Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Hockey News offers analysis of the Sabres. Plus, "the call"

Just when the 2012/13 hockey season starts is yet to be determined as the NHL and NHLPA have yet to resume negotiations. They met yesterday to discuss HRR from last season and formal talks for the new CBA aren't set to resume until Friday.

In lieu of that, unless you're discussing Detroit VP Jimmy Devellano's recent comments or the appearance of Edmonton's owner and upper management in Seattle, there's really not a lot going on in the hockey world.

But THN must trudge on with hockey coverage and today the looked at the Buffalo Sabres and how they shape up.

They predictably go directly to new owner Terry Pegula, his green light to GM Darcy Regier concerning free agents, the failure to make the playoffs despite the lucrative deals, and finally to the status of Regier and Coach Lindy Ruff.

With Regier and Ruff seemingly secure in their postilions for now, they turn their attention to the roster.

Mention was made concerning off season moves including the toughening of the team by the trade of Derek Roy for gritty Steve Ott, the re-signing Patrick Kaleta, and the signing of tough-guy John Scott.

Fittingly they delve into the roster on the back-end where the blue line was undermined by injuries to defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers last season. They point out that the team was a very healty 30-14-3 with both in the line up, an underwhelming 9-18-8 with either one or both out of the line up. This, I might add, may be the sole reason why they missed the playoffs last season.

About the only thing concerning this article the Sabres fans don't already know is that Steve Ott is a center.

Throughout the article they call him a center when he has previously said that he played very little at the pivot, only taking faceoffs a good portion of the time.


Just had to get that out.


I watched the Green Bay/Seattle game last night and was dumbfounded as to how they ruled the final play a catch.

The best line I've read concerning that was a tweet that said [Seattle] QB Russell Wilson may be the only player in the history of the NFL to throw a game-winning interception for his team.

I've read quite a few articles on the final play and have yet to hear anyone say the referee #26 blew the call because of this:

As he ran towards the scramble, he had no idea what to do. He wanted to be in on the play and wanted to be a part of the call. But, he had no idea what was going on.

IMO, he jumped the gun in anticipation of the other official raising his arm signaling a touchdown. Only the other official was to rule just the opposite.

That's the only explanation I can come up with.

Still not sure how the touchdown call from ref #26 got the nod over a simultaneous and contradictory time out/touchback call from the other official.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Notes on the NHL and the Bills win in Cleveland

The last time the NHL and NHLPA gathered at the bargaining table was Sept. 12, nearly two weeks ago. It would seem a sense of urgency is not on the agenda of either side.

Both have submitted proposals that were shot down and both have moved towards the middle, but still remain far apart.

It would seem as if both sides are getting it right as they meet today in Toronto to define hockey related revenue (HRR) for last season as well as players escrow payments.

Perhaps they can get themselves a solid definition of HRR with hard numbers so that they can define exactly what the revenue split was last season. The 57% for the players and 43% for the owners is the overall rule, but there are so many other deductibles by the owners that getting to a hard number is rather complicated, kinda like Mitt Romney's 800 page tax return for last year.

CBC's Elliot Friedman attempts to "make sense" of HRR and does a fine job of incorporating the percentages of business operations. For instance, teams are allowed to deduct 54% of concessions towards their cost.

Most fans, myself included, are unaware that luxury boxes are a topic of contention. "One team" arenas, those without an NBA team, are required to contribute 65% of the luxury box revenue to HRR. "Two team" arenas are required to contribute 32.5%. The owners say there's not enough of a deduction, the players say they're not getting enough.

There are quite a few other items with heaps of numbers and percentages thrown in, and it's easy to see why the players are thrilled that they have Donald Fehr on board. Say what you will, but Fehr understands numbers, can make sense of it all and can make it plain for the players.

The issue of HRR has been the biggest stumbling block to meaningful negotiations. Hammering out the definition of HRR is the only true step towards a fair and equitable end to the lockout.


Sabres center Tyler Ennis is headed to Switzerland to play pro hockey during the duration of the lockout. He's the second Sabres player to announce his overseas commitment, the other being defenseman Christian Ehrhoff who's heading to his homeland of Germany.

