Monday, December 30, 2013

Ryan Miller solidifies his status as a bonafide, kick-ass goalie...

Just ask the Washington Capitals about Ryan Miller.

Fifty shots against him in regulation and overtime, just one goal against for a .980 save percentage. It was a performance that was only outdone by a 1.000 save percentage on six shooters in the shootout for the 2-1 win.

Rumor is that Miller will be one of three goalies headed to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The future rumor should be that he's being considered for MVP as well as the Vezina. He's been playing that well.

Sabres fans must be getting the heebie-jeebies watching this team go 5-4-2 for the month of December while generating points in six of their last seven games.

Interim coach Ted Nolan has this team of no-names playing exceptional team hockey that's producing points. But it's Miller that once again is carrying the team.

For December Miller has a 5-2-1 record, with the team getting points in his last five games (4-0-1.) In those eight December games he has faced 291 shots-against allowing 15 goals against for a .948 save percentage.

The stretch of games in December has the Sabres now only four points out of the 29th spot (EDM) with two games in hand and only five points out of 28th (NYI) with one game in hand.

There was a time before the firing of GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston that the Sabres were a lock for the worst record in the NHL and the best shot at the #1 overall pick in the 2014 Draft. Now we're not so sure.

And the longer Miller is on the team, the stronger the possibility that the team will climb out of the basement. There's even a possibility, albeit an extremely remote possibility, that they'll make their annual run to a spot just outside the playoffs.

That, of course, is with Miller in net.

Six weeks from now--February 9--is the Olympic break and Miller will be in Sochi, Russia, probably as the starter for Team USA. LA Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was the front-runner until he was injured and even if he gets some time in net before the break, Miller might still be the man. After all, in addition to his stellar play this NHL season, he was the MVP in Vancouver back in 2010 when the USA--another team lacking superstars--were one goal short of taking home the gold medal.

The Buffalo Sabres will be facing quite the decision after the Olympic break. A little over a week after play resumes in the NHL, the March 5th trade deadline will be upon them, and what to do with Miller is front and center on their list of UFA decisions.

They will either extend the 33-yr. old or trade him as its highly unlikely they'll let him walk this summer for nothing.

The great debate will be (and we already have our decision made) as to what they should do, but if Miller continues playing like he has been, there will be suitors for his services. And those suitors (maybe a Washington or a St. Louis or a Cup contender that has an injury to their top goalie) will be paying a premium for a premier goalie.

Regardless of how the Miller situation shakes out, or even those of pending UFA's Matt Moulson and Steve Ott, the Buffalo Sabres are playing inspired hockey right now under Nolan and it's safe to say that the franchise is on the upswing.

In large part, though, to the play of Ryan Miller.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The week in review: Tales from Christmas week, 2013

The Sabres are preparing for a 5PM game with the Washington Capitals today. At 4PM the Buffalo Bills will be finishing off their 2013 campaign with a visit to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots.

Just a quick note on the Bills/Pats, the Bills have not won in Foxborough in the last 13 years which includes the last 11 which were played at Gillette. For a quick synopsis of the agony of Buffalo at New England, the Buffalo News' Jerry Sullivan ranks the past 11 games.

As for the Buffalo Sabres, it's been an interesting week. And one might say that the team may have finally bottomed out and are on the upswing. How can you not think that while taking in the following two events.


Heading into the Christmas hiatus, the Sabres faced off against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes.

And in a scene out of Rudolph where Sam the Snowman says, "And then it hit," four Sabres players were hit by the flu. Marcus Foligno, Alexander Sulzer, Ville Leino and the recently acquired Linus Omark were all scratches for Monday's tilt. In addition, center Cody Hodgson was still sidlined by injury.
The Buffalo Sabres Tyler Ennis does
his best Bobby Orr impersonation as
he ties the game at one vs. Phoenix.

Even with calling up Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk, the Sabres dressed only 16 skaters. It was the first time they'd done that since January 7, 1981 (they beat the Quebec Nordiques 5-1.)

Interim Coach Ted Nolan rolled with three forward lines and seven defensemen. That was until winger Drew Stafford was ejected for an elbow.

Sabres tough-guy John Scott, who dressed as the seventh d-man, was switched back to forward and even had some time on the powerplay.

The Sabres fell behind in the opening seconds of the second period, before tying it up on a goal by Tyler Ennis at 14:01 of the third period.

And then came one of the weirdest finishes in NHL history, a score in overtime that's simply known as "Buttgoal."
Here's the video from NBCBreaking:

Props to Sabres on-ice commentator Rob Ray for being right one with the telestrator.

And big props to Pysyk whom Buffalo recalled earlier and who charged hard to the net to follow his own rebound.

Celestial Events:  John Scott scores a goal.

More frequent than Haley's Comet (once every 64 years) and less frequent than a solar eclipse (five happen per year around the globe, Sabres enforcer John Scott scored the second goal of his career on Saturday night at Toronto.

It was Scott's 200th game of his career, one which started in the 2008-09 season with Minnesota. "I've got a lot of healthy scratches," deadpanned Scott.

Sabres forward Matt Ellis took a Toronto turnover in the Buffalo zone up ice and flung a shot on the Leaves Jonathan Bernier. Bernier fumbled the puck, Ellis whiffed on the rebound and Scott pounced on the puck rocketing a shot high, glove-side into a gaping net.

The Sabres bench erupted in jubilation, “It’s obviously not every day I score, so they were pretty excited,” Scott said. “They were kind of hoping I’d get one the next few games."

It's been a long time since he's scored his first NHL goal against Carolina on November 15, 2009. "I was with the Wild, on defence, pinched in, got a rebound over (Cam) Ward," Scott recalled. "When you only score two, you remember them all."

How could the Sabres not be on the upswing with Buttgoal and Scott scoring.

It's a harmonic convergence.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sabres fall in Beantown, net one goal. John Scott is probably to blame

When the Buffalo Sabres were rolling four lines the last two games without John Scott in the line-up they had back-to-back four-goal games that wound up being back-to-back wins.

To the anti-Scott contingency, those two games were proof that the Sabres didn't need a talentless goon/enforcer wasting a precious spot on the ice even against a tough team like the Boston Bruins, a team who the Sabres had beaten 4-2 two nights earlier. They have legitimate fourth-liners like Matt "Freakin" Ellis, Kevin Porter, Matt D'Agostini and now Linus Omark to skate a regular shift.

What was that?

Oh, he didn't play last night in their 4-1 loss against Boston?

Hmmm. So that's why the Bruins Zdeno Chara used Steve Ott as a tree stump to hack at. Oh yeah, and that's why the Bruins Johnny Boychuk was flying around the ice laying to waste any Sabre he wanted. (How's your hip, Porter?)

Even the Bruins Patrice Bergeron had his chest full last night, slashing away at Tyler Myers before both dropped the gloves. It was Bergeron's first NHL fight (and Myers' second.)

In anti-Scott circles (mostly outside of Buffalo) the common refrain is that Scott is totally worthless.

In Buffalo, the following from a Sabres fan in a Sabres thread who calls himself (or herself) sbroads24, sums up the local anti-Scott contingency:  "John Scott has 0 points and is a -9 in his career as a Sabre, also being by far the worst possession forward on the team, maybe even the league. Most of his shifts start in the offensive zone and end in the defensive zone. He's not a good player, Nolan can try all he want that won't change. Waive him, no one will take him, let him play in Rochester until someone cheap shots us again. He's wasting a spot that could be occupied by a young player."

He (or she) continues in a later post:  "The numbers prove he's an awful player, our record proves him being here does nothing to help the team. People like him because they like fighting, that's it. I'm pretty confident Scott will not be here next year when a new GM is here, and wouldn't be surprised to see him waived at some point. The last 2 games proved he literally makes no difference and they are better with other guys in his place."

The Sabres would be better this year with other guys in his place, if the other guys were, say, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, etc...

But, unfortunately on this edition of the Sabres, the team only has a bunch of borderline NHL'ers ready to take his spot. A handful of players who are a dime a dozen, who do skate a regular shift, but whose contributions are so scarce that a win or two because of them will probably not make much of a difference when all's said and done.

What we do have, though, at this point in the season are black and white numbers that can help frame the Great John Scott Debate because the Sabres have played 36 games this season and Scott has played in 18 (drum roll please):

The record with Scott in the lineup--4-11-3, 11 pts. Without Scott--5-13-0, 10 pts.

Goals-for with Scott in the lineup--25, 1.38/gm. Without Scott--39, 2.16/gm.

Goals-against with Scott in the lineup--48, 2.67/gm. Without Scott--56, 3.11/gm.

Goal differential with Scott in the lineup--minus-23. Without Scott--minus--17.

