Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sabres are in a win-win with Matt Moulson, even if they decide to trade him

(but, they should keep him)

Being fully aware of how Steve Bernier came into Buffalo and wowwed the fans during his first game, only to fall off the face of the earth and quickly leave Buffalo, I'm loving what Matt Moulson brought to the table in his first game.

And knowing full well that the Sabres could more than likely add to their bounty of first round picks if they decided to trade him, I wouldn't move Matt Moulson unless he can't be re-signed or unless the return is too good to pass up.

Here's why.

Unlike the former #26, Moulson plays a full 200' game from start to finish. Everyone in Buffalo noticed it, head coach Ron Rolston was raving about it.

And his linemates certainly responded to how he plays the game. Tyler Ennis got his first two assists of the season and Cody Hodgson had a little more pep than usual.

This is the type of player Sabres fans have been wanting for a while--a top-six forward, that's in constant motion, skating hard in all three zones for the entire game.

Matt Moulson has always played that way.

Also, how many times over the last two or three years, or even longer, have various Sabres said post-game that they had opportunities, but just couldn't finish? Including the former #26.

Moulson is a finisher.

Sure, he had John Tavares during those multiple 30-goal seasons. But Moulson finished the play. Tavares didn't pass him the puck, skate over to him and help him put the puck in the net.

Moulson buried those passes from Tavares. And as showed in his first game, he can finish no matter who's passing him the puck.

During the next few months Sabres fans will see just how much finish he has and whether or not he can do it consistently. They'll see what affect the 31 yr. old veteran has on the team.

But should he continue to play a 200' game at a 30-goal pace, is there any reason why the Sabres shouldn't attempt to re-sign him to a long-term contract?

There's absolutely no legitimate reason as to why they should not.

"Buffalo could add another first-round pick, maybe more if they traded Moulson," you might say. But the retort would be, how many more draft picks do the Sabres want to acquire before there are too many? They will need players. They need players with skill and will, players who are "un-core like." They will need veterans as well. Preferably vets who contribute consistently in a positive way, especially on the scoresheet. Moulson fits into that category.

Besides, Ryan Miller is on the block and he should land at least a first-rounder. If that's not enough, Christian Ehrhoff doesn't look like his "core-like" game fits into the future of "hard to play against." He's a trade possibility.

And there's also Tyler Myers as well. Methinks that Edmonton would seriously entertain Myers for a first-rounder. They've had plenty of those.

"The Sabres will need to overpay to keep Moulson," you say.

I say, "so what."

There's a salary cap and a salary floor. Buffalo can't ice a team of all rookies and fourth liners, they will need to pay someone.

The salary floor for next season will be somewhere around $45m. The Sabres are slated to have $35m tied up in 15 players.

They could conceivably drop $4m on Ott and $6m on Moulson (they won't, it's just an example,) and hit the cap floor with only six more players to sign. With the cap ceiling is slated to be somewhere around $67m, they will have plenty of room to do whatever they want to do. So overpayment really isn't an issue.

No matter what GM Darcy Regier decides to do with Moulson, the Sabres are in a win-win situation. If they decide to trade him, another first round pick (at least) is on the way.

If the Sabres decide to keep him and sign him long-term, which I hope they do, they'll have found themselves a finisher who plays a 200' game.

Pretty sure every Cup-winner had at least one player like that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Vanek, The Buffalo News and McDavid

Former Buffalo Sabres winger Thomas Vanek hit the ice last night for his new team, the NY Islanders. He did not hit the scoresheet, but was credited with one shot, two hits and 19 minutes of ice-time as the Isles dropped a 3-2 decision to the cross-town rival Rangers.

No reason to fret, Isles fans. Soon enough he'll show that he actually has some wheels, can back-check, won't be found cheating in the defensive zone and will be putting up points in bunches.

That's the way he rolls.

When all things come together, Vanek will marvel fans with his slapshot, tip-ins and deft passing and he will look as if he should be one of the highest paid players in the league. Then...

Usually around this time he'll slip into a slump, probably because a nagging injury that will keep him in and out of the line up short-term.

That's Thomas Vanek and that's why I'm glad that he reportedly rejected a Sabres offer to make him the highest paid player in the league.

Thank you, Thomas. You go follow that money trail somewhere else.

The Buffalo News still hating on Regier.

The above link on the offer to Thomas Vanek from the Sabres came from the Buffalo News' Jon Vogl, a good solid hockey writer.


What seemed to do was subtly take a swipe at the Sabres organization. Not to defend what GM Darcy Regier has done at times, but this was a good move. Clearly Vanek didn't want to stay in Buffalo during a long rebuild. Here's what he wrote:

"Thomas Vanek could have been paid handsomely to stay in Buffalo. A source, in fact, says the Sabres were willing to make him the highest-paid player in the NHL.
He'd rather win than take part in a rebuild, which has been his message since last season."

Of course he would, Jon. What player worth his salt wouldn't? At the end of the season, Vanek will be able to make money and pick his team.

It could be that I took it all wrong with that Vogl line, but there's no mistaking what Bucky Gleason of the News' was getting at when he penned, Good Vanek deal won't cover Regier' mistakes.

The Ol' Buckster busted out the knitting needles once again. The wanna-be GM/Sports writer who has "all the answers" finally, begrudgingly gave Regier some credit. Only it was cloaked in a piece that continues to dredge up mostly some bad moments in Regier's 17-year history as GM of the Sabres.

He writes that he could "do this (rag on Regier) all day." Yes, Buckster, we know that, you've been doing it for years now. And there's a lot that's agreeable about your ragging, pre-2012.

But may I add, Bucky, the "good Vanek trade" was after the:
  • Great Pominville trade and
  • Pretty Damn Good Leopold and Regehr trades and
  • the Solid Roy trade and
  • the Very, Very Good, Possible Steal, Hodgson trade and
  • the Unfathomably Lopsided, Freakin' Awesome Gaustad trade
Owner Terry Pegula doesn't care about anything before February 22, 2011. He and his charges are taking a mulligan on the foolishness that transpired between then and April, 2012.

Sorry Buckster. Get over yourself. This is the direction the team is going and Regier's in charge of the return on his core players. It's all Pegula cares about right now.

Fret not thou, thy champion of the Bucky Gleason Knitting Society, Regier will be gone soon enough. After he's finished dismantling his core while hording two more years of draft picks.

TSN's McKenzie:  The rest of the (Vanek/Moulson) story.

There was more to the Vanek/Matt Moulson trade that met the eye.

Accoding to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the Buffalo Sabres will retain a portion of Vanek's salary as part of the deal with the NY Islanders. The amount is somewhere around $1.4m.

In addition, McKenzie reported that the 2014 1st round pick the Sabres are to receive is conditional.

Isles GM Garth Snow protected himself:  if the Islanders finish in the bottom-10 in the league, they will have the option "to defer the first round pick to 2015."

There's not a Sabres' fan around that wouldn't mind defering. They want the opportunity to possibly gain another first round pick in the 2015 draft. The Connor McDavid Draft, so to speak.

Looking ahead to the 2015 Draft (yes, already.)

With the Sabres falling to the bottom of the heap this season, unless something weird happens, they will end up with at least a top-five and probably will end up in the top-three pick in the 2014 draft.

Even though it's said to be a thin draft, there is almost always high quality at the very top of the every draft.

But, 2015 has phenom Connor McDavid.

Yeah, yeah, you might say. There's always a lot of hype for a top pick in any sport.

When it comes to hockey, though, they're usually right. When the scouts say this guy will be next in line after Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux--a franchise altering center--they're usually on target or really not that far off if they miss.

The National Post covered McDavid as he skated with some of the NHL's best back in August. The overall feeling on McDavid was amazement with the question, "How old is this kid?"

He's 16 yrs. old and he has a good opportunity to make Canada's World Junior Team. If he does make it he will join the likes of joining Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester.

Scouts have been marvelling at McDavid's skills and although his 5'11" 170 frame will need to fill out a bit, Kris Baker of thinks it will and projects McDavid at about 6', 190 lbs. "He'll be like MacKinnon," he said. MacKinnon is presently 6' 185 lbs.

Sounds good to me.

With the Sabres in rebuild mode, maybe it's time to start thinking about stockpiling up some 2015 1st-rounders to increase the odds of landing him.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thomas Vanek traded to the Islanders for two draft picks and some Moulson

Last night Buffalo Sabres GM, Darcy Regier, announced that the team had traded forward Thomas Vanek to the NY Islanders for winger Matt Moulson, a 1st-round pick in 2014 and a 2nd-rounder in 2015.

The Sabres are once again stocking up on top-60 draft picks. This will be the third year in a row that they've had two first rounders and as of right now they're slated to have three second rounders from 2013-2015. Also, as of right now, they will have drafted or are slated to draft 17 players in the first two rounds over a four year period from 2012-2015.

As for Vanek, despite being named co-captain, he looked pretty much disinterested throughout this season, although he did manage four goals and nine points through 13 games.

His disenchantment easily dates back to the trade of his friend and neighbor, Jason Pominville, to Minnesota at the 2013 trade deadline and it's possible it goes back even further to when Pominville was named team captain in 2011.

Vanek was, and always has been very tight-lipped about his future. Very business-like. When he was up for his contract back in 2007, he and his agent said very little and he ended up signing that $50m offer-sheet from Edmonton.

The same situation was rearing it's ugly head now and the Sabres wisely decided to move the talented winger.

