Friday, August 31, 2012

Notes as we say goodbye to Summer, '12

It's the last day of August, thankfully. I can't remember a slower off season.

Despite the fact that the start of the NHL season might be in jeopardy due to the Sept. 15 expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, there have been some things to occupy our attention recently.

Jordan Ebelrle re-upped with Edmonton to the tune of $42M over seven years. The $6M per season equalled the contract of fellow top-line winger Taylor Hall who recently inked a 6yr./$36M contract.

Eberle came off a sparkling season in which he scored 34 goals and had 42 assists in 78 games. He bucked the "sophomore slump" by significantly increasing all of his numbers including going from a minus-12 to a plus-four.

Eberle was taken with the 22nd pick in the 2008 draft, four spots ahead of the Sabres' Tyler Ennis.


************

Ennis and the Sabres are presently negotiating a contract extension. Will Eberle's contract come into play? Possible. Is it warranted? Somewhat, but not really.

That Eberle had a stellar sophomore season is a given. But, the jump from $1.16M to $6M is a huge jump, and possibly a huge leap of faith on the part of the Oilers. Even Hall's $6M is a bit of a reach considering the fact that he's had injuries his first two seasons..

Make no mistake, the Oilers have some incredible talent with Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as well as 2012 #1 overall pick Nail Yakupov as four of their top-six.
But none of this should have any affect upon the negotiations between Ennis and the Sabres.

A more comparable contract would be that of Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene and his $3.5M cap hit. Both have comparable numbers, but question marks remain as to whether Ennis can play a top-six center role on the Sabres.

If we go back to Drew Stafford's first post-entry level contract for a $1.9M cap-hit, place Ennis below Duchene at $3.5M and add in some inflation due to the Eberle contract, Ennis should end up tucked right under Duchene, something similar to a 3yr./$10M contract.


************

Speaking of Edmonton and Buffalo, word on twitter is that the Oilers "#2" center, Sam Gagner is headed to the Sabres to take over the third-line center role.

Not sure exactly why, though. And can't understand the infatuation with a "playmaking center" who's had rather pedestrian numbers over the course of his NHL career.

Sure, the Sabres will need to replace some of the scoring they lost when they traded Derek Roy. But as seen in Roy's case, scoring doesn't necessarily lead to team success.

One should probably look somewhere else for the #3 center role and they may need to look no further than their own Zemgus Girgensons.

Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly made the immediate jump after being drafted #33 overall in the 2009 draft. Girgensons, like O'Reilly has a big frame, plays a two-way, north/south game and has has a ton of grit and toughness.

Gagner has very little of that.


************

Sabres Owner Terry Pegula is continuing with his hockey mission.

The first thing he did after selling his company two years ago was donate $88M to his Alma mater Penn State, for a D-1 hockey program.

He followed that up with the purchase of the Sabres then spent an off season sprucing up the First Niagara Center.

This past Wednesday it was announced that Pegula was the "preferred developer" for the Webster block, downtown close to the arena.

Artists rendition of Pegula's proposal
HARBORcenter Development, LLC, a Buffalo Sabres entity, announced plans for a $123M development which included two ice rinks and a hotel plus restaurant and retail space.

Groundbreaking is set for May, 2013 with an opening September, 2014.

Pegula has put the sport of hockey, the Sabres and now Buffalo on a much higher level with his passion for the sport and his strong financial commitments. Sabres fans should be thankful for an owner willing to do this. Also, not to be forgotten, fans should be thankful that former owner Tom Golisano rejected offers and settled on Pegula and his commitment to the Buffalo Sabres.


************

Pegula has oodles of money. And that's great. It allows his charges to dish out lavish contracts to free agents.

As shown in the contracts signed elsewhere this off season--from UFA's like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to the re-signing of Hall and Eberle--the price of doing business went up in hockey.

The NHL and NHLPA are wrestling with a new CBA and, like all major sports, it's a battle between millionaires and billionaires.

WGR's Paul Hamilton was on the station Wednesday chiming in on the CBA.

Eventually everything will work itself out, but you're amiss if you think that any sense of "the real world" will add common sense to the negotiating process.

The logic has been used before:  owners and players should get into the real world.

Let's get one thing straight. Pegula will make more on the interest from his $3B net worth than Average Joe will make in multiple lifetimes.

Jordan Eberle and his $6M contract will make more in one game ($73,100) than most fans make in an entire year. In fact, at 20 mins per game, Eberle will be making roughly $3600 per minute, which is more than the many Average Joe's will make in a month.

Like with all entertainment, salary is relative. Owners and players, just like movie studios and actors are on a supremely higher level than Average Joe.

You can try to use "real world" as much as you want, but the fact of the matter is, tons of money is being thrown around, way more than Average Joe will be able to get their hands around and grasp.

"Real world" and major sports collective bargaining should never be used in the same sentence. The realities are just too extreme.


************

Hamilton spent the first half of the segment talking about the Bills and the back-up QB situation as well as the battle at WR.

Buffalo was in Detroit last night for the final preseason game. All NFL rosters need to be cut down to 53 players by 9PM tonight.

A few notes:
  • The Bills first team offense really did nothing until their first (and only series of the game) drive of the last preseason game at Detroit. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick went 5-for-5 and lead the team on an 11-play, 83 yard march culminating with a 3-yard TD pass to Stevie Johnson.
  • Should Bills fans consider that the real tune-up as opposed to Game-3 of the preseason? Yes. It matters not if they were blown out in Game-3 vs. Pittsburgh and eventually went 0-4. They came out relatively injury-free and this offense, which has been together for well over a year (with the benefit of a training camp this year as well) should be ready to roll in 10 days.
  • The defense will take some time, though. The line is strong and should only get better. The defensive backs are a work in progress. But, the linbacking corps is looking real shaky right now which could prove real troublesome should none of them step it up.
  • Can somebody please tell me what the obsession is with "wild-cat" QB/7th WR Brad Smith is? The Bills thought they could use his versatility and signed him after the Jets "low-balled" him in 2011. In his first season with the Bills he averaged 4.4 rush yards per attempt, and scored one TD on the ground. Not very wild, is it? For the year he had 23 receptions and one TD. And he attempted one pass. Not sure why they're so enamored with him.