It's pretty simple. Obviously Scott really doesn't have any skill to speak of, and he certainly isn't helping the team on offense.

Defensively, though, the team is a bit better when he's in the lineup.

Overall, things balance out to the point where this year the team snagged one more point with Scott in the lineup.

So speak the numbers.

Personally, I wouldn't worry about Scott taking away time from the likes of Ellis or Porter or even a young borderline NHL'er like Luke Adam this season. What I do worry about is the burden of protecting teammates falling on the shoulders of Steve Ott, Cody McCormick and Mike Weber.

They should not be tangling with the heavyweights of the league and/or getting their heads bashed in ala Corey Tropp. At least not on a regular basis.

Overusing tough, gritty players to stand up for their teammates in an enforcer role put a hurtin' on former Sabres like Craig Rivet and Robyn Regehr. The goal should be to keep tough and gritty players then add to the lot, not hasten their demise by having them play an enforcer role.

In this year of transition, where more of an emphasis is on tougher and grittier, the Ott's and McCormick's as well as youngin's like Marcus Foligno and even Zemgus Girgensons need Scott. Methinks that the rest of the team like having him around as well.


Tyler Myers drops the gloves with Patrice Bergeron.

Umm, Tyler? You might want to bring that swing a little lower when the guy is that much shorter and, ummm, an upper-cut coulda really done some damage.

Just a thought.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Sabres fans have themselves a hockey team once again, and a trade went down yesterday

After an incredibly tough stretch to open the first third of the season bringing about a major overhaul, things are looking up for the Buffalo Sabres.

The back-to-back wins by identical 4-2 scores against Winnipeg and arch rival Boston could be a signal that the team is finally on the upswing. It was only the second time all season that they've won two in a row and it's the first time they've done it in regulation.

And it's also only the second time all season that they've scored eight goals in back-to-back games (ANA/SJS, Nov. 2/5.) Since their five goal "outburst" in Anaheim on Nov. 2, the team has scored more than 2 goals in regulation only once and during that 16-game span they scored 1 goal seven times and were shut out twice.

Regardless of whether or not the goals are going in for the Sabres, they have been playing some pretty good hockey lately. They're skating and working hard, reminiscent of "the hardest working team in hockey" from the late 90's, a team that got it's identity from Ted Nolan on his first go round in Buffalo.

A few things from yesterday's game that are noteworthy:
  • Brian Flynn had a great game with a shorthanded goal and an assist. Both were great plays and on the latter he lead an odd-man rush into the Boston zone and while everyone skated by him he found a hard-charging Tyler Myers in the slot
  • Myers has been playing exceptionally well. The goal last night was a perfect example of him just attacking. He has been playing well all season, but looks as if he's really kicked it in since Nolan took over behind the bench
  • Drew Stafford had a real nice goal, charging hard down the wing, circling behind the net and tucking one in. He's been playing very hard lately, even getting into a "fight." As one person posted on another site, he looked like a 30-goal scorer on that goal last night.
  • What more can be said about Ryan Miller? He did what he's always done--hold the fort. Said Bruins coach Claude Julien, "I thought we controlled the game pretty good, but the goaltender at that end (Miller) made some pretty big saves to keep them in the game, especially in the second period."
  • For weeks, Nolan has been trying to get Marcus Foligno to charge hard to the net, and the kid has started to do that on a more consistent basis. The result? Two goals in the last two games, both from right at the crease.
Good things are happening on the ice in Buffalo. Are we planning the parade yet? Nah. But we are seeing much better hockey at the F'N Center.


The Sabres traded for Edmonton winger Linus Omark last night giving up a conditional 6th-round pick.

Omark was a 4th-round pick for the Oilers in 2007 and played a total of 66 games for the team. He had 8 goals and 22 assists.

According to the Edmonton Journal's Jonathan Willis, the 5'10" 187 lb Omark is "a small, skilled forward who has proven time and again that he can be a difference maker in Sweden and Russia and the AHL, showed reasonably well in a brief stint with the Oilers in 2010-11 but found himself pushed down the organizational depth chart by the presence of many, many similar players."

Organizationally the Sabres are weak along the wings, although the previous regime had drafted a multitude of centers with the idea of moving them to the wing if necessary.

Omark had been unhappy in Edmonton and it was said that he'd asked to be traded.

CBC's Elliot Freidman, in his Tuesday, December 17th, 30 Thoughts had this to say, "Buffalo makes sense [as an Omark destination]. The Sabres are on a pace to score 137 goals. The last time a team scored fewer? Chicago in 1953-54, with 133 in 70 games. Omark's not a cure, but it's a sensible gamble, no?"

A conditional 6th round pick for the Sabres is really no gamble at all. They have, and have had, a multitude of draft picks so losing a late-rounder doesn't really matter all that much.

It's the first trade of the Pat LaFontaine-era, and Omark, like every player on the Sabres roster will get a legitimate shot to show what he's got.

Willis summed it up well, "For Omark, this is the best shot at an NHL job he’s ever going to have, as a player that can’t crack the 2013-14 Sabres has no business playing in the majors.  For Buffalo, it’s an awfully low price to pay for a guy who might be an NHL player in a secondary scoring role."

Omark will be meeting the team in Boston and Nolan said, "He’ll take a spot in the lineup. I’m not 100 percent sure exactly where we’ll put him yet, but he’ll play tomorrow night.”

It's assumed that he will be in because Cody Hodgson suffered an "upper body injury" and is out. Hodgson was placed on injured reserve and could miss 3-4 weeks.

One last note on the Omark trade. On November 27th, LaFontaine hired Kevin Prendergast as a scout. Prendergast had been in the Oilers organization for 20 years before coming to Buffalo. Methinks Prendergast may know a little bit about Omark.


Interesting piece from Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald.

Hoppe talks with Bruins forward Brad Marchand about Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan. Nolan coached the then 17 yr. old in 2005-06 for the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Marchand's is a small, fiery forward who will get under an opponents skin either by being a petulant pest or scoring. He had two goals vs. Buffalo last night including a shortie. 'A perfect Boston Bruin,' said Nolan.

The respect Marchand has for Nolan is deep, 'definitely not a guy I'd chirp,' said Marchand, which is unique for a player who's mouth is constantly running.

Getting past the typical, "I wouldn't be here today were in not for (enter coach's name,)" which is very true, Marchand reveals why players will run through a brick wall for Nolan.

'I don’t know how he does it,' Marchand said. 'But it just seems he can understand how to treat each guy and how every guy has to be treated differently. He finds a way to bring the best out of every guy. He’s so good at reading people and talking to people it’s incredible.'

In the five weeks Nolan has been in charge he's molded the Sabres into a cohesive unit playing while allowing player to play to their strengths, most notably Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers.

The 5'9" 183 lb Marchand, a 2006 3rd-round draft pick of the Bruins, has played in 253 NHL games with 74 goals and 149 points. He has 16 goals and 34 points in 54 playoff games and has his name engraved on the Stanley cup for the 2010-11 Bruins.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sabres to send three down to Rochester

Buffalo Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan had mentioned yesterday that the team would be making some moves.

According to WGR, and their weekly interview with Nolan, three youngsters will be headed to Rochester today:  defensemen Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb and forward Luke Adam.

Of the three, the most surprising was Pysyk. The young defenseman had been playing extremely well whether it was on the top-pairing with Christian Ehrhoff or on the bottom with Mike Weber, as well as all points in between.

Nolan had said in the interview that when it comes to Pysyk, "it's not about playing well right now with this team. It's about playing well on a good team."

The interim coach who's main task right now seems to be player evaluation more than anything else laid out the team's approach to youngsters going forward, "Where we're going with the organization, it's not a three week fix, it's not a month fix, it's about putting kids in a position of success" said Nolan.

He also mentioned that for Pysyk it won't be long-term, unlike McNabb and Adam "who," he said "could be a little bit longer-term development."

It should be noted that the Rochester Americans will be competing in the Spengler Cup.

The Spengler Cup is an annual hockey tournament in Switzerland that has been held since 1923.

For those who may be history buffs, according to its Wikipage, "It was originally devised by Dr. Carl Spengler as a means to promote teams from German-speaking Europe," who might have suffered ostracism in the aftermath of World War I."

The Amerks will be competing in the six-team tournament for the first time since 1996 when they came in third behind the host team, HC Davos and Team Canada.

Interesting to note, as pointed out by the Spengler Cup Rochester page, that same year the Amerks went on to win the Calder Cup.

For Pysyk, it's a grand opportunity to step away from a struggling team and join a pretty good Amerks squad.

He's a smart kid, pretty sure he's looking at this as a reward.