TSN lists almost 60 NHL players who are headed overseas to play. Included are marquis names like Alex Ovechkin ($9.358M cap-hit,) Ilya Kovalchuk ($6.67M) and Evgeni Malkin ($8.7M) who were slated to make a combined $27.5M this season and even more the following season.

Detroit VP of Hockey, Jimmy Devellano, as well as various pundits and "experts" snicker at the NHLPA and their claims of solidarity in the light of their players heading overseas. They say that the marquis players are taking average Joe's job and ask how the muckers and grinders of the NHL fell as their holding the fort on their "meager" earnings.

Devellano, when asked about the players heading overseas, echoed the above sentiment, "It's funny, you talk about solidarity and a handful have already bolted." and added an equally snarky, "You know who they are...like they need the money...yeah right!"

Income during the lockout is certainly a big part of the equation, but I'm sure there are some who look at it as a way of keeping in shape, or maybe playing in their homeland in front of family and friends.

For Ennis, his agent, Eustace King, got a package deal for Ennis and Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon. The players grew up together on the same Edmonton street. John Vogl of the Buffalo News considered it a no-brainer. All things considered, it is.


I was at Browns stadium yesterday to watch the Bills beat the Browns. And yes, we (my daughter, son and his friend) stay until the end. And yes, we were on our feet at the end as DE Mark Anderson got the Bills fans in attendance cheering.

It was a strange site.

With 9:00 left in the fourth quarter, I mentioned to my daughter that the isles were filled with Browns fans leaving. By the two minute warning, there were large patches of Buffalo Blue and tens of thousands of empty orange seats.

It was a complete embarrassment for the Browns.

Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer called "Browns football" a "crime" right now and calls for soon to be owner Jimmy Haslam to shake things up as soon as he can.

Shaw described the large patches of Buffalo Blue "a large and emboldened travel party that walked in the front door as if they owned the place." Not only that, it was as if the party came in and "modeled your favorite bathrobe, put their feet up and popped your best champagne while the neighborhood watch dozed."


But it's true. He said that the Cleveland faithful, after an 0-3 start by the team this season and having a nine game losing streak dating back to last season, have checked out, "before the pumpkin crop has come in." Which he considers some sort of record.

For the record, the Bills fans leaving did not get over exuberant after the win. In fact there was a sense of empathy. After all, the Bills have not made the playoffs since 1999--the longest mark in the league right now.

The hundreds of Bills fans leaving after the final gun, made their way out, and except for a a few, joined the mass of football fans headed for their cars without acting like pompous asses.


Finally, I had the opportunity to watch the Bills defensive live for the first time this season. And they are a staunch group.

Tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus are beasts who control the line of scrimmage while Mark Anderson has some serious speed on the outside.

The big name of the group, and the one with the big contract and the spotlight upon him every game, is Mario Williams.

The latter Williams finally had a dominating game, as did the line with everyone of them getting in on a sack. "Super" Mario seemed to get stronger as the game went on and was just pushing around Browns rookie RT Mitchell Schwartz in the last quarter when it counted. (Schwartz, it should be noted, was taken by the Browns in the second round of the 2012 Draft, four spots ahead of Bills LT Cordy Glenn.)

A major task awaits the Bills as they host the New England Patriots on Sunday. Methinks this defense is just starting to gel, especially the front four. And they'll need to really up their game as Pats QB Tom Brady is sure to be licking his chops while looking at a rather average linbacking corps and questionable secondary.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Detroit Red Wings' Jimmy Devellano adds some spice to the lockout

Sixty-nine year old Sr. Vice President of the Detroit Red Wings, Jimmy Devellano, did a one-on-one interview with IslandSportsNews the other day adding newsworthy quotes to an otherwise quiet lockout period.

