Saturday, March 30, 2013

Miller-time in the home of Budweiser?

It was a good week to be on a Pennsylvania road-trip.

Taking in Gettysburg, munching on Philly cheesesteaks, clanging the Liberty Bell and visiting the Stoogeum was a much better way to spend the week than watching Buffalo flounder in the Sunshine State.

The Sabres garnered one of a possible four points in Florida.

As much as I love Bill Hoppe and his buffalohockeybeat blog, it's hard to think that this coming weekend is "make or break" for the team with the April 3 trade deadline fast approaching.

"Make or break," really, was this past Tuesday and Thursday, and it may turn out to be "break."

Riding a three game winning streak into the week, the Sabres proceeded to sleepwalk through 56:52 of the Tampa game before scoring in a 2-1 loss to the Lightening.

Two nights later, they dropped a 5-4 decision in the shootout to the last place Panthers.

With Buffalo playing a surging Washington tonight and the always-tough Boston Bruins tomorrow, my bet is on another "break."

Which leads us to the trade deadline on Wednesday.

And, quite possibly the trade of longtime Sabre goalie, Ryan Miller.

Writer Chris Peters of cbssportsline put Miller in his Five remaining targets for the deadline. The Sabres goaltender comes in at #2 behind Calgary Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

Calgary, it might be added, raised the white flag on this season by trading captain Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins this past week.

As for Miller, he (as well as Jason Pominville) has a limited no-trade clause in which he (and Pominville) names eight teams he won't accept a trade to.

According to Andy Strickland (via Peters,) "Ryan Miller gave the Sabres a list of 8 teams he wont accept a trade to before the season. Buffalo has 22 options if they want to deal him." (actually 21, but who's counting.)

Twenty-one options for GM Darcy Regier, but very few, if any, teams in the market for a #1 goalie with one more year left on a contract at a $6.25M cap-hit.

Nearly three weeks ago,'s Nick Kypreos got the ball rolling by saying that Miller's name is popping up in the trade-market.

Brian Stubits of cbssportsline followed that up in a piece on Miller with question-marks surrounding the team and also pointing to a very thin market for goalies.

Back on March 15, I surmised that despite a thin market for goalies, especially with playoff-bound and playoff-hopeful teams, there is one team that should get a hard look--the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues play the best team-defense in the league giving up a league-leading 24 shots per game.

But their goaltending is suspect as they're 18th in the league in goals-against (2.79/game.)

St. Louis started out with last seasons' goaltending tandem sensation of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. But they have faltered.

The Blues brought up rookie goalie Jake Allen who was terrific at first, but is declining.

Their individual save percentage goes like this:
  • Allen--  .906%
  • Halak--  .896
  • Elliott--  .851
As of late, the Blues are losers of three straight and are off until Monday.

In their three losses, Halak gave up three goals on 17 shots (.824 sv. %) at Calgary, Allen gave up three goals on seven shots before getting yanked in a 3-0 loss to Edmonton and Halak stopped 31 of 34 shots vs. Los Angeles.

Also of note, Elliot has been sent down on a conditioning stint.

St. Louis and their team-defense in front of a positional goalie like Miller would form a pretty stout line of defense. Miller and his .911 sv,% (on a team that gives up the second most shots/game in the league--33.0) would go well with the Blues' 2.79 goals/game (the Sabres score at a 2.56 goals/game clip.)

Buffalo, in return, could tap into the organizational depth of the Blues up-front--maybe a David Perron, Patrick Berglund or Jaden Schwartz--and probably receive a pick in the 2013 draft (as well as taking Halak off of their hands.)

Right now, St. Louis has the chips because of the thin goalie market, but if they falter in net on Monday, they might consider dealing for a playoff-proven veteran goalie like Miller and have Allen serve as his back-up.

Maybe St. Louis and Buffalo can pull off one of those coveted "hockey trades" that is good for both teams and good for the sport as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It's was a good week for the Buffalo Sabres

After penning a piece where a rebuild was a foregone conclusion in this writer's eyes, the Sabres went out and grabbed all six points in their three games this week.

During their second three game winning streak of the season, Buffalo took two from Montreal--in Montreal--and a home game vs. Toronto. Two of the games went past regulation as they beat the Habs in overtime and the Leaves in a shootout.

A look at the standings as of this morning has Buffalo in 10th place, two points behind 8th place Carolina and the 9th place NY Rangers.


Here's the rub.

Both the 'Canes and the Rags have two games in hand.

Washington and the NY Islanders (who both play today) are one point behind Buffalo in the standings. They have one game in hand.

The Sabres will have a better grip on where they are in the standings tonight a spot that could end up being 10th or 12th.

Probably the best way to look at it right now is how many points they're behind the lowest seeded team who's played the same number of games.

That would be the 6th place NJ Devils.

The Devils are presently six points ahead of the Sabres. Considering that they also own the tiebreaker--total number of wins in regulation and overtime (ROW)--Buffalo actually sits seven points back.

Of note, the Sabres have nine ROW which is second last in the conference (FLA, 8.) In effect, for now we'll need to add one point in the chase as Buffalo would loose a tiebreaker with any of the clubs ahead of them.


A quick look back at the games.

This past Tuesday the Sabres travelled to Montreal and came a way with a 3-2 victory in overtime.

Steve Ott cemented himself as a burgeoning cult hero in Buffalo with two goals--including the overtime winner--and the game's first star.

Back-up goalie Jhonas Enroth got the win after facing 34 shots, none more difficult as he gloved Brian Gionta's shot from in tight late in the third.

In the words of Ott, “Jhonas was awesome tonight.”

The Canadians applied tons of pressure this game and were blasting shots from all angles at Enroth. In addition to the 34 shots on net, Montreal fired another 24 that missed the net (mostly high as they tried to go top-shelf on a smaller Enroth.) Buffalo blocked 23 shots as well.

The win by Buffalo snapped Montreal's five-game winning streak.

Thursday vs. Toronto was probably the most entertaining game of the season as the Sabres topped the Leaves in the shootout.

There were hits. There were fights. There were eight goals scored.

Plenty of skating back and forth. Plenty of ill-will and plenty of smack talk and gestures as well as an ejection of Toronto's Colton Orr for jumping Patrick Kaleta.

In one of the weirdest calls ever, Ott was given a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for blowing a kiss at Leaves defensman Dion Phaneuf.

It was that kind of a game.

Unlike the previous game in Montreal, the Sabres actually came back from a two-goal deficit in this one (twice,) took the lead with three unanswered, and then gave up the game-tying goal in the third period.

Ott had the decisive goal in the shootout while Ryan Miller stopped former Sabre Clarke MacArthur in Toronto's final attempt.

Drew Stafford, a shootout-hunch for interim head coach Ron Rolston, came through in the clutch with the Sabres needing a shootout tally. He ripped a shot with authority that barely trickled over the line allowing the Sabres to eventually win 5-4 in the shootout.

And what did Stafford get for his clutch shootout goal?

A spot on the bench.

He's the fourth vet benched as a healthy scratch by Rolston joining Jordan Leopold, Jochen Hecht and Patrick Kaleta with that dubious distinction.

In a weird scheduling sequence, the Sabres then travelled back to Montreal for last night's contest.

Once again the Canadians were all over the Sabres registering 39 shots on goal on Miller. Most of them were on the outside, but Miller made some outstanding stops and earned the game's first star allowing only one goal.

The team also blocked 31 Montreal shots.

In classic rope-a-dope fashion, the Sabres took the punches and capitalized when opportunities came. 

Thomas Vanek came back from a hip injury to score Buffalo's only two goals--one on a tip on a 5-on-3, the other on a beautiful play with linemates Tyler Ennis and Ville Leino. (click here for the highlights)

Three games, six points and a confusing spot in the standings right now.


Some notes:

Rolston took over a mess when he came in as interim coach and he's had little time between games for practices with meaning.

With a multitude of problems to address, he started with defense as a jumping off point.

He has brought simplicity and positioning back to the blueline and the team has progressively gotten better.

The shots on goal are still high, but most are from the perimeter.

Two other notes on that:  the Sabres affinity for a "Keystone Cops" display in their own end has diminished and their play on odd-man rushes has improved dramatically.

That has lead to Ryan Miller being more confident in his defense corps and a return of simplicity to his game.

The second area Rolston addressed in limited practice time is the powerplay.

A once woeful powerplay now has goals in four consecutive games.

In addition, he's managed to get some chemistry with his line combinations with all four lines contributing in one way or another.

It looks as if his back-to-basics/fundamentals approach is starting to pay dividends.