Special thanks goes out to the dude who called WGR alerting us listeners to the Spengler Cup.

Nolan mentioned that Pysyk will be back with the Sabres after the tournament in Switzerland is over.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

News and notes for mid-December including Shawn Thorton and why Ryan Miller to St. Louis could help their finances

It's a long way to Tiperrary,
It's a long way to go.

Yup. Sure is.

Covering the Sabres this year is like covering an Emerald Ash Borer and the slow death of an ash tree. We've been watching this team slowly die and it's crashing down.

No biggie. We have plenty of firewood.

It's a cold December night, not all of us can hob-nob with athletes and celebs at Ryan Miller's Catwalk for Charity like our good friend Kris Baker.

Sorry that you're left with Molson Canadian to drink. Pooh, pooh, my friend.

But, he did leave us a little something to chew on, via his twitter page--an article from Russia on Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov.

Zadorov for me, is already one of my favorite Sabres players. Love his child-like gait and smile and the purity of it.
Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov
had a blast in his short stint with the Sabres.

When he says "I like to hit people" with a Cheshire grin on his face, I fully believe it. When he says that he's happy to be in the NHL, the best league in the world, believe it.

Zadorov was sent to the London Knights for another year of junior as the Sabres work their way through the conundrum that befits a 7-23-3 team.

He's aware of what's going on, but has a positive outlook, 'At times we didn’t have the luck, at other times we lost without a chance, but I think everything will get better,' Zadorov told R-sport. 'The team is being reorganized right now and next season, the goals will be set higher.'

The gist of the very short piece from R-sport is that Zadorov is brimming with confidence, unlike last season, 'Last year, I didn’t go to the U20 world champs because I didn’t feel enough confidence. But now I’ve already played in the NHL, because I believed in myself,' Zadorov said. 'I know I’m ready to play, I must be a leader so that the other guys follow me.'

Can't wait for him to be a regular on the Sabres blueline.


The Sabres can't score. That's been proven time and again.

Under interim coach Ted Nolan, they've gotten more scoring chances but just can't bury them.

And one of the reasons is that they can't get the puck up over a goalie's pads.

Valeri Nichushkin was drafted 10th overall by the Dallas Stars in June and has been in their lineup for 30 games this season. He has 5 goals on the season, which isn't bad for an 18 yr. old.

Back in November he talked with R-sport about the differences between goaltenders in the KHL and NHL.

'When I watched TV it all looked so easy, but now as I play here, I understand how difficult it is. I’m trying to the drive the puck into the net as I did in Traktor games, but here goalies play differently. They are taught to go down to their knees and block the lower part of the goal.'

'And the desire to score in such a way [by shooting low] is subconscious.'

From the mouths of babes.

It's not rocket science, get the puck up.

Nichushkin was selected two picks after the Sabres selected defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and many had thought that they should have selected the Russian winger.

Assistant GM and Head Amateur Scout Kevin Devine made the decision to go with Ristolainen, and he's pretty darned good at what he does.

The Sabres have an impressive group of young defensemen, including Zadorov and Ristolainen, both of whom should be up with the team within the next two seasons.

Until then, Sabres forwards need to take Nichushkin's word to heart and start consciously going top-shelf.


Buffalo's lack of scoring, coupled with the probable departure of Miller, as well as possible departures of forwards Matt Moulson and Steve Ott will pretty much assure them of the top-pick in this year's draft.

Finishing last isn't a 100% guarantee of getting the first overall pick, but the chances are pretty strong and for the Sabres this season, forward help is on the horizon as center Sam Reinhart tops the 2014 NHL draft prospect list.

And next season isn't looking much better for Buffalo, whether by design or circumstance.

This is a young team that just doesn't have the horses to do anything but challenge for the 1st overall pick in 2015--otherwise known as the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

McDavid is the 16 year old phenom that's drawing parallels to the likes of a Sidney Crosby.

The key for the Sabres in either year is increasing their odds of landing a top pick, and thanks to the NY Islanders, the odds have gotten much stronger.

When former GM Darcy Regier traded forward Thomas Vanek to the NY Islanders for Matt Moulson, he also received a conditional 1st round pick from the Isles. Should NY finish in the bottom 10, they will have the option of either sending this years 1st-rounder to the Sabres or deferring the pick to next year.

As of right now the Islanders are second to last in the league and if this keeps up, they will have a very difficult decision to make.

As for the Sabres, they're looking at three 1st round picks in the next two drafts.

Yes, my friends, forward help is on the way.


Cam Neely was a pretty tough customer when he played for the Boston Bruins and although he didn't play during the "Slapshot days" of the NHL during the 70's, he would have had no problem having success with his power game.

Neely is president of the Boston Bruins, a team that won the Stanley Cup playing a style that made him proud.

The Bruins are filled with tough customers from Milan Lucic to Greg Campbell to Adam McQuaid to Shawn Thorton.

Thorton pulled a "Big, Bad Bruin" alley-fight thug-move on Brooks Orpik as the Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen was on the perimeter of a scrum.

Thorton's thugery included slew-footing Orpik then punching him in the face while Orpik was  down on the ice defenseless.

Orpik was taken out on a stretcher.

The NHL handed down a 15-game suspension on Thorton and Neely thought it was excessive. “Higher than I expected and higher than I think is warranted,” Neely told ProHockeyTalk, referring to the length of the ban. "We’ve had our fair share of players hurt badly by concussions,” Neely added. “I don’t think anyone’s gotten a 15-game suspension out of those. Thornton is a guy who plays the role he plays and has never had any suspensions or issues. It comes down a little harsh for me.”

Yes they have.

The Sabres' own John Scott was suspended for 10 games for his hit to the head on Bruins forward Loui Erickson sending him to the sidelines for a couple of games with a concussion.

The hit was obviously high and was more stupid than it was malicious.

Scott had never been suspended before either and he received a Shanaban of 10 games, mainly just because he was John Scott. Most believe that he shouldn't even be in the game even though he "plays the role he plays," that of an enforcer.

Had Scott done what Thorton did to Orpik, he might have killed him.

After all, look what Scott did to Thorton here when they fought:

Sorry, Cam, 15 games wasn't enough for Thorton. It was malicious and vicious and there's no excuse for it.
And for those who think Scott shouldn't be on the Sabres, pretty sure Scott's teammates feel different. Neither Thorton, nor any other lunk head will be taking those kinds of liberties with the Sabres as long as Scott is on the bench.

(Thanx to nhlboy88 and for the vids)


The St. Louis Blues once again have themselves a pretty good hockey team, a Stanley Cup contender most think.

They have a Cup-winning coach stressing a strong defensive game. They have a young leader in David Backes up-front and a young top-pairing, shut-down d-man in Alex Pietrangelo. Interspersed are a mix of vets and youngsters, skill and grit, and a whole lot of speed.

Despite their promise and their 22-6-3 record, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch writes that Blues fans are staying home this season.

The team has an average attendance of 16, 514 thus far this season, about 1000 less than last year.

The spin on the situation has them off to a slow start because of the St. Louis Cardinals who were in the playoffs until October 30th, or the first seven home games of the Blues season.

St. Louis is a baseball town and there's credence to what ownership is saying. But they're also well aware that it's only partly true.

Strauss acknowledges that, as well as other issues but also feels that maybe "part of the attendance hurdle stems from a show-me stance that fosters skepticism based on the last two postseason wipeouts against the Los Angeles Kings."

The Kings swept the Blues in the second round on their way to their first Stanley Cup in 2012.

Last season, the Blues lost to the Kings once again, this time in the first round.

According to Strauss, the Blues $3m deficit last season "might have been erased" by playing in the second round of the playoffs.

With the past two seasons in mind, and ownership raising ticket prices, there's a bit of a "chicken/egg" scenario going on. According to team president Bruce Affleck, "[the team] needs better support to make this sustainable," but fans remain skeptical and are staying away.

With the Blues close to the $64m salary-cap right now and attendance down, it's not surprising that Affleck has the team "a large dollar amount off for now. [But] If it goes this way the whole year it becomes a red flag.”

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has his team playing a Cup-winning formula of low shots against and opportunistic scoring, but their Achilles heel, once again, may be their goaltending.

It's not that Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot aren't good goalies. They are. And except for average save percentages, all of their numbers are real good.

The question remains, are either of them big-game goalies?

This may be the season for the Blues to go all-in. They have the pieces in place up-front for a Cup-run and if they can get themselves to make a deal for Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller they just might have that Eddie "the Eagle" Belfour piece that Dallas had for their first Stanley Cup under Hitchcock.

Miller proved what he could do with a solid team in front of him at the 2010 Olympics as he almost single-handedly brought home the gold medal for Team USA. That team had nothing close to the skill-level of the Canadian team yet took them to overtime. Miller was the MVP in the tournament.

