Monday, April 29, 2013

Good, Bad, Ugly, Typical

From Thursday through Sunday a bevy of events happened in the world of Buffalo sports.

The NFL draft came and went, the Sabres season ended outside the playoffs again, and the Rochester Americans are in the playoffs are facing the Toronto Marlies--again.

We could get all "War and Peace" on anyone of the topics, but we'll try to keep it a simple as possible and look at everything on an individual basis as good, bad, ugly, typical.


The Buffalo Bills take QB EJ Manuel in the first round of the NFL Draft.

--GM Buddy Nix went into the draft in the #8 spot hell-bent on drafting a "franchise QB," and everybody knew it. Everyone also knew that the prize offensive weapon in the draft was WR Tavon Austin, who the Bills could have easily taken at that spot. What nobody knew was that the Bills wanted Manuel (not Ryan Nassib, Mr. Sal Paolantonio) and very few thought that the Bills would trade down, except WGR's Joe Buscaglia, who deserves high grades for nailing it dead on. The Bills managed to keep Austin out of the hands of the NY Jets, they drafted a "franchise QB" which will keep the fans and media at bay for a year or two, they got an extra second round pick and Nix's "coveted" seventh rounder--Good


The Buffalo Sabres are out of the playoffs, are in the #8 spot in the draft right now.
--The Sabres beat the NY Islanders on the final game of the season 2-1 in the shootout. Goalie Ryan Miller got the win and Thomas Vanek got the shootout winner. Barring a team behind the Sabres in the draft winning the lottery and moving to #1, the Sabres will draft #8, their highest position since drafting Vanek at #5 in 2003. Buffalo is out of the playoffs for the second straight year and will not have a top-three to five pick in the draft (barring a trade up or winning the lottery.)--Typical


Thomas Vanek will (more than likely) be out of Buffalo.

--With a few games left in the regular season an his team out of the playoffs, I watched Vanek do his best Derek "dipsy doodle" Roy impersonation--a little between the legs, a little blind, back-hand passes and a whole lot of fancy. And, like Roy, nothing came of it. Yeah, he checked out. At 29 years old he's in his prime and has said a few times that he's not interested in a draft-driven rebuild. It will take too long for his liking. And that's if the direction of the organization, he believes "it makes sense for both parties to move on." Vanek is a talented goal-scorer. He also showed, and has shown, his true colors dating back to 2007. He was a mercenary for the payout back then, and he'll be a mercenary for the Stanely Cup now. Trading Vanek now should land them a bounty on par with the take for Jason Pominville. GM Darcy Regier won't say as much, but it's a pretty easy choice. So long and thanks for all the fish.--Good


The Rochester Americans are down 2-0 to the Toronto Marlies in the AHL playoffs.

--For the second year in a row, the Amerks drew the Marlies in the first round of the AHL playoffs. For the second year in a row they find themselves down 2-0 as the series heads to Rochester. Last year they were swept out of the playoffs. This weekend, in their 6-3 opening loss, goalie David Leggio surrendered five goals on 17 shots as the Amerks surrendered three third period goals in defeat. Game 2 saw NHL trade-deadline acquisition Matt Hackett (Minn) give up two goals on 18 shots as the Amerks were shut out 2-0. The Amerks cannot seem to beat the Marlies, even with the additions of C, Mikhail Grigorenko, D Mark Pysyk and F Brian Flynn, all of whom rejoined the team after the Sabres finished the season. Oh, and the goalie who's beaten them is former Amerk Drew MacIntyre who's allowed three goals on 59 shots and garnered a 2nd star and 1st star, respectively, in the process--Ugly


Zemgus Girgensons is really developing.

--The "Latvian Locomotive" has come a long way since he first hit the AHL ice as the youngest player in the league. He took it to another level in Game-1 of the playoffs scoring two goals. He should have had a hat-trick but was absolutely robbed by MacIntyre with the game tied in the third period (click here for a replay of both his goals and the save as well.) Girgensons (#14-overall, 2012) is developing into the player that everyone projected him to be--a talented player with a lot of heart who's able to turn it up in big games. To me, it would seem as if the Sabres have themselves a potential Ryan Callahan/Mike Richards-type, someone they haven't had since Chris Drury left. GM Darcy Regier did...--Good


The Luke Adam boat, it would seem, has sailed.

--The big centerman has no goals and is a minus-2 in the series. He has not scored a goal in his last five playoff games and has one assist. What's more disconcerting is what Paul Hamilton reminded us of on WGR today. Adam had the opportunity to really show what he was made of when he was called up this season. And he proved he wasn't made of much. Yes, he scored a goal in his first game, but after that, he looked as if he really didn't belong in the NHL either because his lack of talent or his lack of interest.--Ugly


Tyler Myers said he needs to focus on his off-season conditioning.

--The former Calder winner has been in decline since that rookie year and he left this season with a broken foot. Myers' skill-level is undeniable, but his willingness to put in the work necessary to excell is suspect. Myers said he will work on his condintioning this off-season. Hamilton also pointed out that when Myers plays more physical, his overall game approaches that Calder-level. He either doesn't have the professional drive or isn't in the proper game-shape to do that on a game-to-game basis. It's reminiscent of what's been said about F Drew Stafford over the last few seasons. And that's not good.--Bad


Disturbing stats concerning the team in front of Miller, and what if he leaves?

--WGR's Matthew Coller wrote a good piece concerning "advanced stats" and the Sabres in front of Miller. Encapsulating his statistical analysis:  the Sabres were a really bad team and were it not for "good" goaltending, they'd have been worse in the standings. Just watching the games throughout the last six seasons, Miller and a slew of incompetent back-ups have faced an inordinant amount of prime scoring chances because of a poor team in front of them (save for the 2009/10 season.) You don't need "advanced stats" to come to the conclusion that Miller is the reason they haven't been at the bottom of the league. What's even scarier is that some are willing to put Jhonas Enroth or Matt Hackett on the ice with the youngest team in the league in front of them. The youngest team in the league carrying the worst "advanced stats" of any team with a young goalie in net would be...--Ugly


Darcy Regier looks to be back as GM

--The media hates it. The fans hate it. The numbers dictate he should have been gone years ago. The Buffalo News' Bucky Gleason wanted him gone after the Drury/Daniel Briere fiasco. He should have been gone when he stated that Derek Roy and Tim Connolly were two of the top-20 centers in the league three years ago. Nobody who watched his "core" believed, as he did, that the team was "good enough." He's redeemed himself, though, since Terry Pegula took over the team by tearing down his core and getting full return in his trades. But, can a leopard change his spots? Can you trust him to acquire players who make the team tough to play against? Possible, but not probable. When having the choice between "soft-but-skilled" and grit, he still seems to prefer the former and I don't think that will ever change. Brad Boyes, Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff (kudos for the Robyn Regehr trade,) Joel Armia, Grigorenko (#12) before Girgensons (#14, whom they had to trade up for) and even Cody Hodgson, to an extent. Which means the team will never change and the team will always be easy to play against, as shown by their mediocre play over the last six seasons. If Regier does not build with the likes of more Steve Ott's, that's bad, If he cannot change his spots, then it's going to get real...--Ugly


The Bills add a few players with a troubled past

--EJ Manuel seems to be a real character-guy. But...the Bills, somewhat uncharacteristically, drafted a few players who have marks on their record. 2nd round pick (#46-overall) "Kiko" Alonso seems to have had problems with alcohol during college which got him in trouble a couple of times. Fourth-round pick (#105) Michael "Duke" Williams also had some alcohol problems and was caught driving on a suspended license. The Bills also signed free agent WR Da'Rick Rogers immediately after the draft. Rogers, apparently, liked to smoke pot, and was kicked out of Tennessee for failing drug tests (that's plural.) Rogers went to Tennessee Tech and had an average year, nobody drafted him, but the Bills jumped at the chance to sign him. All three of these players are talented and play with some serious edge--Good...as in, I hope they become some Bad-ass mofo's for the Bills, they need that

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Maybe it's time to bring Gerry Meehan back into the fold

When I was a youngin', I had this little train radio. I'd take it to bed with me and often fall asleep listening to Sabres games.