************

A look at the 2008 NHL draft class thus far:

#1--Steven Stamkos, two "Rocket" Richard trophies for most goals in the season (2010, 2012.) Record for most goals in a season for Tampa Bay--60, 2012

#2--Drew Doughty, Stanley Cup Championship with Los Angeles 2011-12 season

#15--Erik Karlsson, Ottawa, 2012 Norris Trophy winner

A number of players log upper level minutes including Alex Pietrangelo (#4, St. Louis,) Tyler Myers (#12, Buffalo,) and Jordan Eberle (#22, Edmonton.) Others are starting to make their mark--Zach Bogosian (#3, Atlanta/Winnipeg) and Tyler Ennis (#26, Buffalo.) While like Cody Hodgson (#10 Vancouver, traded to Buffalo) and Michael Del Zotto (#20, NYR)  are making significant contributions.

Although it's not close to the 1979 or 2003 draft classes, it's shaping up to be a pretty solid one.


************


R.I.P Neil Armstrong.

One of the highlights of this summer was visiting the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum near Lima, OH.

I remember watching Armstrong setting foot on the moon on our old black and white TV set and was just enamored with it. It was a world-wide event.

Everything that ever could be said about Armstrong has already been said, but do yourself a favor, if your ever in the area, go check out the museum. Well worth it.








Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Evander Kane...

(A fictitious phone call between Sabres GM Darcy Regier and Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.)

*DR takes a sip of his new summer drink, Sex On the Beach as the phone begins ringing on the other end*

KC--Hello, this is Kevin Cheveldayoff, General Manager of the new Winnipeg Jets...I'm unable to answer your call right now so please leave your message.

DR--Uhhh, yeah, Kevin? This is Darcy Regier and we need to talk...

KC--Darcy?

DR--huh?

KC--Ha. Gotcha.

DR--Ummmm...yeah...that's pretty funny, Kev...the old live, leave a message thing.

KC--Yeah, I like to do that every now and again. Haven't heard from you in a while, how's the pina colada's?

DR--Haven't had those in a couple of years, Kev. Yeah, ummm, don't have a lot of time so I'd really like to cut to the chase.

KC--What's on your mind, Darce?

DR--We, and that includes the boss, want Evander Kane.

KC--OK

DR--Are you interested in a trade?

KC--Is Tyler Myers available?

DR--No.

KC--OK. But I really don't think I'd be interested.

DR--Understood. But...ya know, boss-man really likes Evander. And...ya know, when he decides he wants something, he goes after it, money be damned.

*a sense of heightened tension is discernible on the other end*

DR--He really likes Evander and he'd really like to make a trade for him.

KC--But, he's not on the block and we're negotiating a new contract with them right now.

DR--Yeah, I know. But word is you're still pretty far apart and rumors...

KC--Rumors?...Really?...Rumors?

DR--Well this kind of stuff has been festering for nearly a year now.

KC--And what kind of "stuff" are we talking about, Darce?

DR--Well...there's the fans and the dine and dash thing...

KC--A non-issue, Darcy. Been debunked, just some hooligans trying to stir up some trouble.

DR--Sure, Kevin, that happens. But, ya gotta admit, something's amiss. It would seem as if he's...ummm...that the Winnipeg fans are really scrutinizing him.

KC--He's a star player Darce, of course that happens.

DR--Anyhow. Let's forget about the Kane vs. the haters in Winnipeg thing.

KC--There's no "thing," Darce. Nothing to it.

DR--Kevin. When a headline reads, Kane entitled to rights as a citizen, something's not right. There just seems to be a lot of acrimony. Some may even say--and let's be clear, I'm not one of them--that there may be some racial overtones involved.

KC--I don't think there's any truth to that.

DR--Even though the author had to shut down the comments section? Your star is black, ya know.

KC--I'd prefer African-Canadian, Darce. And besides, why would we want to trade him? We're looking long term.

DR--It seems as if he wants to be traded, Kevin.

KC--No truth to that. Don't believe the tweets.

DR--They go back to last fall, Kevin. Gotta be something there, you know, smoke, fire.

KC--Nothing there last year and nothing there this year.

DR--Somethin's not right. Been a lot of this stuff going on recently.

KC--Tweety-birds, Darce. Tweety-birds. Social media is a scourage. Kane is ready to sign here for a number of years, despite the percieved "fishbowl existence." He will be a Jet for a long time despite the rumors that the city doesn't like him. We like him, he's a big part of our future.

DR--Well, Kevin, not if we have any say.

KC--You don't, Darce. No Myers, no jumping off point.

DR--Well then, this is just to let you know that if we cannot work out a trade, the Buffalo Sabres are prepared to offer-sheet Kane.

KC--Oh really?

DR--Yes. Really.

KC--This is not you Darcy. Never thought I'd hear that from you. Have you forgotten about the Vanek sheet.

DR--No, I haven't. And no, this is not how I would do things, but boss-man doesn't have any ties to Vanek, nor does he really care how he gets players, he wants them, has the money to pay them and is willing to pay well over market price.

KC--That's pretty rough, Darce.

DR--Sorry. You know my contract's up this fall, eh?

KC--No I didn't.

DR--Boss-man wants something done this off season. He signed off on the Doan contract offer and he's willing to sign off on this one as well...We'll be offering Evander a sizable contract. One that will out-do recent signings. You're boy with the Free Press got it all wrong. Kane doesn't need to take your offer, there's always plenty of time for an offer sheet, and let me tell ya, Kev, it'll be a whopper. If your owners are gonna match, it'll cost 'em.

KC--So you're going higher than Tavares? Skinner? And Taylor Hall as well.

DR--You are correct.

KC--You're crazy.

DR--See Shane Doan.

KC--You know our owners will match. The only thing this would do would be piss them off, as well as the rest of the league.

DR--Well, I did come to you first with a trade in mind.

KC--Fine. What are you offering?

DR--Thomas Vanek, Luke Adam and either Andrej Sekera or 2nd round pick this year plus a mid-level prospect.

KC--That's not even close to Tyler Myers.

DR--It's not supposed to be.

KC--It's not enough. We'll wait for the offer-sheet.

*click*


Saturday, August 25, 2012

"It was the Flyers style of play that got me into it."

Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber
are just two Flyers from the
1970's that helped Sabres
owner Terry Pegula get into
hockey.
That little nugget from Terry Pegula was culled from a November 30, 2010 piece by the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason.

It's something that may have been overlooked when first printed, but it's something that may have a long-standing impact upon the team.

Make no mistake, Pegula is the owner. He may have kept GM Darcy Regier on and may have allowed him to stay the course during the transitionary period, but when all's said and done, it's Pegula's vision.