Putting Miller--a positional goalie--in Hitchcock's low shots-against system makes for a winning combination.

Yes, they will need to score, but Miller represents more of an opportunity for the forward group to take a few more chances.

For years he's held the fort as the 2006-07 "Ferrari" Sabres and subsequent "core" Sabres have skated up-ice leaving odd-man rushes headed back his way.

For years he's covered for defensemen who screened him and/or couldn't cover a two on one properly.

Imagine what he could do with a defense that knows how to play defense in front of him?

Better yet, imagine how the fan-base would perceive a trade for Miller? He is still one of the faces, if not the face, of USA hockey. He's very recognizable even to the casual fan--the casual fan in St. Louis who might just take in a extra game or two because he's in net for the Blues.


Since the 2007-08 season when the Sabres went from back-to-back ECF's to the team know as "the core" and as the NHL was about to dump it's "unbalanced" scheduling format for a more traditional one, this is Ryan Miller's record vs. the teams the Blues have been having problems with:

LAK:  4-0-1
SJS:  7-1-0
ANA:  2-3-0
VAN:  3-2-0
CHI:  1-2-0

That 17-8-1 record also include a 2-3-0 record for this season.

Of note:  to be fair, the Detroit Red Wings were a western conference powerhouse during that time frame. Miller's record against the Wings:  1-7-1, his only win coming in his 2009-10 Vezina season.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The "Legend" continues as Zemgus Girgensons begins to make his mark with the Buffalo Sabres

One doesn't need advanced stats to figure out that 19 yr. old rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons is a hockey player.

On the stat-sheet, this goal he scored against the Montreal Canadians merely shows up in the goal column:

But that is more than a stat, it's a heart and soul goal.

Then there's this illegal hit to the head by Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen for which Cowen received a two-game suspension:

Girgensons didn't even hit the ice. In fact he fixed his helmet and headed towards the offender.

Unfazed, he eventually netted the shootout winner, looking like a 15-year veteran sniper.

That, my friends, is a hockey player.

Stats have their place in the world, but in cases of hockey players like Girgensons or players like Mike Richards, Chris Drury or Michael Peca, stats don't do them proper justice.

Stats? They don' need no stinkin' stats.

"It's hockey," said Girgensons after hearing of Cowen's suspension, "we play the game and whatever, happens."

Thx to Foligno, SomeHockeyVideos and LVhighlights for their YouTube clips.

For more links to Girgensons, visit my previous piece A matter of skill and will.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Playing with cap numbers, and how Ville Leino might get lucky

Sabres forward Ville Leino was a little confused when he found himself a healthy scratch vs. Ottawa on Tuesday.

"I'm not sure what he wants from me," Leino was quoted as saying after hearing of his benching for Tuesday's game vs. Ottawa. Although he admitted that the prior game wasn't "his best," he failed to see the significance of a season that has him with 0 goals, 5 assists and only 12 shots goal in 18 games.

Allow me to clarify it for you, Mr. Guitar-god. Nolan is starting to see which players are starting to rise to the top and who are simply along for the ride.

Unforutnately for you, Ville, you're not rising to the top.

Here's what Nolan said concerning your play, (to benefit your misunderstanding, Ville, we've added our "clarification" in parenthesis):
"Certain players, (and that would be you, Ville) with a certain skill set (in other words, those who are expected to score goals like you, Ville) they have to bring it (the term "bringing it," Ville, means skating hard, playing the game hard, working hard.)"

Nolan continued, "If you're not going to play as hard as you can (which means if you're not "bringing it," Ville) sometimes it's better to sit back and observe for a while (which means your sorry ass is riding the pine because your just here for the ride anyway.)"

And one more thing from Nolan, "Not only the game, (get Allen Iverson out of your head, Ville) but the way '[you] practiced yesterday (have you ever heard the term 'your play the way you practice?' Ville?) If we don't practice hard, how are we going to play hard? (meaning, your ass will be glued to the pine until you start working harder. And it begins with practice.)

Oddly enough, it may not even matter for the next year and a half when in comes to his place on the Sabres.

As clueless as Leino seems to be, and as vile as it might be to think of him skating with the Blue and Gold next season, he may have some use as the team rebuilds.

With the NHL salary cap reported to be heading northwards of $71m next season, the salary cap floor is expected to be upwards of $52m. (So what was that lockout all about?)

As the team transitions away from "the core," the Sabres are continuing to divest themselves from the vestiges of the previous regime. The longstanding, expensive veteran contracts of "the core" have been jettisoned save for one, goalie Ryan Miller. And it would seem as if he will be gone by the 2014 trade deadline.

For this season, according to capgeek, the Sabres sit $12m under the $64m salary cap. Most think that Miller and his $6.25m cap-hit will be gone as well by the end of the trade deadline. Recently acquired Matt Moulson is also a trade possibility as is Steve Ott. Their cap-hits are $3.1m and $2.9m respectively.

Moving those three would put Buffalo under the $44m salary-cap floor.

Granted they will figure it out this season, but next season they will be facing the same cap-floor scenario as they begin the process of moving the youngins into the NHL. And there will be more youngins playing with the big club next season, among them Rasmus Ristolainen and  Johan Larsson (and possibly Nikita Zadorov.)

As of today, the Sabres have 10 players signed for next season at roughly $28m, which is over $40m under the salary cap ceiling, $24m below the cap floor. They will have a ton of money to spend to fill 13 roster spots.

Two youngins--Ristolainen and Larsson--are almost shoe-ins for the team next season while the team may take the slow road with Zadorov and put him in the AHL for a season. They (minus Zadorov) will add about $1.7m to the cap next season. That will put the team at about a $30m cap-hit on 12 players.

Forward Patrick Kaleta and his $1.25m salary will probably be back next season. UFA forward John Scott will probably be back as well at $750k.

Now the team is at $32m on 14 players with nine more players to sign and $20m to go to hit the salary-cap floor.

The Sabres have three promising RFA's in Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Brayden McNabb. All three will probably account for another $5m.

Buffalo now has 17 players signed at a total cap-hit of $37m.

Here's where it gets interesting.

Based upon the players already signed for next season and the probable signings mentioned above, the Sabres would have ten forwards, six defenseman and one goalie on the roster. They will need to add five skaters and a goalie.

If Miller (possible $8m cap-hit,) Moulson ($6m) and Ott ($4m) end up re-signing with the Sabres (at those generous salaries,) there's no problem with the team hitting the salary floor, and they will be able to buy out Leino.

But, while continuing to play the "cap-game," if Miller doesn't re-sign, Matt Hackett will probably get the call. Hackett, a RFA, will probably get $1m.

The team will now need to sign five skaters and will be at $38m, about $14m under the cap-floor.

If they re-sign both Moulson and Ott at the above mentioned generous salaries it will put the team at a $48m with three players left to sign.

In that scenario, the team could easily spend enough on the remaining three players to get well over the cap-floor and buy out Leino.

If not, Leino could get lucky.

As the Sabres go into year two of full re-build mode, Leino may end up on the team strictly from a financial standpoint.

Not much will be expected of the team next season and they will need to get to the cap-floor of $52. Pegula may need to spend that $4.5m on a player (or players.) Why spend millions on a Leino buyout and then double that by bringing in another overpaid player (or players) for millions more to get to the cap-floor?

There are a lot of variables, of course, and this is all speculative, but there is a scenario where Leino and his 10 goals in 107 games as a Sabre (or about $1m/goal salary-wise,) could be on the team next season.

Don't fret, Sabres fans, the probability of this scenario is low, but it is possible and unless he's a cancer, it won't kill anyone to have him on the team for another season.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Blue and Gold solidify their hold on last place...

and interim head coach Ted Nolan seems out of answers.

3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 0, 1.

Those numbers represent the goals the Sabres have scored in the nine games since Nolan took over.

In looking at that paltry production, is it any wonder why the team is 2-6-1 during that span? Or, better yet, how on earth did the team actually win two games during that stretch?

"There's a certain standard I have to play to," said goalie Ryan Miller after last night's 3-1 loss to the Rangers, "and that’s keep a one-goal game with the ability for this team to tie it late and get points out of it,”

This team can't score.

At 1.69 goals/game, they're on pace to break a 60-year record for futility. The 1953-54 Chicago Blackhawks scored 133 goals in 70 games for an average of 1.9 goals/game.

A coach can put a player in a position to score, but it's up to the player to convert.

This isn't really anything new to the Sabres, they've had trouble finishing for year, even with the likes of Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy.

How many times did former coach Lindy Ruff say after a tough loss that the team had ample opportunity, but just couldn't finish?