There were no guarantees he'd re-sign with the team and rather than let him walk at the end of the season, they moved him to Long Island. Which turns out to be a surprising trade. Albeit only somewhat of a surprise from the NY Islanders perspective.

With the Islanders defense and goaltending highly questionable, it was widely assumed that the Isles, if they  were interested in anything from Buffalo, would be looking at goalie Ryan Miller.

Those were two areas of concern that they need to address if they want to take the next step in the playoffs. The other, less well known area according to Jeff Capellini of CBS, NY, was "finding a true sniper to play with John Tavares."

Although Moulson is a proven 30-goal scorer playing mostly with Tavares, "Vanek is a world class player."

Capellini goes on to write that, yes, Moulson wass a fan favorite, but the trade "was the type of game-changing decision that this fan base had demanded for a very long time."

" I believe," he continued, "when the fans get over the fact that a player they had nothing but love and respect for is gone and a player who has flat-out stellar first-line sniper ability is accepted, they’ll be happier and see the bigger picture."

Although Moulson is not a top-line winger, he does have attributes that fit in with what the Sabres organization is trying to build. Said Regier at the presser, "Matt is a goal scorer and plays in the hard areas." And despite the fact that his scoring can mostly be attributed to playing with Tavares, the fact that he's had three 30-goal seasons shows he can finish, which is something that's been lacking in Buffalo for a while now.

Make no mistake, Moulson may not be the answer moving forward. In fact, most think the the impending UFA will make for a great trade deadline chip for another high pick and/or prospect, leaving the team with plenty of wiggle room.

According to Newsday, Long Island, Moulson was looking for a long-term contract and was miffed that nothing had transpired, especially in light of the long-term Josh Bailey and Travis Hamonic contracts.

And, Capellini writes, "Moulson was likely going to look for a hefty payday in the off season, one that would have challenged Tavares’ yearly income. The Islanders were never going to give a largely one-dimensional offensive player that kind of coin."

Snow thinks his team is better than they've been performing and that they "needed to take the next step. [Vanek] is an elite player in this league and he'll help us now and in the future."

That "in the future" part suggests that they're looking at Vanek as more than just a four month rental.

The Austrian-born sniper finally has a #1 center to work with and sparks should fly. If he can put some serious numbers, he just might like it on the island, and re-sign long term with the Islanders instead of heading west to Minnesota, his rumored destination this off season.

That's the gamble they took. But it's a good trade for them, even with giving up the picks. They've been rebuilding for a long time and they're tired of picks.

All-in-all it's a great trade for the Sabres for what they're doing and for the Islanders, it could turn out to be a great one as well.

And Darcy Regier continues to dismantle his core for a handsome sum.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

No player on the 2-10-1 Buffalo Sabres should be deemed untouchable. But...

there are a group of youngins that will constitute the future of the Sabres and are about as close as you can get.

21 yr. old defenseman Mark Pysyk is one. He has the look of a top-four, possible top-pairing d-man, is smart and steady in his zone and looks like a future leader on the team.

Another 21 yr.old rookie, Johan Larsson, has smarts, grit, and plays a solid, edgy two-way game. He may not have the top-end skills to be a top-six contributor, but he should be able to contribute in a number of ways in the top-nine.

Those are two good building blocks.

And there are a few teenagers that look to be a part of the "new core" going forward as well.

Zemgus Girgensons played in the AHL last season. His hard work and hockey sense allowed him to ramp up as the season went on and was deemed by his coach as the best player on the ice in the Amerks playoff loss to the Toronto Marlies last season. He had three goals in three games in that series (Larsson assisted on all three.)

Girgensons, "The Latvian Locomotive," is playing a strong game in his first taste of the NHL. He's doing what he did last year--keeping his legs moving and soaking up every aspect of the pro game. He has an aire about him, plays the game the way it was meant to be played and oozes leadership qualities. He's 19.

Two 18 yr. olds, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, were drafted this year and are getting a good taste of playing defense in the NHL.

Ristolainen had played the last two seasons overseas against men in the Finnish Elite League and was deemed the most NHL-ready defenseman not named Seth Jones at the 2013 Draft. His is a smooth, polished game with a bit of an edge and he needed all of that steadiness being paired early with Mike Weber earlier this sesaon. He's been given a good dose of responsibility and has responded well save for some typical rookie mistakes.

Zadorov is quickly becoming a fan favorite because he is one physical S.O.B. And he has some offensive acumen as well. Although he finds himself out of position going for the big hit right now, it's expected he'll refine that as he learns the pro game. In addition, and maybe more important than his on-ice play, he has an infectious, child-like demeanor that's a breath of fresh air for the Sabres.

Another teenager, Mikhail Grigorenko, got off to a slow start last season being caught in the morass that was the 2012-13 Sabres. And he got off to a slow start this season as he bounced from line to line. "Grigo" recently bottomed out on the fourth line and seems to be climbing up the ladder. In the last two games he's been shifted to wing in a top-nine role and it looks as if it he has some life in him.

All but Larsson were drafted by Buffalo in the first round. Larsson was a second round pick of the Minnesota Wild.

Joel Armia is with the Sabres as his broken hand heals. The 20 yr. old RW just came to North America this year from Finland and was a first-round pick in 2011. The book on him is that of a big, talented winger with sniper skills and a wicked wrister. It looks as if he'll get some time with the Sabres, but will probably end up in Rochester getting a good taste of the North American pro game.

Marcus Foligno is not a first-round pick, but he is the elder statesman of this "new core" group and looks to be an integral piece of the future.

Unlike the others, he was drafted in the fourth round, pretty much as a favor to an all-time Sabres-favorite, his father Mike Foligno.

A big, strong, gritty winger, Foligno is logging top-six minutes. He lost his way after an impressive 2012 spring for the Sabres when he scored 13 points in 14 games giving him a false sense of being the reincarnation of John LeClair. He's back down to earth playing a rugged game, scoring at a .60 pts./game clip and contributing on a nightly basis.

As his draft position would indicate, he is not a player that will succeed on talent alone. It's how he plays the game, his hard work and willingness to do whatever's necessary on the ice that makes him so important to the team. He sets a good example of how to play the game squeezing every ounce of talent he can from his game.

Over the next two drafts the Sabres are intent upon adding more to this group. They have two first-round and five second-round picks as of right now. And more will be on the way as they move the likes of Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller.

The Sabres are intent upon rebuilding with as many first and second round picks as they can horde and this year should they finish near the bottom of the league, they'll be adding a top-three pick to the process. Hopefully adding top-notch quality to the mix of 10 present first-rounders.

Other than the group above, and maybe Cody Hodgson who was just signed long-term, anyone on the Sabres should be available for the right price.

Or if you're Hank Tallinder, any price.

Friday, October 25, 2013

How long should John Scott be suspended?

Georges Laraque was one of the great heavyweights in hockey.

At the 2007 trade deadline, Penguins GM Ray Shero traded for Laraque to protect the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, among others.

One year later, Laraque laid this elbow on Sabres defenseman Nathan Paetsch:

Laraque received a five-minute major, and game misconduct for knocking Paetsch unconscious. He then received a three game suspension for the hit to the head.

This might be something to look at when trying to figure out the length of suspension for the Sabres John Scott's hit to the head on the Bruins' Loui Eriksson.

The Laraque incident was early in the process of the NHL cracking down on hits like that. Three games seems minimal considering it looked as if he was trying to take Paetsch's head off.

Fast forward to 2013, Alexander Edler went cross-ice and landed a shoulder-to-head hit on Sharks' rookie Tomas Hertl knocking off his helmet:

Edler was considered a repeat offender, which Scott is not, and received a three game suspension.

Regardless of what the league and fans think of Scott's "skill-level" and regardless of how the 1-9-1 Buffalo Sabres are perceived, the hit is the hit.

If Scott receives more than three game for the hit it would be wrong.

Scott should receive three games for the hit, one game for being frustrated that none of the Bruins tough-guys would fight him and one game for trying to take on the role of Patrick Kaleta.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The John Scott hit--why he's on the Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have the youngest team in the league.

Last night they dressed four teenagers:  Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

In addition, Mark Pysyk and Johan Larsson are 21-yr. old rookies.

John Scott is hated throughout the league. He is also hated by a good portion of the Buffalo fan-base. The haters say he has can't skate and has no skill, which is true.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said this about Scott after the game last night in which Scott threw a hit to Loui Eriksson (and his head,) "He's here to do two things, fight and hurt. He did both of those things."

There's a huge contingency who think John Scott should not be in the NHL and they want him out of the league.

In light of the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller incident, or going back further to the head-shot Chris Neil laid on Chris Drury, and with the full backdrop of the Rivalry piece NBCSN did on the Sabres and Bruins, the question is this:

Do those six youngins, as well as skill players like Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson, not to mention Miller, think Scott is totally useless and should not be on the team?

The feeling here is that Scott has a role to fill. And it's not about scoring, it's about allowing the skill players to play the game with minimal fear.

You can click here as I defend Scott.

Or here for how he changed the post-Lucic/Miller, Boston/Buffalo relationship in his very first game against the B's.

For everything John Scott, click here.

Scott is not a goon, persay, he's an enforcer. And although last night wasn't very smart, this is why Sabres GM Darcy Regier re-signed him, "[Scott] created a safe work environment."

And he should continue that role with the Buffalo Sabres.