Regier had his chance to prove that his (or was it former owner Tom Golisano and Managing partner Larry Quinn's?) vision was a viable template for building a Cup contender, but it was a failure. As constructed, the team did not have what it took to even make the playoffs with "the core" at the helm. (It should be noted that Lindy Ruff handed over the keys to the team naming all "Rochester Guys" as captains.)

Just as the 2011 off-season was a landmark financial/philosophical departure from the previous regime, the Derek Roy for Steve Ott/Adam Pardy trade should be construed as a harbinger of things to come when it comes to rebuilding the forward group.

Ott is known for his rugged, north-south, work your ass off style of play and would have fit right in with the Flyers of the early/mid 70's. Roy...not so much. And as the team retools, it's Ott's "tough to play against" style that will supplant a group of forwards that was widely regarded as "easy to play against."

Regier was on the right track and the 2009 draft exemplified that. Their three top picks that year, Zack Kassian (#13,) Brayden McNabb (#66,) and Marcus Foligno (#104,) are all big players with various skill levels. And all were brought in because the Sabres were widely regarded as an easy team to play against.

The first one of that group that will probably stick with the team for a full NHL season is Foligno. He's an Ott-type player--rugged, unafraid of the "dirty areas," will get a bloody nose for a goal, nasty on the forecheck. He had a stellar introduction to the NHL--14 games, 6 goals, 7 assists--and was on a line with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford that bordered on unstoppable at the end of the season.

And should he settle into a top-nine/top-six role on the team, Foligno would be considered one of the faces of "the new core."

That type of player, one that's tough to play against, would fit into Pegula's vison of a "Flyers style of play" type team that he seems to want.

The Philadelphia Flyers have always been a rugged team--win at all costs, battle every minute, take one on the chin for the team. From the Broadstreet Bullies to today, they've always had an intense forecheck from their forward ranks and they always seemed to draft and/or sign players who used work ethic to enhance their skill level--from Bobby Clarke to John Leclair to Mike Richards to Claude Giroux.

In Sabreland, look no further than the drafting of Zemgus Girgensons as a player in that mold. The team traded up to get him and wasted little time in signing him to his entry level contract.

"The Latvian Locomotive" could easily fit right in with the Flyers organization. As a 2012 draftee (#14,) there's nothing but speculation as to where he'll ultimately end up in the grand scheme of things. But his profile oozes grit and character and is very "uncore-like."

The typical Regierian draftpick in the first round is a "skill player." And they did that with the drafting of center Mikhail Grigorenko (#12, 2012) two spots ahead of Girgensons. Not that Grigorenko is a bad pick. He's a player with top-five talents who dropped to them at #12. They did well by picking him. And Regier did an outstanding job trading up to land a player that was probably number one on their list to begin with in Girgensons.

But if you look at the Regierian "skill" philosophy going back to their first post-lockout draft, "skill" seemed to trump "will" when picking in the first round--Marek Zagrapan (#13, 2005,) Dennis Persson (#24, 2006,) Joel Armia (#16, 2011,) and the aforementioned Grigorenko pick.

The lone departure from the norm was with the pick of "rugged, power forward tough-guy" Kassian in 2009. The fact that he's no longer with the team shows just how ill-prepared the team was when looking towards that type of player.

The 1975 Stanley Cup Finals Captains:
Bobby Clarke (l) and Gilbert Perreault (r)
In defense of Regier, the Sabres like almost every other team worth a damn, will always take the best player available when it comes to mid-lower first round draft picks. And one must also take into consideration the strengths of the organization at the time. Picks like the two Tylers--Myers (#12, 2008,) and Ennis (#26, 2008)--seem like solid picks with plenty of upside and lean heavily towards the skill side of the equation, yet still have an edge to their game. 2010 pick (#23) Mark Pysyk will get his first taste of the pro ranks this season and will have the opportunity to showcase his stay-at-home style and leadership qualities in Rochester. But he uses savvy on the back-end more than anything else (which is not a bad thing.)

This is not to dismiss the "skill" side of the equation either. You realistically can't win the Cup these days with a bunch of muckers and grinders, even with one of the greatest goalies of all time. Skill is a necessary ingredient.

And the Sabres from Day-One always have had highly skilled teams. From "The French Connection" (a team that Pegula also loved,) to Pat LaFontaine/Alexander Mogilny to "the Ferrari" that was lead by Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, there's always been excitement and end-to end rushes. That's part of the Sabres culture.

In Gleason's article he also mentioned that Pegula in the mid-70's was torn between the Broadstreet Bullies and the French Connection. "It was the Philadelphia Flyers' style of play that got me into it," Pegula said after presenting Penn State with the largest private gift in the university's history. "Then I moved to Western New York, and I became more or less a Buffalo Sabres fan. ... The Flyers and Sabres played for the Stanley Cup, and it was difficult. I liked both teams."

The Flyers' Bill Barber (l)
and Sabres Gil Perreault at
the 1990 Hall of Fame
Ceremony.
It wouldn't be too inconceivable to think that Pegula has a 1975 Stanley Cup Final hybrid in mind when it comes to team-building.

And it goes back to what he said at the press conference February 22, 2011 when he was introduced as the owner of the Sabres, "I want to keep not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players."

From Foligno's first NHL goal on March 10, to the drafting of Girgensons on June 22, to the July 2 trade for Steve Ott,  it would seem as if Pegula's vision is just beginning to take shape. Will he be able to mold a hybrid of his two favorite teams in the 70's?

Only time will tell, but it would seem as if he's directed his charges to begin molding a team that has some tough, old-school, Flyer-like characteristics that he was introduced to in the 70's.

How far they head in that direction is yet to be determined, but we do know one thing, "the core" is being torn down as they add grittier, anti-core players.

And, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pegula in a cage-match with the NHL big dogs over Shane Doan

Weeks ago it was leaked that an Eastern Conference team offered Phoenix free agent Shane Doan a 4yr./$30M contract.

Via cbssportsline John Gambadoro of Phoenix's KTAR 620 tweeted back in early July, "NHL source just confirmed to me that an Eastern Conference team has offered Coyotes Captain Shane Doan a 4-year deal worth more than 30 mill."

For weeks the hockey world was aghast to the point where it mattered not who the team was. Just the very fact that someone would offer a 35 yr. old winger on the downside of his career that amount and term was stunning enough.

So who made the offer, if it was in fact true, sat on the back burner while Doan made his rounds and various pundits predicted who the "front-runners" were in the Doan "sweepstakes."

But, as of the last 24 hours, it seems as if the cat's out of the bag.