It's the same situation now, save for the 85 or so goals that Vanek, Pominville and Roy would average over the course of a season.

Nolan came in with a positive, nurturing attitude touting the virtues of hard work and having fun. He wanted his team to play a little looser and play to their strengths. And, after a getting bogged down by "Proffessor" Ron Rolston X's and O's, he told his team to just skate and play the game.

And all of that has worked.

To a point.

The Sabres are playing much better hockey. They're playing hard, they're skating better, they're getting more opportunities.

But, they still can't finish. And Nolan's pretty much out of answers.

"Same problems," said Nolan last night. "We have to search for the answers. There's no one that's going to ride in here and fix it for us. We have to fix it ourselves. We have to look in the mirror and see what we can do to try and correct this thing, try to make it better."

He's right.

There won't be a knight in shining armor coming in and saving this "damsel in distress" hockey team. That's not how it goes.

What Nolan is looking at "in the mirror" is a coach of the youngest team in hockey. He's also looking at a coach who, according to WGR's Paul Hamilton, "is out of answers."

Hamilton goes on to say, "You could really sense the frustration in [Nolan]. He's not used to his techniques in coaching and motivating not working." And the reason, concludes Hamilton is that the Sabres don't have any "gifted goal-scorers."

What is Nolan to do?

Really, there's not much he can do, except continue doing what he's been doing even though it's absolutely brutal right now.

There is some skill on the team. Tyler Ennis snapped a wicked wrister past Henrik Lundqvist last night while Marcus Foligno was flat-out robbed on a wicked shot heading top-shelf.

Cody Hodgson, who was stymied on a breakaway last night, is still very young, but has a ton of talent and will be a productive goal-scorer.

His linemate, Matt Moulson, has shown that he can finish. Just get him the puck and a nano-second and he can light the lamp.

It's a tough go of it right now.

Not much you can do except "kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight" as Bruce Cockburn once sang.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The great debate, Miller/Lundqvist and the merits of a well-paid, upper-echelon goalie

You can judge any player in any number of ways, stats and awards being just two of them. Or does said player have their name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

The big ta-do these days is Henrik Lundqvist's 7yr./$59.5m contract extension the Rangers just gave him. It's a very hefty $8.5m/season cap-hit for a goaltender. Of course one must keep in mind that it's the Rangers. They're in The Big Apple and have always had the benefit of television rights that allow them to spend as much as they want, whenever they want.

Over the course of the last six or seven years, there's been a debate over the merits of having a well-paid, upper-echelon goalie and how that affects a team's quest for the Cup. Are they even necessary? Would large chunks of salary-cap space be better spent on skaters? Is the goalie more important than the defense and/or the coach's system and/or a team's ability to score?

All this comes into play with the Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

Miller is, and always has been a comparable goalie to Lundqvist. To the point where his last contract paid him a shade under what Lundqvist signed for.

Miller is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and the debate about his merits on the team had subsided. The entire hockey world had figured that his time in Buffalo had come to an end, especially with the team in full-fledged rebuild-mode and Miller entering his mid-30's.

The general consensus is that he did his time in Buffalo and that he'll finish his career on a Cup-contender and that the Sabres will move him by this season's trade deadline to make sure the get themselves a return.

Surely Sabres fans were writing their eulogy, no doubt espousing Miller's positives while invariably throwing in a "Mr. Softee" moment as a shot at a generally under appreciated netminder.

But a funny thing happened on the way to his funeral dirge, Buffalo's interim coach Ted Nolan said that he wants Miller on the team.

Nolan, who had future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek in net for him with the Sabres before, has been touting the virtues of Miller ever since he became interim bench boss.

Yesterday, in light of the Lundqvist signing, Nolan had this to say, "You build around him versus as a pawn to try to get something to make you better,” he said after practice yesterday. “You learn to deal with the now as a coach, and we got one of the better goaltenders in the world here. I’d like to build around him, myself.”

Fair enough. Miller has proven to be a bonafide #1 goalie and not every team has one. He's also proved that he can be elite. He has a Vezina Trophy, just like Lundqvist does.

You can take all the stats you want. You can throw in awards. And you can even debate defenses and coaching systems and how they affected a goalies performance. You can add in the forwards, whether they back check, whether or not they can score, whether or not they are clutch, etc, etc, etc.

You can go on and on forever debating all of that.

But what it really comes down to with goalies is how much they can get into the heads of the opposition.

For my money, there are only a couple of players in the Eastern Conference who don't tighten their grip when facing Miller.

And only one has been in the east since the 2004 lockout--Sidney Crosby.

Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk is another that isn't intimidated by Miller.

You could throw in his teammate, former Ottawa Senator Daniel Alfredsson, in the mix as well. The Senators as a team managed to consistently beat the Sabres and their team play got in the heads of Buffalo allowing for gifts left and right.

But only Crosby has shown the natural ability and skates with the chutzpah to pick apart Miller.

When a goalie can intimidate nearly everyone in their conference into thinking they need to make a perfect shot, they stifle the opposition. That's the merit of having an upper-echelon goalie.

It's not to say a good scheme by the opposition or poor play by the team in front can doom even a great goalie, but for the most part they'll be in every game with an opportunity to win.

That's what Lundqvist brings, and that's why he's getting paid.

That's what Miller brings as well, and someone will pay him.

Will it be the Sabres?

It may not be up to them, but if they wanted to and did throw a big chunk of change at him, I wouldn't throw myself from a bridge in angst.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The first two months--team stats, individual stats, plus...

It's been a tumultuous two months to begin the 2013-14 season for the Buffalo Sabres and it's no surprise that they find themselves at the bottom of the league with a 6-20-2 record for a total of 14 points.

Presently, Florida sits in 29th place with 19 points, Edmonton and the NYI both have 20, Calgary has 22 and Columbus has 23.

The Sabres seem to be destined to finish at or near the bottom of the league and they'll probably end up with a top-3 pick in the 2014 draft, quite possibly the #1-overall pick and a shot at Sam Reinhart.

There's not much left of former GM Darcy Regier's team. In fact only goalie Ryan Miller and forward Drew Stafford pre-date 2007, unless you count defenseman Henrik Tallinder. The former 2nd round pick of Regier left for NJ for a couple of years before returning.

Regier's core is gone. The last of the forward group, Thomas Vanek, was shipped to the NYI for forward Matt Moulson and a conditional first round pick.

Vanek has 8 goals and 9 assists for 17 points in 24 total games. He had 4 goals and 4 assists in 13 games for Buffalo.

Those 17 points would place him in a tie with his former center in Buffalo, Cody Hodgson, atop the leaderboard in points. Vanek's 8 total goals would be two behind Moulson's 10 (Moulson has scored four for the Sabres,) and his nine assists would once again tie him with Hodgson for the team lead.

What's more pronounced statistically is Vanek's plus/minus rating. In Buffalo he was a minus-5 while in NY he is a plus-3.

The plus/minus in Buffalo is outright ugly. Of Sabres playing in 10 or more games, the best rating is a minus-2 from Johan Larsson. That "feat" was "accomplished" throughout the remnants of the Ron Rolston era as Larsson was sent down just after the head coach was fired along with Regier.

Zemgus Girgensons clocks in at a minus-3 through 27 games and, surprisingly, two much-maligned players--Ville Leino and Mikhail Grigorenko--are also minus-3.

At the bottom of the spectrum in that category is Mike Weber who has the dubious distinction of averaging a minus-1 through 15 games.

Steve Ott and Tyler Myers come in at minus-11 while Marcus Foligno is a minus-10. None of these three have played fewer than 25 games.

Despite being 2-5-1 under interim head coach Ted Nolan, the team has shown progress and may have bottomed out or are very close to bottoming out. They still can't score goals, but they seem to be finding more open ice and playing a much tighter game.

Eventually that will lead to more opportunities which should lead to more goals.

The Sabres have been shut out five times in 28 games (once under Nolan,) have scored one goal nine times (four [in a row] under Nolan) and have scored three or more goals only six times (once under Nolan.)

Here's a look at the Sabres team stats and their rank through the first two months of the season:

Goals per game--1.61 (30th)...#1, CHI--3.50

Shots per game--25.1 (29th)...SJS--35.8

Goals against--3.04 (24th)...BOS--1.96

Shots against--35.1 (29th)...NJD--24.5

5-on-5 goals for/against ratio--0.53 (30th)...STL--1.58

Powerplay--14.5% (24th)...PIT--25.3

Penalty Kill--78.7% (23rd)...VAN--88.8%

Face offs--46.8% (26th)...NSH--55%

As for individual stats, with an average of only 1.61 goals per game (1.50 under Nolan,) it's not surprising that the team has only two players in double digits in points--Hodgson and Moulson.