There are still holes throughout the lineup, but team play and quality goaltending help minimize their impact.


Mark Pysyk

Sabres rookie defenseman Mark Pysyk seems well-versed in the fundamentals of hockey.

A defensive-defenseman, Pysyk has shown a knack for being in the right spot on the ice. He positions his body very well around the puck, and makes the smart play in his own zone.

Pysyk was known for his poise in Juniors and it would seem as if Rolston has been able to help him bring that into the pros--first in Rochester now with Buffalo.

He still gets beat on occasion, which is par for the course for a rookie in his first pro season, but it would seem as if he's using his foundation as a rock-solid building block.

Although it might be early, his play has some thinking that his defense partner, Jordan Leopold, may be a player on the move as the deadline approaches.


Other individual player notes:
  • Tyler Myers' game is improving--from healthy-scratch-worthy to pretty solid. He still makes mental gaffes--like the one last night where he was caught indecisive in his own zone--but they're less frequent. He's simplifying his game and his confidence is building.
  • Tyler Ennis has 24 points (9g, 15a) in 31 games this season, and boy is he a whiz with the puck. Vanek, when asked whether he saw the opening last night behind the Montreal d, said that he knew Ennis would find him, "Tyler's a smart player and he made a great pass."
  • Ville Leino is back in the lineup and skating well. In five games back he has four assists and is showing his puck-possession skills. He seems to have found new life on a line with Vanek and Ennis. He still needs to find the back of the net, but after missing the first half of the season, that should come along soon.
  • Jason Pominville scored his first goal in eight games as he rifled a wristshot past Toronto's James Reimer with authority. It was a pretty passing play with him and Cody Hodgson playing keep away in the Toronto zone. Even so, Pominville is drawing the ire of some Sabres fans with some hoping that he will be the first of the "Big 3" (Miller and Vanek the other two) that might get moved at the deadline. Also there are many wanting a new captain, namely Steve Ott.
  • Speaking of captains, alternate captain Drew Stafford had his ass planted in the press box last night. Despite showing some signs of life lately (two goals in a one game and the aforementioned shootout goal) Stafford is having a mostly forgettable season. Rolston said this about his benching of the big right-winger, "We want everyone to play and play hard." This is nothing new, Stafford not "playing hard." A player with his size and skill set should easily be a consistent 25-30+ goal scorer. Maybe a change of scenery would help. He's also been mentioned as a player that could be on the move.
  • Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is heating up. After going pointless in 10 straight games (Feb. 19 to March 10,) he garnered a goal and four assists with a plus-2 rating in his next six. His goal was a wicked blast from the point vs. Toronto and last night he took just enough off of his shot to allow for a Vanek deflection.


NY Rangers winger Marion Gaborik is possiby on the trade market.

Rumors began swirling in early March saying Rags GM Glen Sather was "sniffing around to see what kind of value [Gaborik] has on the market."

A little over a week ago, SNYRangers quoted TSN's Pierre LeBrun on the Gaborik situation, "it was put to me this way by a couple of sources, I don’t think the Rangers are calling every team in the league and shopping Marian Gaborik, however, if they can get what they are looking for and use Gaborik to do it, they will.”

He added, “so he is available in my book."

Gaborik has a year and a half left on his contract with a cap-hit of $7.5M

He's also a 6'1", 205 lb. right wing sniper. For five years running (four with Minnesota, one with NY) beginning with the 2005/06 season he was over a point/game player. Last season he had 41 goals and 35 assists.

This year is somewhat of an off year for Gaborik. On a goal-starved team he has only nine goals in 30 games.

Gaborik has been bouncing from one wing to another and one might wonder if the acquisition of RW Rick Nash has anything to do with his average at best performance so far this season.

One of the Sabres' downfalls over the last seven-plus seasons is the inability to beat a hot and/or top-notch goalie on more than a few occasions during the course of the season. The only one that has the pure goal-scoring ability to do it is Thomas Vanek.

Adding Gaborik would certainly help in that area, especially with the emergence of Cody Hodgson as a bonafide top-six, possible top-line center to get him the puck.

It's pretty cool to speculate at this time of year and coming up with a line of Vanek, Hodgson, Gaborik is pretty enticing.

Some of the obstacles that make it far-fetched for a Gaborik to Buffalo deal: 
  • The Rangers are in the eastern conference
  • prior to the season Gaborik submitted a list of eight teams he didn't want to be traded to as part of his no-movement clause, and odds would be that the Sabres are on it
  • he carries a $7.5M cap hit until the end of next season
  • Buffalo, or almost any team, would have difficulty fitting his contract in
  • Rags GM Glen Sather is said to be wanting a "hockey trade" and is interested in a top-nine forward with some "grit" and a top-four defenseman who can work the point on the powerplay.
Would they consider Drew Stafford a top-nine forward with "grit?" Or Jordan Leopold as a top-four d-man who can man the powerplay?

Doubtful, but strange things happen at this time of year.

At one point I was doubtful Robyn Regehr would come to Buffalo.


Monday, March 18, 2013

There should no longer be a question as to "if" the Sabres will rebuild...

the question remains, WHO will do the rebuilding?

It's been over two years since Terry Pegula took over the Buffalo Sabres, and the team has been in decline since their playoff ouster at the hands of Philadelphia in 2011.

Changes have happened, including big changes like the firing of long-time coach Lindy Ruff, but the team is on a course to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. And worse, the Sabres look to headed for the bottom of the league.

With the trade deadline approaching, rumors are rampant concerning the Sabres and terms like "For Sale" and "Fire Sale" are being bantered about.

There aren't really many more changes to be made:  the remaining "core" of Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pomiville; Jochen Hecht; GM Darcy Regier.

After what's transpired with this team over the past two seasons, even stretching back to the post Drury/Briere season, the biggest question for the team may be who will be in charge of the rebuild.

And for Sabres fans who've been watching inconsistent at best, awful at worst, hockey for the last six-plus seasons the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason floats this "frightening possibility":   Darcy Regier.

He bases this on what Sabres Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer thinks about Regier. Gleason states that "[Sawyer] has told people he believes Regier is a 'hockey genius.'" "It’s enough to question Sawyer’s credibility," continued Gleason, "especially after Regier signed a contract extension for missing the playoffs."

Gleason didn't even mention the "golden parachute" extension Regier received from former team president Larry Quinn as the sale of the team was being negotiated.

But Sawyer is part of Terry Pegula's "inner circle," is a hockey confidant and was brought on board to help guide the new owner as he entered the world of sports ownership.

After watching this team over the Regier years, I don't get it, and most Sabres fans probably don't get it either.

Regier, it would seem, saved his ass at last year's trade deadline with the Paul Gaustad and Zack Kassian trades. Yes, he's done some things in the past, but it would seem as if Sawyer may have been blinded by those two moves.

And there's no question that Regier can make moves, it's never been about that. It's more the type of player he's filled the team with over the years.

From the decision to keep Ales Kotalik over JP Dumont to puck-mover Jaro Spacek to Brad Boyes to the return of Hecht, this team has been littered with "soft-but-skilled" players during the lockout-to-lockout years. Those players were combined with an already soft-but-skilled core group.

When it was "the New NHL" from 2005-2007, the team could excel with those types of players. As the league transitioned back to a more physical, demanding style, the team withered.

Although Regier is slowly divesting itself from "the core," the process has been slow and the results have been a failure thus-far.

"Harder to play against" was supposedly the theme of this year's group. Yet they kept the same leadership group lead by meek, mild-mannered team captain Jason Pominville.

Regier comes off as a meek, mild-mannered GM and the team that he built is a mirror image.

And if the meek inherit the earth, it's far removed from the "hockey heaven" platitude ownership came riding in on.

Is there other GM out there with a different personality and/or persona to bring in who can build a team full a different type of hockey player?

Or should Pegula aim higher and start by getting a real hockey man to take over the operations and dictate to "hockey genius" Regier what moves are needed to build a real hockey team that's "hard to play against?

Maybe the bigger question to ask is:  What kind of team does owner Terry Pegula want?

It's been said that "the Flyers style of play" is what got him into hockey. Then he said that the Sabres and The French Connection became his "hockey love."

Will he want one style over the other? Will he want a hybrid?

A quote from his first presser has essentially been largely forgotten, but is one that should be the foundation with which to build a championship calibre team in the NHL, "I want to keep not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players."
Before Pegula blows any more money on players, maybe he should direct his finances more towards the person who will acquire those "statistically good players; those winners, gritty players" during the rebuild.