Jeremy Roenick was the first to open his mouth (what a surprise) via this tweet from XM's Josh Rimer after Roenick appeared on his show (from cbssportsline.com,) "[he] also said that the Buffalo Sabres made a huge offer to Shane Doan, and as of right now he has yet to accept it."

Yes, we all know Jeremy Roenick needs attention and, yes, he thinks that it's his duty to chime in on every topic like we really care what he thinks. That's a given.

But, what Brian Stubitz--the same author who jumped on the original leak--brings up in his blog is that Roenick still has ties to Phoenix and probably has connections inside the organization.

As a confirmation, John Buccigross of ESPN, tweeted this (via sportsnet.ca,) "Was told tongiht that Buffalo''s four year, 30 million dollar offer to Shane Doan is legit. Coyotes only want to go two years for now."

I'd assume that sometime very soon (like, today maybe?) there will be an official announcement that the offer is true.

Now the big question, "Are you nuts, Terry Pegula?"

That Doan is a complete player with buckets of intangibles is not to be disputed. He's a solid contributor on the stat-sheet and is a rugged player and captain with on-ice and off-ice leadership qualities. But, $7.5M per season? That's bordering on NHL superstar level.

For a 35 yr. old power forward who's on the downside of his career, four years is a bit long. Four years from now he'll be nearly 40 and it's unsure how effective he'll be this upcoming season much less three or four years from now.

Those are just the Sabres-centric ramifications of the offer.

Looking beyond that, the ownership question in Phoenix is said to be near completion as Greg Jamison was seemingly close to finding another $20M to buy the franchise from the NHL. Having the face of the franchise potentially leaving for an offer they may not be able to match, or even come close to matching, might put the cabash on that deal. It might even be the death-knell for the team in Phoenix.

Next, one needs to look at the salary structure, and what it means to free agents in the future. One could see every player agent saying, "Well, Shane Doan's at $7.5M coming off a 22 goal, 50 season. My guy had this...so we want this"

This has an affect on other franchises as well. It's been documented that the Columbus Blue Jackets incurred huge losses over the last five seasons. The Nashville Predators have financial concerns even though they brushed them aside when they matched the Shea Weber offer sheet.

And it's just been revealed that the San Jose' Sharks, a team with a strong following and a commitment to winning, just lost $15M last season (not that the ownership really cares.)

All of this is happening in the midst of an NHL/NHLPA bargaining session where the owners want more of the pie at the expense of the players, and the players are saying that, although they're willing to help, the owners should fix the problem themselves.

Terry Pegula wasn't kidding when he said that he was taking off the financial chains of management. As level-headed as GM Darcy Regier is, this must be a huge shock to his system after years of a "just break even" mandate. Last season's $67M splurge on Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino was an eye-opener, but Doan's contract offer easily trumps that (well, maybe not the Leino contract.)

It wouldn't be surprising to see Pegula come off as a villain in all of this as he's thrown a monkey wrench into the entire system (one must also wonder why this info was released on the eve of another NHL/NHLPA meeting, that's for another blog though.)

But, for his team, he really has no choice.

The laws of supply and demand as well as the struggles of Buffalo to attract upper-eschelon talent dictated this course of action.

Doan was the only top-six/top-line talent left on the board this off season after Zach Parise left New Jersey for Minnesota and if the Sabres wanted to get in, they'd need to go big.

The usual big-money, high profile teams were said to be in the mix--the Flyers, the Rangers and the Canucks--with all of them having more to offer than the Sabres outside of money and term.

First and foremost, Doan has said all along (and there's no reason not to believe him) that he wanted to stay in Phoenix. But as ownership questions drag on, it would seem as if that ship is sailing leaving him the decision on a new home for the remainder of his career.

Philadelphia would have been a big player, especially after GM Paul Holmgren struck out on Parise, Ryan Suter, Rick Nash and Weber. "Homer" likes to make a splash in the off season and would be in hot pursuit of Doan were it not for his troubles on defense. He's also accustomed to being a villain and ownership, lead by Ed Snider, wouldn't think twice about a a $30M offer.

The Vancouver Canucks wined and dined Doan last month. They have a Stanley Cup contending team and would offer him the opportunity to play on a wing with the Sedin twins. Problem is, they also wouldn't want to hurt their feelings by signing Doan to a richer contract than theirs. It would seem as if $6M per season would be the most they're willing to offer hoping that his British Columbia ties would make up the difference.

The NY Rangers are always a player and Doan did in fact visit while he was in NY for labor discussion. They do have the cap-space to make a $7M-plus offer, and adding him to their group of forwards would put them amongst the best group in the league. Would they go four years? Maybe.

Regardless of where Doan ends up, Pegula threw himself into a cage-match with the big dogs of the league with the offer. It's a statement move that the Sabres are no longer a "small market" team and that he will continue to back up his proclamation that the sole purpose of the Sabres existence is to win the Stanley Cup.

Whether it's sound thinking on his part is to be determined.











Friday, August 17, 2012

The Hockey News places the Sabres 7th in the EC

And their off!


It's the middle of August, a month from training camp and less than two months from opening day.

Shane Doan still hasn't made up his mind, the NHL and NHLPA have yet to begin serious negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement and the Buffalo Bills travel to Minnesota tonight for their second preseason game.

Yet. the predictions have begun (not that I'm against early predictions.)

Coming in at #7 in the Eastern Conference, according to The Hockey News...the Buffalo Sabres.

Before we delve into the short, one paragraph reasoning, it should be noted that the teams behind them are:

8.  Ottawa
9.  Carolina
10. Florida
11. New Jersey
12. Toronto
13. Montreal
14. Winnipeg
15. NY Islanders

A case can be made that the bubble in the Eastern Conference this season should be a wild race (maybe moreso than last season) as solid teams (FL and NYJ both made the playoffs with the Devils making it to the Stanely Cup Final) battle it out.

Here's why, they say, the Sabres will finish 7th:
The high expectations on the Sabres last season were immediately tempered by a collective stumble out of the gate – and while they made a valiant playoff push late in the year, it wasn’t enough. That should tell you this is a team that has to maintain its hardworking identity established under coach Lindy Ruff all season long to keep pace in the East. With new additions Steve Ott and John Scott, they’ll certainly have more grit to dole out. You know Ryan Miller will hold up his end of the bargain between the pipes, so the questions that will decide the Sabres season are: Can the big acquisitions from the summer of 2011 step up? Can Cody Hodgson become a true No. 1? Can Tomas Vanek return to 40-goal form?

"The collective stumble out of the gate" was Milan Lucic pushing the Sabres down to the ground and taking their lunch money.