Devellano has a long and impressive resume' that includes 13 professional championship rings at various levels of hockey, and one as Vice President for the 2006 American League Champion Detroit Tigers. He has been in hockey for 45 years with 30 years of service in the Wings organization and is credited with transforming the "Dead Wings" to "Hockeytown" during his tenure. Very few, if any, hockey men are more respected than him, and during his interview with Scott Harrigan he was pretty candid despite the gag-order insisted upon by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Whenever Devellano speaks, anyone with any interest in hockey should take notice. And notice they did as the major media outlets are grabbing one answer from the interview and seem to be running inflammatory headlines.

CBSsportsline uses this in the title to the article: Red Wings VP refers to players as 'cattle,' says the owners 'own the ranch.'

Yahoo's Puck Daddy also headlines with, Red Wings VP Jim Devellano calls players 'cattle,' torches Flyers for Shea Weber signing. Greg Wyshinski's article mainly focuses on many other aspects but the 'cattle' part is in the headline without a direct reference

John Vogl of the Sabres Edge starts out his blog, Red Wings executive refers to players as 'cattle' at the owner's ranch with, "Mooooo-ve over Gary Bettman. NHL players have a new league executive to target." Gotta love Vogl using with the Moooo reference.

And it's pretty convenient for them to leave out a very important part of Devellano's quote. This is the full quote:
"The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle."

Ya see that bolded and underlined part? Yeah, he includes himself as part of the 'cattle' on the ranch.

Regardless, Bettman had his gag order and today the NHL fined the Detroit Red Wings for Devellano's remarks saying, "The Detroit Red Wings’ organization and the League agree that the comments made by Mr. Devellano are neither appropriate, nor authorized, nor permissible under the League's By-Laws. Such comments are neither constructive nor helpful to the negotiations."

Once you get over the cattle thing, Devellano has some pretty interesting insight into various aspects of the NHL.

On Gary Bettman and the owners:  "I think it should be clear up front that Gary Bettman works for the owners, not the players. The owners direct him on what to do...these owners aren't dumb guys and they are very aggressive men who run multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies. They want results and don't want to hear excuses and complaints as to what their employees may want."

On why Bettman is generally hated:  "I think he is battling what many people battle once they get in someones "doghouse"...in his early years as commissioner, he may of come across as arrogant and condescending, but probably not intentionally. And early on I would say he dressed down a few guys (reporters) and got their backs up [and it became personal.] . If he does one interview with a guy and if that reporter felt slighted, he'll continue to write about it for months after the initial interview. Well, you do that a thousand times from city to city and you can see how it would spread."

On Ron McClean of Hockey Night In Canada:  "He always asks agitated and sometimes exaggerated questions, not for the fans, or to get an answer, but to make what he thinks is good, bloody TV! So he thinks he's above the show, the game, and a lot of times has his own agenda...a lot of these guys in the media today are looking out for their own popularity and to hell with the real story."

On the Shea Weber offer sheet:   "They (Philadelphia) operated within the CBA and it's totally legit to do. Having said that, I will tell you there is an unwritten rule that you don't do that, but they did, and just like everything else in life, some people are great to deal with, some aren't. If you are asking me if it's right, I would say there is, again, an unwritten rule...we all know it in the NHL, but not everyone follows it."

The set-up for as well as the 'cattle' quote:  "There is just too much cost involved in running and owning a team. It's very complicated and way too much for the average Joe to understand, but having said that, I will tell you this: The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle. The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there. That's the way its always been and that the way it will be forever."

On how hockey related revenues should be split:  "Let the players take 43% and let the owners take 57%. Just reverse it from where it is now and let the owners run the rest of their business and manage their expenses."

On the relationship between billionaire owners and millionaire players:  "Yes, they are billionaires. Good on them, they deserve it, but they also make their employees millionaires. Not a bad trade off for a guy like Lucic getting what, 6 million dollars a year? I mean good on him too, but he should be grateful. Understand though that these players want for nothing...its first class this, first class that, meal allowances, travel money on the road, the whole shebang."