And as dictated by a 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio of 0.53, their top "scorers" have horrendous plus-minus ratings.

Here's the top five individually:

  • Hodgson-17
  • Moulson (Sabres' stats only)-11
  • Drew Stafford-9
  • Tyler Ennis-9
  • Marcus Foligno, Tyler Myers-8
  • Hodgson-8
  • Moulson (Sabres' stats only)-4
  • Ennis-4
  • Foligno-3
  • Ott-3
  • Hodgson-9
  • Moulson (Sabres' stats only)-7
  • Stafford-7
  • Myers-6
  • Girgensons-6
Powerplay goals
  • Hodgson-4
  • Ennis-2
  • Ott-2
  • Moulson (Sabres' stats only)-1
  • Myers, Jamie McBain-1
Powerplay assists
  • Hodgson-4
  • Moulson (Sabres' stats only)-4
  • Myers-3
  • Ennis-2
  • Leino, Mark Pysyk-2
Shooting % (10 games or more)
  • Moulson (Sabres' stats only)-12.9
  • Hodgson-12.3
  • McBain-11.8
  • Foligno-11.1
  • Tallinder, Grigorenko-10.0
***Of note, Moulson has played in 15 games for the Buffalo Sabres.

It's about as rough a two months as any hockey fan would want to go through and with more changes in the offing--namely the strong possibility of Miller and/or Moulson and/or Ott and/or Tallinder getting traded--there's sure to be more "suffering" on the way.

But the way the team has been playing as of late will help cushion the blow.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Buffalo wins 6th game of the season

Unfortunately (or fortunately if you're looking for a top-2 pick in the 2014 draft) it has taken the team nearly two months and 27 games to achieve that feat.

And two of those wins have come against arch rival Toronto, including the 3-2 OT decision last night.

Matt D'Agostini in his first game as
a Buffalo Sabre.
(photo Bill Wippert, Getty Images)
The Sabres welcomed waiver pickup Matt D'Agostini to the lineup last night and he played a real strong game.

Although he didn't hit the scoresheet he was a plus-1 in 15:39 of ice-time and made a key play with less than a minute to go in the third period.

With the game tied at two and the Sabres on the powerplay, D'Agostini hauled ass on the back-check and flung himself at James van Riemsdyk who was going in all alone on Ryan Miller.

D'Agostini took out van Riemsdyk on the play but the ref who was right on the play ruled that D'Agostini had touched the puck first nullifying any penalty.

After seeing many questionable calls against the team the past few games (at least) Miller was pretty happy that the team finally got a (non) call go their way, "It came around," said Miller. "[D'Agostini] got back hard and he [forced] the ref to make a decision. The ref decided he got the puck."

Miller said that this game may have been the best game the team has played all season. And he's probably right.

After a somewhat slow first period, the Sabres skated like a real hockey team, took checks, dished out checks and maintained composure throughout the game.

Interim coach Ted Nolan had been ticked at the number of penalties the team has had over the course of his short tenure and has been imploring his team to play more disciplined.

The result this game was only one penalty to Henrik Tallinder for a stupid high-stick early in the third period. The Leaves got only one shot on goal during the ensuing power play.

No parade to the box allowed the team to roll their lines and they looked good.

D'Agostini was on a line with Steve Ott and Ville Leino. That line was very strong and it may have been Leino's best game yet.

Zemgus Girgensons was with Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam. That line provided a strong forecheck and ample opportunities for Adam who finally got a goal. He was the recipient of a fortuitous bounce that left him with a gaping net. He blasted it home.

Enforcer John Scott may have finally found himself a home. No, not in the penalty box tending to his knuckles but in front of the net in the offensive zone. And he looked ecstatic.

As soon as the puck was secured in the zone by his teammates, Scott would head to the front of the net. And with some better shots from the point, they may have scored. It looked as if he may have even tipped a shot.

Scott played a real strong game (relatively speaking.) The guy plays hard and he really wants to play. He knows his skill level is what it is and kudos to Nolan for getting the most out of that very limited skill set.

The top-line of Cody Hodgson centering Matt Moulson and Drew Stafford took the brunt of the Leaves checking unit. They worked hard. In fact, for the second game in a row Stafford has been a bull. We've seen him use his body in the past, sporadically, but it would seem as if Nolan's got him finally playing the game the way he can--as a power forward.

Staff logged 22 minutes of ice-time last night and most of it was quality.

As for Moulson, he now has goals in two straight games after going 11 without. As has been mentioned here before, the guy can finish. The Sabres should seriously entertain re-signing him long-term even at an inflated salary.

And finally, Ted Nolan has been doing an outstanding job thus far.

His coaching hasn't translated into wins yet because the team is devoid of depth and talent, as evidenced by scoring no more than one goal in the previous four losses.

The more he gets a feel for individual players, the more he's finding ways to put them in a position to succeed.

The team is getting better and it seems as if they're starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Sure, it took them 27 games to win six, but if they keep playing the way they did last night, that win total will increase significantly in less games.


One of areas that Nolan and Director of Hockey Ops, Pat LaFontaine need to direct their attention to is upgrading personnel. And although they might not be able to add sheer talent from outside the organization at this point, they can add players who play a certain style.

D'Agostini appealed to Nolan and LaFontaine because of certain attributes like speed and defensive awareness, both of which were on display last night. And he seems to think the game very well.

After D'Agostini made that defensive play to eliminate van Riemsdyk's opportunity late, he provided the screen that allowed Christian Ehrhoff to win the game off a shot from the point in OT.

In somewhat of a shot at the previous regime, Nolan was asked if it surprised him that D'Agostini made those plays, "You know," he said, "players that come from the St. Louis' and Pittsburgh's (both teams that D'Agostini played for, most recently Pittsburgh) know how to play the game right."

Little by little, one by one, the Sabres are starting to "play the game right."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

News and notes

Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Sabres from Tom Golisano for roughly $180m back in February, 2011.

Every year Forbes magazine comes out with it's NHL franchise valuations.

Last year the Buffalo Sabres franchise was #22 on Forbes list with an estimated value of  $175m or basically what the new owner had paid for them. Interesting to note that the Toronto Maple Leaves became the first NHL franchise to be valued at $1B that year. (for more info and a link to the 2012 Forbes piece, click here.)

Well, the boys and girls at Forbes are at it again and this year the Sabres came in...22nd once again.


This time the estimated value of the Buffalo Sabres has grown to $250m, or a 43% year-over-year increase in valuation. (for a breakdown click here.)

Said the magazine about the Sabres, "The Sabres failure to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season did not stop owner Terrence Pegula—who bought the team in early 2011—from jacking up ticket prices. Following the 2011-12 season, the Sabres increased non-premium seat prices by 26% and instituted a 4% price hike before the 2013-14 season. To be fair, the Sabres are still in the bottom half of the NHL in average ticket price. Pegula is also financing a multimillion dollar renovation to all 80 suites at First Niagara Center."

Good for Pegula. 

The old adage is "you need to spend money to make money," and there's no question he's spent some money.

Let's hope that he takes heart to another old adage, "it's not what you spend, but how you spend it." (See Leino contract.)


Mikail Grigorenko approaches Nolan and LaFontaine

Director of Hockey Ops Pat LaFontaine and his interim head coach Ted Nolan have been in charge for five games and the team's record is 1-4. After winning the first one against Toronto, they're back to their losing ways having scored a grand total of five goals during their four-game losing streak.

As shown above, the financial side of the organization is doing well as they've just added 43% to the team's valuation but getting the on-ice product up to snuff is a monumental task for LaFontaine having just been handed a shit sandwich.

Nolan is in charge of evaluating the players and soon the chaff will be separated from the wheat.

This process just went full gear as the team sent three youngin's to their respective leagues:  Nikita Zadorov went to his junior team while Rasmus Ristoalinen and Johan Larsson were sent to Rochester.

A fourth, Mikhail Grigorenko, was slated for a "conditioning assignment" to Rochester but the NHL rejected it.

Grigorenko is too good for junior and has had trouble adjusting to the NHL game. Unfortunately because of an agreement between the NHL and Canadian Juniors, at 19 years of age, Grigorenko is not allowed to be on an AHL team.

So he was stuck.

Grigorenko had fallen out of favor with the previous regime and had seen spotty ice-time hovering around the 10 mins/game mark. He had a two goal game in Anaheim, then played 9:33 in the Sabres SO win in Los Angeles.

When the new regime took over, he was parked on the bench, then designated for the "conditioning assignment" then found himself on the bench once again when the NHL nixed that.

Finally he'd had enough and approached LaFontaine and Nolan saying, "You never saw me play."