This is a team, with "the core" as it's feature, that was completely exposed for the soft, easy to play against team that they have been for years. Possibly going back all the way to 2001 when Michael Peca was traded for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt. In fact, one could make the argument that they've been the same team for over ten years and the only reason for any success is that the league changed and made it easy on them and other teams built like them.

The Lucic/Ryan Miller incident sent the Sabres in a downward spiral that reached all the way to a team record 12-game losing streak in December/January.

They did get their act together--thanks in part Miller playing like a Vezina candidate, the return from injuries of various defensemen as well as Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno lighting things up as a line--and the team almost made the playoffs.

But, almost was not good enough.

Owner Terry Pegula dished out millions in the 2011 off season and expected a long playoff run. This team embarrassed him throughout the first two-thirds of the season (including an 8-3 manhandling by the Pittsburgh Penguins with Pegula in the owners box) and it's no surprise that the Sabres are going through a make-over.

"Core" center Derek Roy was traded to Dallas for rugged Steve Ott. All-NHL tough-guy/pugilist and mountain of a man John Scott was signed as a free agent. And with their 2nd first-round pick this year, they drafted a hard-working, gritty, north-south center nicknamed "the Latvian Locomotive," Zemgus Girgensons.

Also of note in this transition, soft-but skilled players like oft-injured Jochen Hecht will not be re-signed, deer in headlights, "offensive" defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani was traded, and perimeter forward Brad Boyes signed with the NY Islanders. Big, semi-soft center Paul Gaustad was also traded away.

Trading Roy and Gaustad means that the team has made a complete overhaul of the center position in the five seasons post-Chris Drury/Daniel Briere, and because of it, there certainly questions at the pivot (although there have been questions for the past five seasons as well.)

Looking for Cody Hodgson to be the #1 center is valid and may be key to the success of the team, but you also must take into account Ennis as well.

Ennis and his linemates were the hottest line in the NHL for the final three weeks of the season, and he really seemed to come into his own when moved from wing to the pivot.

Should they remain together and produce, a lot of pressure will be taken off of Hodgson.

One must remember, though, both of those players are still only 22 yrs. old.

The Hockey News is also correct in right focusing upon the Sabres upfront, because their defense, when healthy, is solid and deep.

There's still a long way (maybe longer, if the league does lock out the players...again) to go before they hit the ice. And the Sabres, as all bubble teams do, have holes.

The Sabres' big question mark remains the center position, as it has, really, for the last five seasons. But they'll be headed into the season a bigger, grittier team and that should go a long way in keeping them in the playoff mix, in the very least, for the upcoming season.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Russia/Canada Challenge ends

A four game series between Russia and Canada wrapped up on Tuesday. Of importance to Sabreland is the play of 2012 first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko.

Grigorenko was on the top line with 2012 #1 overall pick Nail Yakupov (EDM) and fellow 2012 pick Anton Zlobin (#173 overall, PIT.)

Kris Baker of Sabresprospects.com followed the series throughout as the 6'3" pivot and his fellow Russians took on a loaded Canadian team.

Grigorenko didn't fare too well--0 goals, 1 assist--in the four game series. He looked winded at times, was cautious often and seemed to be thinking an awful lot. Not the fleetest of foot, he also looked slow to average at best skating up and down the ice.

Cause for concern?

Not really. Early in the series his linemate, Yakupov, seemed intent upon doing his best Alex Ovechkin/Pavel Bure impersonation. Not a lot of chemistry between the two. Linemate Zlobin was playing on his off-wing and just looked out of place with the two first-rounders.

That line also saw a heavy dose of Canada's top checking line lead by 2012 Winnipeg Jets draft pick, Luke Sutter (2nd-round, #39 overall.)

In a harbinger of what's to come in the NHL, Sutter and Co. bottled them up throughout with relentless, tight checking and deft stick work.

Whether or not motivation played a factor in Grigorenko's lack of production is to be determined as the challenge was nothing more than a showcase, but the kid may need to spend another year in junior to hone his skills and build up his strength. It's a long NHL season and a top-line player will see the best checking forwards, those intent upon making life miserable for them.



Speaking of showcase. Baker also tweeted that Russian goalie Andrey Makarov has accepted an invitation to Sabres training camp.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier was in Halifax Nova Scotia taking in the event and apparently liked what he saw in a 6-5 Russia win with Makarov in net. He wasn't the only one either. Despite giving up five goals in that game, Makarov was voted 1st star as he faced over 40 shots, many of the golden opportunity variety.

As of now, the Sabres goalie depth is depleted on the junior/college level with the pro contracts of Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp.

2012 6th-rounder Linus Ullmark helps fill the void, but there's room for another junior and Makarov will get his opportunity.



From thehockeywriters Final Impressions of The Challenge:
Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo Sabres, 12th in 2012) – Russia’s Grigorenko certainly did not shake the critics with is wildly inconsistent play. Skating alongside Nail Yakupov and Penguins’ prospect Anton Zlobin, Grigorenko and company were expected to lead this team offensively. The line was matched up against Canada’s top shutdown line but Grigorenko, once again, failed to elevate his game when it mattered the most as he was virtually invisible in the critical game four. Grigorenko certainly showed that he is extremely gifted with his ability to create offense using elite vision and power puck distribution game but inconsistency continues to overshadow his unique talents. Unless Grigorenko finds another gear at Sabres’ camp, Mikhail will be available for Russia’s 2013 WJC team and look to be counted upon to “step up”.
Andrey Makarov (undrafted) – The undrafted Andrey Makarov continues to prove that he is an elite goaltender prospect. Despite coming to Canada to chase his NHL dream and succeeding in the WHL, Andrey Makarov was passed over by thirty NHL teams for the second time in as many years. Internationally, Makarov has owned Canada and that was clear once again as Russia won both games with Makarov as the starter. He’s a netminder that shows great poise and with his strong positioning he is difficult to beat on the first shot.
Stat Line: 2GP – 2W – 74 SVS – 4.00 GAA – .902 SV%


Via sabresprospects.com, you can check out every Grigorenko shift through the hard work of Baker's friend, James:

Game 1  http://www.sabresprospects.com/2012/08/grigorenko-earns-helper-in-russian-loss.html

Game 2  http://www.sabresprospects.com/2012/08/top-threats-quiet-as-summer-tune-ups.html

Game 3  http://www.sabresprospects.com/2012/08/grigo-blanked-as-russians-gain-series.html

Game 4  http://www.sabresprospects.com/2012/08/grigorenko-russians-cap-series-with-loss.html

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tyler Ennis remains unsigned, is it cause for concern?