Whether that person is Darcy Regier, Asst. GM Kevin Devine or someone outside the organization like Ron Hextall or Claude Loiselle is yet to be determined, but will find out soon.


Some quick notes:
  • Mikhail Grigorenko recorded a goal and three assists in his return to Quebec. He likes that the Sabres decided to send him back saying, "“I’m real happy that Buffalo sent me here instead of keeping me there and playing me five minutes. It probably would’ve been good if they would’ve given me a chance, put me on 10 minutes. If the Sabres didn’t think I’m ready, I’m glad to be here and get some ice time.”
  • The morning guys on WGR floated the notion that Quebec Remparts head coach Patrick Roy might be a candidate should interim Sabres head coach Ron Rolson not be retained. They said that it was based upon a comment by their colleague Mike Schoppsie. Schoppsie noticed that Regier always mentions talking to Roy. And he does it a lot.
  • Ryan Miller was irate last night. He let it all out after yesterday's loss even chiming in on team mate Patrick Kaleta who was a healthy scratch following his five-game suspension by the NHL. After Kaleta mentioned being "pissed" that he wasn't playing earlier in the day, Miller fired back post-game, "We’re not even discussing what Patty says, you guys. That’s just drama and he needs to just grow up if he’s gonna say that to you guys. You know what? He had a stupid play in a game. He sat, he was punished. He has to get over it and move on. We handled it. He doesn’t have to go to you guys and say that stuff. There: I’m addressing it now and I’ll go and talk to him about it. There’s no reason to say that."
  • Paul Hamilton came right out and called for the Sabres to trade captain Jason Pominville after last night's game. "[Pominville's] checked out (29:20-mark)," said Hamilton. "It's not that he's not trying, not that he doesn't care; he doesn't know what to do anymore. He thinks they're better than they are and he's just totally lost. What that tells me is, by April 3rd (trade deadline,) he should no longer be a Buffalo Sabre." I've felt that way about Pominville as well. His value is still pretty high as a top-six, two-way player, but we'll see if Regier rides his stock to the bottom like he's done with others.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Quick hits: Grigorenko to the "Q"; Brennan takes his slapshot to South Beach, Pysyk gets his shot

Ville Leino's return to the lineup yesterday left the team with too many roster players.

Instead of sending Brian Flynn or Marcus Foligno to Rochester, or waiving a player--sayyyy, Jochen Hecht--the Sabres instead chose to send rookie Mikhail Grigorenko back the Quebec to finish off his junior year with the Remparts.

Grigorenko made marginal strides in his play, but never showed that "wow" factor. Sending him back to junior should further his development for a return to the Sabres or a slot with Rochester either this season or next.

The overall view for the organization is that returning the 18 yr. old back to junior would further help his development. Said Darcy Regier, “This is driven by what is best for Mikhail and best for his career.”

Regier added, “He surprised all of us by being here for the length of time he has been here, and depending how far they go in the playoffs, he will be here after the season."

The Sabres burned a year on his 3-year entry-level contract, which didn't seem to bother the Sabres' GM, “It was an experiment,” he said. “There certainly are benefits. He certainly has a very good understanding of what it takes to play in the National Hockey League going forward. I think it’s very important, and he agreed, that he spend as much time as possible here in the off season training and preparing for next season.”

Interim head coach Ron Rolston agreed with the move, “With the way we were at as a team, it was difficult to give him the opportunity that he probably needed developmentally,” he said. “We just thought for our organization right now, the best thing would be for him to go and play in the playoffs and get playoff experience, and really be … a really big part of that team and be in every situation. …

“And also to go back there and be a leader, and to go back, have the right attitude and really help the young players there and just build his leadership skills.”

Kris Baker of, who follows the youngins, says that having Grigorenko with the big club for an extended stay wasn't such a bad thing, "While Grigorenko didn't stick with the big club, the two-month NHL experiment should not be deemed a failure," he said. [Grigorenko's] skating especially his stops and starts, became much improved while his exposure to an elevated pace should lead to a continued dominance at the junior level."

There was really no mistake keeping him up after his five game "audition." They made a mistake in thinking there was a stable situation with which to develop him. It's been anything but. It's a bad situation right now with Lindy Ruff getting fired, an interim coach, the team near the bottom of the league and big changes probably on the horizon.

Get the kid away from the toxic environment at the foot of Washington St. and bring him back when things stabilize, whether it be at the end of the season or end of the summer.


Regier also did something that was very "un-Regier-like" last week. He made a trade.

TJ Brennan, a 2007 second-round pick (#31 overall) was sent to Florida for a 2013 fifth-round draft pick.

Not only is it very unusual for Regier to make a trade this far in front of the trade deadline, it's also unusual for the team to give up on a prospect, especially one which they've been developing for the past five seasons.

Good for the organization and good for Brennan.

The defenseman was reunited with his Portland Pirates AHL coach, Kevin Dineen, and last night he played over 23 minutes, scored a goal and was named the game's 2nd star.

Not a bad start. 

Rolston kinda thought that it would be good for Brennan to play for Dineen again.

(via Bill Hoppe, buffalohockeybeat) "It’s a real good opportunity for him,” Rolston said yesterday afternoon. “He played with Kevin in Portland, and they have a good feel for what he can do. I’m excited. He’ll have a good opportunity there.”

Will Brennan be able to transfer his AHL scoring prowess to the NHL?

“I think so, and there were signs of it here,” Rolston said. “It’s just we were in a situation we probably couldn’t use him to the full amount in those capacities with where we were. I think eventually for him that’ll show up. They’re a real good team power play team, too, in Florida, so I’m sure they’ll use him properly.”

Brennan is considered a "powerplay specialist" who has a "booming" shot from the point.

The problem in Buffalo was that he wasn't better than the six or seven d-men in front of him and he contracted Alexi Zhitnik disease--his "booming" slapshot rarely hit the net.

When people start talking about "powerplay specialist" and "booming slapshot," the first thing that pops into my head is Ales Kotalik.

Al MacInnis-type slapshots from the point rarely get through in today's NHL with all the clogging in front of the net. A quick release is more important. Or, in the case of Mike Weber last night, a well timed wrister works just as well.

In any case, TJ Brennan and is "booming" slapshot are now in South Beach.


The trade of Brennan and another injury to Andrej Sekera has opened up a spot for a young d-man.

Rookie Mark Pysyk was recalled from the Amerks and will be in the lineup tonight as a fill-in for Sekera.

Pysyk is 21 yrs. old and has not even had a full year in Rochester yet, but he's been playing some real good hockey over there. He has 18 points and a plus-8 rating in 57 games for the Amerks, and Rolston has often commented on his poise when on the ice.

(via Paul Hamilton, WGR)
"I had [Pysyk] there for quite a bit and he's playing very well for them. He's a real smart defenseman who skates very well, good puck-mover, good defender so he's got a complete game." Rolston added, "He keeps the game really easy on himself, he's real efficient."

Good luck to Pysyk in his first NHL game tonight.


Gritty forward Patrick Kaleta has finished serving his five game suspension for the hit on the Rangers Brad Richards.

But, unfortunately for him, he'll be a healthy scratch at Washington as Rolston is sending the agitator a message.

The coach had this to say about Kaleta's missed time, "He understands what just happened and the way he’s got to play. But again, we want to balance the way he plays and not take that away from him either because that’s what makes him a valuable hockey player in this league."

The Sabres lost the Rangers game in OT and went 1-2-2 during Kaleta's suspension, a fact not lost on Rolston, "it’s a situation where he understands that sitting out five games for him wasn’t a good thing and it wasn’t a good thing for our team." The coach added, "We have to make adjustments and he has to make adjustments going forward.”

There's a new sheriff in town there, Patty.

Kaleta's response, "“I’m (ticked) off. I want to play,” Kaleta told reporters this afternoon in Washington. “And especially after watching some things, sitting there watching the game, I want to play.”

Friday, March 15, 2013

News and notes--The Ides of March edition

Is it any wonder that the Sabres are near the bottom of the eastern conference?

Maybe. But a look at how they've fared over the last couple of seasons vs. the east might have given an indication as to what this season would look like.

We'll stretch back to the first post-lockout season with the two Drury/Briere years:
  • 2005/06:  46-21-5
  • 2006/07:  47-19-6
The "New Core" years:
  • 2007/08:  35-25-12
  • 2008/09:  32-24-8
The Vezina Year:
  • 2009/10:  35-22-7
The Decline:
  • 2010/11:  33-24-7
  • 2011/12:  28-26-10
  • 2012/13:  10-14-3
Just an FYI.


