Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chicago/Calgary swap could mark the begining of trade season

The NHL trade deadline is a little over four weeks away and normally we'll see one of those market-setting, benchmark trades happen right around All-Star weekend.

Nothing on that front yet, but there was a trade yesterday, one that was more significant than the swapping of AHL'ers--veteran Calgary Flames center Brendan Morrison was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman, Brian Connelly.

The Hawks have been looking for depth down the middle all season, in fact early on they even tried RW Patrick Kane there.

Forward Patrick Sharp has been out of the lineup since January 9 with a wrist injury and his absence may gave created a sense of urgency for GM Stan Bowman. Sharp is expected to return just after the All-Star break.

At 36, Morrison isn't exactly young anymore, but he should be able to hold the fort while the injured return to form and provide depth during the stretch and into the playoffs.

The Hawks are jockeying for position in the tough Central Division and are presently in fourth place, although they rank 6th in the Western Conference.

Calgary is one of six teams battling for the 7th and 8th seeds in the Western Conference and presently sit in 11th place, three points out.

Connelly is a 25 yr. old who was in his fourth season with the Rockford Ice-Hogs, was an undrafted free agent signing for Chicago in 2009. The 5'10, 186 lb,  puck-moving d-man and was pretty far down the depth chart for Chicago.

Sabres center Derek Roy is said to be on the market, although unlike Morrison, he still has one more year on his contract at the end of the season.

Calgary's depth down the middle, which was thin to begin with, now only has Olli Jokinen as a bonafide top-two. Twenty-two year old Mikael Backlund would now be looked to as the #2 center.

It's a somewhat curious move for Flames GM, Jay Feaster to move a player from a position of weakness. It could be one of those "domino" things where he's making room for a veteran #2 center.

With the Sabres playoff hopes slim at best, and a core shake-up almost a certainty, Calgary would seem to be a good fit for Roy.

Regier is said to be looking for a top-six forward in return for any of his top-six, core players and Backlund might be considered just that. He's only into his fourth NHL season having played a total of 132 games so there is upside.

Feaster and Sabres GM Darcy Regier made a swap last June--the Robyn Regehr trade--that was fair to both sides so maybe they can do it again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Status Quo

The All-Star game is Sunday.

The Sabres are at home thinking about their 2-1 SO win at New Jersey.

And the 12-game road-losing streak-a franchise record- is officially history.

Jason Pominville is in Ottawa on Team Alfredsson, ironic since he burned the Ottawa captain on a move that goes down as one of the most famous goals in Sabres' history. It was also the only time in NHL history that an overtime playoff game ended on a short-handed goal.

The Sabres sit tied for dead-last in the Eastern Conference after hovering around the playoff bubble to begin the month of December. Their record since then: 7-15-4.

Everything coming out of the organization says that, because of injuries, status quo is the way to go.

That includes GM Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff still at the helm. Assistant coaches James Patrick and Kevyn Adams, as well as goaltending coach, Jim Corsi, are still with the organization.

"The core" remains as well and with them the defense and goaltending.

"Injuries" is the theme and patience is the motto.

With the goal of 93 pts. to make the playoffs, the Sabres, who are last in the Northeast Division with 45 pts., would need a record of 21-5-6 to hit that mark.

Good luck with that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas apolitically shuns White House visit

"This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL."

--Boston Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas on why he opted to not visit the White House

Apolitical and sound.

Although not as earth-shattering as Muhammad Ali's conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, a solid declaration for the Conn Smythe winner on the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.

Thomas is a Republican and may have merely been diplomatic in his objection to a visit with a Democratic President, but he chose this route to express his displeasure for the state of affairs in this country.

His full statement:

"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.
This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sabres without pilot--figuratively and literally

You're Terry Pegula and the Buffalo Sabres.

The team that once came back from a triumphant opening in Europe to an upgraded locker room with high expectations soon goes into a downward spiral.

Your franchise goaltender got run by a hated rival and the entire team is called out for being wussies.

There have been an number of embarrassments, including one in Pittsburgh where Pegula calls out the goaltending in an 8-3 loss.

That particular loss begins a franchise-record, road losing streak, which sends the team plummeting in the standings.

The streak hit 12 games after last night (the previous record was seven games) as the Sabres dropped a 4-2 decision in St. Louis.

The plan was for the team to board their charter jet and head back to Buffalo before travelling to New Jersey for their final game before the All-Star break.

Jhonas Enroth @JEnroth125
This road trip just got even worst and longer. We don't have a pilot that can fly us home. #ugh

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"The Core" no more?

The names of Derek Roy and Drew Stafford are whirling around the hockey world as the trade deadline approaches.

It's still five weeks away, but with the Sabres mired in a franchise-record road losing streak and only three points from the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the hockey world is looking at the Sabres as sellers this season.

Sabres President Ted Black was on the Howard Simon Show Thursday talking about the state of GM Darcy Regier, Head Coach Lindy Ruff and a group known as "the core."

Simon referred to them as a "core group of players," as Regier has done often times over the past four and a half seasons.

When asked by Simon if the Sabres organization still believes that this core group is the right group and a group they can win the cup with, Black distanced himself, "I've never used the term core group, so I assume you mean the Rochester guys?" [6:00-mark]

He continues, "The fact of the matter is, over a two or three year period, teams flip over for the most part." Then he pretty much opens the door for the dismantling of the core, "I don't think we're committed to any group of players whatsoever."

"The Rochester Guys" include, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad and Ryan Miller. All of them spent the lockout season in Rochester and all came up together as the NHL entered their "New-NHL" phase. Drew Stafford is also looked at as a core player, although he came up and stuck with the team a year later.

The "New NHL" has come and gone, and with it the effectiveness of some of the "Rochester Guys."

Also in question should be the person who brought this group together and has staunchly defended and overrated some of them, Darcy Regier.

Black opened the door to changes, just who will be involved and how far reaching it will be is yet to be determined. But what we're looking at are some significant changes that may constitute a rebuild as opposed to a retool.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

We are good enough

"As difficult as it might be for me, for you, for our fans, there is going to continue to be patience involved."
--darcy regier, nov. 5, 2010--

"To the extent we make changes it'll be on a patient basis, not a fire-sale basis."
--nov 5, 2010--

We're not talking about bad people," he said. "We're actually talking about good people who, if we talk about focus, we talk about energy level and things like that, then it's well within their capabilities."
--october 28, 2010--

"I am concerned [with 30th place]" "Well you start with the players in the room, you start with the team on the ice and, I think there's some postitive signs, but in a lot of ways, like the start of the last game where we give up a short-handed goal, that seems to be really the tipping point. And, in that case, awfully early in the game. I would say what he have had...right from the start of the season is we have had tremendous efforts like in atlanta, a two-nothin' lead, maybe one of the best periods of the year...For whatever reason, they haven't followed through in the second...we've had some inconsistencies in the game we're still working through getting things to fit."
--november 5, 2010--

"there is a division of labor here, whether it’s the coach, the general manager or the ownership. It is as it should be. Each of us has our own responsibilities and my responsibility is the hockey club and personnel"..."One of the obligations we have is to find better players...That’s a constant obligation"--april 29, 2010 


[do you have a top-line center]..."Yes we do. Yes we do. How you want to measure that, you can pick how you measure that...
--april 29, 2010--