If the Sabres were being televised I always had to watch the game on television, which for us was an analog 19" black and white screen with rabbit ears on top. The picture was pretty bad and following the puck was difficult because you could barely see it.

It didn't matter. There was always plenty of action, and the play-by-play of Ted Darling.

Back in those fledgling years of the early 70's, there were some thrills worked into a lot of losses, thrills mainly courtesy of Gilbert Perreault.

In 1972 the Sabres struggled, which was typical for a second year expansion team. But, on the last day of the season, they had something to play for.

It was against the Philadelphia Flyers who were fighting for a playoff spot.

My first real memory as a Sabres fan, and one of the greatest, was of that game. Namely the end when captain Gerry Meehan scored the game-winning goal with :04 left. Buffalo had eliminated Philadelphia from the playoffs with a 3-2 victory.

I can still remember the excitement I felt, running around the kitchen "Meehan! Meehan!"

You can click here and relive that moment thanks to Mark Miller and his blog gerrymeehan.com.

What does that have to do with the Buffalo Sabres now, other than nostalgia?

We'll get to that.

But first, there are probably a lot of fans who don't know much, if anything, about the former Sabres captain.

In his book 100 Things Sabres Fans Should Know Before They Die, Sal Maiorana devotes one of his chapters to Meehan.

Maiorana starts out with this, "If [GM] Punch Imlach hadn't plucked Gerry Meehan off the Philadelphia Flyers' unprotected player list in the 1970 expansion draft, the 23 yr. old was ready and willing to join the working force in the 'real' world."

Meehan became the captain of the team in the 1971-72 season, the same year he haunted his former team with his "Flyer-killer" goal. He played with the Sabres until he was traded to Vancouver early in the 1974-75 season. He played five more seasons after that for a total of 670 NHL games.

During that time frame he went to school at night earning his undergraduate degree from Canisius College and received his law degree from the University of Buffalo soon after he retired in 1978.

He found his way back into the Sabers organization, according to Maiorana, through a law firm headed by Sabres board member Robert Swados and was soon "dabbling in the Sabres' legal affairs."

In 1984 he was named Assistant General Manager to Scotty Bowman.

When Bowman was fired in 1986, Meehan took over the GM position and held that spot until 1993 when he was promoted to executive vice president of sports operations. He handed over his GM responsibilities to John Muckler.

"But," writes Maiorana, "his ultimate goal of becoming team president was shattered when the Knox brothers hired Doug Moss for the position in 1994."

In 1995 Meehan left the Sabres. 'I became aware,' he said, 'as a result of Doug Moss' hiring, that there had been a ceiling placed on my career aspirations."

Quite the slight for a man who is linked to legendary Sabres players like Dominic Hasek and Pat LaFontaine as well as Hall of Famer, Dale Hawerchuk.

A man, by the way, who also was at the helm in the late 80's when the team helped bust down the Berlin Wall by bringing in defector, Alexander Mogilny. "I would never have used the draft pick (1988 5th round) if I didn't think he was coming," Meehan said. (from The Historic Defection, iihf.com)

It should also be noted that Meehan's successor at GM, Muckler, was the architect of "the hardest working team in hockey," one of the most beloved teams in franchise history.

Why bring this up now?

Because the Sabres' organization is a mess.

The team is floundering, the fan-base is booing, and despite all the good intentions of owner Terry Pegula, they're embroiled in a public relations quagmire.

The tumult is rooted in failure of management to use Pegula's vast financial resources to take a step towards a Stanley Cup contender. They've gone backwards.

Although Pegula's commitment to winning should not be debated, his management choices, mainly the retention of GM Darcy Regier, should.

It's assumed that Regier has been in charge of hockey operations since Pegula took over in 2011. Between Pegula and Regier in the Sabres hierarchy are Team President Ted Black and Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer. Both are Pegula confidants who came from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.

Regier, on the other hand, was a carryover from the previous regimes and whether he remains with the team beyond this season is yet to be determined. He has made enough moves over the last two years to get an extension from Pegula and garner a "genius" moniker from Sawyer.

The team is now in rebuild-mode, and it's the second time in Regier's tenure he's dismantled the team for futures. His first was in the early 2000's when he tore down "the hardest working team in hockey" and turned it into "the team built for the new-NHL."

Beyond a short, two-year new-NHL run, his era-specific "core" hasn't gotten the job done.

Firing Regier would leave a gaping hole in the organization, specifically the hockey operations department. Black is more of a public relations guy while Sawyer is an advisor. There seems to be a need for a real hockey mind to define the Buffalo Sabres and guide the rebuild even if Regier is retained.

That's where Meehan comes in.

I'm not sure how deep the rift is, or if Meehan would even be interested in returning to the team nearly 20 years later. Nor am I sure if he has his pulse on the NHL as it's played today. But bringing in Meehan could certainly help this organization on a number of levels.

First off, hiring Meehan would further enhance Pegula's reputation for healing strained relations with former players. One only need look at Rene' Robert coming back into the fold, and the French Connection reunion at his first home game as owner, as a major step towards bringing all Sabres' together.

You could throw Hasek's name in there as well. And Michael Peca, coach of the Junior Sabres. Both of whom left on acrimonious terms, but are back into the fold.

Meehan also has a strong, successful hockey background to fend off any accusations of nepotism and of blindly reaching for a "former Sabre." (of note, when he was hired as assistant to Bowman, he was the first former Sabre to come back in an off-ice position.) There are four eras in Sabres' history that fans can look back to with immense pride and Meehan had a hand in two of them. His teams made the playoffs all seven times that he was in charge.

The biggest problem for Pegula right now might be limiting the damage caused by two unsuccessful seasons under a GM who's on the brink of being lynched by the fan-base. Many think that when the fans are booing the team they're subconsciously booing the Regier regime.

Pegula's PR quagmire, being rooted in his poor on-ice product, is exacerbated by his inability and/or unwillingness to talk publicly about the state of the team, specifically (for the Buffalo News at least) the firing of the long-time coach and Pegula favorite, Lindy Ruff. Pegula is not comfortable in the limelight and to say he's awkward behind the podium is being kind.

His hockey ops has one public voice at this juncture--Regier. After 16 years and limited, distant success it would seem as if fans and media have had it with him.

Pegula needs a trusted voice to be the face of his hockey operations. A voice they can connect with once again.

It's not uncommon for an owner to go after a former player. The player, of course, knows the culture of the team and the area and also has a finger on the pulse of both the fans and media.

Meehan has had fairly recent success and his roots in Buffalo stretch all the way back to the Sabres formative years with Punch Imlach. It also encompasses the genesis of Pegula's love of hockey dating back to the 70's, initially with the Broad Street Bullies, then with the French Connection soon after.

Those are the roots of Buffalo Sabres hockey.

Meehan also has ties with and/or bridges three exciting times for the franchise, from the French Connection to the offensive juggernaut of Lafontaine and Mogilny to "the hardest working team in hockey."

With all due respect to the job Black and Sawyer did in Pittsburgh, the two organizations are vastly different and their Pittsburgh model might not be a good fit for Buffalo.

Meehan knows the Sabres, he knows their roots. He's 66 yrs. old and has had a long, nearly 20-year career outside the game after leaving Buffalo.

Even if his career as a lawyer is still going strong, maybe there's a sense of unfinished business in hockey, and more specifically with the Sabres. And with Buffalo in need of a hockey guy, I don't think there's a Sabres fan anywhere who would dislike Meehan coming back into the fold and taking the reigns of the hockey department.

Wonder if he's interested?





Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy hour might be over, Miller-time can't seem to satisfy Sabres' fans needs

On Friday the Buffalo Sabres were officially eliminated from the playoffs.

This would be the second season in a row they will have missed the dance, twice in three years under the ownership of "Uncle" Terry Pegula.

It wasn't all that surprising that they were eliminated as many had felt for weeks that the Sabres really didn't have what it took to make it. But an 8-3 loss on home ice, including a 6-0 deficit, was a brutal way end their playoff hopes.

The supreme focus now, officially, is on the rebuild. GM Darcy Regier has been dismantling his "vaunted" core for nearly two years and only two "Rochester Guys" remain:  goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek.