From my bud, Cisco:

"It was a bad hit, I think anyone should be able to recognize that. Generally, Scott doesn't pull that stuff, however. Overall, I don't have a problem with Scott taking up a roster spot on this team, he has a job that is still more or less needed in the NHL. What I dislike is having him play every game, and get a semi-regular shift. He's the NHL equivalent of a punter, he gets a shift when his very limited skill set is needed. The fact that he was out there just in case Grigorenko decided to wake up is bad management.

Scott will be suspended, though it shouldn't be 10 games - he simply doesn't have a suspension history to justify him getting more than Lapierre or as much as Kaleta. He definitely should be used with far more discretion than Rolston has shown, however."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Boston/Buffalo rivalry

Rather than talk about the 1-8-1 beginning to the Sabres season, my Ol' friend Don and I were caught up in the upcoming game with Boston and the rivalry that stretches back to the early 70's. He wasn't as cantankerous as usual, but he did become somewhat animated.

bsn:  Did you watch the NBCSN Rivalries segment last night featuring Boston and Buffalo?
Don:  Yup. Brought back some great memories. You know what I'd forgotten, maybe didn't even realize the significance of at the time? Brad May smoked none other than Raymond Bourque. Made him look like a rookie out there.

bsn:  Yeah, that was a great piece. Do you think there's a "rivalry?"
Don: order to have a true rivalry, it's best to have two teams that are good with a lot on the line. With Buffalo stinking up the league right now...well...yeah, there's still a rivalry. Doesn't matter. There's a long history. These teams hate each other and have for decades.

bsn:  I don't know. Colorado/Detroit is a rivalry. Toronto/Montreal.
Don:  Colorado/Detroit is still a rivalry, but it was much better when the stakes were higher. Maybe Toronto/Montreal is the truest of rivalries, kinda like the Yanks and BoSox. Every game is for the heart and soul of Canada. There's an intensity on and off the ice. On both sides.

bsn:  Yeah. It would seem as if there's a feeling of having a rivalry coming from the Buffalo fan base, but out of Boston, it's, like, whatever.
Don:  Yup. Boston has had a great beginning to the century too. In all sports. Even got "The Curse of the Bambino" off of their backs.

bsn:  The Bruins players said in that piece that they still get up for the game.
Don:  Yup. At least there's an intensity on the ice. It'll be fun tonight. I think they have at least a little bit of respect for the Sabres. At least not to take them lightly. The Sabres have done pretty well against them over the past couple of years. And with John Scott annihilating Thorton, there might be a bit more respect there as well.

bsn:  Think the Scott/Thorton thing will add to Sabres/Bruins lore?
Don:  Hell yeah. He crushed Thorton and then went to the bench and started pointing fingers as to who's next. Signing Scott was one of the biggest moves for the Sabres, at least within those terms. For the life of me I'll never understand why people think that John Scott is completely useless.

bsn:  Well. He can't skate very well. Has, like one goal in 8000 games. Ummm...
Don:  So what? Tell me, how much of a difference does a fourth line player like, sayyyy, Kevin Porter make? He has a handful of points at the NHL-level, tries hard, works hard, spends some time on the PK. But...does do anything that really makes a difference for this team?

bsn:  At least he can skate.
Don:  That's not the point. As is stands right now, he's one of the many vanilla players on this team. John Scott made a difference. The Bruins may be a better team, with better players and better depth. They may have a ton of grit, but they're not gonna hit the ice and intimidate the Sabres.

bsn:  They're still tougher and grittier for the 56 minutes Scott is not on the ice.
Don:  Maybe. But having Scott do that has a ripple effect. I was listening to Roby on WGR today and he was talking about Jim Schoenfeld and Wayne Cashman going through the Zamboni doors. For me the greatest, coolest fight ever. Roby was on the ice and what Schony did, he said, was give his teammates a spine. From then on, said Roby, sitting in the lockeroom after the game with a bloody face was honorable. The punches didn't hurt. He said you didn't even feel them and he actually said they felt good.

bsn:  Yeah. They said in the Rivalries piece, someone did anyway, that if you weren't tough, you acted tough and played tough.
Don:  Absolutely. And it was because of Shony. Among others. Roby also talked about having three or four guys that could stand up to the "Big, Bad Bruins" and because of that, they took their intimidation elsewhere. Ya gotta remember, those were tough days in the NHL. They didn't pull a movie like Slapshot out of thin air. And the Sabres were a fledgling franchise at the time.

bsn:  Is Mike Weber on the ice because he's one of those three or four guys?
Don:  Ummm...he's not intimidated. Which is a good thing. Steve Ott is one of those guys. So is Patty Kaleta. He's another one. Sometimes the Buffalo fans drive me friggen' bonkers. Fans from another team will say Patty's useless. No he's not, he's a legit fourth-line, energy-guy. And they'll say he turtles. No he doesn't. He took on Milan Lucic. Stood toe-to-toe. And actually skated off the ice afterwards imploring the fans to get into it. The Sabres won that game handily.

bsn:  What did you think of the suspension?
Don:  A bunch of crap. Not the fact that he was suspended. Just the length in light of other suspensions. Yeah, he has a record. But I really think if he wanted to he could've taken off the guy's head and put him on a stretcher. Kinda like that one guy did.

bsn:  You mean Max Lapierre?
Don:  Yeah, that douche. No question Patty has douche-like qualities, but that hit Lapierre laid on...who was it?

bsn:  Dan Boyle.
Don:  Right. Drove his face right into the boards. And he got what?  Five games. Shanahan doesn't like Patty. Probably reminds him too much of Claude Lemieux. Probably could care less about the Sabres as well.

bsn:  You think the league has a vendetta against Kaleta?
Don:  Yeah. Well, kinda. They choose to throw the book at him whenever possible, while others they'll give the benefit of the doubt to. By the way, the guy he hit scored a goal in the next game.

bsn:  Well, if he wants to play in the NHL, perhaps he should take Matt Cooke's advice.
Don:  Really? Matt Cooke is a changed man? You watch. When the stakes get higher, his natural instincts will come through. Like a drink in front of a recovering alcoholic.

Listen. Having this shit happen to Patty K. makes me like him all the more. Having John Scott on the team makes me like them more. I'm really tired of Darcy Regier's soccer-mom team that he iced the last 10 years. You want a standard? Place any of those Buffalo Sabres players back in the 70's. If that guy could play back then, not necessarily be a Shony or King Kong Korab, but a player with a spine who could play his game; that should be the standard by which all present and future Buffalo Sabres should be judged.

bsn:  So who amongst this team do you think could make it back then?
Don:  The obvious gritty ones like Ott, Patty, Scott, Weber. McCormick could've made it back then if there were 30 teams like there are now. Vanek could score in any style NHL. Foligno. Maybe Stafford.

bsn:  How about the youngsters?
Don:  It'll be interesting to see how Nikita Zadorov plays tonight. I think he's one of those guys. Love his demeanor. And I think it's genuine. He gets a gleam in his eye when it comes to hitting. Tonight is a great test for him. Larry Robinson. Did you see the top-10 defenseman spot afterwards? Great piece on Robinson. He didn't necessarily look for trouble, but if you came in looking for trouble, he'd beat ya down to size. It's too early, but I'm wondering if Zadorov has a little Robinson in him.

bsn:  That would be cool...
Don:  Speaking of Robinson. If Pegula wants to really turn his hockey operations around, he should go after Robinson after the season is over. I think the Sharks have a golden opportunity to win the Cup this year. After that I'd offer him a VP of hockey ops position and let him work with the incoming group of youngsters.

bsn:  You think he'd come to Buffalo?
Don:  Money talks. And Pegula's got it. And Robinson deserves it. And he has the hockey knowledge and winning attitude. Bring him in. Let him decide who the GM is and then get themselves a coaching staff.

bsn:  You think Regier's gone?
Don:  Not now. At the end of the year. The knucklehead fan-base is calling for his head. Sheesh. Regier is doing a fine job tearing down his core and getting usefull assets in return. There's no reason to think that he can't add another two or three top-60 picks over the next two drafts as well as maybe a prospect or two for dealing Vanek and Miller. Maybe even Stafford as well. What's the difference if this crappy team has him as GM for the year. It won't affect the product on the ice this season.

bsn:  Yeah, but the fans hate him.
Don:  So what? They're overreacting. Look. The way they should view him is as a journeyman quarterback with a weak offensive line. And no running game. That QB should take all the lumps while the team rebuilds the line. The QB of the future can stay on the sidelines without getting hurt, without getting thrown into a toxic situation. Next year, it's all his.

bsn:  Hmmm. Interesting. But do you trust him?
Don:  Darcy has two things to do collecting his paycheck--continue getting assets for his "core" and take the heat from the fans. That's it. Assistant GM Kevin Devine seems to be in charge of personnel. At least with the drafting part. Not sure how much input he had into the likes of Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett.

bsn:  Who wins tonight?
Don:  *shrugs* Sabres? I guess? How about 3-2? Might even be a shoot-out. I see two, maybe three fights, with Foligno dropping them, maybe Scott. Maybe Weber and probably someone unexpected.  Maybe Zadorov?

bsn:  You really think so? That they'll beat the Bruins?
Don:  I don't know. Look. If Rolston really wants to motivate his team, they should skate, dress and spend the next half hour watching the Rivalries piece, then follow it up with the Roby audio. That's the Buffalo Sabres and how they can rise again.