If you want to look at number one centers...we have two in the top twenty [in the NHL]--june 24, 2010--

"For us, it is better than a trade,'' Regier said today. "I think when you look at anything that is available in the summer, anything that is available right now on the trade market, in order to keep Tim [connolly] here, not to give up any assets to acquire someone like Tim, I think it's a terrific day for the Sabres organization. [connolly's] healthy now. We expect him to be healthy. If you look at the marketplace in the summer, there's very few short-term contracts so that's what he gave back to the club (a two-year deal). We think he's one of the top players at his position in the National Hockey League. .. . The bet for us is obviously on his health. It's one that ownership was willing to make, one that I was willing to make on the management side."
--march 4, 2009--

[better players] "They are a big part of the team, they are important to your success and they are not readily available...So if teams have them, the likelihood of them giving them up isn’t very high. That brings you back to the people you have, and doing the work, in season and offseason, and helping them grow and become better. To the extent that that fails, then you have to try and figure out what to do going forward."
--april 29, 2010--

[best players] "...players like...the obvious is ryan miller right down to players...tyler's players like that and to varying degrees inbetween. I'm not gonna sit here and rate the players for you, Bulldog, I'll leave that for you guys and your show. My position is we'll do what we did in the past...we'll work through it, we have in the past."
--november 5, 2010--

 "...I'll assume when you're talking about doing something you're talking about trades...I think there's alot you can do prior is one aspect. To assume you're gonna make a trade and that's gonna fix it, Bulldog, if you were gonna take that position, I think it's a bad place to be. If you want to start to make moves now at this point in the season, the only way you're going to be able to do it is you're going to have to give up your assets, and those are your best players and the reality is we're not going to move our best players."--nov 5, 2010--

"I think, for the most part, the players are playing the way Lindy wants them to play...I think Lindy's looking at the same things I'm looking at from a coaching perspective is how can we change things up, how can we get things to click a little bit better...playing with everything from lines to individuals..."
--november 5, 2010--

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dear Terry, the last thing Sabres fans want to hear is...

..."It's hard to evaluate something that has been torn apart the way this thing has."

The above quote was taken from an article by Bucky Gleason in the Buffalo News today. Terry Pegula pulled out the ole' injury excuse as a reason for his teams poor season. Forget the fact that his good start was due to a very favorable schedule against teams that were at or near the bottom-half of the league, and that this teams' slide was due in large part to higher quality teams. No, it's not that at all, Buffalo, it's injuries. And because of that, we will stay the course.

The Sabres have the exact same record--18-19-5--this season as last. Unlike last season, though, this team has been in a serious downward spiral since November and it got worse in December after embarrassing their owner in an 8-3 loss in Pittsburgh.

That loss started a 2-7-2 plummet from a spot in the top-eight to 11th in the Eastern Conference with only five points separating the team from the bottom of the conference.

The title of Gleason's article, Pegula not ready to pull the trigger, wreaks of "same ole, same ole/same sh!t, different owner."

Actually, when you read his quotes, it sounds as if GM Darcy Regier and/or Head Coach Lindy Ruff is talking through the owner:
  • "What everybody is missing is that I've been carrying around 167 man games,"
  • "We've had 18 players go down. It's like a merry-go-round every night. You look on the ice and what are your defensive pairs tonight? Hell, who knows? Who's healthy?"
  • I have to believe we're a better hockey team than we were last year. We just didn't have this massive, catastrophic injury problem. Put yourself in anybody's place in the organization. How do you evaluate what's going on?"
Well, Mr. Pegula, you're not a better hockey team this season--and if you've been paying attention for the last four and a half seasons, you hear what fans have been hearing--a parade of excuses coming out of the Sabres front-office that is long and somewhat colorful.

Simple fact, through all the "core is growing into their roles" (2008,) "injuries to Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek (2009,) "we have two of the top-20 centers in the league  (2010,) "we're not happy, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup" (2011,) the Sabres are not any better off now than they were four and a half years ago. They just have a couple of first round and out playoff appearances to their resume'.

Nothing has changed with this team since the summer of 2007. Players have come and gone, but it's basically the same team. It's virtually the same core up-front, the ones that were to "grow into their new roles and mature into leaders," as the one they had back then.

In case you missed it, they haven't done that, they aren't doing it now, and it's highly doubtful that they will, save for Vanek and Jason Pominville who continue to pull their weight. It's the same formula this season as it's been the past four and a half seasons, soft-but-(supposedly) skilled and marginal leadership up-front.

On defense, it's the same formula--plenty of "puck-movers" and heavy on offense with very little grit.

It doesn't help that Ryan Miller is a mess either. He's having his worst season with the club. Throughout the post Chris Drury/Daniel Briere era, every season could be maked by these words, "as Ryan Miller goes, so go the Sabres."

About the only thing that's gone right personnel-wise it a huge upgrade with Jonas Enroth as the back-up to Miller.

That's it.

It's the same team we've witnessed the last four and a half seasons, only the names on the back are different. It's the same inconsistencies, the same finesse, the same showmanship at home, the same lack of urgency and passion, the same collapse under pressure, the same gutless play and the same cop-out that has plagued this team as a whole for years.

And now, what's really troubling is that it's also the same excuse-filled, "stay the course" attitude that ownership and upper management have been selling for four and a half years. You could say that the names at the top have changed, but it's still the same. Terry Pegula and company are now on par with the previous regime, a group that was loathed for years.

After seeing what Sabres fans have been seeing over the last four and a half season, the "patience" trumpeted by right-hand man, Ted Black, could be trumped by only one thing--an owner using injuries as an excuse to stay the course.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Claude Loiselle, come on down...

you're the next GM of the Buffalo Sabres.

Meh, if only it were true.

Word on the street is that Loiselle has already been contacted by a couple of teams, and if the Sabres were looking to bring him in, there are a couple of hurdles to jump, number one being the fact that the Sabres still have their GM, Darcy Regier.

But, with his team looking beaten, Regier may not be able to squirm out of this one. Too much has happened this year and, to his determent, too much has stayed the same.

A few of the items:
  • Free agents aqcuisitions underperforming
  • A beat-down both physically and on the score sheet at Boston in November
  • blow-outs by four different teams thus far including a last-place Columbus team
  • embarassing the owner in Pittsburgh in December
  • sub-.500 record
  • poor play from his core
  • this quote from one of his core players, alternate captain Derek Roy, “We had high expectations at the start of the year. We knew that" he said. “Going forward now there’s low expectations. So now it’s easier to play. We just play loose, play fun. Go out there and play hard."
  • yada, yada, yada.

If the Sabres decide on a change, the next big hurdle would be the fact that Loiselle is an Assistant General Manager with the Toronto Maple Leaves. It might be tough to pry Loiselle from a long-time rival as the Sabres would need permission to talk to him. That being said, rumor is that Toronto's Original-Six rival, the Montreal Canadians, have already talked to him.

Toronto AGM, Claude Loiselle,
looks to be on the fast track
to his own GM positon.
With the Sabres organization mired in status-quo over the past four and a half years, opportunites for leadership in the front office have come and gone. Steve Yzerman headed for Tampa Bay and Dale Tallon headed to Florida, to name a couple. Granted, at the time the Sabres weren't shopping for a GM, but those two bring quality traits to an organization and have earned loads of respect within the NHL.