They say that the goalie market is thin this season and that pretty much all of the teams have their goalie situations worked out.

Fair enough. Teams in a playoff spot or within must have a level of competency between the pipes to get where they are.

Trading Ryan Miller, if that is what management wants to do, will certainly be difficult without any takers--or any takers within Miller's limited no trade clause.

But while looking at the list of contenders, something interesting jumped out in St. Louis--they have given up more goals against than any team presently in the playoffs in the western conference.

Their goals against average of 2.89 presently ranks 22nd in the league and 13th in the west.

As a team, they're giving up only 24.1 shots/game. Tops in the league.

Which leads us to their goaltending trio's save percentage:
  • Jaroslav Halak:  .881 sv%
  • Brian Elliot:  .851
  • Jake Allen:  .915
A quick contrast.

The Buffalo Sabres have given up the third most shots/game at 33.
  • Ryan Miller:  .914 sv%.
  • Johnas Enroth:  .896
The St. Louis Blues defense is markedly better than the Sabres and the team plays coach Ken Hitchcock's system to a "T".

With the Blues defense as solid as it is, would it be too far-fetched to think that Miller would be having a Vezina-like season?

A battle-tested Miller with that defense and a team that's 7th in the league in scoring (3.00 goal/game) looks a lot better than below average goaltending from Halak and an untested Allen heading into the playoffs.

A couple other quick numbers.
  • The Blues are projected to have approximately $33M in cap-space next season to sign/re-sign 11 players.
  • Miller makes $2.5M more than Halak and both will be UFA's after next season.
One final note.

Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote that, "the Sabres have had scouts at recent games in Los Angeles, Colorado and St. Louis, with the first two clubs getting watched on multiple occasions."

St. Louis being a late entry. Just about the time that reports are coming out about Miller and his future.


In that same article, Harrington connects the dots with Los Angeles and Buffalo:
"Defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell have been out all season with injuries, and the Kings are familiar with [Robyn] Regehr and [Jordan] Leopold from their days with Calgary’s 2004 Cup finalists." He adds, "The Kings would also be intrigued by the addition of Vanek or Pominville as well for their run at another Cup."
As of now, the connection with Colorado seems obscure.

Perhaps Thomas Vanek or Jason Pominville would be a fit in Colorado, with the latter being more plausible.

Vanek is a top-line left winger. The Avs have a young, franchise winger in Gabriel Landeskog who happens to be the captain.

On the other side they have PA Parenteau who's having a great year on their top-line. But behind him is big, top-nine winger David Jones.

A top-six, two-way winger like Pominville would seem to be a much better fit for them.

Looking towards next year's salary cap, the Avs have $13M in cap-space to sign/re-sign four players.


Looking at Regehr, Miller and Pominville, all of them have no trade clauses. Miller and Pominville have limited NTC's, each choosing eight teams they do not wish to be traded to.

Regehr has a full NTC, a clause that was re-upped when he came over from Calgary, a condition he demanded. And according to WGR's Paul Hamilton, he's not been asked to waive it at this time.

Nor, according to Hamilton, has Regehr asked to be traded to a contender. When asked if he'd be open to the possibility, Regehr told Hamilton, “I’m not sure. I think I’d just have to see the situation and see where we’re at here and what situation I would be going to. There’s a lot of moving parts to that, but there’s a no movement clause that would have to be signed and waived. If it does come up it’s not just my decision too, it’s also a family one as well.”

Family has always been big for Regehr, that's why Sabres owner Terry Pegula and his wife Kim flew to Alberta to meet with Regehr's family during the 2011 off-season.


The NHL and NHLPA have finalized the realignment plan they'd been working on. And Buffalo's division just got stronger with the addition of the Detroit Red Wings. Tampa Bay's no cake-walk either. Florida will also join the division next season.

As for Sabres fans, things just got worse.

Looking at the northeast division as it stands right now, the Sabres sit in last place seemingly headed in the wrong direction.

The Montreal Canadians have stormed to the top of the division with a young team by overtaking the reigning division champs, Boston. The B's are only two years removed from their Stanley Cup and have a good mix of battle-tested players.

Ottawa's in third, another young team with strong goaltending and the reigning Norris Trophy winner, Erik Karlsson. They've been holding their own with Karlsson out for the season and #1 center Jason Spezza on IR as well.

After a fast start Toronto has come back down to earth, falling to fourth in the division. But even so, they're still eight points ahead of Buffalo.

The new format will have the top three teams in each division qualifying for the playoffs. Right now it would be Montreal, Boston and Ottawa. On the other side of the conference it would be Pittsburgh, Carolina and New Jersey.

The next two best teams points-wise in the conference would land the seventh and eighth playoff spots, or wild card spots as they will be called. Under the new format, right now it would be Toronto and Winnipeg.

To give you an idea as to what it would take to make the playoffs in this scenario, Buffalo is seven points behind Winnipeg. The teams between them (using next year's realignment) would be Detroit (29 pts.,) NYR (28,) NYI (27,) Philly (25,) Washington (23,) and Tampa Bay (23.) The addition of Detroit would give the Sabres a total of seven teams to jump to get into the playoffs.

With all due respect to the organization and their belief in the current team, ummm...right.

And with that in mind, is there any better time to blow it up and start all over again?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

If the Sabres want to bottom out...

trade goalie Ryan Miller this season.

Pandora's (or Pegula's) Box was opened Tuesday night as Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos opined his thoughts on Ryan Miller's future with the Buffalo Sabres (via cbssportsline's Brian Stubits.)

Kypreos said that the Sabres (along with the Florida Panthers) have put up the "For Sale" sign. Ville Leino is the first name he mentions the Sabres would want to move and then says:
"The other interesting name that's starting to float around is, yes, Ryan Miller. Miller's got another year at over $6M next season, but he's not going to get a contract extension and it's time to move on. They'd dearly love to move him at the deadline, but with that shrinking goaltender market out there it might not be the case. They might have to wait until the summer or even into next season.
But Ryan Miller's days are numbered in Buffalo."
Miller's the first of the "big three" (Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville being the others) to be mentioned as trade candidates by a major news outlet this season. This is the second time in the last year and a half his name has come up.  Back in November, 2011 Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal wrote, "We keep hearing that Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is out with a concussion and wouldn’t mind if the Sabres traded him." That, of course, was while Miller was recovering from getting steamrolled by Boston's Milan Lucic.

Which brings us to the here and now concerning whether or not Miller wants to be in Buffalo. The 32 year old 5th round draft pick (1999) has said in the past that he wants to be a Sabre and wants to win in Buffalo.

But the Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason penned an article yesterday on whether any of the "big three," Miller included, would want to remain with the team when all their contracts expire at the end of next season.

Miller was quoted as saying:
“Do a couple of pieces need to come in? Or do they need to develop? How long is it going to take?” Miller said. “They are things you have to evaluate as you see decisions management makes to give you a timetable. Right now, yeah, it seems longer. But you have the trade deadline, the draft.
Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that’s going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward? Or are we not the core anymore? Who knows? They’re not decisions we make. We react off management and circumstance."
That's a lot of questions and indecision coming from your #1 netminder. Miller's not getting any younger and he's not seeing any positive changes in front of him.

It would seem as if "the Core" will soon be no more. The "big three" are the only "Rochester Guys" left, and with the salary cap set to go down to $64M next season, having over $18M tied up in those three just isn't going to work financially. So at least one of them looks to be on their way out.

The Sabres need to decide whether or not they are in a full-fledged rebuild-mode., Moving Miller at the deadline certainly would cement that as the nine-year veteran goalie has been the cornerstone for the team throughout most of his career.

And moving him should be a boon for the rebuilding process.

First, the obvious.

Miller is a bonafide #1 goalie. He also has ample playoff experience and has put up some pretty good numbers in the playoffs:  47 games, 25-22; 2.46 GAA, .917 sv%; 3 shutouts.

For a statistical comparison, "King" Henrik Lundqvist, who many use as a comparable (and some would say is a much better goalie) has this playoff line:  55 games, 25-30; 2.31 GAA, .917 sv%; 6 shutouts.

A team in need of a bonafide #1 in the playoff chase, or even in the playoffs but with questionable goaltending, would certainly look to Miller as their playoff ticket or a possible Stanley Cup piece for this season and/or next.

The market for a #1 goalie is yet to be determined, but we do know that there doesn't seem to be any #1's available.

Vancouver's Roberto Luongo has been the subject of trade rumors for almost a full year as back-up Cory Schneider excelled in a starting role late last season.

