Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Injuries hurt the Sabres this season, but...

GM Darcy Regier's rigid, year-long team-building philosophy hurt them more.

First off, because there was no end of year press conference, one needs to piece things together via media outlets instead of heading to

And there's a lot to piece together. No need to rehash, look at the date, look at the words "year end."

Oh, and by the way, congrats to WGR, "the Home of the Buffalo Sabres," for landing the principles--Team President Ted Black, GM Darcy Regier and Head Coach Lindy Ruff. Owner Terry Pegula and his charges opted for this instead of the traditional press conference.

Sure, The Buffalo News' John Vogl had a phone conversation with Regier--Regier sees glass half full--but the lion's share went to GR. The paper's sports guys were ticked that there was no presser. Jerry Sullivan called the organization "thin-skinned" in his article, basically calling them cowards and Mike Harrington via The Sabres Edge blog used the NFL's media guidelines on end of season pressers to dis the Sabres.

Anyhow, there are some interesting things to piece together starting with injuries and how they played a role in undermining the teams' season.

Back in January with the team mired in a nearly a two month slump, Sabres fans were looking for something--anything--to be done to get the team out of it's funk.

We now know, that ownership was not looking at firing Regier and/or Ruff. WGR's Paul Hamilton put it this way at the end of the season, "It wasn't anything even discussed after this season," he wrote. "Owner Terry Pegula [was] comfortable with both men in January when they were in a free fall, he never wanted to make a change."

Hamilton did some good work in another piece by pointing out the teams' record with and without both Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers throughout the season:
  • With Ehrhoff Buffalo's record was 36-22-8 (.606)...without 2-9-2 (.231)
  • With Myers they were 31-21-4 (.589)...without 7-10-6 (.439)
When asked the question yesterday about doing anything to help the team out during their slump, Regier said, "The easy answer is yes, but then you go back and say 'what trades were available?' 'were teams sitting and waiting for the deadline?' You regret it. I don't have anything tangible to say 'you could have done this, if I had done this we would have given ourselves a chance to get out of [the slump.] We never had that. Do I regret it?, sure."

Hamilton has been adamant and constant in his dislike for the way Regier approaches the entire season. He points out that Regier's team-building philosophy starts with the off-season molding of the team and generally nothing gets altered until the trade deadline, a method Hamilton clearly dislikes. "I do not like the waiting," Hamilton said (3:35-mark), "I want a guy that doesn't sit there after the trade deadline and say, 'yeah, well maybe we should have made a deal earlier.'"

Regier admitted that he did have conversations during December and January, but it would seem as if there was nothing on the table to his liking.


But did he ever considered making a deal just for the sake of making a deal to shake things up, maybe relieve some tension.

His reply (8:09-mark):  "The only reason you do it is to release the tension and that could [have a good effect.] One argument would be, take someone who's not performing and bring up Marcus Foligno earlier, bring up Brayden McNabb earlier. If you want to try and use that type of thing, those are some things you find out because of injury, you find out some guys are closer [to making it in the NHL] than others."

He finished with this, "On the trade front? No."

The simple answer to the question of whether or not injuries played a major role in the demise of a once promising Sabres season is, yes. They were near the top of the league in man-games lost.

Back in November, this was their injured list at one point when they face the Washington Capitals on the 26th:
  • Tyler Ennis (F,) Injured Reserve, 10-25-11--sprained ankle
  • Ryan Miller (G,) IR, 11-14-11--concussion
  • Cody McCormick (F,) IR, 11-16-11--"upper body"
  • Mike Weber (D,) IR, 11-18-11--"upper body"
  • Tyler Myers (D,) IR, 11-23-11--broken wrist
  • Pat Kaleta (F,) day-to-day, 11-23-11--"lower body"
  • Brad Boyes (F,) IR, 11-25-11--knee
  • Robyn Regehr (D,) day-to-day, 11-26-11--"upper body"
  • Drew Stafford (F,) day-to-day, 11-26--11--"undisclosed"
That list includes the starting goalie (Miller,) two top-four d-men (Regehr and Myers) and three top-nine forwards (Ennis, Stafford, Boyes.)

Taking their place (not including journeyman, Matt Ellis and Jochen Hecht, who returned from injury):
  • Drew MacIntyre (G,) journeyman goalie--recalled11-14-11
  • Corey Tropp (F,) one full AHL season--11-16-11
  • TJ Brennan (D,) two full AHL seasons--11-21-11
  • Zack Kassian (F,) 21 AHL games (three in 2011 post-season)--11-24-11
  • Brayden McNabb (D,) 19 AHL games--11-26-11
  • Paul Szczechura (F,) journeyman forward with 83 NHL and 214 AHL games in five seasons--11-26-11
Also in the lineup:
  • Luke Adam (C,) 21 yrs. old, second NHL season--rookie
  • Jhonas Enroth (G,) 23 yrs. old, second NHL season--rookie
  • Marc-Andre Gragnani (D,) 24 yrs. old, first full NHL season
  • Nathan Gerbe (F,) 24 yrs. old, second full NHL season
That's a pretty hefty load for the youngsters to be carrying, especially when the team was still in shock from the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller incident and was really beginning their descent into the abyss of the Eastern Conference.

OK, fine. They were treading water at the time, although the clunker in Columbus two days earlier should have given them some indication that things were awry.

If you're not going to make a move then, one would think that a move would've been forthcoming after the Sabres embarrassed their owner in Pittsburgh a few weeks later. Sure they were 4-3-1 from that Washington game up until the Pens game, but they were clinging by the skin of their teeth every night for points.

And if it didn't happen then, one would think that after the Christmas roster freeze and near the end of a dismal December a move of some sort would be needed to shake the team out of it's funk.

Surely, after being embarrassed in Detroit 5-0 on January 16th, their ninth regulation road-loss in a row (with the NHL cameras there doing a spot on Nik Lidstrom, btw) something would have been done. Or after their loss in Chicago when they were embarrassed 6-2 two days later. Or after their loss in Winnipeg when they tied a franchise record 11-game road losing streak with a 4-1 loss. Or after St. Louis when they set a club record for road losses with another embarrassing performance in a 4-2 defeat.


Steady as she goes.

Regier was set with his team which was sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

Fact is, they lost the season from Pittsburgh on Dec. 17th to St. Louis on Jan. 21. With 17 games and 34 points on the table the team went 3-12-2.

You read that correctly--3-12-2. And nothing was done.

It makes you wonder just what they were thinking about this team. The Stanley Cup aspirations trumpeted at the beginning of the year were trampled upon from Lucic/Miller in early November to Pittsburgh in December. They did have the opportunity to make a move from that night in Pittsburgh up until the trade deadline, but did not. Instead they paraded out the injury excuse.

Yeah, a valid point, but if you wanted to save the season, something needed to be done.

Regier's patience was a fault, and probably the big reason the Sabres failed to make the playoffs.

He should be thanking his team for bailing him out with an impressive late-season rally that almost got them into the playoffs and he should be thanking his lucky stars that Nashville and Vancouver helped save his job by trading with him.

Maybe he'll change his approach to team-building next season.

A quick note:

Sabres GM Darcy Regier has one more year remaining on the clandestine contract extension he signed back in 2010 with the former regime.

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