Monday, December 30, 2013

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

Just ask the Washington Capitals about Ryan Miller.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, of course, is with Miller in net.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The week in review: Tales from Christmas week, 2013

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celestial Events:  John Scott scores a goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a harmonic convergence.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

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

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

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

What was that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So speak the numbers.

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

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

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

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


Tyler Myers drops the gloves with Patrice Bergeron.

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

Just a thought.

Friday, December 20, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interesting piece from Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sabres to send three down to Rochester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

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

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

Yup. Sure is.

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

No biggie. We have plenty of firewood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the mouths of babes.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Orpik was taken out on a stretcher.

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

Yes they have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Thanx to nhlboy88 and for the vids)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, my friends, is a hockey player.

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

Stats? They don' need no stinkin' stats.

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's where it gets interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

If not, Leino could get lucky.

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

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

and interim head coach Ted Nolan seems out of answers.

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

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

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

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

This team can't score.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all of that has worked.

To a point.

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

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

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

He's right.

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

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

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

What is Nolan to do?

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

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

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

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

It's a tough go of it right now.

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will it be the Sabres?

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the top five individually:

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

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

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