But Schneider's play has tailed off considerably and Luongo is back to being the go-to guy in Vancouver.

With that in mind, if Miller is truly being shopped, he's unequivocally the best goaltender on the market and might even end up being the top player on the market.

Of all the teams either in the playoffs or fighting for a playoff spot, maybe only a handful might be looking for a bonafide #1 goalie. But, with about three weeks until the deadline, much could change including who's in the race and any possible injuries that might affect the teams.

If GM Darcy Regier could find at least two teams looking to upgrade their goaltending, the return could be substantial (see Paul Gaustad and a 4th-round pick to Nashville for a 1st-rounder.)

In addition to the trade return, the team would more than likely be looking at a draft pick within the top-5 and possibly the top two or three.

There's no question that without Miller in net the team would be worse than their 27th place in the league this season. He has stolen a few games and kept them in almost all of the others. It's something that's been going on for most of the post Drury/Briere era.

Stats-geeks will point to his goals against average and save percentage over the last five-plus seasons pointing to slightly above average play, but more often than not, Miller's the reason that the team was even in the playoff hunt those years.

Without Miller, this team would have been near the bottom of the league. He's the main reason that the team has not had a top-five pick in those years.

Fact is, finding a team to take on Miller this season, if that's the intent of management, will help the Sabres bottom out and start a full-fledged rebuilding process.

It's an unpleasant scenario for Buffalo hockey, but unfortunately it may be a necessity as the team divests itself from "the core" and looks towards the future.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's a good season to be a crappy team

As a fan the Buffalo Sabres it's never a good thing to be watching inconsistent at best hockey as the team plummets to the bottom of the NHL standings.

Inconsistent, uninspired play causes more and more fans to become emotionally detached as hope fades, reality sets in and the end is pretty much a foregone conclusion--outside of the playoffs once again.

That's not to mention that the people within the Sabres organization--former coach Lindy Ruff, fourth-liners Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick--are bearing the brunt of the teams demise, going through life changes that not only affect them, but their families as well. And that sux even more for them.

But out of this malaise, one can find a positive. Maybe even a couple of positives.

First off, like my friend Cisco pointed out a few weeks ago, "if you're gonna suck, it might as well be in a shortened season." In this case we Sabres fans will need to sit through a total of 48 games of ineptitude this year as the team seems destined for a top-10 (or higher) pick in the draft. They could even end up with a top-3 pick, and maybe even a #1 overall if the pingpong balls bounce their way.

A poor 2013 campaign should also lead to further changes within the organization and a desperately needed breath of fresh air in the front office.

Ruff was fired while in the midst of his 16th season as bench-boss for the team. His boss, GM Darcy Regier, is in his 16th season as well. No one ever thought that Ruff would be gone while Regier was in charge.

Regier fired Ruff.

And despite the fact that Regier received an extension from Sabres owner Terry Pegula prior to the season, one would believe that another season outside the playoffs will punch his ticket out of Buffalo as well. For many fans, this is something that's been a long time coming.

The promotion of Rochester Americans coach Ron Rolston to replace Ruff is notable and possibly foreboding. Instead of Regier bringing in another veteran (or some would say, retread) of his choice and signing him to a multi year contract, the organization is now in neutral until the season is over. The Sabres have an "interim" head coach.

Rolston has been doing an outstanding job, though, considering the mess he walked into. He began by working on the defense, which has been much better. Then he worked on a powerplay that had been awful, and that produced powerplay goals in back-to-back games while looking much more fluid. Plus he's been able to get some secondary scoring lately.

But, the fact of the matter remains--the team is 0-3-1 in it's last four games, 3-4-2 under Rolston. They are 9-14-3 for the season, sit 14th in the conference, 29th in the league. This team is performing pretty much the same way they did under Ruff.

It's highly doubtful (though not impossible) that the team goes on another late season drive. Goalie Ryan Miller, despite the numbers, has been playing outstanding hockey and he always gives the team a chance to win.

But even if he continues to play well, the defense tightens further, the powerplay begins clicking beyond the 11% conversion rate, and the bottom-nine forwards continue to contribute, they have a tough road to hoe. They are seven points out of eighth place with six teams to jump. The last place Florida Panthers are only one point behind them in the conference.

Methinks that this would be the season to continue to make fundamental changes to the organization.

The first was the firing of Ruff. The exit of Regier would also be the next logical step. This team under Rolston shows no signs of being any better than they were under Ruff. Which one could conclude is a direct result of the collection of players that Regier put together.

We start with Regier's "vaunted" core of players--the Rochester Guys, as team president Ted Black called them. That group is slowly being dismantled with only three remaining--Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville. You could throw in forward Drew Stafford as well, but he was just outside that "core" group.

All three--Miller, Vanek and Pominville--will be unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. All three of them carry some pretty hefty cap-hits--Miller, $6.25m; Vanek, $7.1m; Pominville, $5.3m. And all three, because they are the Sabres best players, would be coveted were they placed on the market, despite their cap-hit and the remaining year on their contract.

As for the Sabres organization, two years from now, it's doubtful that the team will be able to retain all three with the cap going on a downward trend near-future. That's even if they all would want to return.

Then there is a group of veterans who will be unrestricted free agents at season's end:  defensemen Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Adam Pardy and Alexander Sulzer.

They're joined by forwards Jochen Hecht and John Scott as UFA's.

Regehr and Leopold could be looked upon as solid additions to a playoff team while Pardy and Sulzer should get some interest for a team looking to add depth on the blueline. Teams could be convinced that Hecht is a bottom-six center with defensive acumen who would add depth to a playoff bound team. So there is some value, especially on defense, to the collection of pending UFA's on a team going nowhere.

Another positive for this shortened season is the fact that there are a lot of teams in the playoff hunt at this time, those who decide to sell early will have the market all to themselves. The law of supply and demand is clearly on the side of those teams who are willing to deal the next three weeks up to the April 3 trade deadline.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun quotes a league executive as saying, 'There aren't going to be many teams out of it.'

According to Garrioch, one team in the East is already looking to deal. The Florida Panthers have already "hung up the 'For Sale' sign outside the BB&T Center," he said while quoting two league execs as saying, "Dale Tallon is willing to listen to all offers because his club is virtually eliminated from the playoff race."

The Panthers are said to be willing to move almost anybody on the team with their forwards said to be drawing the most interest.

Should Buffalo "hang up the For Sale sign," their defense, with four pending UFA's would garner interest for playoff-bound/playoff-hopeful teams.

Garrioch mentions that the St. Louis Blues "want a top-four blueliner." He adds in that Carolina and the NY Rangers are looking for defensive help as well.
All-in-all, the Sabres as they have six "rentals" to dangle the next three weeks and maybe even one top-end player with a year left on his contract who could be had as well.

That's a bevy of picks and/or prospects to use for rebuilding.

So, Sabres fans, fret not. The shortened season is over half way done and you only had to sit through 25 games of misery thus far.

Be happy, the GM you loathe shouldn't be able to wiggle out of this one and should be gone come season's end.

There should be at least a few draft picks and maybe a prospect or two headed back to Buffalo as their rental players head to playoff-bound/playoff hopeful teams.

With so many teams looking to make the playoffs, it should be one of the better sellers markets in recent memory. A sellers market means an even better return than normal for rentals.

And if the team is so inclined, they could move one of their "big three" and get themselves a pretty hefty return as well, plus open up some cap-space for next season.

If those weren't enough positives in this dismal season, a continued spot in the cellar means that the team could see their first top-five pick since Thomas Vanek 10 years ago.

It has all the markings of a quick rebuild.

Assuming, of course, they have a real hockey man to take the reigns of the process.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

NHL realignment, and eventual expansion, presents a player safety concern

Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta received a five-game "Shana-ban" for his hit from behind/into the boards against the NY Rangers Brad Richards.

Kaleta, though, is a useful player outside of his penchant for antagonizing the opposition. He plays bottom-six minutes (10:02/game) with a good chunk of it on the penalty kill. His 2:10/game on the kill is tied for tops on the team with captain Jason Pominville.

Despite the hate thrown at him by his detractors, he can play the game.

So can some other pests/antagonists like Kaleta:  Chris Neil (OTT,) Brandon Prust (MTL,) Jordin Tootoo (DET,) Matt Cooke (PIT,) Shawn Thorton (BOS,) etc.

In a 30-team league, these players, and those of their ilk, can at least play a regular shift and find a niche outside of being merely a total douche' on the ice.