Claude Loiselle is one of those up-and-comers presently learning the ropes from Toronto GM Brian Burke. Burke remembers him from his playing days. “I was impressed with Claude as a player,” he said. “He was always a thinking player, but talented and belligerent. This is a guy that played hard, too. And I thought that was a guy that should get into management.”

In the same article from the National Post, Burke thinks that Loiselle has a bright future as a GM, “I would have bet a lot of money that he would have been a GM six or seven years ago,” he said. “[Loiselle] clearly has the wherewithal to be a general manager. I think I’m going to have a challenge keeping our management team together.”

Many chats are looking to former Sabre Rick Dudley (who is a consultant for Toronto) as a guy they'd like to see replace Regier mainly because Sabres fans want to see a departure from the soft-but-skilled team they've witnessed for many years. They remember Dudley as a tough customer and feel as if he'd mold a team in his likeness.

But Loiselle was no stranger to grit, toughness and belligerence. Just ask Bobby Clarke:

Since the Flyers had the tape of the game, Loiselle said that what Clarke did prior never made it in, "the Flyers neglected to show the part where Clarkie’s trying to take my eyes out, and just shows me two-handing him,” Loiselle said. “I got six games.”

Extreme? Mmmmmm...maybe. But after the passivity of the Regier regime, that type of mentality, would be welcome with open arms.

Loiselle's primary responsibility with the Leaves is contract negotiations, and he has the ferocity, intelligence and zeal that he played with when negotiating contracts, “My hockey experience goes into my negotiations,” Loiselle said “If an agent tells me, ‘Oh, this guy’s the best centreman in the league’ — well, no he’s not."

“And they don’t get that, they don’t want to get that,” Loiselle said. “But I’ll hammer it because of my hockey background, because I know that’s the way it is.”

Same with his commrades in the war room, “I go to our guys and say, ‘Here’s where we’re at — they’re looking for a three-year deal at this number, I think we should stick to two years, these are the reasons. What are your thoughts?’ ”

As indicated by Burke's comments, and the possibility that the Canadians are already talking to him, Loiselle may be the next AGM to get swooped up by a team needing one. If the Sabres remain in their holding pattern, it might be another opportunity come and gone.

Even Loiselle knows where things are headed, “I want to be a GM, I feel I’m going to be a GM,” he said. “But not at any cost, and not tomorrow.”

What's the cost in Loiselle's mind? Don't know, but if I were Terry Pegula, I'd be asking, "what's the price?"


The Rochester Americans lost 5-2 last night (1-19-12.) They were missing several d-men. But Kevin Oklobzija points out this concerning lack of retribution by the Amerks for a cheap hit last month, "it’s very much the Sabres way. Let opponents take advantage of whoever they want; it’s OK with us. So what if half the team is concussed?"


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The question...

...on WGR's website is, Do you think this Sabres team is capable of going on a run, similar to last year's team?

And the answer is?

Yes. Only because anything is possible. Is it probable? No.

Right now the Sabres find themselves with the exact same record at this point in the season as they were last year.

And as much as the injuries have hurt, the goaltending has been woefully inadequate, the defense suspect and the offense invisible, they are sorely missing the veteran leadership of Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer.

Before y'all go off and say, "those two? Grier couldn't score on a breakaway if Nathan Gerbe was in net and Niedermayer didn't score his first goal until the 53rd game."

For a team that just got shut out, has scored one goal in three of the previous six games, and have scored more than two goals only six times in the last 18 games, one would think that finish is sorely missing. And that is true.

But if you can tread water and hang in there, eventually shots will start finding the back of the net.

Looking back at last year, the Sabres started the season with a dismal 3-9-1 record. From November 6 to February 10, the Sabres went from near the bottom of the conference to just outside of the top-eight. They went on a 22-13-3 run and not once during that stretch did they win more than two games in a row.

Remember when there was a big "ta-do" about that? About not winning three in a row?

Even though they didn't win more than two games in a row, they didn't go on a losing streak longer than two games either. And they did that only four times. Plus, they lost only one game by more than three goals (Florida 6-2.)

WGR's Paul Hamilton on more than one occasion said that the Sabres as a team, and more specifically, their core players, can play like world-beaters when things fall into place, like at the beginning of the season. But when things turn sour, they fold right before your eyes.

This season things are sour.

This season they had a three game winning streak in October and a four game winning streak in November. Since the four-gamer, the Sabres have not won back-to-back games (a span of 27 games.)

During that 27-game span--a span which began with the 6-2 beatdown by the Boston Bruins--they've had one three game losing streak and two three-game winless streaks (both 0-2-1.) You could say things have balanced out somewhat as opposed to last year, and that would be correct.

But one of the troubling points is that during that stretch the Sabres were humiliated three times by four or more goals.

Whereas the team made the climb last season from woeful depths, this season they seem to be headed in the opposite direction. Starting with the Pittsburgh game in December where they got walloped 8-3, the team is 2-7-2.

As usual, there's no one on this team that can carry them on their backs. This from Ryan Miller after last night's 2-0 loss at Toronto, "We're waiting for something or someone to lead us out of the dark shadows." He did qualify it by saying that it's just not gonna happen like that. But that very quote signifies what the core of this team thinks when adversity hits, that somebody else is going to do it.

Why is this team giving off "bad vibrations," as Bucky Gleason put it? It's because these guys couldn't fight themselves out of a wet paper bag.

Thomas Vanek is about the closest thing this team has to veteran leadership up-front. Robyn Regehr provides it on the back end. But as for the rest? They're all "waiting for something or someone to lead them out."

And that's where they're missing Grier and Niedermayer.

They weren't the most prolific scorers or the fleetest of foot, but they had been through cycles like this and they knew how to get out of them. Better yet, as proven last year during their playoff climb, they knew how to avoid situations like the one the Sabres find themselves in now.

So to answer the question of whether or not they'll go on a run like they did last year, the answer is more than likely no. Not with the team constructed as-is.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Any Anaheim/Sabres deal probably starts here with...

Ducks GM Bob Murray was
antsy in November and turned
angry in January with his teams'
sub-par performance.

this from the Orange County Register's Randy Youngman on November 25, "Is it time to push the panic button at Honda Center?"

Youngman lays it out:
  • questions started arising after the Ducks lost their sixth game in a row, their second six-game losing streak in 13 games
  • Head Coach Randy Carlyle still had GM Bob Murray's support at that time, but everyone seemed to realize that a shake-up was coming
  • Youngman speculates that if a player is to be moved, it would be either winger Bobby Ryan or center Ryan Getzlaf because they could get the most in return
    Ducks winger,
    Bobby Ryan as trade-bait
    created a stir in
  • Reigning Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry was presumed to be untouchable as was Teemu Selanne
  • Puck Daddy's Lyle Richardson ponies on the story by noting that "there's been some grumbling this season over the performance of goaltender Jonas Hiller, but there's no one in the system or the trade market to adequately replace him." Hiller, it should be pointed out was diagnosed with vertigo and is having a very poor season

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was also having a very sub-par season, and on November 27, Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal had this to write, "We keep hearing that Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is out with a concussion and wouldn’t mind if the Sabres traded him." Matheson briefly lays out that Miller's wife is a Los Angeles-based actress, but that all three California teams have their goaltenders in place at the time including Hiller in Anaheim.

Would Sabres goalie
Ryan Miller be willing to
ditch the winter hat and
buy a surf board?