On what hockey fans should do during the lockout:  "Fans of the game should go see their AHL, ECHL or other minor pro team, or more importantly, to the best of your ability, support your local junior and minor hockey teams. Show these kids how much you really care for hockey. The NHL situation will get sorted out, but its complicated - I'm in the middle of it and its complicated for me too - and may take some time. Until then, go out and enjoy the game at the grass roots level and have some fun."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The NHL and NHLPA can reach an amicable 50/50 split in two years

I have no qualms with the two parties concerning the NHL lockout. They're doing what they do. Why they do it is another story, but that's how they're playing it.


Originally, this was to be about taking sides. Let's forget about the last lockout and look towards the present and future (if you must know, I'm on the players side, if only because I hate bullying tactics.)

The most important thing to think about right now is that the NHL is (was) on a serious roll (see the value of NHL franchises below.)

And nothing will kill it like an extended lockout.

If we cut through all the B.S., it would seem that the best way to keep things going now--while maintaining the health of the league in the future--would be for the owners and players to be at roughly a 50/50 split in revenues. And there's a way to hit that within two years.

Former NHLPA rep Paul Kelly was on WGR this morning and he had a workable solution, keep the total take by the players at the present $1.87B in year one of the contract. He deduces that if the current growth rate of the NHL continues, the league will bring in about $3.5B in revenue which effectively cuts the percentage of players salaries down to 55%.

That makes for sound reasoning. In terms of the owners, they're getting a bigger piece of the pie. In terms of the players, they're not effectively giving up anything that they don't already have. But he deviates from that original idea by saying that the players give back 1% until they reach that 50/50 mark.

Is there any reason why the owners and players could not continue his original line of thinking by extending it one more year?

Kelly presumes an approximate 6% growth rate in revenues year over year. Staying with his original premise, total NHL revenues would go up from $3.5B to $3.71B in year two. By keeping the players salaries at $1.87B, it would mean that players end up with roughly 50.4% of the pie.

That 50.4% should be a target throughout the remainder of the contract.

Locking in the $1.87B for the players is a give to the owners. And there's no reason that the owners can get their collective arses together to help the weaker franchises land on solid ground. In that scenario, the NHL would have a projected $400M windfall if the league grows at the projected rate (let Gary Bettman and the owners battle it out as to how they disperse it.)

As of right now the players would be taking a hit, but only in future salaries over the first two years. In essence they're giving back 7% (maybe more) over those two seasons, but they're not giving back anything right now. They're maintaining their present quality of life.

In year three and beyond, if revenues are higher, the players will see their salaries go up relative to their 50.4% take. If they are below, $1.87B remains the status quo until that ratio is reached.

In this scenario, the impetus would be on both parties to grow the sport as much as possible in the first two seasons.

For the owners the more top-line revenue they bring in, the bigger the bottom line. As for the players, the more the sport grows, the more they'll get heading into year three.

If projections continue at the 6% year over year revenue increase, the players take of $3.94B in year three would be $1.98B. A modest 5% increase, but a sound increase none the less.

Kelly's base idea is simple, yet sound, and would make for a strong jumping off point.

Nice work by the following website concerning NHL franchise worth.
DaveManuel.com has a breakdown from the year before the '04 lockout up until last season and the percentage increase via Forbes.com (link included.) Here's the list:

Pittsburgh Penguins, $264 Million, 161.4%
Montreal Canadiens, $445 Million, 128.2%
Edmonton Oilers, $212 Million, 103.8%
Vancouver Canucks, $300 Million, 102.7%
Washington Capitals, $225 Million, 95.7%
Calgary Flames, $220 Million, 89.7%
Toronto Maple Leafs, $521 Million, 86.1%
New York Rangers, $507 Million, 79.8%
Chicago Blackhawks, $306 Million, 71.9%
Carolina Hurricanes, $169 Million, 69.0%
Buffalo Sabres, $173 Million, 68.0%
Anaheim Ducks, $181 Million, 67.6%
Ottawa Senators, $201 Million, 60.8%
Atlanta Thrashers, $164 Million, 54.7%
Nashville Predators, $163 Million, 46.8%
New Jersey Devils, $181 Million, 46.0%
San Jose Sharks, $211 Million, 41.6%
Boston Bruins, $325 Million, 37.7%
Detroit Red Wings, $336 Million, 35.5%
Florida Panthers, $162 Million, 33.9%
Minnesota Wild, $213 Million, 30.7%
Los Angeles Kings, $232 Million, 20.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning, $174 Million, 16.0%
St. Louis Blues, $157 Million, 12.1%
Philadelphia Flyers, $290 Million, 9.8%
Columbus Blue Jackets, $152 Million, 9.4%
Phoenix Coyotes, $134 Million, -1.5%
New York Islanders, $149 Million, -6.9%
Dallas Stars, $230 Million, -11.2%
Colorado Avalanche, $198 Million, -19.5%

