Monday, April 30, 2012

The NFL draft is over, back to the Sabres

The Buffalo Bills made some noise this off-season, and with the Sabres falling short in the standings, and clinging to the status quo, it's not hard to have your attention directed towards the team with the longest playoff drought in the NFL (13 years,) and how they may emerge from an aggressive off-season thus far.

Draft grades will be coming out left and right, but the prevailing theme is that GM Buddy Nix and his group of scouts scored a solid B/B+ in the draft. A solid if unspectacular group of rookies will be headed to Orchard Park to join FA defensive end acquisitions Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. (Click here for The Buffalo News' Mark Gaughan draft re-cap.)

When taken as a whole, the Bills bolstered both lines. On defense the signings of Williams and Anderson gave the Bills one of the best front-four in the league (on paper.) It also allowed them to focus upon other areas in the draft.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (#10-overall) was the consensus second-best corner in the draft behind Morris Claibourne. The Bills got him.

The other possibility for the Bills first pick was T Cordy Glenn, a projected first-rounder who dropped to the Bills at #41, much to their delight.

They plucked a speed receiver in TJ Graham with their third-round pick and then set themselves upon building depth.

They picked two linebackers, Nigel Bradham (#105) and Tank Carder (#147,) as well as another DB in Ron Brooks (#124) to shore up the defense. Bradham and Brooks, as with all picks, will have the opportunity to vie for a starting spot, but they're also looked at as big contributors on special teams.

The Bills drafted themselves some football players throughout, and Carder is a tough competitor, maybe because of the obstacles he's faced throughout his short lifetime.

In addition to shoring up the defense, the Bills did not rest on their Cordy Glenn-laurels. They added depth on the offensive line, as well as big bodies--T Zebrie Sanders (#144) and OL Mark Asper (#168.)

In fact, Nix seemed to feel so confident in his work, that when it came to their final pick, they had the luxury to take a kicker, John Potter (#271.) Potter is somewhat of a specialist at this point. His strength is kickoffs as he's looked at to consistently put the kick into the endzone.

All-in-all, Nix and Co. may have produced a solid if unspectacular draft that focused upon areas of need and stretched into less glamorous areas like special teams.

Good work.


What we missed concerning the Sabres

Had he hit the net more often in his first year with the Sabres, perhaps they'd have been talking about a first-round battle with the NY Rangers instead of philosophising over a lost year.

Ville Leino was signed in the off-season for 6yrs./$27M and Sabres management had some expectations for him that, in the end, were simply out of reach for the LW-turned Center-turned LW-turned Center. His eight goals and 17 assists in 71 games certainly attest to that.

Leino was a no-show for almost all of the season, especially the first half, and after the Sabres were eliminated in Philadelphia, he was a no-show preferring, according to WGR beat writer Paul Hamilton, to chat with his pals on the Flyers. At locker clean-out day, Leino once again was a no-show.

Pretty sure everyone expected nothing from him until training camp, but Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News landed an interview with the Finnish forward.

The season was a battle. So went the headline.

And what was he battling?

Pretty much everything.

The Sabres brought Leino to bolster a weak center position, he was a big disappointment.

Not sure where the problems came from, but off season adjustments were sure to play a part.

Leino, though, takes it a bit further.

He inferrs that Lindy Ruff did not use him, as well as other players, properly, "There was a lot of pieces that were kind of out of place," Leino said. " "Coaches do most of the work, and obviously players want to be better, too."

He somewhat defends the coaching staff by saying, "They've got to work with what they were given."

Basically, Leino wasn't thrilled with where he stood on the team. Which is not surprising. He's coming off as a primadonna, which is not unusual.

The offseason should be interesting, with Tyler Ennis emerging as a legitimate top-six center and the addition of Cody Hodgson as a potential top-six center, Leino can now focus upon the wing.

That is if he's not worrying about what the GM, coach and his other players are doing.


Speaking of Hodgson, dude caught some serious flak from his former GM.

