's worth noting.

In that same draft, the Sabres took Tyler Ennis in the first round as well (#26). Also, with the 44th pick in that draft they selected C Luke Adam.

Those two would end up winning back-to-back AHL Rookie of the Year honors, 2010 and 2011 respectively.


The Sabres' first two picks in 2007 with Devine the Director, TJ Brennan (#31 overall) and Drew Schietsel (#59) were seen anchoring the defense in Portland last season while 6th-round pick (#179) C Paul Byron was top-two center with the Pirates and acquitted himself well as a call-up with the Sabres notching a goal and an assist in eight games.

Kevin Devine (left) at the 2009 draft
with 1st round pick Zack Kassian

It's only been four years, but Devine and his merry band of scouts are off to a torrid start.

When you hit the ground running with draft-picks like those, it not a hard decision to include Kevin Devine, as well as his staff, in the Pegula Rewards Program.




The Pegula Rewards Program buffalosabresnow list:

  • GM, Darcy Regier--No
  • Head Coach Lindy Ruff--Yes
  • Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine--Yes

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Pardon My French...

Lindy Ruff
...but Lindy ain't goin' nowhere"

So spoketh the great Pegula at his presser back in February.

There's no question that new owner Terry Pegula pegged Ruff as his head coach. No question that he liked what he saw in the 14-year bench-boss. No question that Ruff, even though he was in the last year of his contract, was a shoe-in for the "Pegula Rewards Program." Thus the contract extension announced at the year-end press conference.

Lindy Ruff (left) and Darcy Regier
form the longest-tenured GM/coach
tandem in the NHL.
Ruff has gone through the same trials and tribulations with the organization that GM Darcy Regier has gone through since Regier hired him 14 years ago, and the two have been linked since that day. They're the longest running GM/Coach-pairing in the NHL and there were questions as to whether or not Ruff would stay on board after balking at a contract extension from former Team President Larry Quinn.

But, in Pegula's mind, there's no other coach that he would want guiding his team into the new era.

It's not as if Ruff is perfect, he's had flaws over the course of his tenure with the Sabres.

The biggest thing, mostly for Sabres fans, is the lack of a Stanely Cup banner hanging from the rafters. In fact, one of the major criticisms concerning Ruff (and Regier) was a stretch of seasons where the team made the playoffs in only two of seven seasons (2005/06 and 2006/07) from the 2001/02 season through the 2008/09 season.

Rampant criticism from fans and media alike were calling for significant changes--namely Ruff and Regier--in the summer of 2009.

The 2009/10 season saw the team start off strong and fade going out in the first round of the playoffs.

Criticism of Ruff continued with that first round playoff loss to Boston and hit a crescendo in November of last year as the team--basically the same team that took the division the previous year--struggled to a 3-9-2 start.

Even with that start, Regier remained true to his word that, as long as he was GM, Ruff was his coach.

I've always been a Ruff fan, although some of the things he does makes me scratch my head. I believe that he plays the cards he's dealt (by management,) and I believe that he gets the most out of it. And that's always been my stance, even before I started this blog.

When it seemed as if he was on the verge of getting fired, I felt that a huge injustice would have occurred if that happened.

Most of the troubles over the past four seasons were a direct result of "the core" that Regier has remained enamored with, a core that's a major drop-off from the team that made the Eastern Conference Finals two years running.

The 2010 Canadian Olymic Team
Coaching Staff
This season he did a tremendous job of guiding the team to a playoff spot when they started the 2011 calendar year 12 points out of eighth place. He did that despite the fact that he had no top-six centers on the team. Also of note, his defense was loaded with young players supplanting the sub-par efforts of the veterans on the team.

Although he is not without flaws, he can coach any style, and is one of the most respected coaches (outside of Buffalo) in the league. Respected enough in the hockey community to be named as an assistant coach under Mike Babcock for the 2010 Canadian Olympic Team.