Source: Forbes.com -
The Business of Hockey: Team Values Hit All-Time High

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yeah, no NHL news to speak of, no pro football team to speak of either

It's taken a while to fully digest the disaster that was the Buffalo Bills in the Meadowlands. Nearly everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Buffalo, except for RB C.J. Spiller and his 169-yard, one touchdown performance after Fred Jackson left the game due to injury.

Ugly, was the one word title used by WGR's Bulldog in summing up the game. Perhaps he omitted a letter, it was F-ugly.

GR's Whiner Line was, as usual, over the top. Which was to be expected. The callers hated everyone--Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chan Gailey, Mario Williams, perennial whipping boy Leodis McKelvin. Reasoning ranged from simple analysis to downright anal cysts of the mouth. So far reaching was the blame, I was a bit surprised it didn't include President Obama, Rob Johnson or Ryan Miller.

I haven't been that disappointed by a Bills game since Super Bowl XXVI when Mark Rypien smoked the Bills d and the Washington Redskins d put the clampdown on future HOF'er Jim Kelly and his "K-gun" offense.

Many a Bills fan was psyched up for that game thinking that the near miss the year before would hopefully lead to success in their second try. The 37-24 loss was much more lopsided than the score indicated. Much like the Bills 48-28 loss on Sunday.

Much maligned Redskins QB Mark Rypien was the Super Bowl MVP with a stat line of 18-33, 292 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT. Much maligned Mark Sanchez was 19-27, 265 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT.

And if you thought Ryan Fitzpatrick's performance this past Sunday was poor--18-32, 195 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT--this is the line for Jim Kelly in that Super Bowl:  28-58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT. And, by the way, they both threw INT's on the team's first possession.

Parallels can also be drawn between the two teams when it comes to preparation. Neither the 1992 Super Bowl Bills--as evidenced by RB Thurman Thomas missing the first two plays because he couldn't find his helmet--nor last Sunday's Bills were prepared. While on the other side, Washington's Joe Gibbs and the Jets Rex Ryan were totally ready to shut down the Bills offense and exploit their highly skilled, yet soft defenses.

I will say one thing in defense of the '92 Bills defenders, at least they didn't whine about getting punched in the face.

There's been a big uproar over Mario Williams' post game comments on how he was literally getting smacked around and he called out the refs for not calling anything. The $100M man (or in this case, boy) didn't fight back and was held to one tackle and no sacks in his Buffalo Bills debut.

Former NFL lineman Damien Woody, who publicly trumpeted the Bills, had this to say, "For him to blame replacement officials as the reason he got dominated yesterday, I think that's pathetic," Woody said. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it.
"You're the big free agent. You're the $100 million man going up against a guy that was on the practice squad and inserted in the starting role just a couple weeks ago. I saw a lot of times Mario was one-on-one and couldn't do anything."

We all bought into the hype. When Williams was brought in, it was thought that he could help change the Bills defense. He and fellow free agent Mark Anderson were to bring on a strong pass rush that would help the secondary. It didn't happen vs. the Jets as Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sporano game-planned a quick strike pass attack the left the Bills looking for their collective jock straps.

Buying into the hype is what Jerry Sullivan started off with yesterday on the Howard Simon Show. "That was pretty startling what happened yesterday," he said, "and I think I fell for it...about Mario Williams."

Hype is what doomed the 1992 Buffalo Bills Super Bowl hopes. They were supposed to win that one, because they came so close the previous year and had the great Jim Kelly vs. a journeyman.