The fact that Buffalo Sabres restricted free agent forward Tyler Ennis remains unsigned at this point in the off-season seems to be cause for concern amongst some.

Not sure why at this point. With the NHL and the NHLPA negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, uncertainty with future contracts remains up in the air.

Speculation is building with each passing day, though. It's been suggested that Ennis, thought to be the key ingredient in a trade for Bobby Ryan, isn't being signed because he will be traded to Anaheim, even though Buffalo GM Darcy Regier has said that Ennis in that scenario is a non-starter.

Another avenue for speculation is that Ennis and his agent are holding out for Matt Duchene-type dollars. The 21 yr. old Duchene is a former first round pick for Colorado (3rd overall, 2009) and a legitimate top-six center who's been at that position all three seasons he's been in the NHL.

Comparing Ennis (#26 overall, 2008,) a 22 yr. old forward who started out on the wing and played roughly 25 games at the pivot last season, to Duchene borders on heresy for some. "Ennis is not Duchene. There's no way he should look for anything near $3.5M per season" they say and conclude that the "greazy" forward who hasn't proven anything yet at center should get no more than $2.5M per season.

As mentioned previously, were it not for the incredible run that Ennis and his linemates had the last quarter of the season, he'd probaby be looking at a 2yr./$4M contract, slightly above the one that linemate Drew Stafford signed a few years ago.

In defense of Ennis, a little statistical comparison of he and Duchene was put together. Maybe it's even something his agent is pointing out while negotiating with Regier.


Duchene: 219 games, 65 goals (.296 g/gm,) 85 assists, 150 points (.684 p/gm)
Ennis: 140 games, 38 goals (.271 g/gm,) 54 assists, 92 points (.657 p/gm)

Powerplay:
Duchene: 18 goals (27.6% of total goals scored,) 27 assists (31.7%,) 45 points (30%)
Ennis: 7 goals (18.4%,) assists 14 (25.9%,) 21 points (22.8%)

Duchene: Career minus-18
Ennis: Career plus-12

Playoffs:
Duchene: 6 games, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points (.500 p/gm,) minus 2
Ennis: 13 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points (.615 p/gm,) plus-5


Both have comparable stats in goals/game and points/game, but one of the distinguishing factors in Duchene's slightly higher production is powerplay points. Duchene gets top-unit powerplay time while Ennis was relegated to second-unit duty.

That fact also affects the plus/minus for both players, a whopping 30-point difference in favor of Ennis.

It should also be noted that Duchene has yet to score a playoff goal. Ennis, in his first playoff action had a goal and three assists in his first playoff series (6 games.) He also scored the game winner in overtime at Philadelphia in a crucial Game-5 win over the Flyers two years ago.

And, once again, there's a marked difference in plus/minus as Ennis remains well ahead of Duchene in that stat.

Last season's stretch run for Ennis and his linemates, Stafford and Marcus Foligno, was nothing short of a revelation. But whether it was an aberration or not remains to be seen.

Will Ennis continue to thrive at center? Will that line produce consistently? Can Ennis continue to be looked upon as a legit top-six forward with plenty of upside?

That's what the two sides are discussing.

And it would seem, based upon the numbers above, that it'll cost the team upwards of $3m per season, maybe $10M over three years, for the team to find out.


Tyler Ennis' overtime game winner at Philly.


Ennis re-ups with a 2-yr./$5.6M deal on lockout day, 9-15-12

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You know it's slow in hockeyland when...

...the most interesting piece of "news" is an expose' on a twitter rumormonger.

Seems as if a "tweetybird" with tens of thousands of "followers" who's thought to have access to the inner workings of NHL front offices, @HockeyyInsiderr, is nothimg more than a 17 yr. old high school free lance "writer" from Quebec.

Irony is that I came across this piece through a noted hockey rumor site run by an "anonymous blogger."

I know. It's as earth-shattering as picking up the National Enquirer and reading an expose' on photo-shopping in tabloids.

It is what it is.

For the full piece click here.


**********

WGR had one of it's polls out. It had to do with the Bills offense and their performance (or lack there-of) in their first preseason game vs. the Washington Redskins, a 7-6 loss.

Head coach Chan Gailey let QB Ryan Fitzpatrick call all of his own plays and Fitz proceeded to call 16 pass plays out of the spread, many with an empty backfield in no-huddle.

It didn't yield much. Four possessions, two first downs and three points.

The question posed on GR was, "After seeing [that] performance are you concerned with the Bills offense?"

Leave it to the Buffalo media to start the fretting. The poll has been up for days with nearly a third (30%) of the responders answering "yes."

*shrugs*

Fitz has been working with quarterbacks coach David Lee all camp, trying to iron out kinks in his throwing. In addition, the Bills may have a rookie in Cordy Glenn starting at left tackle this season.

What's the best way to get tape on Fitz and Glenn?

By putting them in obvious passing situations facing a real pass rush.

Nothing more, nothing less.


**********

The Sabres have a hole at the the #3 center spot right now.

Much to the chagrin of would-be coaches putting Steve Ott or Ville Leino in the pivot to fill out the line up, neither of them are centers (although Ott takes faceoffs with regularity.)

Which is something that makes trading center Tyler Ennis for winger Bobby Ryan pretty far-fetched. Even if, as some have suggested, the Sabres were also to couple that trade with a trade for Edmonton's Sam Gagner, who is a third-liner/top-nine at best.

Unless the Sabres somehow manage to land a bonafide #1 center, they'll be headed into the season with Ennis and Cody Hodgson as their top-two.

It's been suggested here that veteran free agent Jason Arnott would be a good fit for the team, as would Philly forward Matt Read.

But a wild card in the scenario would be #14 overall pick Zemgus Girgensons.

Girgensons has the type of team-first drive and simple north-south game to make a legitimate run at the spot out of camp.


**********

The team will still have some work to do with line combinations outside of the Ennis, Drew Stafford, Marcus Foligno line.

What to do with the other two top-nine lines is up in the air, but one could envision something like this (barring any changes):

Leino, Hodgson, Thomas Vanek
Ott, Girgensons, Jason Pominville

On the Hodgson line, moving Vanek to right wing shouldn't be much of a problem. He's played it before and shown he can produce.

But the key for that line is using Leino's ability to control the puck while looking for trailers. And trailers is what Vanek and Hodsgon would be on most occasions. Skating is really not their forte'. Hockey sense is.

Whether finding an opening for a scoring opportunity, or working a cycle, that line will draw the attention of the defense. Which opens up possibilities for the Sabres d joining the rush and jumping into the play.