An all-time classic:  Shony and Cashman

Patty K. takes one on the chin for the team

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lower salary cap this season putting the cabosh on a possible Vanek trade

It's a given that Sabres forward Thomas Vanek is a goal-scorer and that any team looking to enhance their Stanley Cup aspirations wouldn't think twice about adding him to their roster.

Although he's off to a slow start this season, last year he was on a 40-goal pace.

Prior to the lockout-shortened 2013 season he averaged almost 33 goals/season and scored 40 goals twice. His lowest goal total over that seven year span was 25 in his rookie season.

Unfortunately this is not the ideal year for a goal-scorer like Vanek, who's on the last year of his contract at a $7M+ cap hit, to land on a team that's close to the Cup.

The salary cap dropping to $64M from last year's $70M totally screwed the rebuilding Sabres and their hopes for trading the veteran winger as a rental.

That $6M in extra buying power would have a number of teams able to afford his services.

Cup favorite San Jose and perennial Cup contender Detroit would have had the room at last year's cap ceiling, but are up against the cap right now.

The big splash, normally free spending NY Rangers, the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks, the aging yet still Cup-contending Vancouver Canucks as well as Atlantic division foe Boston would give serious consideration to adding a bonafide top-line winger at $7m.

But the most cap space any of those teams have is around $1.2m.

With all the big suitors forced on the sidelines because of cap constraints, Sabres GM Darcy Regier finds himself in a real bind. He has more of a commodity in Vanek than he had in Jason Pominville last season, but possible destinations for Vanek are minimal at best right now.

As the year wears on, teams will undoubtedly have different cap numbers and at the trade deadline more possibilities should open up. But the waiting game is a somewhat dangerous proposition in that one never knows what the future holds for either Vanek or potential suitors as well.

Vanek is off to a slow start scoring only two goals in the first 10 games. Not that anyone who has watched him over the years would be concerned. Somehow he'll manage to get hot and put the puck in the net, even if it's on a woeful team that has managed to score a total of 12 goals in 10 games thus far.

Ultimately, injuries could be a big part of the equation from now until the trade deadline for both Vanek and any potential suitor.

Forward Martin Havlat
has scored 15 goals in 79 games
for the Sharks.

On the plus side for the Sabres is their ability and willingness to absorb a portion of his salary plus the cap-space to take back salary from a potential trade partner.

For instance.

The San Jose Sharks exit in last season's playoffs was largely due to lack of scoring as they lost a second round series to the Los Angeles Kings. They scored a total of 10 goals in the seven game series, seven over the last five games. With the series tied 2-2, they were shut out in game five, scored two goals in a game-six win and one goal in the deciding game loss.

Martin Havlat was the Sharks top-line LW heading into the playoffs last season, but was injured and only played in two playoff games registering zero points. He makes $5.1m and is recovering from off season surgery (he's presently skating with the team, although some might think that he really isn't needed)

A Vanek for Havlat trade certainly would be intriguing for the Sharks. They'd get themselves an upgrade on the top line with a proven playoff scorer. 

Only a willingness on the part of the Sabres to eat a portion of Vanek's salary plus the space for Havlat's salary would make for a good base to start trade talks.

As the season wears on, and we get to the trade deadline, more options will be available as teams will be able to absorb more of a cap hit.

Sabres forward Thomas Vanek's time
in Buffalo is coming to a close.
Both Chicago and Vancouver have just over $1m in cap space right now. At the deadline, according to capgeek they may be able to absorb an annual average salary of just over $5.6m.

Although it's doubtful Buffalo will get a haul like they did last season with Pominville, they should be able to add at least a first rounder plus another pick and/or prospect. Which is just fine for a rebuilding club like the Sabres who have no chance of re-signing Vanek.

The time certainly is right, and has been right for months now, to move Vanek, unfortunately for the Sabres, the timing is really off.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Suck it up, Sabres fans, no one said it would be easy


That would be the Buffalo Sabres record after their 3-0 loss at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The reason for the loss was painfully obvious--a big discrepancy in talent. The Canucks boast, among other talents, the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, who have combined for 18 points over the first eight games of the season. Their defensemen lead the league in scoring as a group with Jason Garrison's two goals and six assists setting the pace.

As for the Sabres, they are at the bottom of the league in scoring with an average of 1.11 goals per game. Their only bonafide top-line player is Thomas Vanek. He has three goals and two assists.

In last nights game Vanek thought he scored his fourth of the season. He ripped a shot high glove-side over Roberto Luongo and everyone thought that the Sabres had cut the 'Nucks lead to 2-1. But video replay showed that the puck clanged off of the crossbar, hit the far post and trickled on the goal line never crossing it.

No goal.


In any event, there's only one team worse than the Sabres right now, the Philadelphia Flyers. At least we knew this team would be bad. The Flyers early troubles really came out of nowhere.

Even knowing that this team is bad can't take away the pain of watching the games. This is not to say that the players on the ice aren't trying. Nor is it saying that the team is poorly coached. But when Steve Ott is playing top-line minutes, it shows that the talent-level isn't close to where it should be.

To emphasize the point, Ott made a nice toe-drag on a break Thursday night, but his shot hit his linemate Cody Hodgson who was being steered into a goalie interference penalty by a 'Nucks d-man. Ott had both sides of the net open, but shot it in the middle where the traffic was.

Yup. It's gonna be a long year.

For years now Sabres fans have been clamoring for a top pick in the draft. They'd been watching the team finish in the middle of the pack year-in, year-out with nothing to show for it. When the Sabres made the playoffs, they didn't have the horses to win a series. When they didn't make it to the dance, they ended up picking in the middle of the first round.

When Sabres GM Darcy Regier told fans during the summer to be prepared to "suffer," he wasn't just whistlin' Dixie.

On WGR's Howard Simon Show Thursday morning, Sabres President Ted Black says he hears the fans and feels their pain, but it's imperative they stick to their plan. "We have to stay the course," he said. "We can't panic. I understand and acknowledge the frustration. Everybody wants to talk about the rebuild and getting a lot of picks and drafting high.

If you end up drafting high, it's wonderful. But the pain of getting there is great."

The "frustration" he's talking about is personified by the incessant booing from fans at the F'N Center. In effect they're booing the GM and an organization that's been asking them for patience for a number of years. And they're fed up. The only thing patience has gotten them over the 16 years is mediocrity with a mere two years of hope thrown in.

The architect of this is Regier, and they want him gone.

But the Sabres organization isn't looking at Regier's full body of work that stretches back to 1997. They're only looking at the years Terry Pegula has owned the team. More specifically, when it comes to Regier, Sabres upper management is looking at how Regier is breaking down his "core" and the return he's getting. They're basically starting with the trade of fourth-line center Paul Gaustad for a first-round pick at the 2012 trade deadline.

On GR, Black talked of a "four-year plan" that started with the 2012 Draft and he emphasized not being distracted by the day-to-day occurrences this year. The focus should be on the big picture "of where we are and where we want to go, not getting too bogged down in wins and losses," he said. "It's gonna be a long season. It could be a long process."

The process he's talking about is breaking down "the core" and re-building through the draft, a process that has already begun.

Within the Sabres plan, that "four year cycle," Black mentioned they will have selected, and are slated to select through the next two drafts, a total of 15 first and second round picks. He points out that it's unprecedented in Sabres history and says that only one franchise has had that many in a four-year period pointing to the Montreal Canadians of the 70's.

"That's what we've committed to doing," he said. "We're trying to get as many picks as we can because that's the best place to get top players, through the draft."

Of course what they do with those picks, and how they develop them, will determine whether or not the "suffering" was worth it. But we'll get to that at a year or two down the road.

Later in the evening, an "embattled" Regier was on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog.

He also acknowledged the boos that were raining down on the team and the calls for his head but said that the entire organization is on the same page and they can't deviate from the course. "I have no illusions," he said, "about what it will take to win a championship. It won't be easy, it will be very difficult. There will be periods like this that we will have to be prepared to work through."

Regier had warned the fans that there would be "suffering." Although I'm pretty sure no one thought it would be this bad this early. Not even himself.

"I fully expect that, myself included, we're going to go 'Oh my God! This is harder than than I thought. This is more difficult than I thought it was going to be,'" he said.

"I thought that when we started," he continued, "and I probably have as much or more experience than anyone in this area."

But Pegula and his charges will continue to focus on the big picture despite the unrest at the F'N Center. "Any kind of day-to-day evaluation that deviates from that--whether we lose a game, or lose two games, or have a start we've had," said Black, "we have to pull back and think big picture. We can't sell out the short run. We can't panic and say, 'Oh my gosh!' to satisfy this need to race to 8th, 9th, 10th place."

He finished that point, "We need to be fully committed to what we're doing right now."

Which is bottoming out and rebuilding.

Unbeknownst to many who were blinded by the "big city signings" two years ago, Pegula has been committed from the get-go to scouting, drafting and developing home grown talent.

He addressed it at his first presser, "There's no NHL salary cap on scouting budgets and player development budgets, I plan on increasing our...scouting budgets"

And he put his money where his mouth was.

According to Black, "in terms of scouting, it's the department where we've put the most effort into and that's where we need to get the most returns."

The "effort" he was talking about was a financial commitment to increase the number of scouts on this continent as well as have a stronger presence overseas.

"Our scouts currently are at 26 or 28," he said. "That's European, American, Canadian coverage. We're far more covered and get a lot more information than we used to."