That team, like this team in Week One, couldn't handle the expectations.

So, other than Fitzpatrick, Williams and the game-plan, what else?

WR TJ Graham was drafted to stretch the feild with his speed, he didn't dress. Why? Gailey said he didn't feel as if Graham was ready. Like someone on WGR pointed out, how ready do you need to be to run as fast and far as you can to stretch out the d?

The WR's couldn't get open. Stevie Johnson did very little (although he did catch a TD pass in "garbage time",) but ya gotta believe he's nursing a very sore groin. Donald Jones had five catches including a touchdown when the game was already determined. David Nelson had some catches, then caught a bad break when he tore his ACL and is now out for the season.

TE Scott Chandler had a TD reception late in the third quarter, but was never used properly until the game was out of reach. If receivers can't get open and you're QB's having a tough day, your TE can be the QB's best friend, just ask Tom Brady.

As mentioned Spiller was a bright spot, but Fred Jackson never got anything going before leaving with a sprained knee which will keep him out 3-4 weeks.

And the Bills' "Mr. Wildcat," Brad Smith, never entered the game. What a waste of a uniform.

On defense, the Bills secondary got torched, the linebackers looked lame, the pass rush was a complete dud and they couldn't manage to stop the Jets when it counted on third down as NY was 10-14 on third down conversions.

The punt team allowed a 68 yd. punt return for a TD that put the Jets up by 21-0 less than three minutes into the 2nd quarter.


Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt had a gameplan based upon a four-man rush and he barely wavered from that. Why? *shrugs* Who the hell knows.



There is tension in the air in Buffalo with many either hitting the panic button or cloaking their panic.

WGR's Mike Schopp is sure that a Harsh reality is looming concerning the Bills. He makes the case that the Bills have two-time castoffs at QB--Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen and Tavaris Jackson. He states that the Bills have brought in dead end players and coaches--Shawn Merriman, TO, GM Buddy Nix, Gailey and former coach Dick Jauron.

In a typical Schoppian reach where he tries to make a point that rests on shaky ground and has inadequate tie-ins, he seems to yearn for the Tom Donohoe era Buffalo Bills stating that the 2002 and 2004 Bills teams are probably the best. "Donohoe didn't win here," he writes, "but at least in his five years [in Buffalo] the Bills availed themselves to top talent."

After a 3-13 season in Donohoe's first year as GM, Schopp seems to be alluding to the parade for Drew Bledsoe who was traded from the NE Patriots (thus opening the door for Tom Brady) to the Bills for a 2003 1st round pick.

I can't remember who else he brought in that year, but the team did go 8-8. Maybe that's what Schopp's alluding to.

But what ailed the Bills throughout the '00's was poor drafting, exemplified in the Tom Donohoe era.

First round picks Nate Clemens (#21, 2001,) and Lee Evans (#13, 2004) ended up with solid careers. But Donohoe is also responsible for one of the biggest busts ever in T Mike Williams (#4, 2002) while he took a gamble on an injured Willis McGahee (#23, 2003.)

His signature move, though, was trading away their first round pick in 2005 to Dallas to nab QB J.P. Losman. Losman would loose his starting job to journeyman Kelly Holcomb after only three games and was out of the league four years later.

While the two coaches under Donohoe have the best single season records for the Bills over their 13-year playoff drought, both proved nothing more than excellent coordinators.

Greg Williams spent three years in Buffalo, his only head coaching position. He went 3-13, 8-8 (2002) and 6-10 for a combined 17-31 record. Mike Mularkey went 9-7 in his first season yet followed it up with a 5-11 record.

Just after the 2005 season, Donohoe was fired, January 5, 2006 and it was that day, according to Schopp, "that the Bills stopped competing the way other teams do."

Sorry, Schopp, but a 31-49 record competing as "other teams do" is cause for a change.

Donohoe took the Bills for a ride after Ralph Wilson gave him complete control. After that debacle, is it any wonder that Wilson pulled back and started over by reaching back for someone he could trust? Marv Levy?