Imo, there's no question that Lindy Ruff should be a part of the Pegula Rewards program.

The Pegula Rewards Program buffalosabresnow list:

GM, Darcy Regier--no
Coach Lindy Ruff--yes

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is GM Darcy Regier Worthy of the Pegula Rewards Program?

No matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to justify Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier as part of the Pegula Rewards Program. And I really have tried.

Regier has guided the Sabres through treacherous waters throughout the last 14 years and there's a lot to be said for that. His reward, imo, was doled out by then team president Larry Quinn last fall. As negotiations for the sale of the Sabres to Terry Pegula were ongoing, Quinn, as managing partner of the team, gave Regier what amounts to a golden parachute--a multi-million dollar, two-year extension for his GM.

Let's forget about that, though.
 
"Captain Crunch"
Michael Peca

"The Dominator"
Dominik Hasek
We're also gonna forget about Regier's dismantling of the "hardest working team in hockey" accented by the eventual loss of Selke-winner Michael Peca and future Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek. The former traded in July, 2001 after a year-long holdout the latter demanding a trade to Detroit that same off-season.



We're gonna remember calling Regier a genius for shipping Chris Gratton to Phoenix for Daniel Briere and remember that his follow-up trade--a blockbuster--brought in a Cup-winning center to pair with Briere, Chris Drury. We'll let slide the fact that Quinn pulled rank on Regier forcing him to part with one of his prized draft picks--Keith Ballard--in order to get the three-team trade for Drury done.

Chris Drury and Daniel Briere
We marveled at the post-lockout team that Regier built, a team that was described as "the team built for the new NHL" back in 2006/07. But we also need to remember that he had an inside track as to where the league was headed being in constant contact with Commissioner Gary Bettman while the Sabers were under control of the league from 2002 to March of 2003 when Tom Golisano stepped in to buy the team.

We'll forget the fact that the new NHL was changing in late-winter, 2007 to a tougher more grittier league as evidenced by the bullying the Anaheim Ducks did on their way to the Stanley Cup. We'll also forget that Regier was left with an era-specific team filled with soft-but-skilled players.

Thomas Vanek styling, and who
wouldn't after signing a $50m offer-sheet.
Nobody wants to remember what happened in the 2007 off-season as Briere and Drury left via free-agency and Thomas Vanek was signed to an offer sheet by Edmonton after Regier let it be known that he'd match any offer designed to poach the superstar winger. We'll forget about that and we'll also forget that he never, even until now, replaced Briere and Drury with quality top-six centers.

We'd like to forget about "the core," that vaunted collection drafted players who were supposed to step into leadership positions with the departures of Briere and Drury. But they're still here. We'll remember that these players--Derek Roy, Jason Pomminville, Thomas Vanek, and Drew Stafford--were players who thrived in a secondary role, but failed, as a whole, when asked to step into primary roles after the 2007 off-season. We'll forget that these players, along with "core-like" players Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht, comprised what many considered "the easiest team to play against in hockey."

Steve Bernier
We'll forget Regier's poor trade-deadline moves and the myriad of second-round picks given up for them:  Danius Zubrus in 2007, Steve Bernier in 2008, Steve Moore in 2009, Raffi Torres in 2010. All of them, save for Torres, of the same ilk as "the core." All of them failing to produce when it counted--either helping the team make the playoffs or advancing deep into the playoffs. All of them dealt for picks that could've added depth to the organization. We'll remember this trend later on.

And we'll remember Regier's drafting--pretty much on par with any team save the Detroit Red Wings. First-round picks that worked out well like Vanek and Stafford and Ballard balanced by the busts like Artem Kryukov, Barrett Heitsen and Jiri Novotny. We'll forget that his draft picks were all of the same ilk as "the core" up until 2009 when he finally realized that his team filled with soft-but-skilled players needed an influx of size and grit.