And he was right.

He was rewarded with a regular shift with two young players, Zemgus Girgensons and Luke Adam.

Although they haven't hit the scoresheet, Nolan likes what he's seen of Grigorenko during those two games, "So I like what I saw," said the interim coach, "and we’ll continue to evaluate.”

"Since we put him with Girgensons and Adam, they seem to be age group where they feel comfortable with one another. So I like what I saw, and we’ll continue to evaluate.”

“He’s competing. He’s trying,” Nolan said. “As long as you compete and you try, you got to like it.”

From this layman's eyes, "Grigo" seems to be improving and his confidence is growing. Although his skating needs a lot of work, one cannot deny his skill-level.


Sabres prospects are doing quite well thus far

WGR is sporadic in it's coverage of the youngins, but Howard Simon came up with a pretty good article about a pretty good draft class--2013--that's off to a rukus start this season.

Rightfully so, Simon credits Kris Baker and when the GR jock goes "Inside the numbers" for a look into the 2013 draft class.

He points to JT Compher, a freshman at Michigan, as having a real good start to his college career:  2g, 6a in 10 games including a shorty.

Compher's compete-level is way up there and he has the skills to go along with it. He was taken 35th overall with the pick that Carolina gave up in the Andrej Sekera trade.

But there are two picks who are of to flying starts.

One of them, seventh rounder Eric Locke has eight goals and 22 points in 15 games. Locke was mentioned by Baker as someone to watch.

The other is Nicholas Baptise, picked 69th overall.

Baptiste is on a tear with 17 goals and 13 assists in 23 games.

Baker, who does a weekly prospect report for, just did a piece on Baptiste and his drive to make Canada's World Junior team, and put together a video of all Baptiste's shifts during a tilt with Russia in the Subway Super Series.

Both Locke and Baptiste lead all the Sabres prospects in points/game (for a full list of stats, visit Baker's prospect stat page.)


And finally...

The Sabres wore their third jersey's for the first time this season and they didn't look bad.

Brian Stubits of cbssportsline, uses "Turd" jersey to open his piece on the debut of the Sabres rather confusing jersey.

There's way too much going on with different colors on the front and back as well as an introduction of gray to the color scheme.

But one thing I did come away with was the Buffalo in the crest. With it being white, it glowed.

A little light in the midst of a pretty dark season thus far.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Buffalo Sabres (snicker, snicker) to unveil their third jerseys today

If their 5-18-1 record wasn't bad enough, the Sabres hit the ice today at 5pm in their new third jerseys: 

The general consensus?  Awful.

But, that goes with the general theme of the way things have gone for the team this season:
  • Their awful record has them at the bottom of the league with 11 points
  • Their coaching was awful, Ron Rolston was fired
  • Ryan Miller's record is awful, 4-13-0
  • They have no player above zero in the plus/minus column, which is awful
  • 19 yr. old forward Mikhail Grigorenko is in no man's land
  • Their farm team, the Rochester Americans, just dropped two to one of the worst teams in the league
  • They interviewed a GM candidate, Jim Benning, who had an awful drafting record as Sabres Head Amateur Scout
  • Having to write about this team and this season is awful, it's barely worth it save for posterity
And so it goes.

Can you imagine Steve Ott stepping on the ice whit that sweater, and having the "C" sewn on it, facing a Detroit team with a classic winged-wheel on theirs? Can you imagine the barbs that will be tossed the Sabres' way?

That's just plain cruel.

At some point in time, history will reveal a bottoming out point. I'm not sure if it will be anytime soon or even if it will come this season, but it will come.


Owner Terry Pegula and his new Director of Hockey Ops, Pat LaFontaine will see to it. They don't seem as if they'll stand around and fiddle while Rome burns. They both have a competitive fire in them. And so does interim head coach Ted Nolan.

Right now they're searching. Searching for a proper foundation of veterans with which to rebuild upon.

The Sabres have sent down an number of rookies, including a couple of teenagers, to get them some playing time and to keep them away from the blood-letting that's to come. Said Nolan, "We’ve got a lot of young talent here, and we’ve got to make sure they mature at the right pace.

It's all on the vets shoulders right now, no excuses, and the Sabres brass are of the mind-set that it's either sink or swim for the guys on the ice.

This evening's contest with the Detroit Red Wings provides a "golden" opportunity for a reprieve from the torment that is Buffalo Sabres hockey. Then again, Detroit is 10-1-1 in their last 12 vs. Buffalo.

Overall, the Red Wings are 10-7-7 this season but are on a slide having gone 2-3-5 in their last ten games, and according to Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News they will be without Pavel Datsyuk which doesn't help them (although it will be offset by the return of Sabre-killer Daniel Alfredsson.)

Also, according to Vogl, they will be without Todd "Big Bert" Bertuzzi while defenseman Danny DeKeyser is still out with a shoulder injury.

Detroit is 11th in the conference in goal differential (-9) and 22nd in the league in plus/minus (-8) which is very un-Redwing like.

Add it all up and the Sabres have an opportunity to pull one out this evening having to pull on those ugly sweaters.

But, then again...they may not have hit rock bottom yet.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The party's over in Buffalo

It only took interim head coach Ted Nolan four games to witness what most Sabres fans have been witnessing for four years:  There are too many veteran players who've had it too easy and have been taking things for granted.

The legacy of former GM Darcy Regier's "core" is that of mediocrity and a laissez-faire attitude. Former coach Lindy Ruff somehow managed to get the most out of a core group consisting of mostly prima donna's.

But Nolan has seen enough.

“The gloves are officially off,” he said after last night's 4-1 loss at Philadelphia. "We have to change some things, and the players are either going to do it or it’s going to be a very, very long year. And they might not be here.”

Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald believes that Nolan just threw a shot across the bow of the SS Slacker saying that "Nolan's strong words mean the Sabres will start making moves."

"Bet on it," he concludes, "In the next week or so, the hapless Buffalo Sabres will trade or waive at least one underachieving veteran."

And it's about time.

Only one "core" player remains from the group team president Ted Black dubbed, "The Rochester Guys." And that's goalie Ryan Miller.

Miller is the only one left standing because he's the only one who brought, and still brings, compete every game.

Unfortunately, he'll probably be traded by the trade deadline. And he probably should be. For his own sake and for his willingness to ride this sinking ship until management throws him a lifeboat.

The group that followed "the core" has really picked up some bad habits and it would seem as if that's the group that Nolan is directing his consternation at.

That grouping is lead by Drew Stafford, one year short of a "Rochester Guy" and Ville Leino, a player who represents the perils of free agency.

Although Stafford is about as inconsistent as they come, he does show signs of life and has actually put up goals and points during his career in Buffalo. He will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season and could probably fetch something at the 2015 trade deadline.

Leino, on the other hand, just simply isn't doing it.

Hoppe points out that he has a mere two points in 11 games, has six shots all season and was dropped all the way down to the fourth line. "Leino," writes Hoppe, "is untradeable given his six-year, $27 million contract. He’s almost certainly getting bought out this offseason. Perhaps the Sabres will just cut their losses now."

Not only does Nolan have a problem with inconsistencies and slacking, he also has a problem with stupidity, as in dumb penalties.

Last night they had seven minor penalties and Nolan was none too thrilled with that, “Penalties are going to stop (or) people who are doing it are not going to be in the lineup. It’s plain and simple as that.”

Leino had a dumb slashing penalty last night. Myers was called for cross-checking a Flyer by the Sabres net (a weak call at best) and he was whistled for tripping Brayden Schenn.

Both Cody McCormick and Henrik Tallinder shot the puck over the glass in the first period, while Cody Hodgson and Mike Weber were called for holding and tripping, respectively.

Nolan should slap his own hand as well. While short-handed the Sabres were whistled for too many men on the ice.

All of this has been going on for years and it was quite the party whilst momma Regier was in charge.

But the party's over.

If Nolan is true to his words, chips will be flying as veterans who've had it too good for too long get the axe.

And that's a good thing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two possible GM candidates for Buffalo who haven't gotten much (if any) press

For obvious reasons, two assistant GM's with ties to Buffalo are at the forefront of the Sabres quest for a General Manager.

Jason Botterill is a 37 yr. old assistant GM in Pittsburgh and has his name on the Stanley Cup. Botterill is a former first-round pick (#20 overall, Dallas, 1994) and played in 88 NHL games including 36 games for the Sabres between 2002-2004.

His forte' is cap management and, according to Amy Moritz of the Buffalo News, player development.

Jim Benning was hired away from the Sabres by Boston in 2006 after spending 12 years in the Sabres amateur scouting department--the last eight as director of amateur scouting.