In fact, Kaleta has been focusing upon actually playing the game more and staying away from the dangerous hits like he threw at Richards. He even commented (via Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald) that the refs have taken notice and have provided him with encouragement, "The referees have came up and said, ‘Hey, we respect what you’ve done so far. As long as you keep showing respect toward us, then we’ll respect you,’” Kaleta told reporters Monday in Raleigh. That was before the suspension was handed down.

But there are a lot of roster spots to fill, nearly 700 in all, that range from the elite to top-line/top-pairing all the way down to reserve/depth/role players. And when you get down to the bottom four or five spots on the team, those are inevitably filled by borderline NHL'ers, or even worse, career AHL'ers who are simply a body.

In the latter instance, those career AHL'ers want to make an impact for the coaching staff when opportunity knocks. A ticket to the NHL, by whatever means necessary, is a ticket to a six-figure salary.

Some borderline NHL'ers/AHL'ers play the game as muckers and grinders, Kevin Porter, Matt Ellis and Cody McCormick of Buffalo come to mind.

Flyers Harry Zolnierczyk launches
himself at Ottawa's Mike Lundin
Others are there to punish their way into the NHL.

Which brings us to the case of the Philadelphia Flyers Harry Zolnierczyk.

Before Kaleta's five-gamer, Zolnierczyk landed the longest suspension in the NHL this season at four games for launching himself at Ottawa Senators defenseman Mike Lundin.

The hit was viscious as Zolnierczyk homed in on Lundin, left his skates and landed a brutal shoulder to head hit at the Flyers blueline (although Flyers coach Peter Laviolette defended his player actions.)

Zolnierczyk is no dummy. He's Ivy League educated and knows that his ticket to the big show has nothing to do with his very limited skill set. Destroy!

And the NHL already has a ton of players like him looking to turn their limited skill set into a professional bankroll via outright brutality.

Which begs the question, why, as rumor has it, would the NHL want to expand to 32 teams allowing openings for more Harry Zolnierczyk-type players? (well, we all know the answer, nine-figure expansion fees, that's why)

The NHL's latest realignment plan has two conferences and four divisions. It's unbalanced layout has 16 teams in the east and 14 teams in the west. And they can balance it out one of two ways--by adding two teams or contracting two.

The former would be a financial boon for owners and it would also add 46 NHL jobs for the NHLPA.

Contraction would mean no expansion fees, an owner or two out of the club and would subtract 46 NHL jobs.

You do the math.

But, should the NHL be adding 46 more Kevin Porter's, Matt Ellis' and Harry Zolnierczyk,s in a diluted league that allows for too many of them already? After all, as players move up the depth chart out of necessity, those reserve roles will need to be filled by someone. Like 46 players who have no business being in the NHL taking those spots and 46 marginal AHL'ers moving up the minor league ranks who will eventually get their shot at making an (dubious?) impression in the NHL.

There's no way in hell the league should expand, there's just not enough talent to fill the spots. And the league, as well as the NHLPA, should ultimately be held responsible for allowing more foxes in the hen house and more damage to the careers of their upper-tier players.

If the NHL and the NHLPa were truly concerned about player safety, like they claim to be, at maximum status quo should be the order of the day when it comes to the number of teams. If they really wanted to help both the league and player safety, they'd contract two teams. (But everyone pretty much knows that won't happen.)

So for now, same number of teams, same conferences, same divisions, some moves to balance things out.

And if they need realignment, maybe this would work.

With all due respect to the Detroit Red Wings, who were said to have been promised a spot in the eastern conference, for the betterment of the league they'll need to stay put.

And with all due respect to the perpetually rebuilding Columbus Blue Jackets--who are in, possibly, the toughest division in the NHL--they'll need to stay put too.

As laid out nearly two years ago when the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg was a foregone conclusion, a little juggling with attention to proximity could balance out this 30-team league in their present six divisions.

Unchanged divisions:
  •  Northeast--Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto
  • Atlantic--NJ Devils, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
The moves:

  • Nashville moves to the South joining Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington
  • Dallas moves to the Central joining Chicago, Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis
  • Colorado moves to the Pacific with Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose'
  • Winnipeg to the Northwest with Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver
It's not crazy, but backdoor deals aren't involved either and it would keep the league from going to their proposed unbalanced, four-division scheme which may be a harbinger of more expansion.

Someone needs to stop Commissioner Gary Bettman from further diluting the league with his Napoleonic plans. NHL talent, despite the influx of highly skilled players from around the world, still hasn't caught up with his previous expansions.

Adding any more teams, even five years down the road, still won't fill the league with players better than the Porter's, Ellis' and Zolnierczyk's of hockey.

And that's not a good thing for the health of the game on the ice or the health of its players.


Addendum:  March 11, 2013

NHL posterboy Sidney Crosby chimed in on the winds of expansion blowing through the hockey air (via Brian Stubitz, cbssportsline):
"It's only two more teams. I don't see it as that big an issue," the Penguins captain told Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The league's found a way to stay competitive with 30. It can do 32."'s the air up there, Sid? Pretty sweet, eh?

Monday, March 4, 2013

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Plus...

some notes on the Rochester Americans at Cleveland vs. the Lake Erie Monsters.

The Buffalo Sabres just  finished up a four games in six nights stretch that took them to Florida, back up to Buffalo and over to NYC culminating in back-to-back games vs. New Jersey and the Rangers.

They came away with seven of eight points after last night's SO loss to the Rags. No small feat for a team that was booed off the ice in the game before the stretch, were sitting in last place in the eastern conference at the time, and spent the last two games without their best offensive player, Thomas Vanek.

Ryan Miller was stellar in net for the team keeping them in every game and/or doing everything in his power to maintain a lead. He was in three shootouts in a row, denying Florida and New Jersey any goals before succumbing to exhaustion against NY. Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan both scored rather easily last night.

Miller was the game's 1st star in a 2-1 win at Tampa, 2nd star at Florida and 2nd star vs. the Devils. He was great in last night's game as well, but had nothing left to give in the shootout.

Vanek, the team's leading scorer was out with an upper body injury the last two games.

The team finally got some secondary scoring during the four-game stretch as Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe all contributed. Gerbe scored two vs. NJ and was named the game's 1st star. Last night at NY he scored a short-handed goal to tie the game 2-2 after a nice feed from Steve Ott.

And, you know things are going well when Jochen Hecht scores. He potted his first of the season vs. the  Devils in one of his "from goal-line down/bank it off the goalie" shots.

All-in-all, if I were a Sabre though, I'd be ticked that the team didn't get get the win last night. They had a golden opportunity going on the powerplay then having an extended 5-on-3 in overtime.

But. Nothing.

The powerplay has been awful. They have absolutely no chemistry.

They're dead last in the league in pp efficiency-no flow, no one backing off defenders, and very few shots getting through from the point or anywhere else.

Sabres coach Ron Rolston had a multitude of problems to correct when he took over the team 12 days ago and he chose to focus upon the back-end first, which has looked much better over the past four games. There's been progression in each game and you can see confidence building.

Next he needs to focus his attention on the powerplay. It's the sole reason they gave away a point in this game. The team is now 9 for 84, a 10.4% rate. Tampa Bay leads the league with a 29% conversion rate.

And why Jason Pominville is still on the point is beyond me. It's something that hasn't been working for years and it has gotten progressively worse this season. He's much better suited to the half-wall where he can stickhandle and try to find an open man. He is not a powerplay quarterback from the point, nor does he have the knack for getting pucks through. Plus, far too often, maybe as much as Andrej Sekera, the puck either jumps his stick at the blueline or he mishandles which leads to bad things happening, like his hooking/interference penalty against New Jersey.

Speaking of Pominville, he's been gathering some points lately, but he seems to have more mental lapses than a veteran player should.

A perfect example is the game vs. New Jersey.

He scored two goals but ended up a minus-1 as he was on the ice for New Jersey's three goals, out of sorts on two of them.

Somethings not right.

Either he's been looked at through blue and gold colored glasses over the last few seasons or he's starting to decline a bit. Maybe it's the pressure of being the captain. Maybe it's that his linemates--Vanek and Cody Hodgson--have quite a bit more raw talent than him and he's just a bit off playing with them. Maybe the speed of the game is beginning to pass him by.

For whatever the reason, he's not what he should be--Mr. Consistency with the puck and a leader by example.

What Rolston has done with this team so far is just short of remarkable. He's 3-2-1 since being named interim coach, 3-0-1 since his opening two losses.

He's been solidifying the Sabres defense, which was said to be a strength before the season started, but was awful for 19 games. They're now playing sound team defense in their own end keeping most shots to the outside. They're playing odd man rushes better and they're getting their sticks in on a lot of plays.