Zack Kassian
We'll forget that Regier's idea of tough was drafting Andrew Peters with the 34th pick in the 1998 entry draft. And we'll forget that despite being devoid of NHL-calibre centers in the system, with the 13th pick in the 2009 draft he drafted a big, tough winger in Zack Kassian who was suspended three different times since he was drafted. The jury's still out on the 20 yr old and luckily there wasn't a jury involved when he was arrested for a fight in a bar in Ontario last summer.

Sabres' draft pick Tyler Myers
towers over everyone.
As we watch potential Norris Trophy candidate Tyler Myers excel at such a young age and adapt quickly after his immediate jump from the 2008 draft and into the Sabres line-up (winning the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year,) we'll forget the fact that Regier's Director of Amateur Scouting, Kevin Devine, implored him to trade up one spot to select the phenom. And we'll forget the fact that Regier left that to chance. Had LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi wrote Myers' name on the napkin instead of Colton Teubert, Regier may not have got the job done.

"Tough-guy"
Andrew Peters
Simply put, forget all the good, the bad and the ugly of the pre-Pegula era with regards to Regier as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. All of it may be attributed to influences by varying superiors in the chain of command. He's always been a yes man, his passion and "fight" comparable to an Andrew Peters fight, where you could look like a champ in an easy battle, and look like a chump when facing a tougher opponent.

Just forget about it all.

Terry Pegula rode into town as a new owner with new mandates.

Gone was the stifling adherence to financial considerations, Darcy Regier now had freedom.

And what did he do with it?

Brad Boyes.

With Sabres' top-center Derek Roy out for the season and the team in a playoff push, Regier's lone transaction at the trade-deadline this past season was to bring in a winger.

I won't hate on Boyes. He's a very good player who has proven he could produce. He was better than any of the trade-deadline acquisitions prior--Zubrus, Bernier, Moore and Torres...in the regular season.

Come playoff time, in seven games he had one goal (a meaningless one late in Game 7 of the Philly series,) zero assists and was a minus-2.

With the hockey world wide open and the new owner behind him, Regier brought in a player that was exactly like "the core." Just like Roy and Pomminville, Connolly and Hecht and Stafford, all of them perimeter players, all of them of the same ilk.

When you add vanilla to vanilla, it's insane to expect anything other than vanilla.

This is the best Regier could do?

Epic fail...and...what should be...

End of story.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The "Rivet Rule-Of-Thumb"

Former Sabres' d-man, Craig Rivet
Just what is the "Rivet Rule-Of-Thumb?"

Basically it involves using two key factors--two that led to the sharp decline in former Sabres' defenseman Craig Rivet's play-- as a barometer when looking to bring in (or keep) a tough, gritty stay-at-home-type defenseman.

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
Derian Hatcher--A bruiser on the blueline where he used his 6'5, 235 lb. frame to punish in his shutdown role. In his first season post-lockout he managed to hold his own, but the speed of the new-NHL really hastened his decline as witnessed by the Buffalo Sabres who ran circles around him and the whole Philadelphia Flyers team-building philosophy in the 2006/07 season. He and the team bottomed out, and while the Flyers rebuilt, Hatcher played half the 2007/08 season and spent the final year of his contract on injured reserve at the age of 36.

Mike Rathje
Mike Rathje--after 11 seasons with San Jose', the big, 6'5, 235 lb. defensman became a Philadelphia Flyer and joined the aforementioned Hatcher anchoring the blueline. He spent 13 years total in the NHL as a stay-at-home d-man, playing only one full year post-lockout. After only 18 games in the 2006/07 season, he, his injured groin and $3.5m contract were buried on the injured reserve list and Rathje was not heard from again. He played his last game at the age of 32.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith--Big hits and blocking shots. Those were the traits of this rugged 6'3, 220 lb tough d-man. Smith spent a total of 15 seasons in the NHL, his early years being formed by NJ Devils thundercrunch d-man, Scott Stevens. His years with the Devils and then the Toronto Maple Leafs were marked by defensive breakdowns as he went for the big hit which left him as a minus player during those years. At the age of 25 he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. He spent the next five pre-lockout seasons playing the best hockey of his career. At the age of 32 he came back in the new-NHL, holding his own. The next season, though, he was left in the dust, his decline hastened by the speed of the league. He retired at the age of 36.