Bill Hoppe of the Niagara Gazette starts out his article, Miller laughs off trade rumors, close to return by saying "[he] had heard the trade rumor, the one about him not minding if the Sabres dealt him. But multiple ones? He wasn’t aware the chatter had grown."

Some of the quotes from the article:
  • “I thought there was one specifically I was going to have to talk about because (coach) Lindy (Ruff) was joking with me yesterday about it."
  • “I’ve never, in my time here, talked to Lindy, (general manager) Darcy (Regier), ownership about a trade, and they’ve never come to me asking for any options.”
  • “It’s funny when you hear things like ‘wouldn’t mind.’ That implies someone’s asked me. I’ve never made a comment about my status with the team. My comment about my status with the team now is I’m proud of being a Sabre. I’m excited for what we can accomplish moving forward, and I want to be a part of it. There’s no reason for me to want to leave the situation. We have great new ownership who’s excited to put a winner on the ice, and I want to be a part of it.”
  • “This is what I want to do with my life. I want to be a goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres.”
On December 1, the same day that Hoppe published the article above, Randy Carlyle was fired as the coach of the Anaheim Ducks. Murray chose the traditional route of moving one body (the coach) instead of moving players in order to jumpstart his floundering team.
A quick coaching recycle as former
Washington coach
Bruce Boudreau (R) replaced
Anaheim's Randy Carlyle
two weeks after getting fired.
Carlyle was replaced by Bruce Boudreau who was fired by the Washington Capitals just a couple weeks before.

The morass continued for the Ducks through the month of December as the team went 3-8-2.

The new year came about Murray was still not giving up on making the playoffs, "I think this team can be turned around to make the playoffs next year," he said in an article published by the LA Times, "I think it's going to be hard to do it this year but I do want them to make a run. But it's got to happen quick. Everybody knows that. … Let's start playing better hockey."

That was before their January 4 meeting with the San Jose' Sharks to kick off the 2012 portion of the schedule.

The 3-1 loss angered the GM to the point where he put everyone on the block except for Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne, both of whom have no-trade clauses, "I have two players who are unavailable, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu," he said. "And the rest of the players in the locker room, I thought they'd figure it out when we changed coaches. They (thought) that time was running, well the clock is running quickly here.

"I still believe we have some core players," he continued. "Now whether we have to change a few core players, so be it. They're deciding who's staying and who's not staying at this point. They're the ones deciding."
Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register said on January 4 that Murray is not interested in a complete rebuild--"we will not go to draft picks. It's not my intention"-- but would be looking to ship out a core player for a player of similar stature. He said that no one will be given away.

So winger Bobby Ryan was on the block at one time, and remained so. Moving center Ryan Getzlaf was also a possibility six weeks earlier, and that possibility remained as well.

An orange county sports writer
acts like he's in a chat room
while making a case to trade
the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf.

For some reason Getzlaf has seen a precipitous drop in his numbers this year which lead to Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register to write a full article entitled, Time for Ducks to trade Getzlaf.

This guy is ticked and embarks on a rather snide article concerning Murray conceding the season by making a big trade and retooling for next year. And it all starts with Getzlaf, "That's right. The team captain. The Olympic gold medalist. The former All-Star Game starter."

Miller points out that the situation with Getzlaf and the Ducks just hasn't worked out and has become "stagnated." Getzlaf is "broken," is on a pace for his worst production since his rookie season, and that the captain has simply "lost his way." (sounds eerily familiar to the Sabres Derek Roy in a few aspects.)

And he lays out what has lead him to this conclusion:
  • they need to "alter the path of a franchise that is off the rails"
  • a coaching change had little affect on the teams downward spiral
  • tweaks won't do fix it
  • it's time to shake the team to its very core
(sounds eerily similar to the Sabres)

The Register's Miller gives legitimate reasons for trading the captain, but ya gotta wonder if this journalist spent too many hours reading blogs and chats. It's a little extreme to say the least, but moving a player like Getzlaf certainly would shake the team to the core.
When we started this rendezvous with words, something was rotten in Anaheim. A player of Bobby Ryan's calibre--and being a part of one of the best lines in the NHL--usually doesn't hit the market during an early-season slump.
And the fact that the whole line of Ryan, Getzlaf and Corey Perry just didn't seem to be motivated is a peculiar one, especially when they've proven they can overcome obstacles and go on a run. They have that much talent.
But there seems to be a schism in Duckland between GM Bob Murray and his talented core group.
Is Getzlaf, as the captain, responsible for the apathetic play that led to Carlyle's dismissal? Is Murray, who was a staunch supporter of Carlyle, holding a grudge? Will the captain take the fall like the coach did?
It represents an interesting opportunity for a team to pick up a proven #1 center for less than their first-born child with the question being, what would Bob Murray want in return for Ryan Getzlaf?
And do the Sabres have what they need?
Back in November, rumors were swirling that the Sabres were in on Bobby Ryan and that there were some serious talks.
But, with the inordinate amount of wingers on this team, including two who were brought in to play center (Brad Boyes and Ville Leino,) would it make any sense to bring in another one?
And even if there were serious talks with Anaheim, what would Sabres GM Darcy Regier be offering in return?
Maybe the fact that the Ryan Miller "wouldn't mind being traded" came out at the same time would offer a clue.
Miller is a former Vezina Trophy winner, and could be considered a "core-type" player by any number of GM's. Especially a GM who has a goalie suffering from a medical condition that seems to have drastically reduced his effectiveness.

Would two Jonas' be better than one
in Buffalo if Hiller came to the
Sabres in a trade?
Jonas Hiller is having a very substandard season thus far with numbers worse than Millers. Hiller is in the second year of a four-year/$18M contract with the Ducks. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to say that the Ducks might be concerned about the future of their #1 goalie.
Unloading Hiller and his contract would be a big weight off their shoulders, but they just can't dump him for a pick. They have only a marginal Dan Ellis as a backup and very little in the pipeline. They would need a solid goaltender in return.
That's where Miller comes in to play.
Accepting a trade to Anaheim would work for Miller on many levels. He'd still be the clear #1 goalie, but would have a veteran backup go guide him along. He'd be going to a cup-winning franchise in a city that doesn't pin all their hopes for redemption on their sports teams. And, he'd be closer to his newlywed wife (whether that's good or bad remains to be seen.)
And Buffalo is not going to just give away Miller for a bag of pucks. Hiller alone would not get the job done. That's where the bigger deal would come into play.
You have two floundering teams in opposite conferences looking to shake up their core. Both have stars that are struggling and could probably use a change of scenery. And both have needs in certain areas. Plus, smoke has been coming from them for months now.
If there is a trade between Anaheim and Buffalo, it's not hard to draw a conclusion that Buffalo wants Ryan Getzlaf and would take Jonas Hiller as part of the deal. Anaheim would need to replace Hiller and the team would be set in goal for the next 2 1/2 seasons with Ryan Miller in net.
One would think that a center would be headed to Anaheim, and although Derek Roy and his $4.5M salary would work well for Buffalo, Murray may not want that.
For the Sabres though, anyone not named Meyers or McNabb should be available. And that includes the likes of youngsters Tyler Ennis, Luke Adam and Zack Kassian as well as prospects like Mark Pysyk and Joel Armia.
Of course there's also the remaining aspects like evening out the salaries for the Sabres to get under the cap as well as seeing who would go along with Miller to make it all work. But a Getzlaf/Hiller for Miller/???? would be a good base with which to build upon in my humble opinion, and there are signs leading to the possibility.
For what it's worth, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Three Prospects I'd Like To See Come To Buffalo If A Trade Happens

    With the Buffalo Sabres pressed hard against the cap and a salary-in/salary-out scenario a necessity, it may take two trades to keep the Sabres cap-structure in line. Is there a desperate team out there looking for a top-six forward? Would they be willing to part with one of their top center prospects to do so? Do they have the cap space to take on a $4M contract?