This was coming on the heels of the previous regime that had shrunk the scouting staff to a bare minimum in favor of video.

Scouting, drafting and player development are ideals that don't lend themselves to instant gratification. From the re-education of Tyler Myers, to younings like Joel Armia,  Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen there will be growing pains as they find their way in the NHL. And unfortunately for them, they're being thrown into the fire at the F'N Center.

Regier thinks it's unfortunate that their initiation to the Buffalo Sabres is a repeated chorus of boos. "It can be unfortunate on one hand," he said, "but you [must] do what you have to do. And you have to overlook some things that you can't change and don't have the ability to impact or influence."

He continued with that train of thought, maybe subconsciously drawing parallels to what he's going through, specifically the report that he was on the hot seat and could be shown the door soon. He said that the players can actually influence things that are out of their control by focusing on their game.

"It is to do your own work first and support the other people you're working with," he said. "That's all you can do. And to the extent that you're gonna run around chasing things you have no control over, you're just gonna make it worse. At some point in a players career, the sooner they understand that, the better they're going to be because it will allow them to focus on their own work."

I had the pleasure of talking to a scout from the Los Angeles Kings last night who was genuinely concerned that the whole situation was getting to Regier. He liked Regier as a person and respected his body of work.

As a long-time scout for the Kings, he also knew firsthand of the pains of rebuilding.

They were in a very similar situation as the Sabres at one point around 2000. They were middling and eventually dropped to the bottom of the league. It was only after bottoming out--and in the process landing Drew Doughty--did they begin their ascent to the top of the mountain.

And it's a model worth looking at.

It's a long road, Sabres fans. No one said it would be easy, so suck it up.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sabres win first of the season, Regier on the way out? Plus...

Patrick Kaleta gets 10 games and...

Cody Hodgson has a couple of things to say about his time in Vancouver.


The Buffalo Sabres are no longer winless leaving the New Jersey Devils as the only winless team in the NHL.

The Sabres pulled out a 4-3 shootout win on Long Island in a hard-fought game where the Sabres got stronger as the game went on.

Coach Ron Rolston had this to say postgame, "I think a lot of the emotion of the game helped our guys. A lot of the rough stuff going on, the hits in the game were emotional where our guys were really plugged into the game the whole night just because of that.

Guys took it to heart of where we're at."

Where they were at was the bottom of the league. Now with the win, they join Edmonton, Philadelphia and the NY Rangers with one win on the season.

Quick note:  None of those teams were expected to go through "suffering" this season.

Marcus Foligno netted his first of the season to tie the score at three with just over two minutes to go in regulation.

After losing the draw in the Islanders zone, defenseman Tyler Myers stopped a clearing attempt at the blueline and fed Foligno in the high slot. Foligno whirled and sent a seeing eye shot that beat Evgeni Nabokov glove-side with Drew Stafford parked in front of the net.

The line of Foligno and Stafford centered by Tyler Ennis clicked last night with Ennis also scoring his first of the season pouncing on a puck lying in the crease behind Nabokov.

All told that line was good for two goals and an assist and were a collective plus-6.

The other goal last night was by Thomas Vanek, his third of the season off a feed from Hodgson on the powerplay. Hodgson collected his fifth point in the last five games.


Last season, Nick Kypreos of said that Sabres' goalie Ryan Miller's days might be numbered. Although Miller is still on the team, he was being shopped around at the deadline and around Draft Day. (for a quote and more on Miller, click here)

Now, says Kypreos, Buffalo GM Darcy Regier's days are numbered.

He said last night that Regier "is on the hot seat." Speculation had Regier being replaced around Christmas, but that timetable was moved up due to the dismal start of the team.

Since then, that rumor has been denied by the Buffalo Sabres.

Despite squashing the school-girl giddiness of his WGR partner, Jeremy White, Howard Simon tracked down someone within the Sabres hierarchy and got this text from the Sabres, "there is zero truth to the report."

Methinks the fans inside of the F'N Center will have something to say about this when the Vancouver Canucks visit on Thursday.


Vancouver is off to a good start at 4-3-0 under new head coach John Tortorella. They have a couple of holes in the line-up including down the middle where Hodgson once played.

'Nucks GM Mike Gillis traded Hodgson for winger Zack Kassian in 2012.

Hodgson was said to be a high maintenance player with Gillis going as far to say the he spent more time on the center and his problems than the rest of the team combined.

It was also said that Hodgson had an overbearing father and he was said to be unhappy with his playing time in Vancouver.

In an article with Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Province, Hodgson wanted to "clear the air" on both those issues.

'I’ve been hearing all this stuff about my dad being involved with the team and making calls to the team and I wanted to tell everyone that my dad had nothing to do with it,' he said. 'This isn’t Pee Wee hockey where the dad can call up the coach and interfere with what’s going on. This is professional hockey and that sort of thing doesn’t happen. He never called the team.'

And as for his ice time, he said, 'I never once asked for more ice time when I was in Vancouver, even though the media asked me every day if I thought I should be playing more. I was just happy to be playing in the NHL when I was there at that stage of my career.'

He also said that 'someday [he'll] talk more about his time in Vancouver.'

Gallagher also talks about the struggles the Canucks have had finding a center to replace Hodgson likening the situation to that of "the Flyers enduring a search for a goaltender."

And, Gallagher points out, the trade that had Kassian going to Vancouver for Hodgson?  "Kassian," he said, "hasn’t exactly been Milan Lucic since he got here."


And finally, Patrick Kaleta got a 10-game Shanaban for his hit to the head on Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson.

A video that Brendan Shanahan uses shows that Kaleta missed the check and connected with Johnson's chin.

Stupid, Patty, stupid. And dangerous.

Kaleta is hated throughout the league, some of it warranted, some exaggerated. (Adam Proteau of The Hockey News thinks the suspension wasn't enough.)

Having served three of his ten games already, Kaleta will be eligible to return in early November and will be over $150,000 lighter in the pocket book.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On former Sabres captain Jason Pominville

Was talking to my friend Don early morning about the state of the Sabres.

Buffalo dropped another one 2-1 to Minnesota as former Sabres captain scored the game-winner on the powerplay with less than 10 seconds left in the second period.

Normally cantankerous, Ol' Don was somewhat subdued, but, as always, a little edgy.

Q:  Was that some kind of poetic justice? Jason Pominville scoring the game winner?
A:  No, not really. It was a poor play by [Mike] Weber at the blueline with a short, back-up goalie in net.

Q:  No credit for the passing? No divine intervention the way Pominville was whisked away at the deadline seeing only his buddy, Thomas Vanek, and the equipment manager?
A:  NO! None at all. It's professional sports. It was a trade. It happened. Move on. And it was Weber at the blueline supposedly to stand somebody up. And they blew right by him.

Q:  The Buffalo News thougth the Sabres were clueless by not honoring Pominville during the first commercial break.
A:  Why should they honor him?

Q:  Well, he was the captain when he was traded...
A:  Isn't Vanek wearing the "C" right now?

Q:  Yeah we'll get to that later, maybe. Anyway. He has been with the team for a long time. Was well respected and scored that big short-handed OT winner vs. Ottawa...
A:  That was seven years ago. Look. I read that Harrington article. The sportswriters at the News are a bunch of whiners. Like he said, [Daniel] Briere didn't get one. [Chris] Drury didn't get one. I mean those two were the engines that drove the team to their success. You think they cared whether or not they were recognized?

Q: Well, I like to thin....
A:  No. They could give a rat's ass. Why the pampering? Does Jason Pominville need to be pampered? The reason that the Sabres are in this mess is because [Darcy] Regier's vaunted core was a pampered lot. They had no balls. No intestinal fortitude. Look. I liked him when he played here. He was very consistent. The personification of Lady Byng. Often wondered why he never won it.

Q:  So the Sabres were right in not honoring him?
A:  There is no right or wrong. It's not even worth fighting over. He was the vanilla face of a vanilla team that really did nothing when it counted post-2007. They chose not to honor him like they've done before. It's the media that makes this bigger than it really is. That and maybe all the teenage girls with their "marry me" signs.

Q:  Some fans thought it was classless?
A:  Really?

Q:  Really.
A:  Ummmm. I really don't quite know how to answer that except to say that those fans might be clueless when it comes to class.

Q:  Are you calling them out?
A:  Ummm. Yeah, I guess. Look there are fans of teams in every sport who want nothing but to whine and complain, like little ol' bitties. Especially if there in a city like Buffalo starving for a championship. Most are guided in their thoughts by a media outlet. Like the Buffalo News. They do stuff like that. Harrington raises the point and is offended by what the Sabres did not do for Pominville and there's this large groundswell. He, as well as others like Bucky Gleason, throw those pearls towards the cliff. Next thing you know there's a stampede.

Q:  That sounds a lot like you'r...
A:  Look, I'm not anything, except for detached. Jason Pominville was a real good, solid, all-around player who spent his entire career in Buffalo before getting traded. He was waived at one point and luckily for the Sabres no one claimed him. He was named captain. Whether it was by default or not he was named captain of "the core." And I don't like anything associated with "the core."

Q:  Should his jersey be retired? Like one caller from Cleveland said it should?
A:  No. No way. He wasn't Perreault-like or Gare-like. Or Martin. Or Robert. Those all made significant contributions. Were difference-makers. Pominville was exceptional at being vanilla. Yeah you could say he averaged x-number of points per game, and played in all situations. But other than that one goal vs. Ottawa, what will he be remembered for?