As for the Girgensons line, you have different styles of play all with a team first attitude.

Rookie Girgensons would benefit immensely by playing between two vets like Ott and Pominville.

As a line they could be a coaches dream doing whatever's asked of them. Pominville and Ott know how to score and they know how to play defense. Girgensons has shown the same attributes as well.

Just some possibilities as the off season drags on.


**********

The Sabres top draft picks from the last two years are having a rough summer.

Via our good friend Kris Baker of Sabresprospects.com, the Sabres "top threats are quiet."

Joel Armia (#13 overall, 2011) and Mikhail Grigorenko (#12, 2012) have combined for 1 goal and one assist (in different tournaments) in eight games.

Not something to panic over, but not something that should sit well with themselves and/or the Sabres organization.


**********

Bob Dylan once sang, "If there's an original thought, I could use it now."

Yup. Couldn't agree more.











Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The dog days of summer plod on...

...as the hockey world awaits a Shane Doan decision.

Yup, it's been over five weeks since Doan became an unrestricted free agent. As of now it's been reported that he will either re-sign with Phoenix or sign with one of three teams--Philadelphia, Vancouver and the "favorite," the NY Rangers.

Although Pittsburgh was not mentioned, I highly doubt they are completely out of the running. Why would any player of Doan's age and talents shun a perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse with two of the games best centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?

Buffalo seems to be out of the Doan race, even thought it's rumored that they are the team that offered him a 4yr./$30M contract. The free agent had visited NY, Philly and Vancouver, but not Buffalo.

GM Darcy Regier pretty much conceded when he said, "No, we have not met with [Doan], and I don’t know whether we will meet with him. We’re monitoring the situation, and I’d leave it at that."

Regier, supposedly, is still trying to work out a deal with Anaheim for Bobby Ryan. Rumors are flying with that one--like the Ducks want Tyler Ennis as a centerpiece, or, now, Thomas Vanek--but there's nothing concrete as of yet.


Meszaros injury turns Flyers away from Doan and Ryan

It's said that Buffalo is in the mix for the Ducks' Ryan and their stature should be a bit higher as the Flyers will probably be dropping out now that defenseman Andrej Meszaros is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season with a torn achilles.

It's yet another setback for GM Paul Holmgren as Philly's been striking out all summer. You can go back to the Stanley Cup as former captain Mike Richards and former top-six forward Jeff Carer both were a part of the Cup-winning LA Kings after being traded from the Flyers last season.

UFA's Ryan Suter and Zack Parise were in Homer's sights, but signed with the Minnesota Wild. Columbus traded Rick Nash to Philly's arch rival, the NY Rangers. He made an offer-sheet for Preds restricted free agent Shea Weber that was massively front-loaded and thought to be unmatchable, but Nashville matched.

They opted not to sign Jaromir Jagr up-front and Matt Carle on the back end with the latter's departure for Tampa Bay dropping an above average defense down a notch to merely average at best.

Holmgren kicked off the off season by trading from a position of strength in top-six winger James Van Riemsdyk to get bottom-pairing d-man (with top-four potential) Luke Schenn from Toronto to shore up the back end.

After striking out so many times this summer, which is very uncharacteristic of the Flyers organization, Holmgren still could have made a splash, as he likes to do, and rumor had it that he was heavily in on the Doan sweepstakes. Ryan was also on their radar.

But Meszaros going down pretty much squashes any plans to woo Doan or trade for Ryan. Their d is now in shambles without Meszaros, something we saw during the playoffs last season.

Chris Pronger is expected to go on long term injured reserve and it's quite possible his career is over. Brayden Coburn is a legit top-pairing d-man and so is Kimmo Timonen, but the latter is getting up there in age and has battled injuries as of late, and it will be quite difficult for him to log top-pairing minutes over the long-haul.

After that, they have Schenn, Nicklas Grossman, Bruno Gervais and Andres Lilja rounding out their top-six.

With a line-up like that on the back end it's pretty safe to say that the Penguins and Rangers, among other teams, are licking their chops. One would also assume that goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is falling deeper into a cosmic, zen-like state to find his happy place.

It bodes well for the Sabres, though. They have an excess of d-men should Philly come knocking. Jordan Leopold would add short-term (one year left on his contract)stability. Andrej Sekera has top-four, minute-eating, puck-moving credentials and is signed for three more seasons. The Sabres also have TJ Brennan who's out of waiver options on a team with nine NHL-quality d-men should the Fly-boys be looking for youth.

Although any trade scenarios with Philly would not include the likes of Claude Giroux or Sean Couturier, a player like third-line center Matt Read or even winger Wayne Simmonds might be a realistic.

One can probably forget about former Sabre and fan favorite, Daniel Briere. He may be a sentimental choice, it'd be far-fetched for him to leave Philly.

Holmgren has proven he never sits on his hands, so you can expect him to make a move soon, even if it's only signing a band-aid d-man like Jaroslav Spacek or Carl Colaiacovo.

But a Read or Simmonds for a Leopold or Sekera and/or Brennan and/or whatever else is necessary to make it a hockey trade would be good for the Sabres.


The Sabres sign Kaleta are working on Ennis

Regier recently re-signed uber-pest Patrick Kaleta to a 3-year deal at $1.275M per season.

The Angola native will be joined this season by Steve Ott and the two should be wreaking havoc on the ice for a good portion of the game.


As for Ennis, he, like Kaleta, was qualified by the team to prevent an offer-sheet poaching, but they remain apart on a deal.

And things may have gotten a bit complicated as of today. Carolina re-signed 20 yr. old center Jeff Skinner to a 6yr./$34.35M extension.

Although Ennis is not regarded as a talent on Skinner's level, the price none-the-less probably just went up.

Ennis may have been on track to sign a Drew Stafford-like 2yr./$3.8M contract. He had a solid rookie season (20g, 29a) and expectations were high before a slow start and an injury took away a good chunk of his sophomore year.

He did come on strong, though. He finished with 15g and 19a in 48 games last season with the majority coming after he was moved to center.

Ennis, Stafford and rookie Marcus Foligno formed a potent line that almost single-handedly propelled Buffalo into the playoffs last season.

But, there are too many question marks abound for Ennis. Were his 25 games at center an aberration? Will that line pick up where it left off? Will injuries be a part of his future? Will he be able to reach his potential at 5'10" 160lbs.?

A two to three year contract would benefit both sides, and an annual salary of $2.5-$3.25M would probably be about right for both player and team as well.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why not Arnott?