And when things break down, Miller's there to cover.

Rolston doesn't have a lot of talent to work with, but he has them playing a team game. They've not been able to generate much offense, but they've been able to capitalize on their opportunities. They're lacking talent up front, especially without Vanek and, to an extent, Ville Leino, but he has most of them playing to the best of their abilities right now.

That's how he's managed to get seven of a possible eight points the last four games.

As a whole, they're getting it done, and unless Darcy Regier brings in a top-six player, this is what Rolston will be working with.

And if they continue to progress the way they have over the last four games, methinks they'll be making some noise in the "bubble group."

Some quick notes:

--Veteran defenseman Robyn Regehr has been playing the best hockey since he's been in Buffalo. That scowl is back and he's be roughin' it up with a lot of forwards in and around the net. But one of the coolest things was when Gerbe scored that shortie last night. Regehr had an expression of pure joy.

Sabres Pat Kaleta boards the Rangers
Brad Richards.
--Speaking of roughing it up, Patrick Kaleta pulled a bone-headed move last night boarding Brad Richards. He got a five minute major/game misconduct and has a hearing with Brendan Shanahan scheduled for this afternoon. A suspension is on the way, maybe up to five games. But it could be something that hinges upon Shanahan's call on NYR d-man Dan Girardi, if he gets a phone call.

Girardi pasted Tyler Ennis from behind in OT. Ennis fell to the ice stunned. The refs called it a two minute minor for boarding, but it could easily have been a five minute major/game misconduct. (click here for link to a video of both hits as well as some opinon from's Brian Stubitz.) Shanahan will need to look at that one as well. As good a guy as Girardi is, he should get a couple of games, just like Niklas Hjalmarsson got when he boarded Pominville a couple years ago.

Five games for Kaleta, as long as there is at least two games for Girardi. If Girardi gets one, Kaleta should get no more than three. IMO, of course.

(Sabres gritty forward Steve Ott has some interesting thoughts on the Kaleta hit, including a mention that Richards, despite looking like he was writhing in pain after the hit, returned to the ice the next shift on the powerplay. Thx to the Howard Simon show on WGR for the interview.)

--Gerbe has been the teams best player up-front lately. He has three goals in the last two games including a bullet, one-timer that went top-shelf over Henrik Lundqvist's glove last night. Earlier in the season he'd been playing like he was ready for a demotion to Rochester. But the Sabres stuck with him.

He had off-season back surgery and it seems as if he's finally recovered fully. He said after last night's game that he feels more comfortable (via WGR) "[I'm] feeling better now feeling better with the puck," he said, "but that comes with time. That comes with healing; trust in my body, trust in my back."

That allows him to play his gadfly-like/junk-yard dog-type game. It also allows him to go after the likes of Dion Phaneuf and Alexei Ponikarovsky lookin' for a fight.

I like what Rick Jeanneret said of Gerbe vs. New Jersey after the leagues shortest player (5' 5") was tussling with the 6' 4" Ponikarovsky, "Why is he always picking on the big guys?"

Drew Stafford and rookie
Mikhail Grigorenko celebrate
Stafford's goal vs. NY
Rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko has been playing fourth line minutes, but his game seems to be coming along. Although he's still catching up to the speed of the game, he's been working pretty hard and he is starting to see some results.

Last night he took a face off deep in the Rangers zone, lost it, continued on, got the puck and passed it back to a wide open Stafford in the slot. Stafford one-timed it past Henrik Lundqvist. It was good for the rookie and good for Stafford who scored for only the second time this season.

"It always makes me happy to [get] points," he said. "Finally I feel I can help my team."

In the previous game vs. New Jersey Grigorenko worked a little magic behind the net and fed Hecht for his first goal of the year.

Grigorenko has been with Stafford and Hecht the last two games and the trio has been producing. He mentioning Stafford by name post-game.

One would think that when Ville Leino returns, we might see a Grigorenko/Stafford/Leino line as a #3. And that has the potential to really add some offense.


Some notes while taking in my second Rochester Americans game of the season.

--Mark Mancari may be the Amerks AHL version of Dave Andreychuk. He has that kind of veteran presence for the Amerks. Unfortunately for the organization, he may also be considered the new Jody Gage--one of the best in AHL, can't cut it in the NHL. He'll have a good career in Rochester.

--As of right now Luke Adam will be lucky if he's as good as Mancari. He looked slow as ever yesterday afternoon--both mentally and physically. During the game he fell no less than five times on his own trying to keep pace. If Regier can somehow get something decent for him, it would be a semi-miracle.

--Zemgus Girgensons has progressed well. Back in December you could see he was still getting a feel for the game, yet he was always in position and seemed to be ahead of the play quite often.

He's taken that a step further. Girgensons was in constant motion yesterday, always keeping his feet moving and he was always in the right spot at both ends of the ice. He has some real strong two-way skills and may even get a crack at the NHL as a call-up this season if he continues to play this well. The jury's still out on whether he'll be able to contribute in a top-six role, but he will be in the NHL sometime in the near future. At the very least he looks to be a top-nine center.

--5'9" 135 lb. Amerks forward Fredrick Roy got in a beauty of a fight with the Monsters' 5'10" 175 lb. Tyler McNeely. Roy landed a couple of doozies before McNeely came back and landed a couple of his own. It was a long, spirited bout that proved Roy not only can fight, but can take a punch too.

--David Leggio is a pretty damn good goalie. He looks as if he'll have a damn good AHL career. His positioning is very sound and he anticipates real well. The goals against last night were very late with the Amerks already up 4-0. The first one was a turnover that lead to a tap in for Lake Erie. The second was a beautiful shot that went top-shelf from in tight. Most NHL goalies would be hard-pressed to stop that one.

He's playing well enough to get a look from the Sabres should Jhonas Enroth falter in his next start.


Speaking of Enroth, Rolston should opt to play the back-up at Carolina on Tuesday despite him not having won since November, 2011. Miller has been playing lights-out and the toll it's taken could be seen in the shoot-out last night.

Ryan Miller give up a shootout goal
to the Rangers Ryan Callahan.

Callahan made him look like an AHL'er on that one. And afterwards, Miller just lay face-down in the crease seemingly with nothing left to give.

Rolston should give Enroth his start, come what may. The team as a whole looks as if they've bottomed out and they're on the upswing. A loss with Enroth in net would be a step back but could yield more positive results down the road as the team looks strong enough to overcome adversity.

In this situation--with a tired Miller, no back-up he could count on and every point at a premium--former coach Lindy Ruff would ride Miller until he fell over. That "falling over" normally lead to a lopsided loss anyway.

I hope Rolston goes with Enroth to give Miller a much needed rest.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

2013 Individual Stats--February

Will the team be adding more
players to the 2012-12
"team photo?"

The above photo pretty much sums up the team for the month of February.

Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek have carried the Sabres to what little success they've had this season, and continued to do so in February.

On the surface, Miller's 2.83 gaa and .917 sv. % isn't awe inspiring, but the fact that he's come out of this past month with a semblance of sanity is a testament to his commitment and focus.

Miller has been bombarded with shots from every angle, standing on his head game-in/game-out to keep this team in any given game. The Sabres have given up the most shots in the league thus-far (711) and the most shots/game (33.9). If there were a stat given for golden opportunities against, Buffalo would have given up the most there as well.

After a rough start to the month where he went 1-2 giving up 14 goals in those three games, Miller buckled down. In three of the next four games he earned a game-star, two firsts in wins and a second star in a loss to Boston.

Vanek has also been carrying the team, albeit not as much as in January.

He lead the team in points and goals and was second in assists, which isn't all that great considering the horrid month the offense had. But he's been playing well, garnering the second most game-star points on the team.

For a bit of perspective, Nathan Gerbe was third in that department. He was the 1st star in their last game at Florida, his only star of the month.

That's not to say that Miller and Vanek are completely on an island.

Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis have been holding their own down the middle in the top-six. They are both young and skilled and are in top-six roles for the first time in their respective careers. Both are also clamoring for help from the right wing.

Hodgson is a part of Buffalo's first line along with Vanek and Jason Pominville. Vanek, as we've seen has been doing his part, but Pominville has fallen off of a cliff.

The captain was second on the team with 12 points in January, but was mired in a funk throughout February amassing a mere three points for the entire month.

Ennis has been on an island throughout the 2013 season thus-far. His wingers from last year--Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno--have both failed to deliver with Foligno being a healthy scratch last game at Florida. Stafford has one goal and seven assists for the year.