(long pause)

A:  Exactly. Dude from Cleveland went a bit too far. Retiring Pominvilles number would be like ABBA being inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame.

Q:  Uh, Don? ABBA is in the Rock Hall.
A:  And?...There you go.

Q:  When will the Sabres get their first win?
A:  I think they're game for a point tonight. Hopefully they can get that second one in overtime. The teams are closer than some might think. The Islanders scoring can be countered by Ryan Miller and a pretty good defense. Nabakov is beatable, even by the likes of the Buffalo offense.

Q:  Will the Sabres score more than one goal?
A:  Not sure I'd bet the farm on it. But I'd bet my blue Pominville slug jersey on it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The blueline looks to be the center of attention right now

For six years running, the Edmonton Oilers have been unabashedly stockpiling top-end forward talent with their first round picks starting with Sam Gagne (#6, 2007.)

Since then their first-round picks go like this:
  • Jordan Eberle, #22 overall, 2008
  • Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, #10, 2009
  • Taylor Hall, #1, 2010
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, #1, 2011
  • Nail Yakupov, #1, 2012
At last years draft they broke the trend by selecting defenseman Darnell Nurse with the 7th overall pick, just one slot before Buffalo took defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

The Oilers hadn't drafted a defenseman with their first pick in the draft since Nick Stajduhar was taken with the 16th overall pick in 1993.

In 2012 they landed prized college free agent Justin Schultz to help with a porous defense and as of today only one Edmonton draft pick is on the blueline for the Oilers--Jeff Petry, #45, 2006.

The Oilers defense is having a pretty rough go of it early in the 2013-14 season.

In addition to their blueline woes, their starting goalie, Devan Dubnyk (#14 overall, 2004,) has a 5.43 gaa and a .829 sv%.

GM Craig McTavish is said to be "sniffing around for a bold move," according to the Edmonton Journal.

But they're not the only ones looking for help on defense.

According to Lyle Richardson via The Hockey News' rumor roundup, there are a couple more teams other than Edmonton eyeing an upgrade on the blueline.

Richardson writes that Anaheim and the NY Rangers are also looking at their defense corps for a possible upgrade.

Which brings us to the Buffalo Sabres.

Defenseman Henrik Tallinder will be in the lineup tonight after sitting out a few games with an "upper body injury."

He and Jamie McBain, who was traded for at the 2013 Draft, will join Christian Ehrhoff and rookie Mark Pysyk, Tyler Myers and Mike Weber as the Sabres top-six tonight.

Ristolainen and Alexander Sulzer will be the healthy scratches and one of them will be headed to Rochester before the game tonight.

The Sabres also have two other young defensemen in Rochester with NHL experience--Brayden McNabb and Chad Ruhwedel.

On a team that's presently 0-5-1, pretty much any of the spare d-men mentioned could suit up and play for the team. Which also would leave one to believe that if the market for defensemen gets hotter, especially towards the trade deadline, GM Darcy Regier will have no trouble moving one or more of them for a splendid return.

Outside of Myers $5.5m cap-hit, Erhoff, $4m and Tallinder,$3.375, no other Sabres d-man makes over McBain's $1.8m.

In a real tight cap-world, and NHL-calibre d-man at that price should be a hot commodity.

We'll see just how hot, and how Regier plays this as the season grinds on.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Save your sanity, Sabres fans

The 0-4-1 Buffalo Sabres head to Chicago tonight buried at the bottom of the standings as one of only two winless teams in the league (NJ.) The Blackhawks are the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Not hard to figure out how this one will end up.

After Thursday's loss to Columbus, a winnable game, reaction from the fans and media ranged from dull numbness to incessant whining to "The Sky Is Falling!!!"

Anyone who thought the Sabres would be more than what they are at this point in the season had delusions of grandeur for this club. Buffalo is a very young team with one top-line forward and a myriad of players asked to fill roles that are just beyond their talent level.

GM Darcy Regier warned us.

The only thing keeping the Sabres within striking distance in the five losses is their goaltending. Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth have played well. Very well. Like they've done before.

Miller has been "suffering" for years as he watched the talent level on the team decline to where it is right now. Save for the 2009-10 Vezina season he has been hung out to dry mercilessly in the name of scoring--team scoring from as many different lines as possible. Whether it was the "Ferrari" team or Regier's "core" or former coach Lindy Ruff having is d-men continually jump into the play, it all came back to Miller and the back-ups to bail this team out.

The talent level on the Sabres has dramatically decreased over the years to the point where winger Thomas Vanek is the only viable top-line player and d-man Christian Ehrhoff is the only top-paring d-man. Which isn't too bad of a foundation for a rebuild, especially with Miller in net.

Unfortunately, it looks as if Miller and Vanek will be gone at some point during this season, which means Ehrhoff will be all that's left.

If y'all thought it was bad now, wait until Miller and Vanek are gone.

It's not to say that there isn't potential top-end talent in the pipeline. There's plenty of talent and a portion of it will develop over time. Just how much potential will be reached is yet to be determined.

Right now the Sabres have some pretty good young talent on the team that will be the foundation of the "new core" moving forward.

The elder statesmen of this group are Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis. All three are from the 2008 draft.

Hodgson just inked a six-year deal with the Sabres in September. Right now he's a top-line center, but his $4.25m cap-hit suggests the team sees him in a top-six role as a #2 center.

In 2011, Myers signed a seven year contract with at a cap-hit of $5.5m.

Owner Terry Pegula had mentioned that he didn't want to see his promising players walk out the door because of financial constraints. He allowed Regier to drop a $10m signing bonus on Myers and pay him $28m of the $38.5m over the first four years of the contract.

In a shrewd move, the Sabres are paying him like an elite, shutdown d-man over the course of the first four years of the contract, but overall, his cap-hit is that of a #2/3 d-man. In addition, they gave him a No Trade Clause, but it doesn't kick in until the 2016-17 season.

If things do not work out by then, Myers will be easily movable as there will only be $10.5m and three years left on his contract at a $5.5m cap-hit, a situation that would allow a low-budget team the ability to reach the cap-floor while laying out about $2m less in salary.

As for Ennis? He will be a restricted free agent at season's end and no one knows what will happen. In fact, as of right now, they're not even sure where to put him in the lineup and have used him at center and on the wing.

He has top-six talent, and has scored at a solid pace over the course of the last two seasons. He's better suited at the center position, but likely will end up on the wing with Buffalo. And he's better suited for a top-six/2nd unit powerplay role, but will probably end up as a top-line winger/1st unit powerplay guy for now.

Or, he may end up as trade-bait.

After those three, the charge of the youngins is on.

Save your sanity, Sabres fans. You can drive yourself insane waiting for Drew Stafford to get waived, or watching Mike Weber flail on the ice, or pray that Ville Leino is healthy by years end so the team can buy him out.

Don't scream your brains out when you see Kevin Porter centering the second line or Cody McCormick doing a poor-man's Adam Mair impersonation.

Instead, look to the future.

Watch defenseman Mark Pysyk use his pure hockey sense in a shutdown role.

Follow Zemgus Girgensons in perpetual motion scanning the scene and working his ass off to be in the right positon at the right time.

Get yourself pumped up as Marcus Foligno heads to the corner to battle, either coming out with the puck or coming out swinging.

Watch Johan Larsson and his two-way game and look for the ever-present, yet subtle, agitator in him.

Notice how unnoticeable 18 yr. old defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen can be on the ice.

And finally, follow the prospects in junior and college. (a good place to start is

Wingers like Gustav Possler and Nicholas Baptiste are off to hot starts while hulking defensman Brady Austin, a former 7th round pick (2012) is starting to get some attention. He'll get even more when he's paired with 2013 first-round pick Nikita Zadorov on the London Knights once Zadorov gets sent back.

Defenseman Jake McCabe captained the USA Junior Squad to Gold at the IIHF tournament this year. He's a junior at Wisconsin and may be bringing his grit, leadership and two-way game to the pros next season.

You can also keep an eye on Matt Hackett in the crease for Rochester as well as goalie Linus Ullmark who's in the Swedish Elite League for what may be his final  season overseas.

Yeah, it sux to be a Sabres fan right now.

Save your sanity. The Sabres haven't gone through a change like this since 2002-03, the last time they had a top-five pick. And that ended up working out pretty well (albeit, not perfect.)

A year or two down the road we'll be seeing the fruits of Pegula's commitment to the scouting and developmen side of his equation.

And, if they use the Pittsburgh/Chicago model for rebuilding, we'll not only see a strong foundation of current players and prospects, but we may even have one or two top-prospects anchoring the top-line as well.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Two breakdowns and a weird sequence lead to a "loser point" for Buffalo

Keith Jones included Tampa Bay with Buffalo and Florida as "weak sisters" in a top-heavy division in his post-game comments on NBCSN. He also considered those teams as "easy points" for the division powerhouses.

Nothing earth-shattering.

After starting the season with games vs. Detroit, Ottawa and Pittsburgh, the Sabres finally faced off against a team that was within their "league" and they almost pulled away with two points.

They did get themselves a "loser-point" tonight thanks to a couple of powerplay goals, one by Cody Hodgson and one from defenseman Jamie McBain.

And they should give themselves a little pat on the back because they played a pretty solid game. Unfortunately, a couple of breakdowns and a weird sequence of events would be their undoing.