Mike Gillis ripped his former #1 pick (#10-overall, 2009,) not long after his team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, "There clearly were issues that were ongoing," Gillis said of Hodgson. "I spent more time on Cody's issues than every other player combined on our team the last three years."

One must take into account the the Canucks had just been bounced in the first round after making it to Game-7 of the Stanley Cup Finals last season.

The trade that Gillis made to bolster his team--or more specifically, to match up with the Boston Bruins and their toughness--was to send Hodgson to Buffalo for "rugged" right-winger Zach Kassian (#13-overall, 2009.)

Other than the fact that Gillis threw Hodgson under the bus and proceeded to back over him again, it's interesting as to how candid he was concerning the trade and it's evolution. "We made a determination that he didn't want to be here," he said.

"There were six young players that I would have traded him for if any of them were ever made available. One was made available at the trade deadline and it was Zack."

"We put Cody on the ice in every offensive situation we possibly could [to hide defensive deficiencies,]" Gillis said. "I don't think he took more than five or six defensive zone faceoffs and that was by design. And like I said earlier, I don't regret that move. I'd do it again. I'd do it today."

They 'Nucks, actually, had been looking to move Hodgson since last summer. This was said of Coach Allain Vigneault by Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province, "it’s abundantly clear coach Alain Vigneault is not one of his big fans as the youngster was always the last possible option and was repeatedly slotted into situations seemingly designed to make him fail." (original link inaccessible, was directed there via Lyle Richardson. For more visit my piece.)

Hodgson is now out of the tumult that is Vancouver and is ready to start his off-season workout.

Once again he'll be working with hockey guru Gary Roberts, Hodgson's third off-season with him. Roberts, via Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News, thinks his pupil got a bum rap from his former team.

"If anybody knew this kid, this young man, to know what he went through mentally and physically for two summers trying to find out what the heck was wrong with him [back problems] -- of course they dealt with his issues more than anybody else in the organization because he was injured and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with him."

Roberts did not take kindly to what Gillis had to say about Hodgson either, "I listened to Mike Gillis the other day," Roberts said by phone over the weekend, "and my impression was, 'Are you kidding me?' "For me, I'd like to be the guy that looks at Mike Gillis and says, 'You're a moron.' It doesn't really do anybody any good other than the fact that Mike Gillis looks like, as they say on TSN, a dud."

Alas, life begins anew in Buffalo for the center. And it's a place that wants and needs him. All he'll need to do is work hard and leave it all on the ice. And according to Roberts, Hodgson has a work ethic that's right up there with Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos.


Marcus Foligno hit his stride in a rip-roarin', 14-game debut for the Sabres.

It was hard to hide his excitement for next season even as his Rochester Americans were cleaning out after getting swept in the playoffs. "It's tough to say that you're excited for next season, but I'm ready to go," Foligno said last week in Rochester. "It's just tough that the playoffs went the way they did, but I see a great opportunity ahead. I'm excited for it."

Foligno is fired-up, as is the organization, as to what he can accomplish over an 82-game season.

Lots of praise in the above linked article by Jon Vogl from Tyler Ennis to Drew Stafford to Amerks coach Ron Rolston.

Even some praise from Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins who's team swept Rochester in the playoffs, "This will be his last bunch of games in the American League," Eakins said. "That's a guy, if you're building a team for the playoffs, you want him on the ice."

Matthew Coller of WGR also looks forward to Foligno next season and adds in that both he and young defenseman Brayden McNabb "face great expectations."

Coller wonders if Foligno set the bar "too high" and taps into his hockeysfuture bio that projected him as "C-grade" prospect, “Foligno’s role in the future will probably be as an energy winger on the third or fourth line who has enough skill that he can chip in offensively every once in a while.”

As for McNabb, he has the right attitude, “I have to come out and prove myself again,” McNabb said. “I have to just keep coming and try to make a statement. I have to come in ready to camp next year. I'm looking forward to doing that.”

Foligno and McNabb, two bright spots from an otherwise lame season.

Let the new core rise.

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