    Should the Sabres brass decide to move any of "the core," one would be hard pressed to believe that a marquis player would be headed back to Buffalo.

    Florida GM Dale Tallon is said to be looking to bolster his line-up with a top-six forward. Although Edmonton's Ales Hemsky was mentioned as a good fit for the oft-injured right winger, the Cats could use a good #2 center.

    The Minnesota Wild were once on top of the Western Conference, that was until they went 1-6-3 in their last ten. Injuries have been a big problem, but scoring has always been lacking. They presently are 29th in the league in goals/game.

    The Phoenix Coyotes are presently in 11th place in the Western Conference and are playing some pretty good hockey. Two of their top-three centers are injured right now and they've begun to tail off going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.

    All three of these teams could be in the market for a #2 center who can put up points and is reasonably priced.

    Let's just say that Derek Roy were available. He's a player that averages over .75 points/game, is making $4.5M and plays in all situations. Plus, after this season Roy will have only one year remaining on his contract.

    A return for him, especially because he has not been playing up to his potential would be solid, if unspectacular. One would think that neither prime players, top prospects or 1st round picks would be in the equation. But a combination of a mid-to-upper level center prospect plus another prospect and/or draft pick might do the job.

    Presently Florida is nearly $10M under the salary cap. Minnesota, around $8.5M and Phoenix about $10.5M. Plenty of room for any of those teams to absorb Roy's contract.

    But what would the return be for the Sabres?

    Let's take a look.

    On November 22, 2011, Hockey's Future had Florida as the #1 organization for prospects.

    Here's what they said:  "With 23 selections in the last two drafts, every position in the Panthers organization is loaded with top-end talent and solid depth...The system is laden with future NHLers at forward and defense, and boasts multiple skilled and physical players throughout."

    Forget about their top-prospects which include center Jonathan Hubereau as he'll be their centerpiece for years to come. But the #2 center in their rankings would be center Nick Bjugstad.

    Bjugstad was the 19th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the second first-rounder by Florida and he's presently playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

    Why would the Sabres be interested in him?

    From NHL Central Scouting's Jack Barzee: “He's further along and more polished than (Boston's Blake) Wheeler. He's also a better skater than David Backes was at the same age (17). The only difference is Backes was thicker, but the ingredients are there. He wants the puck and wants to make plays. He's a blue-collar type kid who works his tail off."

    "He wants the puck and wants to make plays," an ingredient that seems to be lacking in Sabreland. "He's a blue-collar type of kid who works his tail off." That screams Buffalo.

    From Hockey's Future:  "[Bjugstad] has high-end hockey sense that he displays at both ends of the ice. He has a strong wrist shot that he regularly puts on net."

    Bjugstad is big coming in at 6'4" 190lbs. He has skills, being Minnesota's "Mr. Hockey" his senior year in high school. But the differentiating factors are his hockey sense and the fact that he has a "strong wrist shot" that he uses to get a shot on net. In an age of defenses clogging the middle and blocking shots, a quick release wrist shot and/or snap shot would be more of a weapon than the "vaunted" slapshot.

    Would Florida be willing to move him?
    Panthers prospect,
    Nick Bjugstad

    With Huberdeau in the mix and looking to land with the big club next season, the Cats should have the top-center position locked down for years to come. Stephen Weiss is presently their top-line center with Marcel Goc as #2 on the depth chart. Goc is bottom six at best, with fourth line duties probably better suited to his skill set.

    Huberdeau and Weiss would make a solid one-two punch down the middle for the foreseeable future.

    With Rocco Grimaldi, Drew Shore and John McFarland all rated in the same area as Bjugstad, the Cats look to be dealing from a position of strength.

    Why would Florida want Derek Roy?

    With Huberdeau still maturing in junior, he could be two years away from having an impact in the NHL. Roy would not break the bank for the next year and a half and would step into a 1B center slot with Weiss taking the 1A. If Huberdeau were to make the jump next season as the #1 center, having Weiss and Roy down the middle would be solid.

    The big question is, would Roy be a Tallon-type of player? It might be a bit of a stretch, but it's a situation that could work for both teams.

    The Minnesota Wild at one time were perched atop the Western Conference, then, like the storm in Rudolph, "it hit." After a five game win streak to start the month of December, the Wild went 2-6-2 to end the month scoring a total of 16 goals during that 10-game stretch.

    The team took a big drop in the standings during that slump and are now sixth in the conference.

    Although injuries have taken their toll on the team, they've not been particularly strong down the middle. Behind solid top-line center Mikko Koivu are 35 yr. old Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak. Both are playing a line above where they should be.

    Mikael Granlund, a #9 pick in 2010, is Minnesota's top prospect, he's a center and is presently competing in the World Juniors. Charlie Coyle is their second rated prospect and he's a right winger.

    Down the list we go, and in near the middle is center prospect Zack Phillips.

    Phillips is 6'1", 181 lbs. and was the #28 overall pick from last years draft. Minnesota received that pick as part of the Brent Burns/Devin Setoguchi trade and it was their second first round pick in the draft. Interesting to note that the aforementioned Coyle was also part of the deal with San Jose'.

    Phillips is said to have the skill, and Hockeysfuture has this to say about him, "[he] is primarily a playmaker but is no slouch when it comes to putting the puck in the net either. Blessed with great on ice vision and loads of hockey sense, his ability to anticipate the play cannot be overstated."
    Minnesota Wild prospect,
    Zack Phillips (R)

    One thing that jumps out is that he was described by Central Scouting's Kim Houston as a "cerebral player."

    He does have drawbacks, though, and among them is one thing that a few Sabres past and present are guilty of is not keeping their feet moving. Said St. John Seadogs assistant coach Greg Leland, "We don't really have to work on him with his skills, just his consistency and effort and being committed to being the best player that he can be."

    Phillips would seem to fit the Regeirian mold of a skilled player with some consistency/motivation issues who's not overly physical . But, as a young player this lateral (from a particular style of play) move would at least yield upside potential. And it would help in the salary cap situation.

    Why would Minnesota want Derek Roy?

    They need scoring. They have a top-line center in Miko Koivu, but the drop to Matt Cullen as second on the depth chart is significant. Cullen would make for a solid third-liner and Roy would fit right in.

    For a team that knows how to win with defense and is 29th in the league in goals/game, a center like Roy who can play defense and add scoring would seem like a good fit.

    The Phoenix Coyotes are franchise that seems like it's always in a struggle for survival. The Yotes are under the governorship of the NHL right now as Commisioner Gary Bettman is trying desperately to keep things in Phoenix with a new owner.

    The former Winnipeg Jets franchise has had a rough go of it in the desert, but they've started to right the ship in their post-Wayne Gretzky era. Oddly enough, Phoenix made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history after Gretzky stepped aside and Dave Tippett took over as head coach.