Former Sabre's d-man Jay Mckee blocks
a shot with the Blues at the tail-end
of his 14-year career
Jay Mckee--A Buffalo Sabres fan-favorite due to his hard-hitting/shot-blocking style of play. His prime years were spent in Buffalo before signing a lucrative contract in the 2006 off-season with St. Louis. The 2006/07 season saw the beginning of the decline with McKee being felled by a rash of "lower-body" injuries to his knees and hips. Already considered somewhat slow, at the age of 29, the speed of the new-NHL had passed him up and for the final years of his contract with the Blues (eventually seeing him waived by the club) along with one on Pittsburgh, he was relegated to third-pairing minutes and spent many games as a healthy scratch.


Sheldon Souray (left) goes at it
with Calgary's Jarome Iginla
Sheldon Souray--The 6'4" 233 lb. d-man with serious offensive (in more ways than one) acumen was an above average skater with a big shot and an edge. After an injury-plagued start to his career in NJ, Souray was traded to the Montreal Canadians at age 23. The injuries continued throughout the first few years with the Canadians and he missed the entire 2002/03 season with a wrist injury. Souray followed that lost season with the best offensive output of his career peaking in 2006/07 at the age of 30. Injuries hit once again in the first year as a free-agent signing by Edmonton. He played only 23 games in the 2007/08 season yet followed that with his second most productive year as a pro only to see him succumb to injuries--and attitude--the following season. He spent the entire 2010/11 season in the minors after no club wanted to trade for him or pick him up on waivers. He is now 34 yrs. old.

"JovoCop" in Phoenix
Ed Jovanovski--The #1 overall pick in 1994 by the Florida Panthers was considered the prototypical defender with size, grit and scoring prowess from the back-end. "Jovocop" was set to patrol the Panthers blueline with a "Scott Stevens-type" edge while putting up big offensive numbers. His pedestrian output in Florida, though, lead to an eventual blockbuster trade to Vancouver (Pavel Bure' being a part of the deal.) At the age of 23, he began what was to be the best overall hockey of his career. But, the post-lockout 2005/06 season saw injuries begin to creep in, mostly "lower body" of the abdominal and foot variety. After signing with Phoenix in the 2006 off-season, groin injuries started to creep into the occasion as well and he only played in 54 games. The latter part of his career in Phoenix (he's now a UFA) was marked by solid offensive numbers and a decidedly negative plus-minus. This past season, at age 34 (after two injury-free seasons,) the "upper-body" injuries limited him to 50 regular season games, and relegated him ineffective in the playoffs as the Yotes were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

Looking ahead towards next season, here are a few big, tough, gritty d-men who are at various stages of their prime years. These stay-at-home, crease-clearers seem to be entering into that time where injuries may start having an adverse affect on their ability to play their game in a faster NHL:

Anton Volchenkov, NJ Devils--29 yrs. old. Has not played a full NHL season to date. After playing 78 games in the 2006/07 season he has played in 67, 68, 64 and 57 games the following respective seasons.

Mike Komisarek, Toronto Maple Leafs--29 yrs. old. 82 games in the 2006/07 season, 75, 66, 34 and 75 the next four seasons.

Robyn Regehr, Calgary Flames--31 yrs. old. Post-lockout played in 68, 78, 82, 75, 81, 79 games respectively.

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins--34 yrs. old. Played in 80 or more games three of the last four seasons, no less than 71 since  2000/01.

Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh Penguins--After playing in at least 70 games from 2006-2010, played in 64 last season with groin and finger problems.