Miller and Vanek are the two keys as to whether this will be a complete rebuild or a somewhat partial one.

Both play key roles on the team, both are in their prime, both are signed for one more season and both, it would seem, are somewhat ambivalent about re-signing in Buffalo.

They're not getting any younger either--Miller is 32 and Vanek, 29. One would think that Father Time is pulling them towards an established playoff team with a chance to win the Cup, of which the Sabres are not and are unlikely to be in the near future.

And if that wasn't enough to guide them away from re-signing in Buffalo, the fans and media certainly could push them out the door.

With former whipping boys Tim Connolly and Derek Roy gone, Miller is now the face of "the core's" failure and has endured a steady stream of anger directed at the team.

He's heard the boos and felt the jeers sporadically throughout his career in Buffalo but it has never been this bad or has never been felt this often. He had never, up until Friday's game against the Rangers, outwardly reacted to the fans at the game.

On Friday he watched the Rangers first two goals deflect in off a teammates' skate then fumbled the puck in front of his own net for another goal real late in the first period.

His blunder lead to a Bronx Cheer when he played a puck hard off the boards. He responded with a "faux" salute to the crowd.

"If the [fans] can dish it out, they can take it back," Miller said.

Ummmmm. No they can't.

For as much as the team touts Buffalo as a great hockey town, it's a brutal town with a large contingent downtrodden fans suffering from "damsel in distress" syndrome. The damsels in Buffalo are always looking for that savior to lift the team, and themselves, to a championship.

Incoming players and/or management and/or owners like to call the fans of Buffalo "very knowledgeable" of the game. But as "knowledgeable" as these fans are said to be, or think like to think they are, nuances within the game seem to elude them and eventually leads them to boo their team in a tie game while their still in well within reach of a playoff spot.

Just ask Steve Ott, who found the booing "completely ridiculous," and soon incurred the wrath of the ticket-buying public. This isn't Miller complaining (or some would say, whining) about the lack of support from the fans. This is burgeoning cult hero Steve Ott, such a fan favorite for his grit and lunch-bucket mentality, that he was being christened as the next captain of the team even before captain Jason Pominville was traded.

One has to think that most of these "knowledgeable fans" attain their knowledge through stats and the new trend, "analytics." Kind of makes the casual fan believe they are now "experts."

Stats, unfortunately for Miller, are not really his strong suit, nor have they been for his entire career in Buffalo. He had one year when he won the Vezina in 2009/10. It was a great season that featured a strong defense lead by Calder-winning defenseman Tyler Myers.

And, although his playoff stats are comparable to that of the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist, fans will not put him on the same elite level they do with "King Henrik." They look at Miller, who commanded nearly the same salary as Lundqvist, as overrated and extremely overpaid.

The "knowledgeable" fan base rarely saw, or failed to acknowledge, the inordinate amount of odd-man rushes he faced nightly and the poor defense over the years which produced countless "layups" for the opposition.

"They're paying him elite money, he should be making elite saves,"screams the fan base. "The Dominator (Dominik Hasek) would've saved them."

And there's another point.

Miller, unfortunately, has worked under the shadow of Hasek--future Hall-of-Famer and Sabre great--his entire time in Buffalo. Yes, Martin Biron was the first starter to take over, but the legacy of Hasek has still hovered over Miller and this team. After all, he was considered a "savior" and almost single-handedly won the Cup. (Hasek himself got fed up with the Buffalo hockey scene and demanded a trade)

Miller was always compared to Hasek (an unfair comparison) and the scrutiny increased after he signed a contract for $6.25M per season. The simple rule of thumb:  he's paid like an elite goalie, he should play like one.

Yet, Miller did so on many occasions. The argument could easily be made that he single-handedly kept this team in playoff contention over the past six seasons despite a parade of players that featured only one true top-line player--Vanek. He is the sole reason that this team did not end up near the bottom of the league and get a top-3 selection in the draft for the six seasons post Chris Drury/Daniel Briere.

Not good enough, though. Especially for the fan-base. "You don't win over Buffalo fans by losing hockey games and putting up mediocre seasons," he said. "And the last three years have been pretty much that."

I've come to Miller's defense on many occasions. Just click on his link. But this may be one of the last times I write of him as a Buffalo Sabre.

Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News penned a good piece concerning Miller and the probable end of the road in Buffalo for him. He started it with this, "Sometimes, you just know. If you’ve seen enough hockey stars reach the end of the line in Buffalo, you can feel it coming."

That last part, "hockey stars reaching the end of the line in Buffalo" is telling in and of itself. Stars like Hasek, Michael Peca,  Briere and dating back to Tom Barrasso, Phil "Wowie" Housley and Dave Andreychuk in the 80's and 90's, are not finishing their careers in Buffalo.

We could be adding Miller's name to that list and you can tell it's on his mind as well. (Probably Vanek too)

When asked about that possibility, Miller brought up Montreal Canadians/Colorado Avalanche great, HOF goalie, Patrick Roy. "Well, I would love to have what happened after that,” he said. “Just saying. It doesn’t mean I want to leave, but if that’s what you’re getting at. [Roy] won two Stanley Cups after that so, hey, why not?”

Sounds as if he's had it with hockey in Buffalo, a place he's often said he wants to stay and win.

He should move on, though. Not because he's statistically inept or a goalie that's not worth the money he makes, but because there's a pall over the F'N Center and the team will need more that just him to shine through it.

The weight of the fan base and their damsel in distress expectations can't be carried by one or two, or even three or four individuals. Especially the types of individual, thin-skinned players, that Regier has loaded his team with over the past decade.

"We haven't done it," Miller said post game. "We haven't lived up to any expectation and it's just been years and years of not getting it done. If [the fans] want change, if their pissed off, that's fine. It's not like we haven't been searching for a way to satisfy our needs that basically satisfy their needs. We just haven't gotten the job done."

Miller, like former head coach Lindy Ruff, has paid his dues in Buffalo.

As much as they wanted to satisfy Buffalo's thirst for a championship, there was just not enough talent and not enough of a supporting cast to pull it off.

It will be up to a "new core" players. And they'll need some pretty thick skin for the rebuilding years.

The team will need to keep thick-skinned players like Ott. They'll need to acquire thick-skinned, crusty players like the departed Robyn Regehr. And they'll need to find a goalie with thick skin as well.

If I were him, I'd have flipped off the fan-base and demanded a trade years ago.

Buffalo just can't seem to appreciate quality.

Just ask Hasek and Peca, Barrasso, Andreychuk and Housley.

























Friday, April 19, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grab some popcorn. Pegula vs. Sullivan cage-match on the horizon?

It all goes back to when Terry Pegula met the Buffalo News editorial board shortly after taking over the reigns of the Buffalo Sabres.

This is the quote from Pegula that has stuck in the craw of Sports Editor Jerry Sullivan for over two years, "I think part of the quit in this team comes from the media. Has anybody said anything good about this team recently?"

At the time the Sabres were outside a playoff spot on February 24, 2011 and they were folding the tent on numerous occasions, especially at home. So, there really wasn't much good to say about the team.

In defense of the Buffalo News, media outlets and Sabres fans here and abroad, this had been going on for three of the previous four years.

Views varied on who was to blame for the demise of the team since the end of the 2006/07 season. Certainly July 1, 2007 had a lot to do with it. And even if Pegula didn't immediately get the connection between that date and the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, he knew their names and knew the circumstances under which they left.

What's worse is that the Tom Golisano regime compounded that mistake by letting it happen again when they allowed Hank Tallinder and Toni Lydman walk. The Sabres were coming off of a first place finish in the division, rookie defenseman Tyler Myers won the Calder Cup, Ryan Miller won the Vezina and the team looked like it had a shot to make a deep run in the playoffs.

The reasoning behind those four players departing was money and/or term. That's why at his initial press conference Pegula stated that he wanted to retain quality players.

The face of those decisions, whether he was for or against them, was GM Darcy Regier.

The Buffalo News writers lead by Sullivan and Bucky Gleason, as well as a strong contingent of fans did not forget those decisions. They did not forget a lot of the negatives with Regier at the fore as GM. And there were plenty dating back to Dominik Hasek and Michael Peca--two fan favorites who left the team on less than amicable terms.