The last time a team won a Stanley Cup without a previous Cup-winning player on it was the Calgary Flames.

The Buffalo Sabres have had one Cup-winning player on the team since Chris Drury left five years ago--Rob Neidermayer. They went to the playoffs that year taking Philadelphia to seven games before bowing out.

In the other four seasons, they made the playoffs once, having missed last season.

So, why is there not a focus upon bringing in that type of leadership? Is there an aversion to bringing in these types of players? Or do those types of players have an aversion to Buffalo?

Probably more of the latter, as Buffalo is still struggling to get respect, but then again, we never even hear of the Sabres going after players like that.

The Vancouver Canucks came within one win of the Stanley Cup two years ago, they have respect, and they're said to be interested in Jason Arnott as a Plan-B should they not land free agent Shane Doan.

Last night they wined and dined (literally) Doan, looking to add the top free agent left on the market. By the way, Doan does not have a Buffalo visit on agenda.

The 'Nucks owner, Francisco Aquilini, along with GM Mike Gillis, and assistant GM Laurence Gilman made their pitch to Doan over some Italian food (paired with some fine Italian Wine, one would assume) at a local restaurant.

Vancouver is a quality team, in a quality metropolitan city with a rabid (sometimes too rabid) fan base. It's also an area that Doan and his wife are familiar with. In fact it would be a very good destination for him and his family should Phoenix falter on the ownership issue and they decide to move.

But, they also have a Plan-B in place should it not work out.

"One way or another," says Luke Fox of Sportsnet.ca, "the Vancouver Canucks are determined to add a skilled veteran presence to their core of forwards for 2012/13."
Fox goes on to mention that the team has already had preliminary discussions with Arnott, the 37 year old veteran, Cup-winning center.

Ben Kuzma of The Province in Vancouver leads off his piece by saying "the riddle in the middle might be solved by Arnott."

With Cody Hodgson being traded to Buffalo last season, the Canucks need a third-line center. In fact, the #2 center spot will be open while Ryan Kessler recovers from surgery and they have Arnott in their "crosshairs."

Arnott's agent, and brother Wade, knows the deal when it comes to players at this stage of their career. Both he and Jason are prepared for a series of one-year deals to finish his career, and they still believe he has a lot to offer.

Of course, as an agent, he says that his brother "is probably one of the most fit clients we've had," and will point to Jason's 17 goals/17 assist with St. Louis last season as a testament to his abilities.

Unlike Doan, though, Arnott is not a top-line player putting up strong numbers. But, like Doan, he brings "the intangibles."

"He brings exactly what the team needs," Wade said of his possible Vancouver destination. "Part of his role (on St. Louis last year) was to be a leader and bring the experience and he really taught the young core what it takes to be a pro. That's why we've looked around because he still wants to do that and he still wants to win."

The Buffalo Sabres, for their part, have a new core rising in players like Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno and Nathan Gerbe.

Unfortunately, their introduction into the National Hockey League was with "the Rochester Guys" as their mentors.

"The Rochester Guys" are the old core which were brought up post-lockout, had success in secondary roles, but who floundered in primary leadership roles. Their individual stats may have been up there, but they've had average, at best, team success.

Two of the old core are now gone as Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy were both traded in the last five months. Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and captain Jason Pominville are the remaining "core" members. All three have acquitted themselves well over the last five years and it would seem as if they'll continue to be a part of the team near-term.

The Sabres, as everyone knows, are weak down the middle and their top-two centers--Ennis and Hodgson--are 22 yrs. old. They have options at the fourth-line center spot with the likes of Cody McCormick and have two youngsters in 2012 first round draft picks Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons who could be knocking at the door this year. But, even with the trade for Hodgson and the drafting of those two centers, they're still looking to add to the center position.

Why not Arnott? He's a bottom-six center who can still produce. Yet we don't here his name being mentioned in Sabres circles.

It begs the question, why not?

Is it a case of the team not wanting him? Or is it a case of Arnott not looking at Buffalo as a destination this year?

As for the former, rumor has it that the team thinks he's too slow. One would hope that's not the case. We've seen what all that speed and skill has done for the team. Neidermayer was slow, yet the team made the playoffs the only year he was here. And in the playoffs he was exactly what they needed.

Buffalo, like Vancouver, has a void at the #3 spot, yet Canucks don't feel as if he's too slow. Or maybe they know it, but don't care because he brings other traits that the team is lacking.

Are the Sabres so much better than the Canucks that they feel it unnecessary to make overtures to a veteran like Arnott? Is GM Darcy Regier smarter than 'Nucks GM Mike Gillis?

Don't put it past Regier. Back in 2007 he believed that "the Rochester Guys" would grow into their new found leadership roles after the departures of Drury and Briere. They didn't. So eschewing a vet like Arnott would be a sure sign of hubris, but not all that far-fetched for Regier.

As for the latter, would a player like Arnott, who's in the sunset of his career, want to come to Buffalo? A team considered merely a playoff contender?

There are other options for the player, like Vancouver, which would obviously be a better fit. Although, if that falls through, he'll be out there looking for another destination.

Buffalo is probably down the list of potential destinations for a number of reasons, but how does they overcome these recruiting hurdles?

For unrestricted free agents it often times comes down to salary and term.

One would think that a pay raise and maybe even a two-year contract, would help tilt the balance in Buffalo's favor. If Arnott and his agent are looking at a 1yr./$2.5M offer from another team, how much more attractive would a 2yr./$6M be? Or maybe a little more.

We know how much the Sabers threw at Ville Leino. And it's rumored that Buffalo made a 4yr./$30M pitch to Doan.

Would they overpay for the type of Cup-winning, veteran leadership that Arnott brings?

They should. Last season the St. Louis Blues won the Central Division with Arnott making significant contributions. One must also keep in mind that although the Sabres are not considered Stanley Cup contenders, the Los Angeles Kings won the Cup as an 8th seed last year, so the "just get in and anything can happen" scenario does have a precedent. By the way, the Kings had three Cup-winning players on their team.

The Sabres have about $8M in cap-space right now with only Ennis to re-sign. Even if he gets $3M that still leaves them with a $5M cushion. More than enough to overpay for Arnott.

If they're willing to shell out ridiculous contracts for skill, which got them no where last season, why not overpay for the intangibles that have been missing most of the last five seasons?

The team needs a bottom-six center. They need veteran leadership up front. They need a Cup-winner to teach the new core "what it takes to be a pro."

The Sabres need a guy like Arnott. Even if they need to overpay to get him.