Eric Brewer, Tampa Bay Lightning--A trade-deadline acquisition by the Bolts, seems to have found "fresh legs" at the age of 32. The two years prior to the 2010/11 season saw him play in a total of 87 regular season games.

As we look forward to the 2011/12 season, with Sabre's Head Coach Lindy Ruff expressing the desire for a "shutdown" d-man to pair with Tyler Myers, we may need to keep the "Rivet Rule-Of-Thumb" in mind.

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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Who Will Be A Part Of "The Pegula Rewards Program?"

The disappointment was seen and felt in the end-of-season presser a few days ago as new Buffalo Sabres Owner Terry Pegula, Team President Ted Black, GM Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff met the media.

While there were some obvious positives--the entire 2011 part of the season--there was also a feeling that they missed an opportunity with this group of players and as Pegula mentioned, the four guys "were not very happy about [being out of the playoffs."] He even went as far to say "personally, for the first time I walked in the building after the playoffs, it sorta ticked me off watching the ice being taken out."

"Not very happy." "Ticked me off."

Good stuff from The Head Honcho.

Pegula and Co. took over in February with a simple edict:  "From this point forward, the Buffalo Sabres' reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup."



The above plaque, placed in the locker room while the Sabres were on a seven-game road trip to start the month of March, is a staunch reminder that this is the goal.

Pegula is a self-made billionaire who will "put the pedal to the metal" in an effort to bring Lord Stanley's Cup to Buffalo.

He laid out his role in this way during the press conference when he was officially named owner of the Buffalo Sabres:
  • "I wanna run the team to win the Stanley Cup"
  • "There's no NHL salary cap on scouting budgets and player development budgets, I plan on increasing our...scouting budgets"
  • "There will be no financial mandates on the Buffalo Sabres hockey department"
  • when it comes to player moves, [Darcy's] "got freedom"
  • on players leaving--"Yes, I wanna keep not only statistically good players, but winners gritty players"
Although none of us know just how "hand's-on" Pegula will be, (he said just enough "without losing my family,") he's smart enough to surround himself with some of the best in the business in right-hand man, Black and Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer. They are in charge of "his baby."

As the patriarch of the Buffalo Sabres, Pegula has set the tone by stating up-front that he'll put his money where his mouth is. He's building an organization in Buffalo using the successful model he used with East Rescources, the Company he founded and eventually sold for $4.3 billion.

Sabres President Ted Black (left)
and Sabres Owner
Terry Pegula
Black and Sawyer will lead the Sabres from their spot just below "Big Chief Terry" and will be in charge of finding people--from the GM down--who embrace Pegula's stated philosophy that "winning is not a goal, but a belief."

You get the feeling that for those who subscribe, and go all-in, the rewards will be many, that he has laid the foundation for a "Pegula Rewards Program."

Pegula and Black have already laid the cosmetic groundwork by installing the plaque and a rug with the Sabres' logo on it (also the philosophy of respect for the logo.) Renovations to the Sabres' dressing room will take place over the summer as the two have begun the process of doing "the million little things" to make Buffalo a destination for players, a place Black described as being "hockey heaven."

They're not fooling around, and neither should anyone within the organization.

In the following weeks leading up to the 2011 NHL, I'll be taking a look at who, imo, should be a part of the "Pegula Rewards Program" and later, which players on the market may want to be a part of it as the Sabres embark on their road to a Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ruff Says Goodbye T0 2010/11 NHL Season on WGR

Sabres Head Coach Lindy Ruff was on WGR's Howard Simon Show yesterday and said goodbye to the 2010/11 NHL season, and his weekly radio time, lamenting, "I wish [the season] was still going."

The coach obviously was disappointed that the Flyers-series "slipped away" and spent some time looking at both Game 6 and Game 7.

Some of the themes were familiar like turnovers, and the inability to finish. He also pointed out that one of the aspects that carried the team in the series--the "ability to get the puck up the ice"--wasn't there for Game 7. Consequently, the team did not spend much time in the offensive zone and dropping the game, and the series, in Philly.