The News', lead by Sullivan and Gleason let Sabres-nation know on numerous occasions that they wanted Pegula to throw Regier's ass out the door.

It didn't happen and still hasn't happened. Which is probably the root cause of their consternation.

Gleason ripped Regier after the 2007 debacle. Some choice quotes via billszone.com:
  • The Sabres’ gross miscalculation concerning [Drury and Briere] will cost them plenty of fans, which translates to plenty of money. It’s bad business.
  • Here I was last summer praising Regier for locking up his younger players. It actually looked like the guy finally understood the importance of keeping good people. Come to find out, his real genius is keeping his job. How it has continued for a decade and counting is one of the true sports mysteries
  • Regier has alienated scouts, players, front-office types and fans for years and still came away relatively unscathed.
  • It’s safe to assume a proud hockey town feels like it was kicked in the stomach by the very team it supported, not the leaders who departed. Good thing the Sabres kept coach Lindy Ruff, at least for now. Let’s just call the Sabres’ situation what it is, the biggest personnel blunder in the history of the franchise. The Ottawa Senators fired John Muckler after he helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals because he didn’t do enough at the trade deadline. The Sabres gave Regier a contract extension for doing nothing since the deadline.
For four years the News' had to live with Regier as the GM of a mediocre hockey team. Then Pegula came along.

And Regier was still GM.

After the "Meet the Board" session, the News ended up backing off of the "negativity," or what they viewed as their version of "hard-core journalism" and adopted an "OK, show me what ya got" approach.

Here's what transpired between then and this past weekend:
  • The Sabres made the playoffs that season but were bounced in the first round again
  • The 2011 off-season offered a jolt of optimism as Regier went after whatever premier players were available and landed some pretty well-known names, an anamoly in recent Sabres history
  • Expectations were high for the 2011/12 season, but the team missed the playoffs. It was the third time in five seasons.
  • In 2012 the lockout hit, teams hit the ice in 2013, the Sabres went into an early tailspin and longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired.
And Regier's still GM.

To make matters worse, just before the season started, Regier received yet another extension, this time from Pegula, which drove the News crazy.

In all fairness, it was an extension believed to be based upon a number of moves that were made with Pegula in charge.

Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Hodgson, Nasville's 2012 first-round pick, Steve Ott, all coming to Buffalo for virtually nothing sans Derek Roy.

The team continued to struggle and Regier continued to dismantle the team to the point where the Sabres are now the youngest team in Hockey with a bevy of youngins and a multitude of picks in this year's draft.

What's gotten everyones blood boiling is that Regier created this mess. He was the architect of a team on the decline--from the Stanley Cup Finals to two "new-NHL" Eastern Conference Finals, to two first-round playoff exits to two consecutive non-playoff seasons.

He went from building for the future while adding for the present last trade-deadline to an outright rebuild this year.

Yet, he's still the GM and it looks as if he "ain't goin' nowhere."

Making matters worse is that the owner hasn't talked to the media about the state of his team. Nor has he commented on the firing of Ruff. The long-time coach was still a favorite in Buffalo and received the benefit of the doubt on many occasions. Plus, Pegula infamously uttered these words at his initial presser, "Lindy ain't goin' nowhere."

Now you have it.

With animosity towards a "Teflon" GM dating back seven years, a simmering in the News' belly for two years after Pegula's "negativity" accusation, with boos raining down on an inferior product at the F'N Center, a fired coach and an owner who has not commented on his team for nearly a year, the Buffalo media gathered for a press conference at the groundbreaking for Pegula's $172M Harbor Center project.

Despite their professional demeanor, the group of Buffalo News writers were fit to be tied. They were gonna get in there and get some answers, for the people.

They fired some loaded questions at Pegula, and the owner, much to the chagrin of the self-proclaimed "conduits of the people" was evasive, and short with his answers. Even getting a little testy.

Mike Harrington of the News was the first to get one in for his team and asked Pegula, "How tough was it emotionally for Lindy to get fired for you?"

To which Pegula responded, "I don't need to answer that now. This is a different topic today."

Harrington pressed on, "But people want to hear from you, you haven't had the chance to speak on it."

"Why don't you figure that one out" was Pegula's reply.

"But people want to hear about it, people want to hear about it," continued Harrington as the owner turned his attention to another reporter.

After a Harbor Center question, Sullivan jumped into the fray blaring his trumpet, "You're not gonna talk about hockey today and you want our cooperation today," he blurted out, "Can we get your assurance you'll come out this year and you will talk about the team at the end of the season?"

"We'll see. We'll see."

Sullivan didn't like getting blown off like that and he spent the next two days letting the sports community know.

On Sunday he released a piece, Try as he might, Pegula just doesn't get it.

"Pegula has been an evasive figure, over the last year or so." Sullivan wrote. "He didn’t bother to comment after the Sabres missed the playoffs last year. He still  hasn’t commented on his decision to fire Lindy Ruff two months ago."

What Sullivan wanted was answers. He got none and was none too thrilled about it.

"There’s an aloof, even flippant, quality to the man." he wrote. "It’s as if Pegula feels he should be above criticism from the media. He has only reinforced the suspicions I had on his first day in town, when he said the writers from our newspaper were partly responsible for the Sabres’ struggles."

Sullivan wasn't finished as he loaded up for his weekly spot on WGR's Howard Simon Show yesterday.

He talked of standing with Ted Black after the event. Apparently his congenial conversation was interrupted by Pegula who said to Black, "Watch what you say, Ted. They're tough guys." Sullivan didn't take too kindly to that.

Maybe he was trying to be funny, like Sullivan said.

Or maybe Pegula has a real disdain for Sullivan and his counterparts and awkwardly tried to mask it.

After that little tidbit, Sullivan didn't mince words concerning his view of Pegula either, "He's not that smart."

"There's some arrogance there. Back to the original day he came into our editorial board meeting, I felt this guy was an odd duck and he didn't get the public side of this or the media side of this."

Sullivan summed up his encounter with Pegula, his ill-will towards the Sabres owner, Pegula's relationship with him as the sports editor and Pegula's view of the media in general, "It was the height of arrogance. A billionaire who wants people to believe he's just a regular guy. I heard the word flippant about him and it's kind of what it is. It's like [Pegula saying] 'I'm above this. You guys are gnats, you media people.'"

Ouch.

An owner who's viewed as aloof and flippant by a group with an inferiority complex.

Yessir. The honeymoon's over.

Arrogant. Flippant. Gnats. Tough guy. Odd Duck.

Them's fightin' words and looks as if this is shaping up to be a pretty good cage match between the owner and the sports editor.

Grab some popcorn.

This should be fun.

Monday, April 15, 2013

News and notes from the weekend

It was a real good weekend for the Sabres.

Two games, only one goal against, four of four points, a rise to 10th place in the standings.

That's the good news.

Unfortunately they have only five games left, they're four points back of the Rangers having played two more games and still only have a slim chance to make the playoffs. What's worse, they've gone from 27th in the league to 21st, which means they'd be picking 10th or 11th (dependent upon who wins the lottery) if the draft were today.

There's a vocal minority of fans who are booing this move up the standings. Their cry, "They even suck at sucking!" Their goal:  Tank for a top-three pick.

They have a point. Why win now?

There were three opportunities throughout this shortened season to gain valuable points. Three times they went on four-game winless streaks.

The first one straddled the end of the Lindy Ruff era and the beginning of the Ron Rolston era. Four games, no points.

After a three-game winning streak, they proceeded to go four games without a win. Four games, this time two points.

With the team on the rise late in the month of March, they headed to the Sunshine State on a three-game winning streak, then proceeded to lose both games. They followed that up with two more losses at home. Four games, one point.

That pretty much sealed their fate for this season--out of the playoffs.

In addition, that pretty much brought to an end the era of Darcy Regier's "core."


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

I've often felt that Rolston's time behind the bench was more of an evaluation period to see who could do what moving forward. Regier pretty much conceded the season at the deadline when he moved captain Jason Pominville for picks and prospects. No "build for the future while adding for the present" like he did the previous year with the trade for Cody Hodgson.