In the five years not doing business "as other teams do" post-Donohoe the Bills compiled a, lo and behold,  31-49 record.

Sorry, Schopp. Doesn't work. Try again.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Say hello to kickoff 2012. Or...

the Bills are a welcome panacea for the conundrum that is the NHL labor negotiations.

The NHL had some great momentum at the end of last season. The ball was really rolling for the league, but...the knuckleheads seem to be well on their way to bringing it to a halt with the impending lockout.

Was talking to a fan in Columbus, on who just started following hockey about a year and a half ago. She said that she was glued to the TV for the playoffs last season.

And just how many new fans felt the same way? My guess is that there are plenty more.

The NHL and the NHLPA need to get their act together.

The Buffalo Bills kick of the 2012 season in New Jersey with a game with the J-E-T-S, Te-bow Jets, and there's cause for optimism heading into this season.

Questions remain, as with any up and coming team, and predictions for the team range from 6-10 to 10-6 on the season.

Since hockey related news is hard to come by, a look at the Bills.

The overall schedule looks to be one of the easiest in the league. Once you get by the first nine games.

Six of the first nine are on the road including four of five surrounding the bye week. Also included in those first nine are two games against New England and a road game vs. San Francisco.

Beatable teams in the first nine are Kansas City, Cleveland, Arizona and Tennessee with the Jets and Houston as toss-up games.

Coming out of that stretch at least 5-4 would go a long way towards ending a 13-year playoff drought.

The team breakdown.

The Bills plugged quite a few holes this past off season, most of them on defense, which means they're going with the same offense that got off to a ruckus 5-2 start only to tank en route to a 6-10 record last season.

Injuries and lack of depth killed them last season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is the general at QB. Whether he ends up being Patton or Custer is the big question.

There's no doubt he can run Chan Gailey's offense. He has the mental capacity to pick apart a defense but his arm strength and accuracy, at times, are question marks. Stretching the field is a necessity and hitting speedy 2012 draft pick TJ Graham will go a long way towards opening up the field.

One of the keys to Fitz being able to stretch the field will be the offensive line, especially rookie Cordy Glenn at left tackle. The line was decimated by injuries last season and seems to be fairly healthy to kick off this season. Gailey has always been able to hide flaws with his line so it will be interesting to see how he protects Glenn in the scheme.

RB Fred Jackson is healthy and CJ Spiller got some quality playing time last season after Jackson went down. Both those guys can catch the ball, whether it's Jackson coming out of the back field or Spiller lining up in the slot as a wide out. Jackson was having an All-Pro/MVP-type season last year before going down to injury. No reason to think that he won't do the same with a healthy offensive line in front of him.

Many clamored for the Bills to bolster their receiving corps in the off-season. They did not.

Stevie Johnson leads the group with Donald Jones as #2. Solid if unspectacular, with plenty of upside, define the WR corps. Add in Scott Chandler at TE and they could do some damage.

On defense the defensive line should strike fear into the opposition.

Mario Williams and Mark Anderson book-end former #3 overall pick Marcell Dareus and Pro Bowler Kyle Williams.

The secondary was bolstered by #10 overall pick Stephon Gilmore and the group back there should be solid, especially if the d-line can put pressure on the QB.

In the middle of the field, though, is a linebacking corps that could spell problems for the team. They seem average at best.

Will new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt be able to hide their flaws like Gailey does with the offensive line? Bills fans better hope so.

The defense last season was weak and put the offense into tough situations throughout the year. And that's where Fitzpatrick got into trouble. Playing from behind is a recipe for disaster, and when you took out Jackson, as well as losing C Eric Wood, it's no wonder Fitz had 23 interceptions last season.

All-in-all, the Bills should be a much improved team. Fifty percent more wins this year would equal a 9-7 record and on the playoff bubble, and is something that should be achievable this year.

What it comes down to is how they fare in the first nine games. A 5-4 record should be a springboard to at least a 10-6 record and almost an assured playoff spot.

It all begins with the Jets today. A big test on the road to start off the season.