Looking forward, you could say the team took a step forward, winning one more game than the previous post-season while taking the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference to seven games. But there's a dissatisfaction with the way the season ended, especially after that great run in the 2011 calender year which propelled them into the playoffs.

Simon's side-kick, Jeremy White, got right to the point with Ruff, "what does this team need?" The coach, not surprisingly went right to the defense.

"We learned a lot of things about our defense. We just went through talking about the defending part, we would like to shore that part of our game up. We had the type of defensmen that were great at being involved offensively and we had to play to that strength," he said, adding "If we could shore up that defending part and have a defense pair that could [be] lockdown in certain situations, I think that's where we'd want to improve."

During the stretch-drive towards the playoffs, Ruff used a myriad of combinations at the end of games to hold the lead, and it worked out pretty well. From Mike Weber/Andrej Sekera to Steve Montador/Chris Butler to Tyler Myers/Butler to Montador/Sekera, the coach seemed to be priming his defensemen for pressure situations--which are the playoffs as a whole.

But nothing during the regular season could prepare them for the intensity of the playoffs, especially the relentless Flyer forecheck.

When asked by Simon if he thought that the Sabres had a defenseman within the organization to use as a lockdown-pair, or whether they need to look outside, Ruff talked about Myers being "the closest thing we have to a lockdown defenseman." As for another defenseman joining him on that pairing he talked about Sekera and Butler having some great moments, but falling to injury and/or inconsistencies.

The Sabres are still in their "evaluation period" when it comes to piecing together the team for next season including the aforementioned defense. Since Terry Pegula took over the ownership of the team, there's been a heightened sense of excitement and expectation come July 1 (the beginning of free-agency) and Ruff shared those sentiments. "I think right now it does feel different," he said.

Their "build from the goal out" philosophy remains intact and, not surprisingly, Ruff points to Nashville goalie Pekke Rinne and Boston's Tim Thomas when talking about team-building and where Buffalo stands.

Although other teams like the Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks spent much less in goal and had much success putting nearly all of their money in skaters, Ruff is steadfast in Ryan Miller and his salary anchoring the Buffalo Sabres. "There are teams trying to do it a different way," he said, "there's three or four teams in the playoffs that fit the model we have, there's three or four teams that maybe fit a little bit different model. I don't think that every team has the luxury that we've had with our goalie."

Ruff brings up Vancouver's similar philosophy of strong goaltending with Roberto Luongo in net. Luongo and Miller are both considered the leaders on the team with the former actually being officially named captain a year ago (which was against NHL rules, and eventually abandoned.)

There's no question that Ryan Miller is one of the leaders on this team, if not the leader. But there hasn't been a player with the "C" on his sweater since Craig Rivet was waived. In fact, there hasn't been a captain on the ice since the 2010 calendar year considering Rivet was a healthy scratch for nearly all of 2011.

Ruff has used a number of different avenues concerning the captaincy--rotating captains, co-captains, no captain--and as they looked forward he was asked about the role. "I think it's important to the team, I'm not trying to downplay that at all," he said. "When you put the "C" on a player the players walk in and recognize the leader of the team. You wanna make the right decisions. We wanna make sure that the captain is a captain here for a long time."

With the post-mortem of a playoff exit over, the team is looking towards next season. At the time of the interview Ruff and GM Darcy Regier were in Binghamton evaluating the Portland Pirates in their playoff series. Forwards Luke Adam and Zack Kassian--who just came up from junior--were talked about.

The team is keeping a close eye on Adam, who scored a near end-to-end, highlight-reel goal in that game (the Pirates only goal which tied the game in a 6-1 loss,) with Ruff going as far to say that the big center "is going to be a good two-way centerman that could possibly push up into a one-two role."

Although the boys on the show never brought up Ruff's recent contract extension, they'll have him again next season as the Sabres look to build upon the positives and correct the negatives of a very interesting 2010/11 season.