One of the breakdowns came on Tampa's first goal. The Lightning were bringing the puck out of their zone along the left boards. The task was made easier as two Sabres at the end of their rather long shift were headed for the bench.

That gave Tampa a three-on-two with trailing d-man Victor Hedman barreling down the middle. He took a pass in the Sabres zone, did a spin-o-rama and passed to Tyler Johnson who was streaking down the right wing.

The pass would have been off target had Christian Ehrhoff not gotten a piece of it. Ehrhoff deflected it right to Johnson who went top shelf just over Jhonas Enroth's shoulder.

The other breakdown was in OT.

Three Sabres--Tyler Myers, Mike Weber and Cody Hodgson were around the crease in a Keystone Cops' moment as Tampa's Alex Killorn went right to left and buried the puck. Thomas Vanek was the fourth Sabre on the ice at the time and was cruising the blueline.

The play everyone is talking about, though, is the penalty called on Vanek for high sticking.

With about six minutes left in the third the Sabres had a good forecheck going. Vanek was entangled with a Lightning d-man going around the back of the net when sticks got high.

The referee raised his arm and it looked as if the Tampa d-man was going off for interference. Even the announcer mentioned that the Lightning just finished killing off a two minute minor and they were about to have to kill of another one.

The puck went to Steve Ott at the left point and found it's way to Jamie McBain at the right point. The referee's arm still in the air signifying a delayed penalty.

As soon as McBain ripped a shot, the whistle blew.

The Sabres had raised their arms in celebration because Vanek had deflected the shot past Tampa goalie Ben Bishop. It would have given them a 3-1 lead.

Instead, Vanek went to the box for high sticking.

The question was asked, "how can the Sabres touch the puck and the whistle not be blown if the penalty was on them?"

The NHL's response, "At 5:21 of the third period in the Lightning/Sabres game, the end-zone referee had a Buffalo penalty on delay. The referee did not see Sabres forward Steve Ott touch the puck, which then rebounded to Jamie McBain whose shot entered the net simultaneous with the referee blowing his whistle. The net result was the correct call – no goal, penalty to Buffalo.”

Fine. Another "no-goal." (visit Bill Hoppe for more.)


The Lightning scored on the ensuing powerplay and the rest is history.

It's going to be a long season for Sabres fans. Just too many youngins and not enough upper end talent for them to make any noise. At least at this point of the season.

With five rookies on the squad it'll take time for them to develop, which will eventually lead to wins, which leads to confidence and hopefully more wins.

For now, though, it will be an uphill battle.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sabres present woes can be traced (partially) to a 2005-2007 Draft void

Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek, at age 29, is just about smack-dab in the middle of his prime.

Vanek was selected fifth overall in the 2003 draft.

There are four other "homegrown" Buffalo Sabres in their prime right now. At one end Drew Stafford (#13 overall, 2004) and Patrick Kaleta (#176, 2004) are 27 and recently entered into their prime playing years. At the other end Ryan Miller (#138, 1999) age 33 and Henrik Tallinder (#48, 1997) age 34 are beginning their descent.

In looking at the Sabres roster, there's a huge void of homegrown upper-end talent between the ages of 24-26 on the team, players drafted from 2005 to 2007.

Both first round picks Marek Zagrapan (#13, 2005) and Dennis Persson (#24, 2006) from that era never made it to the NHL. Their other first round pick in 2007 was traded to Washington.

Rounds two and three were better for the Sabres.

Defenseman Mike Weber (#57, 2006) worked his way into a bottom-pairing role. Goalie Jhonas Enroth (#46, 2006) is beginning to really assert himself in a back-up role and is on the precipice of becoming a legitimate starter.

Of the remaining four second and third round picks, only one, forward Corey Tropp (#89, 2007) is still with the team. He's expected to fill a bottom-six role when he comes off injured reserve.

None of the four remaining players have played in more than 100 NHL games to date. Marc-Andre Gragnani (#84, 2005) has played in 74 games and is now in the KHL.

The other two--Phillip Gogulla (#48, 2005) and Drew Schiestel (#59, 2007) have yet to play in an NHL game.

Of the 14 remaining draft picks from those three years, only two have stuck on an NHL roster to this point--D, Chris Butler (#96, 2005) and F, Nathan Gerbe (#142, 2005.) Butler is in a bottom-pairing role for Calgary while Gerbe is in a top-nine role for Carolina.

Diminutive Paul Byron (#179, 2007) has played in 34 NHL games and is presently in the Calgary organization with Abbotsford.

The Buffalo Sabres have started out the 2013-14 season 0-3-0. They have scored two goals in those three games (Vanek and Zemgus Girgensons, #14-overall, 2012.)

In opening the season against three Eastern Conference powerhouses--Detroit, Ottawa and Pittsburgh--the dearth of top-end talent was evident as the Sabres had a hard time trying to keep up. They were outshot by an average of 38 to 25 over those three games. The senior members of the skaters--Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff, Tallinder--as well as Miller, held up well. But the gap between the veteran talent-level of the opposition and the Sabres youngins was too much.

The Sabres did add two players who are both 25 yrs old--free agent forward Brian Flynn and former Carolina defenseman Jamie McBain (#63, 2006.) But it's nowhere near the talent-level they'll need to compete with. Flynn has 29 NHL games under his belt; McBain much better at 207.

That glaring hole in draft picks from 2005-2007 has left the team in a tough position, and is probably what lead GM Darcy Regier to use the word "suffering" when preparing the fan-base for the upcoming season.

As the team rebuilds for the "distant" future, things look much better.

The present roster features eight players age 23 and younger (a ninth, Tyler Ennis just turned 24 today) including three teenagers (with a fourth, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, pounding on the door.)

Three years from now the team could possibly have six players hitting their prime at the same time with another two or three players coming off their entry-level contracts having played in 200 or so NHL games.

If that were the case now--if Buffalo had hit on a few more of their picks from 2005-2007--things would be different in Sabreland and the immediate future would not look so ominous.

But for now we'll need to live with a gaping hole between vets and youngins and the potential for an even younger team should Miller and/or Vanek be traded.



Bob Dylan once sang, "Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?" from It's alright Ma, I'm only bleeding.

"It's life and life only [as a Buffalo fan]"

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rolston rips his GM's veteran, "star" players

"There were a lot of shortcuts...a lot of rest in shifts."

“In this league, if you have even a short span of a couple of shifts where you don’t execute, that can be the difference in a game. A lot of times that’s been the case here.”

The above quotes were from Sabres coach Ron Rolston surrounding a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leaves back in February.

Eight months later, the theme remained.

After yesterday's 1-0 loss to Ottawa in the 2013-14 home opener, Rolston was asked about rookie Mikhail Grigorenko's game, and before the reporter could even finish the question Rolston shot out, "it was OK."

He followed with this, "Along with a lot of other guys, the compete's got to be way, way, way higher at this level."

That's three "way's," meaning this team still has a long ways to go.

As to the way he wants his team to compete, Rolston talked about the line of Kevin Porter with rookies Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Flynn, "They just play with effort and they play the right way," he said. "It's a simple, simple game. We don't have enough guys playing the right way right now."

That was the best line last night. A reporter asked, "Isn't that the statement, though, that if they were the best line..."

Rolston finished it for him, "then we're in trouble."

He was none too happy after the loss. His post-game presser was short, almost [John] Tortarella-like and his answers were direct.

The only difference-maker on the team, other than the line Rolston talked about, was Ryan Miller. Miller was in a goaltending battle with Ottawa's Craig Anderson and stonewalled the Sens until Erik Karlsson snuck in and one-timed a feed from former Sabre Clarke MacArthur with 1:35 left in regulation.

And it wasn't as if it was a tight-checking game. The team's combined for 39 shots in the first period, an expansion era (1967 onward) record.

The forward line on the ice at the time of the goal consisted of Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Sabres co-captain Thomas Vanek.

Vanek, who Karlsson snuck behind on the game-winner, pulled a Alexander Ovechkin for the game. He pumped nine shots on goal, including some choice opportunities, and as has happened often in the past, he came up empty.

Throughout the off season he's said that he's waiting to see how this team develops before he talks about  committing to a long-term (and one would believe, very lucrative) contract with the Sabres.

With performances like last night, perhaps the Sabres should take a look at his overall game and what kind of leadership he's providing.

Does he play and produce like an $8 million/per year superstar?

Or is he a talented floater?

The players Rolston sent the message to were all developed before he got there and were all draft picks that were of the same ilk as the old "core." GM Darcy Regier's "core" were soft and skilled. Their lack of compete led them to a six-year span of underachievement.

The first two games of the season saw Miller at his best, but the team come up short. The only player that has scored yet is rookie Girgensons, a player who "plays the right way."

Maybe the "purge of the core" isn't quite finished yet. And we're not talking about Miller either.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2013-14 Sabres pick up where they left off last season

--slow start?...check
--poor passing?...check
--34 shots against?...check
--inept powerplay?...check
--primo shot against on the powerplay?...check
--a boatload of turnovers?...check
--late penalty against?...check

Just another night.

This could be a blog that has "Whiner Line" written all over it. But, we're not going to go there.

This isn't the 2011-12 season with a Sabres team heavy on veterans with playoff aspirations.

The team Buffalo iced last night was young. Real young. Three teenagers and a total of five rookies, were playing against the Detroit Red Wings, one of the best organization in all of sports. On the road no less.

Buffalo's youngins had a severe case of the jitters early on last night, but eventually settled down enough to make it close in a 2-1 loss at The Joe.