The roster shuffle brought in more youngins from the trade deadline through this weekend including two young defenseman, Mark Pysyk and Chad Ruhwedel.

Pysyk, a 2010 first round pick (#23 overall,) was brought in after Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr were traded and Alexander Sulzer was lost for the season.

He is a defensive defenseman who plays a simple game. A first year pro, Pysyk has shown immense poise in his own end and seems to always be in position.

Not bad for a 21 yr. old.

When Tyler Myers went down with a season-ending injury, the Sabres did not bring up a young d-man from Rochester.

They signed one of the better prospects out of college in Ruhwedel.

"Rudy" spent three seasons with U-Mass Lowell and his team just lost in the Frozen Four. He sat down with his coach before deciding to make the jump to the NHL a mere two days later.

In a perfect storm for the first team All-American, the Sabres needed a defenseman, while he was looking to sign with a team that would give him a shot in the NHL immediately. With the Sabres down to five defenseman, in he went for the afternoon game vs. Philly.

At 5" 11" 188 lbs., "Rudy" is on the smaller side for a defenseman, but he seems to play much bigger. He has two games under his belt and has acquitted himself very well with an even plus/minus rating in 24 total minutes of ice time.

For some nice background on the 22 yr. old and his whirlwind weekend, visit Bill Hoppe.


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

In addition to the new bodies on defense, Luke Adam also got another shot with the big club.

He played in four games and scored a goal, but was a healthy scratch--in favor of John Scott-- the last two, which is not a good sign for him.

Scott has been playing really well for the team and has been earning his minutes. He played a season-high 10:43 vs Tampa yesterday.

He's doing a lot of things well on the ice in addition to his enforcer role. He seems to be skating real well (for him,) his positioning has been real sound, and he's leveling some players in the open ice.

This is not to say that he's a top-six or even a top-nine player, but he is showing signs that he might be able to stay in his enforcer role while playing fourth-line minutes.

Oh, and he's pretty funny too, adding a bit of levity to a bleak Sabres season by punkin' the youngins.







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

Scott was on a line with Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno over the weekend forming a pretty beefy line.

Interesting to note that Foligno centered the trio.

The Sabres have a lot of skill up the middle, but lack size (Adam was to have addressed that,) and Foligno at center certainly would address that.

In two games at center he's done very well on the dot winning 15 of 19 draws.

Obviously there's more to the center position than just faceoffs (just ask Paul Gaustad,) but it's an intriguing stat none the less.

Also, playing the center position forces a player to be fully engaged on the ice. At 21 Foligno has had his up moments where he's a power forward causing havoc in front of the net and along the boards and he's had his down moments where he doesn't move his feet.

Not sure what will happen, but in a year like this, why not see what he has at center?

I mean, they're already using a defenseman who's fresh out of college in their top-six.

What can it hurt at this point of the season?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

You can't teach old dogs new tricks, or...

which "core" veterans will be retained?

I like interim head coach Ron Rolston.

I like his attention to detail, I like what he's stressed defensively and I like he work he's done with the players he's been given.

In a very short time he's managed to stabilize a very ugly situation. The team is still blowing leads, still laying an egg from time to time and still playing inconsistent hockey, but there seems to be more of a concerted effort, especially in the defensive zone.

There are still some concerns, like the ability to bury a scoring chance. It's something that's been going on for years. Two nights ago at Winnipeg, forward Thomas Vanek admitted that he could've had at least three, maybe four goals instead of none.

Other areas of concern are poor passing, a tendency to play "too cute," and an anemic powerplay. All of which are intertwined and were at one point getting better. Unfortunately it's gone south.

Rolston walked into a huge headache and he's done admirably thus far. The Sabres have a 10-8-5 record since he took over. Whether or not he'll get another shot next year is up in the air, but one thing we know; the organization is continuing to part ways with the "old dogs" of the team; read GM Darcy Regier's "core" or, as President Ted Black calls them, the "Rochester Guys."

There are only three Sabres left who go back to the first post-lockout season--Vanek, Ryan Miller and Jochen Hecht. Two others, Drew Stafford and Andrej Sekera made their debuts in the 2006/07 season.

How are these "old dogs" doing in the 23 games with Rolston at the helm?

Vanek--14 games played:  4 goals, 4 assists, -2
Hecht--22 GP (one healthy scratch):  3g, 4a, +5
Stafford--21 GP (two healthy scratches):  4g, 2a, -11
Sekera--17 GP:  1g, 7a, +2

Miller--20 GP (one in relief late in the third):  8 wins, 8 losses, 4 OT/SO losses (including the relief appearance) On Feb 21, he had a 2.94 GAA and a .915 Sv%. As of today he has a 2.78 GAA and a .914 Sv.%.

Come June and beyond, it would seem as if more big changes are on the way with the above five players being the focus.

Two of them, Vanek and Miller, have hefty cap-hits for the 2013/14 season,Vanek-$7.1M and Miller $6.25M, and both will be on the last year of those contracts.  Both are core players in the middle of their prime and both have said that they're really not looking forward to a long rebuilding process.

About the only difference between the two heading into next season is Miller having a limited no-trade contract. Vanek has not.

One or both may be gone in the off-season, be it an organizational decision or the individual players decision.

Stafford is signed for $4M over the next two seasons. Sekera has a $2.75M cap-hit for two more seasons, but is only due $3.5M in salary over those two seasons.

Hecht will be an unrestricted free agent at seasons' end.

Stafford has had a horrendous season and his name was linked to trade rumors for a month leading up to the April 3 trade deadline. He could find his way to another team for "fresh start."

Sekera is somewhat of a wizard. Some of his plays are so atrocious--like a direct responsibility for both Boston goals in a 2-0 loss, that you want him shipped to the KHL. Yet, he manages to play a good "puckmover" type of game, and the next thing you know he has goals, assists and is in the plus-column.

As for Hecht. As long as Rolston or any other coach uses him in a 4th-line/bottom-six role, his game has worth. Plus he doesn't carry a hefty price-tag anymore.

In addition to the future of interim coach Rolston, question marks abound with the Sabres organization going forward. And that includes the GM position where one could speculate as to whether or not Regier will be in charge of the rebuild. In the past month he has amassed a bevy of picks by trading Jordan Leopold (2013 2nd-rounder) and Robyn Regehr (2014 2nd and 2015 2nd).

He also received a 2013 1st and 2014 2nd from Minnesota for Jason Pominville at the trade deadline. In addition to those two picks he received two mid-upper level prospects:  forward Johan Larsson and goalie Matt Hackett.

Senior Advisor Ken Sawyer, owner Terry Pegula's right-hand man, has called Regier a "hockey genius." Based upon the work Regier has done between the 2012 and 2013 trade deadlines, it would be a very accurate statement...at least when it comes to acquiring draft picks and prospects.

But Regier has not made any moves for roster players since Steve Ott came over from Dallas for Derek Roy, which may lead one to believe that Pegula's unsure as to Regier's choice of roster players.

Circling back to the "old dogs" learning Rolston's new tricks, the stat-line for the recently traded Pominville--the captain of "the core"--under Rolston:  20 GP, 3g, 7a, +3.

By comparison, Vanek and Pominville's center through most of the season has been Cody Hodgson. Under Rolston:  22 GP, 6g, 9a, +4.

Hodgson, it should be noted, played 19 games in Rochester with Rolston as head coach. He had 5g, 14a, and was a minus-3.

Which of the veterans will be around at the beginning of next season?

Maybe the first question should be, what kind of player does Pegula want?

Methinks this quote from Pegula's initial presser is the one that should come to the forefront:
"I want not only statistically good players, but winners, gritty players."
Legendary Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour, revered the same qualities in his players as well. When asked by Mark Malinkowski of the Hockey News the people/personality qualities he most admired, Arbour said, "Honesty. The grit. The people who never quit."

It's almost time for a look at who will be a part of the Pegula Rewards Program, 2013.


Addendum

Regier receives a vote of confidence from Black this morning:

“My opinion of Darcy is based on my work history with him, which is two years,” Black said. “That’s how I judge him. I think the opportunities that he’s had, whether it be through free agency to the trade deadlines and the draft, I think he has done well in each of those instances.