Gerbe was moved up to Ennis' line to provide some badly needed spark and it took a number of games for him to have an impact on the score sheet. He potted a pair of goals at Florida, his first two of the season.

The 5'5", 175 lb. forward was coming off of major surgery and it seems as if he's finally comfortable enough to start playing his agitated style.

Forward Steve Ott, acquired last off-season for Derek Roy, has had a good month. Maybe it goes along with his "half-full" outlook on the team. He continues to contribute modestly on the score sheet but is a constant worker whenever he's on the ice. He's solid on the faceoff dot, solid on the kill and lead the team in plus/minus for February with a plus-5.

To put that in perspective, only two other players were in the plus column:  rookie defenseman TJ Brennan (+3) who sees limited action and workhorse defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (+2.) Bottom-six forward Jochen Hecht was even as was bottom-pairing defenseman Alexander Sulzer.

Every other Sabre was in the minus column for the month as the team had a collective minus-28 for February.

Looking at stats like that, it's a wonder the team managed to go 5-9-0 for the month.

That being said, it would seem as if the team's fortunes are ready to trend upward.

Interim head coach Ron Rolston took the reigns and in his second game behind the bench was shut out by the NY Islanders 4-0. The team was booed off the ice. Rolston proceeded to win his first game after that at Tampa and came away with a 4-3 SO win two nights later at Florida.

The Sabres exited the month of February going 2-2 with signs of life. Goals against, as well as premium chances against are trending downward while the team received some secondary scoring in their last two wins--Tyler Myers with the game-winner at Tampa, Gerbe with two goals at Florida.

It should be noted that Rolston's first two games came without the opportunity for a full practice. They are 2-0 after that.

March begins this afternoon with a home game vs. the NJ Devils. They will be without goalie Martin Brodeur.

We'll see if we can add another player or two, or three to the "2013 team photo."

(special thanx to whomever came up with that)


  • January--Thomas Vanek-15; Jason Pominville-12; Cody Hodgson-6
  • February--Vanek-12; Hodgson, Tyler Ennis--11

  • January--Vanek-6; Pominville-5; Hodgson-4
  • February--Vanek-6; Ennis-5, Hodgson-4

Powerplay Goals:
  • January--Vanek-3; Pominville, Steve Ott, Tyler Myers-1
  • February--Vanek-2; Ennis-1

  • January--Vanek, 9; Pominville-7; Christian Ehrhoff-5
  • February--Hodgson-7; Vanek, Ennis-6

Powerplay Assists
  • January--Vanek, Pominville-3; Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Ehrhoff-2
  • February--Ennis-2; Foligno, Ehrhoff-1

Primary Assists--
  • January--Vanek, Pominville-3; Drew Stafford, Ehrhoff-2
  • February--Stafford, Ennis-4; Vanek, Ott, Jochen Hecht-3

  • January--Vanek +4; Alexander Sulzer, Mike Weber +3
  • February--Ott +5, TJ Brennan +3; Ehrhoff +2

Plus/Minus (bottom)
  • January--Stafford, Jordan Leopold -4; Myers, Mikhail Grigorenko -3
  • February--Hodgson, Andrej Sekera -5; Stafford, Foligno, Regehr, Weber -4

Three Stars (1st=5 points, 2nd=3 points, 3rd=1 point)
  • January--Vanek (10); Ryan Miller (7); Pominville (6)
  • February--Miller (18); Vanek (17); Gerbe (5)

Goalies (year to date):

Ryan Miller
  • January--3-2-1; .920 sv % (20th); 2.64 gaa (28th); 0 shutouts
  • February--5-10-1; .917 (26th); 2.83 (T-45); 0

Jhonas Enroth
  • January--0-1-0; 856 sv % (49th); 5.00 gaa (T-56th), 0 shutouts
  • February--0-2-0; .847 (73rd); 4.75; 0

Friday, March 1, 2013

2013 Team Stats--February

You are what your record says you are.

First, the bad news. The Buffalo Sabres came out of a 5-9-0 month of February with a record of 8-12-1. They plummeted from 9th in the conference to 14th, from 15th in points to 27th and took a dive in goal differential going from T-12th to T-27th at minus13.

Oh, and a little something happened along the way, head coach Lindy Ruff, in his 16th season as the Sabres bench boss was fired and was replaced by interim coach Ron Rolston.

The good news?

Under Rolston, who was bumped up from his gig coaching the Rochester Americans, the Sabres are 2-2.

March will dictate a lot of things like whether or not the team officially bottomed out in their 4-0 home loss to the NY Islanders (landing in the bottom of the eastern conference, 29th in the league,) in Rolston's first home game, his second game behind the bench, and his second loss to start his tenure (it was also the second home game in a row that the Sabres were booed off the ice.) And it will also dictate whether the Sabres are buyers or sellers (or some hybrid again) at the trade deadline.

For now, though, we get to review a pitiful month of February.

Were it not for the torrid pace of Thomas Vanek and solid offensive production from his linemates during the month of January (3-3-1 record,) this Sabres team would be out of the playoffs by now.

February marked a precipitous decline in goals/game dropping from 3.29 down to 2.48 which placed them T-22nd in the league. A big contributor to that decline was a putrid powerplay which scored only three goals for the months, none coming from defensemen. For the year they're at 12.3% on a 9-for-73 conversion rate which places them 28th in the league.

Conversely, the team looks to have stopped the bleeding on defense. It's still poor, but it's a notch up from wretched, which is a positive.

The Sabres have given up the most shots in the NHL (711) and the most shots/game (33.9). Oddly enough, their goals against average has dipped slightly from 3.29 to 3.19, yet their ranking has gone from 24th to 27th.

Their shots against has improved slightly buy they still remain last in the league in that category. To say that goalie Ryan Miller has been under siege all year would be an understatement.

On the positive side under interim coach Rolston, the defense is playing much better. As evidenced in their 2-1 win over goal-scoring machine Tampa Bay (1st in goals/game, #1 in powerplay goals,) they managed to keep most of the shots to the perimeter and shut out the Lightning powerplay including :45 of 5-on-3.

In addition, although defensive-zone turnovers, missed assignments and lack of compete does appear at times, it's nowhere near the levels from earlier in the month and their "Keystone Cops" moments have become less frequent.

"Baby steps," as Rolston put it, "baby steps."

All-in-all, the team is where it is because they are who they are, right now.

Forget the early part of  February, they should take their 2-2 record under Rolston into March as a sign of some very good progress and build upon that moving forward.

Rolston has a ton of things for this team to work on and he started with the back-end, which showed improvement the last two games.

One thinks that he'll start working on the powerplay in earnest as soon as he feels comfortable with his defense. That is a key area for the team moving forward and will greatly impact the goals-for.

That Nathan Gerbe scored two goals for the team in last night's 4-3 SO win over Florida is a big positive. Contributions from others in the secondary scoring department (hello, Drew Stafford) will also be another key.

If they can keep their goals against down, or improve upon it, and get their offense going a little more, they could be a bubble team come month's end due to the parity of the mid-bottom half teams. But it's still a tall task. Even though the Sabres are only four points out of the 8th spot, they have six teams to jump to get there.

Two in a row, especially on the road, is a good start and they'll need to put together a nice streak just to get back into the mix.

For now, we'll just take the more positive approach--under Rolston the team is 2-2 heading into the month of March.


  • January--3 (T-13th)
  • February--8 (T-23rd)

  • January--7 (T-15th)
  • February--17 (T-27th)

Eastern Conference Standing:
  • January--T-9th
  • February--14th

Northeast Division Standing:
  • January--5th
  • February--5th

Goal Differential:
  • January--T-12th
  • February--T-27 (-13)

  • January--3.29 (7th)...(#1 TB-4.83)
  • February--2.48 (T-22)...(TB--3.55)

  • January--31.9 (7th)...(#1 CAR--38)
  • February--29.6 (12th)...(CAR--33)

Goals Against/Game:
  • January--3.29 (24th)...(#1 OTT--1.71)
  • February--3.19 (27th)...(CHI--1.70)

Shots Against/Game:
  • January--34.3 (30th)...(#1 STL--20.3)
  • February--33.9 (30th)...(STL--22.9)

  • January--24% (11th)...(#1 NYI--37.5)
  • February--12.3 (28th)...(ANA--29.3)

Penalty Kill:
  • January--82.8% (12th)...(#1 CHI--91.3)
  • Februrary--80.5 (17th)...(BOS--93.9)

  • January--42.1% (30th)...(#1 BOS--60.1)
  • February--45.8 (30th)...(BOS--57.4)