    Tippett has taken this team to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons and has them on the bubble at this point in the season.

    The Yotes have 6'6" Martin Hanzal up top at center and traded for 35 yr. old Daymond Langkow over the summer. Hanzal is presently on injured reserve, but is expected to return with in a week or two. Langkow has battled through minor injuries, but is clearly on the decline after a long career.

    Center prospect Ethan Werek was originally drafted #47-overall by the NY Rangers with a compensatory pick they were awarded. Werek was traded to Phoenix in May, 2011 for forward Oscar Lindberg (#57-overall, 2010.)

    Werek came out of junior with good size, 6'1", 185 lbs., but is now listed as 6'2", 208 lbs by the AHL's Portland Pirates.

    Hockeysfuture had this to say about him, "Werek is a hard-working player with excellent intangibles. He possesses a willingness to do the little things to help the team such as being hard on the forecheck and, grinding along the boards and holding his ground out front of the net."

    Skating seems to be the knock on him, and the added weight may be a contributing factor to his stat-line of three goals, three assists and a minus-12 in 28 games for the Pirates.

    Former NY Ranger
    2nd-round pick, Ethan Werek,
    is presently with Phoenix's
    AHL affiliate, Portland.
    He could top out as a bottom-six player in the NHL, but with the proper teaching and work, he could also end up as a solid two-way, top-six center.

    The one thing about the Sabres is that Regier has only drafted a center in the top-two rounds once since Marek Zagrapan in 2005--Luke Adam. Their organizational depth-chart has a gap between their starters and junior prospects starting with Kevin Sundher (3rd-round, 2010.)

    Why would Phoenix want Derek Roy?

    Depth. With the Yote's in a constant struggle to make the playoffs, injuries down the middle could be enough of a set-back to keep them out. Since Hanzal went out on December 23, Phoenix is 2-3-2. Roy between Hanzal and Langkow on the depth-chart not only adds insurance for injuries, but also move Langkow into a better position down a line.

    Three teams with cap space who could put a #2 center to use without mortgaging the future.

    Saturday, January 7, 2012

    Darcy Regier, What are you thinking?

    Even though Sabres GM Darcy Regier said, "Right now there's nothing imminent [on the trade front]," there are droves of Sabres fans, as well as (hopefully) upper management and ownership, who are left scratching their heads saying, "why not?"

    The article in today's Buffalo News by Jon Vogl, rightfully points out some of the reasons why they are in a funk and should be looking to make a move--they've lost seven of the last nine and haven't won consecutive games since November. We could add that the team is in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, they just lost to the last place team in the conference, just barely got by a team that was in the bottom-five in the league (Edmonton) the other night, they are 18th in goals/game and 23rd in goals against/game.

    Those are just the facts.

    Something isn't right in Sabreland. I'm sure that when Ted Black used the term "Hockey Heaven" as a goal for the Sabres organization, he wasn't thinking about following the Dante Alighieri path to the promised land.

    But, it would seem as if this is the case.

    The Regier era has been marked by limbo and have been blown to and fro by inconsistency, without rest. Presently they're lying in slush by ceaseless rain and are being weighted down by huge money bags.

    It might be a little over the top, but fact is Terry Pegula's grand scheme has gone awry and it will take some hefty changes, and probably a further decline into the pit, in order to right things.

    Problem is, his GM doesn't think there's that big of a problem. When asked if the team is in need of a shake up, he responded, "I wouldn't call it a shake-up. If there's a move that makes sense for us, we'll do it if something is going to improve our hockey club."

    (shrugs) Whatever. It's the same thing he's been saying for four and a half years.

    Regier has been reluctant to change his team during the season between October and the trade deadline, and makes only token trades at the deadline (usually well after the 12:00 noon opening)--his soon to be patented, player for a 2nd-rounder maneuver.

    Through the Vogl article, this gem about his talking with other GM's at this time, "Without specific rumors, there's truth to those rumors," Regier said. "But the price right now, and I think things will build between now and the trade deadline. I think teams that are going to be sellers are going to try and maximize what they can get for what they are selling. I think that will build as we get closer to the trade deadline."

    So the price is high right now and will only get higher as the trade deadline approaches. And if he were after a player rumored to be available, like Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, he'll be waiting for, exactly what? The opportunity to pay more later?

    Is it any wonder why Regier has gotten marginal (at best) players at the deadline?

    Is it any wonder this team is in the funk it's in right now?

    Is it any wonder why his immovable and invaluable "core" has been to the playoffs two out of four years getting bounced in the first round both times?

    In so many words, as he's said so many times, this group, especially this core group, is good enough.

    Ummm...ok...whatever you say, Darcy.

    Wednesday, January 4, 2012

    Open letter to Darcy Regier

    Dear Darcy,

    First of all, congratulations on your teams' win last night against a tired Edmonton team that was missing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tom Gilbert, two of their top players.

    It must be especially gratifying that your team was able to hang on for a one-goal victory against one of the weaker teams in the league.

    And I'm sorry that your owner has had to sit through games where the fans are either booing your team or sitting there apathetically. You can't blame them, they're either watching your team fold or waiting for them to collapse.

    Although they've booed your team constantly this season, they've stopped short of littering the ice with projectiles. Luckily for the innocent bystanders within the FN Center, they've turned their anger and frustration inward as they sit there bored stiff.

    I hate to break it to you, but most (if not all) Sabres fans do not like the team you've built. They really hate "the core" as a whole and they hate the type of players you are enamored with.

    It's been four and a half years since the summer of 2007 when the heart and soul of the team you built moved on. Even after that debacle, the fans gave you the benefit of the doubt. After two non-playoff years, you still got the benefit of the doubt because the first one was "the core" going through growing pains and that second one was marred by injuries to star players, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller.

    Even after the 2010 playoff exit at the hands of the Boston Bruins when you said that you had two of the top-20 centers in the league, fans laughed it off. They understood that the previous owners financially tied your hands and it would seem as if there really wasn't much that you could do about it.

    But as the calendar year turned to 2011 last season, it was plain to see that even though the names changed, the character of the team never changed. It's basically the same team that you had in 2007.

    In case you haven't noticed, Darcy, the league is different than the post-lockout "new NHL. It's a tougher league, with a little more obstruction and some mean-ass S.O.B.'s patrolling the ice. One of the top teams in the conference, and the one that's perched atop the Northeast Division--the Boston Bruins--steamrolled your goalie and laughed at your team.

    It's pretty clear, as shown in your 8-11-4 record since, that the players you've assembled don't have the character to compete in a league like this, no matter what you might think. Sure, they have eight wins since then, but only one was against a team in a playoff position at the time (Nashville.)

    You seem to be a very likable guy, Darcy, which is an endearing quality, but most fans don't really care that you're well liked. They look at this team, the same team they've been watching for the better part of four and a half years, and see a different team that apparently you do.

    They want you to see the team through their eyes, or through the eyes of the Bostons , Philadelphias and Pittsburghs of the league. They want you to see a team that's still easy to play against despite new ownership and a cash influx. They want you to see a team that is average despite having one of the highest payrolls in the league.

    The fans of Buffalo don't like what they see and they want you to do something about it. They want a group of players that they can root for, a team that they can get emotionally attached to. Like they had the second half of last season.