“That doesn’t mean that I think Darcy has built a championship team right now since we’ve bought the team. I think he has used those opportunities to improve us.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Sabres fans booing the home team

Last summer Steve Ott came over from Dallas in a trade for Derek Roy.

Most Sabres fans were elated:  in comes anti-core player, out goes one of Darcy Regier's "core" players. In other words:  in comes grit, out goes soft-but-skilled.

In the short time that Ott has taken the ice for the Sabres, he's become a fan favorite with his rugged style of play as well as his production.

Many even wanted him named captain after Jason Pominville was shipped to Minnesota at the trade deadline.

That's how beloved he is in Buffalo.

Ott has battled many an opponent on the ice in defense of his teammates. And now he has himself an off-ice battle with the Sabres fans who are booing and mocking his teammates.

The fan-base has witnessed years of poor play for many years at the F'N Center. Much of that poor play has lead to losses. It even lead to the eventual firing of long-time coach Lindy Ruff.

But the fans of Buffalo seem to have taken booing the home team to another level.

In a game vs. Boston with the game tied, they booed the team when the powerplay languished.

Sunday night vs. New Jersey, the Devils pinned the Sabres in their own zone for more than 2 minutes, which is an eternity. Eventually Kevin Porter took a cross-checking penalty to end the onslaught. The Devils scored 5 seconds into the powerplay.

For the rest of the game, They gave a Bronx cheer on many occasions when the Sabres cleared their zone.

The boo-birds also came out throughout the game, a game they eventually won in a shootout.

So, in essence, not only do the Sabres have to overcome the opponent, but they also need to overcome a very ornery "home" crowd.

Ott was on WGR's Howard Simon Show this morning and gave his take on the booing (via Howard Simon):

"It's completely ridiculous," he said. “Its disheartening when we get hemmed in our zone and they’re basically mocking us. When you get up past the blue line and you finally get it in their zone after a minute and a half shift where they didn’t even have a scoring opportunity. I guess you can say it was more of the mocking of my teammates that probably pissed a lot of guys off including myself. You're a fan of the Buffalo Sabres and hopefully, you come to cheer us on and motivate us."

Pretty sure that statement didn't sit well with the fan-base. And if it weren't for Ott's stature with the fans, the e-mails and texts the show received after the interview would have been much more negative than the 50/50 split the host said it was.

I can imagine if Ryan Miller came out and said the same thing. There would be a strong contingency grabbing their pitchforks yelling, "Miller is a friggen cry baby who should take his ass and his $6M salary and get the hell out of town!!!"

One can understand the frustration of watching cute, uninspired/uninspiring play that more often than not ends up in a loss. It's been going on since the 2007/08 season.

But most of the players that were on those teams are gone and there are a lot of fresh faces who were not a part of that.

Ott continued, "We've got a lot of young players on this team and they definitely don't deserve to be booed. They deserve to have that excitement and energy. It’s definitely not their fault for the last six years of frustration that's gone on.”

And it's not their fault. They're doing the best they can with their God-given talents, their individual will and what limited knowledge rookie coach Ron Rolston gives them for guidance.

The booing by fans is ridiculous. In some ways and in some instances, there is probably a large group of fans who are subconsciously booing their own piss-poor existence. They look upon the Sabres (or Bills) vicariously as a way to make them feel better about themselves and their existence.

That's what entertainment is for.

And when they cannot derive any satisfaction from their life or from their escape, out come the boos.

That's life for the Buffalo players right now. And they'll need to overcome it, as if overcoming their short-comings, youth and their mid-season bottom-feeder standings wasn't enough.

One of the good things is that players without thick skin will wilt under the pressure and be exposed for the soft players they are.

We've already seen some of them either shipped out or not re-signed:  Roy, Tim Connolly, Pominville, Jordan Leopold and Brad Boyes to name a few. Drew Stafford seems to be another one who's set to exit.

All of these players are of the same ilk:  soft-but-skilled.

All of them a part of Regier's grand plan.

Players like Ott and Patrick Kaleta and even Nate Gerbe all play an honest game and have thick skin.

Miller and Thomas Vanek have loads of skill, but have also passed through a myriad of thresholds to make them mostly impervious to the negativity of the boo-birds. And, if they desire, they'll be able to take their talents elsewhere after next season as UFA's.

As for the youngins like Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Brian Flynn, Mark Pysyk, etc., it's a good learning tool and will eventually flesh out any dishonest, wimpy players coming up through the ranks.

And as the team moves forward, purging the core and building for the future, one should look at this stretch to see who's performing under these stressful circumstances. These are the ones that will be able to collectively push Sisyphus' boulder up the hill and (hopefully) over the top.

Steve Ott was absolutely right to call out the fans, as much as the fans have every right to boo.

There's one thing the he, along with Miller, needs to stress to his teammates though:  that in no way shape or form should this team be playing for the fans.

Fans are fickle and generally uneducated. There could be multiple reasons why they're in the mood they're in.

It's not that Sabres' fans don't "deserve" a championship with all the heartbreak they've been through. In fact in a fair world Buffalo would be at the front of the line.

But no man or team for that matter should be looked to as a savior for a community. It doesn't work that way. Just ask Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills.

Simply put, the Sabres should be of the mindset to win a championship for themselves first.

They should be playing for their own pride as well as their teammates. They should also be playing for their coaching staff, the management team and their owner who put the crest on their sweater.

Then and only then will the team be able to bring the Cup to Buffalo.

The players still need to acknowledge the crowd and should continue to salute them at center ice.

But they should never look upon themselves as a "savior" first, Buffalo Sabre second. It doesn't work and will only lead to more boos.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Pominville pity party is pathetic

OK.

Jason Pominville is gone.

So?

Why the pity party?

One can understand why former teammate Thomas Vanek is somewhat upset. His relationship was a bit more personal as Pominville was his neighbor and a player he's played his entire career with.

Not only that, Pominville was the third veteran player traded by the Sabres in the five days. Defenseman Jordan Leopold was traded to St. Louis on Saturday and fellow d-man Robyn Regehr was traded to Los Angeles two days later.

Of course Vanek was in shock. He should have been. Only he and Miller are left of "the Rochester Guys," otherwise known as GM Darcy Regier's "core."

The "core" was a failure and Pominville was the face of that "core" after Tim Connolly was not re-signed two years ago, Paul Gaustad was traded at the 2012 trade deadline and Derek Roy was traded last summer.

That group of soft-but-skilled forwards was nicknamed "the suck sisters" by the late JT on another site. On that same site they were frequently referred to as "purse-carriers."

And they were.

Sure they could score points. But, so what?

When the pressure was turned up, they wilted. Always did.

For years we heard fans clamoring for a more "blue collar" team, one that would work hard, get their nose dirty, leave everything out on the ice and play a full 60 minutes. And how many times over the past 5+ seasons did we Sabres fans get that?

Very few and far between. Pominville wore a letter on his sweater all those years.

That team, a team that Regier built and sold as a playoff team, was about as vanilla as it gets.

Blasé. Bland. Emotionless.

Other than Pominville's short-handed, series-clinching overtime winner in Ottawa, was there ever anything really exciting about him?

Sure, everyone says that Pominville had to be traded for one reason or another. WGR's Brian Kozial was bemoaning it as if the team had lost Adam Oates or Ron Francis.

Over the past 5+ seasons this has been one of the easiest teams to play against in the league. The reason? The "core." And Pomiville was the one of the leaders of this group.

He needed to go, as the core players before him needed to go.

I'm more saddened that it didn't work out for Regehr than I am for Pominville. I don't care how slow or lacking in offensive prowess Regehr was, he was "anti-core," a tough player to play against who's game is encapsulated in his intense, on-ice scowl. Pominville? His demeanor was more of a soccer mom.

Good luck, Minnesota.

Pominville is a good all-around player who will play in all situations and put up some points. If Wild GM Chuck Fletcher feels that's what he needs, fine. Glad to do business.

If Vanek and Miller are unhappy about it, sorry. It's professional sports.

If fans are unhappy, get over yourselves. It's the change y'all have been clamoring for. Sorry it came true.