Zemgus Girgensons, all of 19 years old, had the lone goal for the Sabres while three other rookies--19-yr. old Mikhail Grigorenko, Mark Pysyk and Brian Flynn--were on the ice when he scored it.

Rasmus Ristolainen, the Sabres 18-yr. old rookie defenseman, had a rough go early on but began to settle down as the game went along.

It's only the first game of the season, but some trends we've been seeing for years reared their ugly heads.

Like the powerplay.

The Sabres haven't had a powerplay finish much higher than respectable since 2007. There's no sense of urgency, no compete and poor passing.

Last night they went 0-7 including two 5-on-3's, one for 1:31 the other for :52.

Granted, not much attention was paid to special teams this preseason and they have a new coach in charge of it--Teppo Numminen.

Still, a performance like that is inexcusable, especially from a first powerplay unit that featured veterans Thomas Vanek and Christian Ehrhoff as well as Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson.

One can understand having problems with plays, but there's no excuses for lack of compete.

“I blame it on execution of our power play," said co-captain Steve Ott, "and that’s our veteran guys. We know that we’re going to have to lead the team, especially the power-play guys."

We've been hearing a variation on that theme for years.

Christian Ehrhoff (l) skates towards a
a group of rookies to help celebrate Zemgus
Girgensons' (#28) first NHL goal.
Also in the group,
Brian Flynn (second from left,) Mark Pysyk
and Mikhail Grigorenko (r).
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Numminen has his work cut out for him.

That being said, some individual performances from the youngins were pretty strong.

In addition to Girgensons goal, 21 yr. old d-man Mark Pysyk had a good game and showed some really strong puck-moving ability as he took the puck from his own end and weaved through a bevy of Wings to get the puck deep in their end.

Grigorenko had an inconsistent game, but his skill level--which was on display at times--is off the hook.

Other notes:  Hank Tallinder looked every bit of 33-yrs. old, Drew Stafford still hasn't gotten "it," Ennis was a water bug, without any points, Ryan Miller kept the team in the game (as usual,) Vanek hit a post (a recurring theme lately) and Myers is still struggling albeit not as much as the last two seasons.

The Sabres have a brutal stretch to open the season.

On Friday Ottawa comes to town then they travel to Pittsburgh for a back-to-back.

Tuesday it's a home date vs. Tampa, an offensive powerhouse, Thursday vs. a much improved Columbus Blue Jackets team.

On Saturday, Oct 12, travel to Chicago to face the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

It's "into the fire" for the youngins. Which is a good thing.

Zemgus Girgensons' first goal:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Buffalo Sabres 2013-14 Preview, Part 3--first round talent and a new core rising up-front

In looking at the Sabres defense in the last blog, the preview had an opening day group that will feature two rookies in the top-six defenders and a total of three players 23 or younger on the back-end.

That movement towards youth continues up-front featuring two teenagers and a total of six players 23 or younger.

In looking at the forwards, it all begins with recently named co-captain Thomas Vanek, the team's best player.

Vanek is coming off of another solid year that featured a typical ebb and flow to his season. He's in the last year of his contract and the specter of a possible trade will be hovering over him until the deadline.

He has said time and again that he will wait and see how the things unfold with the Sabres rebuild before he makes any decision about re-signing. The Sabres clearly want him back, but will probably move him before he has the opportunity to walk at the end of the season.

His partner on the top line will be center Cody Hodgson. He recently inked a six-year extension.

Hodgson is second only to Vanek in terms of talent right now. And his off-season work-ethic is second to none. Will that work-ethic and talent equal a true #1 center?

From the Sabres standpoint, he'll have six years to work on that. Even so, Hodgson is a bonafide top-six center who should be good for at least 50 points a season.

After those two, question marks abound in the top-nine with youth and inconsistency being their defining traits.

At 27 yrs. old and entering his prime, RW Drew Stafford should be a lock for the top-line. Unfortunately the former 30-goal scorer is the poster-child for inconsistency. He had a poor season last year and it comes down to effort. He has the size, skill and talent to be a top-line player, but it seems as if he floats way too often.

Maybe that's why he had the "A" taken from him.

The antithesis of Stafford is Marcus Foligno.

The 4th-round pick is a bit bigger than Stafford, has less pure talent but plays hard. Foligno is only 22 and just finding out what style of game suits him. Hubris hit him last season as he thought he was a scorer. Towards the end of the season he found out a formula that works for him and it earned him the opportunity to play with Vanek and Hodgson in the preseason. That trio looked real strong.

He will start the year on the injured list, but upon his return, should Stafford stumble, Foligno could find himself on the top-line.

The fate of the top-six, and the alignment of the centers rested with Tyler Ennis and where the coaching staff wanted to place him.

The smallish Ennis is a water bug and is much better when he has more ice to work with, which the center position offers him, and that's where he'll start the season.

For some reason, Ennis' production has gone unheralded. In 187 games he had 48 goals and 75 assists which averages out to 20 goals and 32 assists over a 82 game season. And he's only 23.

Ennis got the #2 center spot because 2012 first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko failed to grab hold of the spot.

Grigorenko is only 19 and had a 25 game introduction to the NHL last season. It didn't go as well as everyone hoped, but GM Darcy Regier said that he will remain with the big club this season.

That approach provided a "foot-in-mouth" moment as Grigorenko progressed slowly this summer. It's been said that the Sabres asked for an exemption to send him to Rochester and Regier mentioned that there's a possibility that he could be sent to the AHL on a 14-day "conditioning" stint.

Grigorenko had his best success having veterans Steve Ott and Ville Leino on the wings. Those two will start the season with Ennis between them.

Yesterday, Ott was named co-captain of the Sabres. He will wear the "C" on the road.

Everyone knows what Ott brings to the table:  grit, leadership, bloody knuckles and around 30-35 points per season.

As the antithesis of Regier's "core," he immediately became a fan favorite an hearkened in the transition of the Sabres from "soft-but-skilled" to (hopefully) "tougher to play against."

The fate of the Sabres could rest partly in the hands of Leino.

His well documented $27m signing two years ago is a running joke around the NHL and he gets the opportunity to start the year in the top-six.

He understands where he is and has said that everything is in place for him to have a strong season. No excuses.

The Sabres probably feel the same way and should he falter, a buyout next off season is in the offing.

Two rookies with top-six potential will be looking to stick with the big club this season.

19-yr old Zemgus Girgensons was picked two slots behind Grigorenko in the 2012 draft after the Sabres traded up for him and will get the first crack.

Girgensons went directly from the draft to the AHL last season and grew steadily throughout the year. He's a gritty, two-way forward in constant motion. He has size, skill and grit and can play any forward position.

Known as the "Latvian Locomotive," Girgensons had three goals in three playoff games for the Amerks last year. That pretty much punched his ticket to the NHL.

His partner down in Rochester last season was gritty, two-way center Johan Larsson. He assisted on all three of Girgensons goals in the playoffs.

Larsson is ready for the NHL. Sabres coach Ron Rolston had said that he may have been the best player throughout camp and the preseason. Yet Larsson will take a back seat to Grigorenko and Girgensons when the Sabres hit the ice in Detroit tonight.

Regardless of whether or not it's justified, one would think that when Larsson hits the ice with the team, he'll be there to stay.

Right now, rookie Brian Flynn is slated for third-line RW duties on a line with Girgensons and Grigorenko.

Rolston liked Flynn in Rochester and when he was named interim coach, he brought Flynn with him.

Flynn isn't big, but he's a heady, two-way player with skill who's a hard worker. Those traits lead to six goals and five assists in 26 games with the Sabres last season. He was also tied for the team plus-minus lead with a plus-six.

Another player Rolston brought with him from Rochester was Kevin Porter.

Porter's slated for fourth-line duties with veterans Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta to start the season and will probably be swapping spots with enforcer John Scott.

Corey Tropp is injured and will be out 5-6 weeks, when he returns, he'll have an inside track for inclusion on the fourth line. He has size, grit and attitude. All traits that the Sabres want in their players moving forward.

The Outlook

WGR's Paul Hamilton is right when he wrote that this team could be real bad or make a run to the playoffs.

This is one of the youngest teams in the league with a coach who's entering his second NHL season with a mere 31 NHL games under his belt.

Rolston is known as "the professor," and this is a good match for him. He's had a full training camp to work with a roster that features three teenagers, six rookies and nine players 23 or younger.

If the Sabres were to start out the year slow as this young group tries to catch up to the speed of the NHL game, no one would be surprised.

Nor would it be surprising if this group of players, one that features nine first-round picks, found their legs and began to play better as the season wore on.

An overall philosophical transition from the "soft-but-skilled" old core to a "tougher to play against," two-way oriented "new core" is in full transition with the addition of the rookies on the roster.

There are still flaws on the back-end, mainly a lack of grit and toughness, and they're still lacking bonafide top-line talent outside of Vanek, but they're solid in net.

As long as Miller and Vanek are in the lineup, they will have an outside chance to make the playoffs in the East.

Without them, a top-five pick is a strong possibility.

It should be a rough start followed by a steady climb up until the trade deadline. At the deadline, if neither is signed, one should expect both Miller and Vanek to be moved leading to a precipitous drop down the standings.

That drop should see them finish in the bottom quarter of the league.

Which isn't a bad thing.

Sabreland is prepared for a drop like that and the focus will be on the charge of the youngins.