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.

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