    From January until they lost in the first round to Philadelphia, Sabres' fans had a team they could get behind. It was a team that busted their asses just to make it to the playoffs and even though they were definitive underdogs against the Flyers, they acquitted themselves well. Fans were all-in.

    The off-season of excitement has turned into the season of apathy.

    You and "the core" failed once again. The Sabres team that you built for the "new NHL," clung to since 2007 and "bolstered" during the summer of 2011 continues to flounder in the exact same way they've been floundering for the better part of four and a half seasons. Nothing has changed, not even your approach to addressing change. It's still excuses and patience. The same approach you've always had.

    A change will probably come via trade. And even though your trade might make a bigger splash than your typical player for a 2nd-round pick stand-by, I would bet the farm that the player you bring in will have the same attributes and same faults as the core players that you've always been enamored with. The same types of players you've been clinging to for the last five years. The same type of players that have turned this town into a pit of apathy.

    I gotta tell you, Darcy, you're a downer. You took the excitement and financial commitment of your new owner and turned it into boredom and apathy.

    Nobody cares that you passed Pegula's "due diligence" test. Nobody cares that there are injuries throughout the line-up. Nobody cares that you somehow promoted yourself as a master talent evaluator in the eyes of the new regime.

    Fact is, it's not working and you cannot be trusted to fix it.

    Thanks for everything you've done, but don't let the door hit you on your way out.

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    The playoff push begins now

    Just like last season, the Buffalo Sabres put themselves in a position where they need to get on their horses in January to make the playoffs. They got on a good roll and landed in the #7 slot in the Eastern Conference last year and will need to do it once again.

    As we say goodbye to 2011 and an atrocious December (4-7-3,) the playoff push is on as they begin the 2012 portion of the schedule tonight versus Edmonton.

    The Sabres sit in 11th place, one point in front of Tampa Bay (12th) and six points behind the 8th place Winnipeg Jets.

    Buffalo has 12 games in January with nine on the road with seven road games in a row to finish the month.

    Here's a look at the 8th through 12th seeds in the East as the Sabres begin the month of January:
    • Winnipeg--43 pts.
    • Washington--42
    • Toronto--41
    • Buffalo--38
    • Tampa Bay--37
    Here are the teams' schedules for the month including games vs. division leaders, playoff teams and non-playoff teams as they stand right now:

    Winnipeg (13 games)
    • Division Leaders (3)--Boston, Florida, NY Rangers
    • Playoff Teams (4)--NJ Devils (2,) Ottawa, Philadelphia
    • Non-playoff Teams (6)--Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo (2,) San Jose', Carolina
    Washington (12 games)
    • Division Leaders (2)--Boston, LA Kings
    • Playoff Teams (2)--Pittsburgh (2)
    • Non-playoff Teams (8)--Calgary, San Jose', Tampa Bay (2,) Carolina (2,) NY Islanders, Montreal
    Toronto (12)
    • Division Leaders (1)--NY Rangers
    • Playoff Teams (5)--Winnipeg, Detroit, Ottawa, Minnesota, Pittsburgh
    • Non-playoff Teams (6)--Tampa Bay, Buffalo (2,) Montreal, NY Islanders (2)
    Buffalo (12)
    • Division Leaders (1)--Chicago
    • Playoff Teams (5)--Winnipeg (2,) Detroit, St. Louis, NJ Devils
    • Non-playoff Teams (6)--Edmonton, Carolina, Toronto (2,) NY Islanders, Montreal
    Tampa Bay (12)
    • Division Leaders (2)--Vancouver, Boston
    • Playoff Teams (2)--Ottawa, Pittsburgh
    • Non-playoff Teams (8)--Toronto, Montreal, Carolina, Washington (2,) Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus

    We'll start by looking at the Southeast Division where Washington and Tampa Bay find themselves outside a playoff spot looking up at Florida.

    Both teams have an "easier" schedule this month as both face non-playoff teams eight times. Those would be the two teams who could make a jump in the Eastern Conference.

    Winnipeg will have the toughest road as they try to hang on to a tenuous playoff spot. They face three division leaders and four playoff teams.

    Buffalo and Toronto will battle each other twice as they jockey for position with the Sabres looking at two games vs. the eight place Winnipeg Jets.

    Although the Sabres are in a precarious position, the schedule is favorable for them to hold their ground in the very least. With games against four of the leagues bottom six teams, plus two games each vs. Winnipeg and Toronto, the opportunity is there for them to improve their position heading into the stretch run which begins in earnest next month.

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    2011/12 Individual Stats--December

    If you thought watching the Sabres play this past month was painful, the stats might be even more painful.

    Thomas Vanek and
    Jason Pominville should sue
    their teammates for
    non-support this season.
    (thanx to madcow for the photo)
    Take out Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and you have the makings of a league bottom-feeder. The duo is tops on the Sabres not matter who's centering them and both are in the top-ten in a few different scoring categories.

    After that the drop off is definitive as secondary scoring evaporated.

    When we looked at the team yesterday, five-on-five play took a precipitous drop, looking at the individual plus/minus, no player was spared save for Marc-Andre Gragnani who was the only player in the plus column at plus-3. Zero and below for the rest of the team.

    Goaltending didn't help. December saw Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth gift-wrap many a goal for the opposition and their year to date stats continue downward.

    Add it all up and you have a team that went a paltry 4-7-3 for the month and find themselves in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. It's a similar situation to last season and nearly every season since 2007.

    They begin the new year with the task of climbing up and into a playoff spot, and with the way they've looked lately--1-5-1 to end December, one goal scored in seven of the last 17 games--it's a monumental task for this club.

    A look at how individual Sabres have done during the month of November.

    • October--Thomas Vanek--15...Jason Pominville--14...Luke Adam--9
    • November--Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy--12
    • December--Pominville--13...Vanek--12...Stafford, Roy--1

    • October--Vanek--8...Pominville--5...Drew Stafford, Adam--3
    • November--Adam, Roy--5...Vanek, Pominville, Jordan Leopold--4
    • December--Vanek--6...Pominville--3...six with 2

    PP Goals:
    • October--Vanek--3...Pominville--2...Brad Boyes, Stafford--1
    • November--Vanek--3...Roy--2...Pominville, Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Andre Gragnani--1
    • December--Vanek, with 1

    • October--Pominville--9...Vanek--7...Ehrhoff, Adam--6
    • November--Vanek, Pominville--8...Roy--7
    • December--Pomiville--10, Vanek--6...Stafford, Roy, Leopold--5

    PP Assists:
    • October--Pominville--4...Vanek, Boyes--2
    • November--Pominville--4...Vanek, Roy, Boyes, Ehrhoff, Gragnani--2
    • December--Vanek, Stafford, Leopold--4

    Primary Assists:
    • October--Vanek--6...Pominville--5...Gerbe--4
    • November--Pominville, Stafford--6...Vanek--5
    • December--Pominville--7...Stafford--4...Vanek, Leopold--3

    • October--Andrej Sekera, +6...Nathan Gerbe, +5...Vanek,+4
    • November--Leopold, Gragnani, +5...Hecht, +4
    • December--Gragnani, +3...Stafford, even...five at -1

    Plus/Minus (bottom):
    • October--Ehrhoff, -6...Ville Leino, -4...Cody McCormick...-2
    • November--Myers, Robyn Regehr, Mike Weber, -5
    • December--Ehrhoff, -7...Sekera, Regehr, Pominville, -6