I was happy when Hank Tallinder left. Happy when Connolly wasn't re-signed. Happy that Gaustad was traded and thrilled that the Sabres got a first-rounder for him.

When Roy was traded, I was ecstatic. The purge of the "core" was really on, something I'd been wanting to see for years. And when I heard that Steve Ott was coming back, it was even better. More anti-core players.

When Leopold was traded, I liked it. How many "puck-movers" do you need in the top-six on defense?

And when Pominville was traded, no remorse whatsoever. I don't care if he carries the Cup with Minny. I don't care if he scores 40 goals. He's gone. And the return was exceptional.

Hey Buffalo fans, there's a full-blown purge of the old core going on. You all should be thrilled with it.

If you're sulking. Sorry.

Simply put, lamenting a purge of the core, especially having the face of the core traded, is weak and pathetic.

As weak and pathetic as this team has looked for the better part of 5+ years.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Rolling back organizationally"

Or, "reboot."

Or the old-fashioned, "rebuild."

Which ever way you slice it, the Buffalo Sabres are looking towards the future.

GM Darcy Regier used the term, "rolling back organizationally," as if anyone really cares. I'm sure many fans in Buffalo would prefer a straight-shooterinstead so a euphemism like that should be thrown on an iceberg heading over the Falls.

Sabres President Ted Black said he prefers "reboot." He said, jokingly, he wants to here Canadians say "it's all aboot the reboot."

Nice attempt at humor from Owner Terry Pegula's PR-guy.

Or how about peeling off another core player from a group that failed.

Regier's "core," or as Black put it, "the Rochester Guys," are being dismantled piece by piece and there are only two left--Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller (maybe three if you want to include cusp core-guy Drew Stafford.)

Shall we go through the list again?

Tim Connolly, Paul Gaustad, Derek Roy and now Jason Pominville all gone, along with the long-time coach of "the core," Lindy Ruff.

Pegula gave this group a full-blown opportunity to show what they could do last season. The organization went all in with "the core" by sewing letters on all of them:  Pominville, Captain; Gaustad, Roy, Vanek and Stafford, Assistants.

The result? An ugly first-half of the season lowlighted by Miller getting steam-rolled by Milan Lucic with no retribution and the longest road losing streak in team history December through January.

During the 2012 off-season the team decided that they needed to be "tougher to play against." Out the door was Roy. In was Steve Ott. They also brought in enforcer John Scott.

The result?

Near the bottom of the league again. Out goes the coach. Out goes the captain.

The Sabres refrained from completely blowing it up for one reason or another, and it's a good thing.

There will be opportunities for the team to move Vanek and Miller this summer or even as late as the trade deadline next season. Both will be on the last year of their respective contracts.

Stafford could be moved next season as well. He'll have two years remaining on his contract.

Word on the street right now is that Vanek and Miller do not want to go through a lengthy rebuild and would be open to getting traded. And it would seem as if management will have no qualms about moving either or both. Too many times in the past Sabres let unrestricted free agents leave without a return. Pegula's directive to Regier is make sure you get something in return for pending UFA's of quality.

The return Regier received for Gaustad, Roy and Pominville can not be disputed:  A first round pick for Gaustad, Ott for Roy, a first, second and two prospects for Pominville. He's gathering picks for the "organizational rollback."

But, will he be the one in charge of the rebuild come seasons' end?

That's up for discussion in the next few months.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Trade deadline day

The trade deadline is upon us. Time for some thoughts and speculation as to what the Buffalo Sabres might do today.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier already has begun making moves. It's unusual for him. Normally he's the type of GM that waits until today, even late into the day, to make his moves.

But, this past Saturday he traded defenseman Jordan Leopold to St. Louis for a 2013 second-rounder and a conditional 5th (could be a 4th if the Blues advance one round in the playoffs.)

On Monday Regier traded defenseman Robyn Regehr to the LA Kings for second-rounders in 2014 and 2015.

I can't help but think that sub-consciously, Regier's on some kind of karmic mission to come full-circle. He traded away second-round picks three consecutive years: Dominic Moore, 2009; Raffi Torres, 2010; Brad Boyes, 2011.

Of note, Leopold and Regehr joined the previously traded TJ Brennan (FLA, 5th round pick) as three of the Sabres top-eight d-men have already been traded. And there's one more that has the potential as well.

Defenseman Adam Pardy, like Leopold and Regehr, will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end and he might be on the block as well.

Considering that veteran defensemen are a hot commodity at this time of year, it wouldn't be surprising if he's the fourth of Buffalo's original top-eight defenseman to be moved.

And it wouldn't be too surprising if the stay-at-home, mid-bottom pairing d-man fetches a second rounder as well.

The Sabres also have two more pending UFA's in forwards Jochen Hecht and John Scott.

Regier may convince a contender looking for depth that Hecht has value. If he could get anything higher than a 7th-rounder in 2022 it would be a semi-miracle.

As for Scott, he's an enforcer whom I happen to like and hope the Sabres re-sign. Not sure there's a market for him.

Then there's the Sabres "Big-3":  Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.

All carry pretty hefty cap-hits, all are considered to be upper-level players and all will be UFA's at the end of next season. But two of them, Miller and Pominville, have limited no-trade clauses where they name eight teams they do not wish to be traded to.

Breaking it down, the most likely to be moved is Pominville.

A solid top-six winger who plays in all situations, Pominville is known for his consistency and smart play.

He's been in a slump lately and for this writer, it could be the beginning of his plateauing (maybe even decline.)

Any number of teams in the playoff hunt, in a playoff spot or with Cup-aspirations could use a player like him.

Andrew Peters mentioned the New Jersey Devils as a perfect fit. I concur.

The market for goalies is thin, but it's being said that there are at least three on the market:  Roberto Louongo (VAN,) Mikka Kiprusoff (CGY) and Miller.

In regards to Miller, two teams that would most definitely be in the market are Toronto and Winnipeg. Methinks, though, that both of those teams would be on Miller's no-trade list.

The best fit for Miller, as I've mentioned a couple of times already, would be St. Louis. Their goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have come back to earth. They have a young up and coming goalie in Jake Allen who has mad potetntial.

Having Allen behind Miller for the next season and change would be a solid tandem that could carry a well-rounded, solid defensive team deep into the playoffs.

It might not happen today, but could happen at the draft.

As for Vanek.

He does not have a NTC and there would be a number of teams interested in his services. Because of that teams like Columbus, Winnipeg and Edmonton could all be destinations with a strong return coming back.

Of all the "Big-3," Regier has the most flexibility with Vanek and it would make him the most tradeable.

But Vanek is the only true top-line player on the team. They might wait until next year's deadline to see where the team is and find out what Vanek's thinking.

Another Sabres player that's getting a lot of attention is power forward Drew Stafford.

Stafford is having a very poor year, but is young, big and has scored 30+ goals in a year.

It's been reported that a number of teams are interested in Staff this morning and if the price is right, he'll be gone.

Columbus, who has three first-rounders at the draft this year, would make the most sense. They've already said that the LA first-rounder is in play. Is Stafford worth a first round pick?

Was Paul Gaustad last season?




So.

Because everyone's into predictions here's mine for the Sabres:

--Adam Pardy to any number of teams for a 2013 second round pick
--Jochen Hecht:  goin' nowhere
--John Scott:  goin' nowhere

--Jason Pominville and a mid-low level prospect (Luke Adam?) to New Jersey for a first-rounder, a future second and a fourth or fifth.
--Ryan Miller to St. Louis, either today or at the draft, for Jaroslav Halak, a prospect and a future first-rounder.
--Thomas Vanek:  goin' nowhere

--Drew Stafford and a lower pick (maybe even Hecht?) to Columbus for LA's 2013 first-rounder





Optimistic?

Why not?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2013 Individual Stats--March

The Sabres head to Pittsburgh to face the hottest team in the NHL. The Pens are winners of 15 straight, two wins short of their own NHL record.

GM Darcy Regier has the team in full transition mode as Buffalo just traded their third defenseman, Robyn Regehr (TJ Brennan and Jordan Leopold.)