Benning was responsible for input into the drafting of former GM Darcy Regier's core from 1998-2006.

The suave' Rick Dudley
during his playing days.

Another GM candidate who's name has been thrown around left and right is Montreal AGM, Rick Dudley. "Duds" was drafted by the Sabres and played in 279 games in six seasons for Buffalo.

He also coached the Sabres from 1989-1991 compiling a 85-72-31 record in 168 games. His teams made the playoffs in both his full seasons, getting bounced in the first round each time.

Duds has an impressive resume' as an executive including helping a turnaround in Ottawa for the 1998-99 season. He was also the driving force behind the building of two Stanley Cup Champions:  Tampa Bay, 2003 and Chicago, 2010.

Two other names who may be on Director Pat LaFontaine's radar are Toronto AGM Claude Loiselle and Philadelphia AGM, Ron Hextall.

Loiselle started his career as a scout for Anaheim before taking an AGM position in 2010 with the Maple Leaves under former GM Brian Burke.

He was a pretty tough customer during his 13 years as an NHL player, including two-handing Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke. He's also said to be a tough contract negotiator.

For more on him, click here.

Ron Hextall was one of the toughest competitors in the NHL. He played 13 seasons in the league winning the Vezina in his rookie year (1986-87) and winning the Conn Smythe that same year for a Flyers team that lost in seven games to the Edmonton Oilers in the Finals.

Hextall was also the first goaltender to score a goal into an empty net and the first one to do so in the playoffs as well.

He was an sonofabitch in net as well collecting over 100 penalty minutes in each of his first three seasons.

In 2006 he was named Vice President and Assistant GM in Los Angeles. He has his name engraved on the Cup for the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.

Hextall is presently Assistant GM/Director of Hockey Ops in Philadelphia under GM Paul Holmgren.

Upon hearing the news that the Buffalo Sabres had cleaned house and were in the market for a GM, Hextall was approached by Rob Parent of the Delaware County Daily Times about the opening.

Hextall was quoted as saying that he's 'at peace right now with where he's at,' but also revealed that he still has a fire deep down to be a GM.

'I still want to be a general manager,' he said. 'I’ll say that until I either become one or I decide that the dream’s over.'

Parent brought up the open GM position in Buffalo saying "it might be the job of choice for an assistant GM with a championship resume'."

To which Hextall replied, 'I really haven’t given it any thought. I have no plans yet to go anywhere else. If anybody calls I’ll look at it and talk to Homer.'

Hextall has worked his way up the ranks since retiring from hockey in 1999. He started scouting for Philadelphia that same year and was named Director of Professional Player Personnel three years later before moving to Los Angeles in 2006.

Hextall, Loiselle and Dudley all played the game with a serious edge. And if the Sabres heirarchy truly want a team that is "tougher to play against," and if a team is said to be a mirror image of their GM, than one of these three is the answer.

And with interim coach Ted Nolan weilding the wrecking ball on Regier's 16 year experiment, one of those three will probably fit right in with the plan LaFontaine has.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Does Buffalo really want Jim Benning as GM?

Former Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting, Jim Benning, will be interviewing with Pat LaFontaine for the GM opening in Buffalo. He was granted permission by the Boston Bruins, his present employer.

Benning has been with the Bruins since the July 2006 when he was hired as director of player personnel. One year later he was named Assistant GM under Peter Chiarelli.

Before that, Benning was with the Sabres organization for 12 seasons. From 1994-1998 he was a scout for the club. The final eight seasons he was Buffalo's head scout under former GM Darcy Regier.

While Regier was busy dismantling "the hardest working team in hockey," Benning was the voice in Regier's ear concerning the drafting of the players that were to form "the core"--Regier's "vaunted" group of players that folded after the new-NHL went away.

From 1999-2006 Benning was responsible for some gems outside the first round and into the latter rounds like Ryan Miller (#138) in 1999, Derek Roy (#32) and Jason Pominville (#55) in 2001, Dennis Wideman (#241) in 2002 and Andrej Sekera (#72) in 2004.

All of those players, core players, save for Miller are gone. And Miller looks to be on the way out as well.

The Sabres are headed into the next two drafts with a bevy of first and second-rounders (trading Miller and/or Matt Moulson and/or any other player will probably add to that total.)

As head scout for Regier, Benning was responsible for guiding the Sabres draft. Here's a list of players selected in the first two rounds for Buffalo under Benning's stewardship:
  • 1999--Barret Heitsen (#20,) Milan Bartovic (#35,) Doug Janik (#55,) Mike Zigomanis (#64)
  • 2000--Artem Kryukov (#15,) Girard Dicaire (#48)
  • 2001--Jiri Novotny (#22,) Roy, Chris Thorburn (#50,) Pominville
  • 2002--Keith Ballard (#11,) Daniel Paille (#20)
  • 2003--Thomas Vanek (#5,) Branislav Fabry (#65)
  • 2004--Drew Stafford (#13,) Michael Funk (#43)
  • 2005--Marek Zagrapan (#13,) Phillip Gogula (#48)
  • 2006--Dennis Persson (#24,) Jonas Enroth (#46,) Mike Weber (#57)

Of that group only Stafford, Enroth and Weber remain.

If you were wondering why the Sabres are 5-17-1 right now and in full rebuild mode, take a look at that group.

The core that former GM Darcy Regier and his head amateur scout Jim Benning built is gone after years of vanilla, middling play.

So, just to get this straight, the departed GM Regier, brainchild of "the core," leaves the Sabres with a ton of draft picks for that failed group, and now they're interviewing the guy responsible for the amateur draft legwork to possibly rebuild the team?

I don't get it.

Tallinder and Weber should be thanking their lucky stars as the Sabres send four youngins down

With defenseman Mike Weber coming back from injury, the Buffalo Sabres needed to make a roster move.

Which they did. In fact they made four moves sending 18 yr. old defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to Rochester along with 21 yr. old forward Johan Larsson.

Joining those two in Rochester will be 19 yr. old forward Mikhail Grigorenko, who is allowed to play in the minors on a 14-day conditioning stint. Afterwards he will either be with Buffalo or will be headed back to junior.

18 yr. old defenseman Nikita Zadorov was sent to his junior club, the London Knights, and it is assumed that he will be there for the rest of the season. London will be hosting the Memorial Cup this season and will be getting an automatic bid to the tournament.

New bench-boss Ted Nolan had mentioned that the team was alot younger than he thought and hinted that some changes would be made.

He also mentioned that there are some players in Rochester who's play has earned them a call-up. Although no names were mentioned, forward Luke Adam is tied for the AHL with 13 goals and defenseman Brayden McNabb has been playing a solid all-around game while rediscovering his grit.

The moves sure did make some vets happy.

Henrik Tallinder, who was benched in New Jersey last season before big-daddy Darcy Regier rescued him via tradel, thought that the youngsters had it a bit too easy making the Sabres, "It’s not about getting the spot; it’s about earning the spot,” he said.

Ole' Hank is a former 2nd round pick of the Buffalo Sabres (#48, 1997) who happened to be developing (1 yr. in Rochester) while Regier was dismantling "the hardest working team in hockey," a team that was coached at one time by Nolan.

His game has been in decline ever since the 2009/10 season, which happens to coincide with the decline of the hands-off, "new-NHL."

Tallinder is still a non-hitter (read:  wuss,) is slow and at times flops around like a rookie out there.

He's lucky he's a vet. Ristolainen has similar attributes as Tallinder, but also adds a serious edge to his game. Risto has played at least as well as Hank, and were they contemporaries, Tallinder would've been waived, given the choice.

Veteran defenseman Mike Weber has been nothing short of a train wreck this season. About the only thing that saved him from having a worse plus/minus rating than his present minus-12 (third-worst in the league) is the fact that he's been injured and has missed half of the Sabres 22 games.

"You got to develop in the minors," said Weber, "You got to play junior. You got to earn the right to be here."

Yeah, I guess if you're Mike Weber you needed to.

Yet, most Sabres fans can handle an 18 yr. old Zadorov, his one goal and minus-4 rating in seven games, learning the NHL game.

He likes to hit, just like Weber.

Tallinder and Weber are lucky they're on a crappy team with so much youth, otherwise their play would've gotten them waived by now.

Nolan, though, put it all in perspective. The Sabres have always been known as a team that will take their time developing players, and it would seem as if the new regime featuring Pat LaFontaine as Director of Hockey Ops wants to get back to that.

"Whether I saw them or not," said Nolan, "I don’t think it really made much of a difference. We look at where we are with this organization and where we have to go to, and proper development is so important.”

Tallinder and Weber should be thanking their lucky stars.

Thanks to Bill Hoppe for his article