    3-Stars (1st=5 points, 2nd=3 points, 3rd=1 point):
    • October--Vanek--16...Pominville, Adam--10
    • November--Roy--13...Adam--9...Pominville--8
    • December--Pominville, Stafford--6...five with 5

    Time On Ice/Game-Forwards (year-to-date)

    • October--Pominville, 18:00...Vanek, 17:42...Roy, 16:54
    • November--Pominville, 19:06...Roy...18:48...Vanek...17:42
    • December--Pominville, 19:30...Roy, 19:13...Stafford...17:53...(Vanek 17:52) 

    Even Strength:
    • October--Vanek, 13:47...Gerbe, 13:33...Roy, 13:30
    • November--Hecht, 14:32...Roy, 14:14...Leino, 14:13
    • December--Hecht, 14:50...Roy, 14:23...Leino, 14:00

    • October--Vanek, 3:12...Pominville, 2:57...Adam, 2:16
    • November--Pominville, 3:26...Vanek, 2:23...Roy, 2:41
    • December--Pominville, 3:36...Vanek, 3:33...Roy, 2:55 

    Penalty Kill:
    • October--Paul Gaustad, 2:56...Patrick Kaleta, 2:40...Pominville, 2:13
    • November--Gaustad, 2:49...Kaleta, 2:41...Pominville, 2:26
    • December--Gaustad, 2:54...Kaleta, 2:56...Pominville, 2:33

    Time On Ice/Game--Defensman (year-to-date)

    • October--Ehrhoff, 24:32...Myers, 21:28...Jordan Leopold, 21:06
    • November--Ehrhoff, 24:04...Myers, 21:39...Leopold, 20:48
    • December--Ehrhoff, 23:35...Myers, 21:39...Leopold, 21:29 

    Even Strength:
    • October--Ehrhoff, 19:21...Leopold, 17:12...Myers, 16:21
    • November--Ehrhoff, 19:06...Leopold, 16:57...Sekera, 16:39
    • December--Ehrhoff, 18:38...Leopold, 17:11...Myers, 16:14

    • October--Marc-Andre Gragnani, 3:03...Ehrhoff, 2:59...Myers, 1:57
    • November--Ehrhoff, 2:56...Gragnani, 2:52...Myers, 2:43
    • December--Ehrhoff, 3:14...Gragnani, 3:14...Myers, 2:43

    Penalty Kill:
    • October--Robyn Regehr, 3:12...Myers, 3:09...Ehrhoff, 2:12
    • November--Regehr, 3:11...Weber, 2:50...Myers, 2:42
    • December--Regehr, 3:11...Myers, Weber, 2:42...

    Goaltending (year to date)

    Ryan Miller:
    • October--4 wins, 4 losses, .930 sv.% (ranked 9th,) 2.14 gaa (ranked 21st,) 1 shutout
    • November--5-6-0, .909 (37th,) 2.86 (41st,) 1 shutout
    • December--9-10-2, .901 (51st) 3.05 (55th) 1 shutout

    Jhonas Enroth:
    • October--2-0, .946 sv % (8th,) 2.00 gaa (13th,) 0 shutouts
    • November--8-4-2, .926 (21st,) 2.27 (26th,) 1 shutout
    • December--8-7-2, .921 (23rd) 2.49 (32nd) 1 shutout

    Drew MacIntyre
    • October--
    • November--0-0-0, .944, 1.40, 0 shutouts
    • December--0-0-0, .944, 1.40, 0 shutouts 

    Sunday, January 1, 2012

    2011/12 Team Stats--December

    December can be looked at as a leveling off of overall team stats. Some teams have hot starts here and there while others are slower in some areas. But with nearly half the games played for the season, league leaders are settling into their pace while the other teams make movements behind them.

    As for the Buffalo Sabres, they've made movements, unfortunately in the wrong direction.

    October and November leaned heavily towards lower-eschelon opponents, December was quite the opposite. Of their 14 games, nine were against teams in the top-8 of their conferences while no opponent was at or near the bottom of their conference.

    That factored into the Sabres going 4-7-3 for the month, and if the powers that be were not concerned before, they should be concerned now. In fact, the Sabres found themselves ending the 2011 calender year going 1-5-1 in the second half of the month.

    The Sabres could do nothing right last month and it showed in their precipitous drop in the standings. Where once they were thought to have a solid goaltending tandem, Ryan Miller and Johnas Enroth's goals against average went from 2.58 to 2.90. Youch! Granted, Enroth played very little and Miller still isn't back fully from his concussion issues, but "couldn't stop a beachball" aptly describes how Miller played.

    Poor goaltending (and ultimately poor defensive play) could have been offset by more scoring, but they continued to struggle landing in the middle of the league. Their goals-for has dropped each month, although not as far as shots/game. Another troubling sign is that they scored one goal in five contests for the month, seven times in the last 17 games dating back to November.

    Special teams have been solid through this morass, with both maintaining their pace and both, surprisingly, in the top-ten. But five-on-five they've plummeted from 2nd in October to 7th in November to 20th in December.

    Although you can use their inordinate amount of injuries as an excuse, their five-on-five compete seems to be a major factor in their drop in the standings from 7th in the conference to 11th.

    Quick note:  since the Milan Lucic hit on Ryan Miller in early November the team has gone 7-12-4.

    Year to date team stats

    • October--6 (T-9th)
    • November--13 (T-10th)
    • December--17 (T-23rd) 

    • October--12 (12th)
    • November--27 (T 15th)
    • December--38 (T-23rd) 

    Eastern Conference Standing:
    • October--7th
    • November-7th
    • December-11th 

    Northeast Division Standing:
    • October--3rd
    • November--3rd
    • December--4th 

    • October--2.90 (8th)...(#1, Wash-3.78)
    • November--2.75 (15th)...(Philly, 3.48)
    • December--2.58 (T-17th)...(Bos, 3.43) 

    • October--29.4 (18th)...(#1, Det-35.7)
    • November--30.9 (10th)...(Det-34.9)
    • December--29.0 (T-19th)...(SJS-34.6) 

    Goals Against/Game:
    • October--2.20 (T-5th)...(#1, Edm-1.46)
    • November--2.58 (T-14th)...(Stl, 2.00)
    • December--2.90 (23rd)...Bos, 1.91) 

    Shots Against/Game:
    • October--31.9 (22nd)...(#1, Stl-25.9)
    • November--31.1 (21st)...(STL-25.6)
    • December--31.3 (T-24th)...(STL-26.5) 

    Five-On-Five GF/GA Ratio:
    • October--1.43 (2nd)...(#1, Wash-1.64)
    • November--1.12 (T-7th)...(Bos-1.71)
    • December--0.93 (20th)...(Bos-1.83) 

    • October--21.9% (8th)...(#1, Ott-31.0%)
    • November--18.4 (10th)...(Van-24.8)
    • December--19.0 (9th)...(Van-24.2)

    Penalty Kill:

    • October--91.9% (2nd)...(#1, Pit-92.3%)
    • November--87.6 (5th)...(NJD--94.4)
    • December--84.2 (9th)...(NJD--91.2)


    • October--50.8% (11th)...(#1, Col-54.7%)
    • November--51.3 (T-9th)...(Bos-55.0)
    • December--51.0 (11th)...(Bod--55.4)