Buffalo's leading scorer Thomas Vanek is out tonight, as is Ville Leino. Defenseman Adam Pardy and forward Luke Adam have been called up from Rochester.

With the team in sell-mode looking towards the future, we take a look back at individual stats for the month of March. The Sabres went 5-5-5 in the month.

We'll start with the goaltenders, Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth.

Despite a poor team record, both Miller and Enroth played very well for the month, and it's safe to say that were it not for them, the team would be battling Florida for the worst record in the league.

Both Miller and Enroth lead the team in the 3-star rankings, earning stars in multiple games. The only other player on the team to do that was forward Tyler Ennis.

Enroth is really starting to pick things up. For the month he went 2-0-1 with a no-decision vs. New Jersey when he left the game with an injury. He earned a game star in all his appearances including the Devils' game.

His save percentage took a huge leap forward to .908 while he brought his goals against average down to 2.95.

Although Miller's stats went down slightly, he's been playing well including game-stars in losses.

Buffalo's goaltenders continue to face the most shots/game with one of the poorer defenses in front of them.

Speaking of their defense, as a whole they seem to be picking things up on offense with Christian Ehrhoff finding his game and leading the team in plus/minus for the month.

Andrej Sekera, despite losing coverage on both Boston goals this past Sunday also had a good month (relatively speaking) coming in at a plus-3.

Forward Steve Ott got himself going offensively in the month of March with two goals and seven assists.

Tyler Ennis is having a real good season. With 26 points in 35 games he projects out to around 20 goals and 35 assists over and 82 game season.

Not bad for his first year playing center full time.

The Sabres other top-six center, Cody Hodgson, is having a real good year as well.

He lead the team in points, was tied for the lead in goals, and was second in assists for the month of March.

Hodgson is on a pace for 25 goals and 35 assists for an 82 game season. It is his first season in a top--six center role.

Interesting note on Hodgson.

He was dropped to the fourth line between Patrick Kaleta and John Scott, both of whom have zero points this season, in their 2-0 loss to Boston.

Interim coach Ron Rolston implied that part of the reason for Hodgson's demotion was his defensive zone coverage.

Hodgson for the month of March was second on the team in plus/minus with a plus-4.

All-in-all there weren't too many positives for the past month.

Probably the best thing to come out of their 5-5-5 record was a clear look as to what this team really is and the direction the team is headed, which is--an NHL bottom-feeder with some talented players to build around for the future.



Points:
  • January--Thomas Vanek-15; Jason Pominville-12; Cody Hodgson-6
  • February--Vanek-12; Hodgson, Tyler Ennis--11
  • March--Hodgson-11; Ennis-10; Ott-9 

Goals:
  • January--Vanek-6; Pominville-5; Hodgson-4
  • February--Vanek-6; Ennis-5, Hodgson-4
  • March--Vanek, Hodgson, Stafford, Foligno-4
Powerplay Goals:
  • January--Vanek-3; Pominville, Steve Ott, Tyler Myers-1
  • February--Vanek-2; Ennis-1
  • March--Vanek-2; Hodgson, Foligno, Ott, Leino, Ehrhoff-1 

Assists:
  • January--Vanek, 9; Pominville-7; Christian Ehrhoff-5
  • February--Hodgson-7; Vanek, Ennis-6
  • March--Ennis-8; Hodgson, Ott-7

Powerplay Assists
  • January--Vanek, Pominville-3; Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Ehrhoff-2
  • February--Ennis-2; Foligno, Ehrhoff-1
  • March--Ennis-4; Pominville, Hodgson, Myers-2

Primary Assists--
  • January--Vanek, Pominville-3; Drew Stafford, Ehrhoff-2
  • February--Stafford, Ennis-4; Vanek, Ott, Jochen Hecht-3
  • March--Hodgson, Ennis-5; Ott, Ehrhoff-4 

Plus/Minus:
  • January--Vanek +4; Alexander Sulzer, Mike Weber +3
  • February--Ott +5, TJ Brennan +3; Ehrhoff +2
  • March--Ehrhoff-6; Hodgson-4; Hecht, Sekera-3 
Plus/Minus (bottom)
  • January--Stafford, Jordan Leopold -4; Myers, Mikhail Grigorenko -3
  • February--Hodgson, Andrej Sekera -5; Stafford, Foligno, Regehr, Weber -4
  • March--Stafford, Ennis, Ott -3

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)
  • March--Miller (8); Ennis, Enroth (6) 
Goalies (year to date):

Ryan Miller
  • January--3-2-1; .920 sv % (20th); 2.64 gaa (28th); 0 shutouts
  • February--8-12-1; .917 (26th); 2.83 (T-45); 0
  • March--11-15-5; .911 (31st); 2.89 (54th); 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
  • March--2-2-1; .908 (42nd) 2.95 (62nd); 0 



Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 Team Stats--March

The Sabres dropped a 2-0 decision to Boston last night.

During the last week, a "make or break" week before the Wednesday trade deadline, they went 0-2-2. A record like that pretty much seals their fate for the year. That fate being:  Sell, sell, sell.

Going 5-5-5 for the month of March speaks for itself and even though Sabres GM Darcy Regier would twist that into a .500 record, the fact is they ended up on the losing end in 10 of 15 games. "Loser points" moved the team up a notch from 14th to 13th in the conference, but they remain last in the division and their goal differential remains near the bottom of the league (27th) clocking in at a minus-19.

This team has holes all over the place and has shown drastic inconsistencies within games as well as through various stretches of games. Before the four-game winless streak, Buffalo was winners of three in a row. That three game win streak had some thinking the team might make their annual stretch-run push.

Not.

In all the key statistical categories--goal differential, powerplay, penalty kill, and faceoffs--the team is at or near the bottom of the league. Were it not for some stellar goaltending from both Ryan Miller and back-up Jhonas Enroth, they'd be at the bottom of the league in goals-against as well. That tandem has faced the most shots in the league all season, and anyone watching the games would see incredible saves game-in, game-out.

Interim coach Ron Rolston, in his first full month as head honcho, placed his focus upon defense first and the powerplay second. Despite the numbers, the defense has been playing much better as "Keystone Cops" moments have diminished considerably. And the powerplay, although still disjointed, has gotten better even though it dropped a notch to 29th.

After last weeks' four-game winless stretch, there shouldn't be any delusions about a late playoff push.

The Sabres are what their record says they are. They are what their team stats say they are.

A 27th-place team in the NHL.


Wins:

  • January--3 (T-13th)
  • February--8 (T-23rd)
  • March--13 (T-27th)

Points:
  • January--7 (T-15th)
  • February--17 (T-27th)
  • March--32--(26th)
Eastern Conference Standing:
  • January--T-9th
  • February--14th
  • March--13th 

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

Goal Differential:
  • January--T-12th
  • February--T-27 (-13)
  • March--27th (-19)

Goals/Game:
  • January--3.29 (7th)...(#1 TB-4.83)
  • February--2.48 (T-22)...(TB--3.55)
  • March--2.50 (21st)...(PIT--3.36)

Shots/Game:
  • January--31.9 (7th)...(#1 CAR--38)
  • February--29.6 (12th)...(CAR--33)
  • March--28.5 (18th)...(OTT--32.1)

Goals Against/Game:
  • January--3.29 (24th)...(#1 OTT--1.71)
  • February--3.19 (27th)...(CHI--1.70)
  • March--3.03 (25th)...(OTT--2.06)

Shots Against/Game:
  • January--34.3 (30th)...(#1 STL--20.3)
  • February--33.9 (30th)...(STL--22.9)
  • March--33.1 (30th)...(STL--22.1) 

Powerplay:
  • January--24% (11th)...(#1 NYI--37.5)
  • February--12.3 (28th)...(ANA--29.3)
  • March--13.1 (29th)...(PHI--24.8) 

Penalty Kill:
  • January--82.8% (12th)...(#1 CHI--91.3)
  • Februrary--80.5 (17th)...(BOS--93.9)
  • March--77.0 (28th)...(BOS--90.8) 

Faceoffs:
  • January--42.1% (30th)...(#1 BOS--60.1)
  • February--45.8 (30th)...(BOS--57.4)
  • March--45.5 (29th)...(BOS--57.1)