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 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.


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.”

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