Sunday, August 17, 2014

Four questions after reading the Sabres preview

Reprinted with permission from

It's hard not to like the NHL's 30-in-30 series as they spend the slowest month in hockey chronicling one team every day.

The dog days of hockey are in August, and writers for have given Sabres fans something to chew on today.

I love what they do. Love how they do it. And appreciate the depth of the articles.

However, while going through all the pieces I was left either curious or confounded in some places. Not that it's any life-altering big deal, but I did come up with a few questions after taking it all in.

1. Where is Murray's quote on Joel Armia?

Joel Armia is ranked as the 4th best prospect in the Sabres system. Every one of the other top-10 have a brief synopsis by Sabres GM, Tim Murray.

Except for Armia.

Not sure why. Was it an oversight on the part of writer Adam Kimelman? Was it an oversight on the part of Murray? Does it have any meaning outside of that?

Armia may have the most complete skill-package of all the prospects in the Sabres system at this point. He also has power forward size and he can skate at an NHL-level.

The knock on him, though, is his compete-level. He has shown glimpses of that after coming over from Finland last season and he's also improved his work without the puck, but there's still a ways to go.

As a big fan of "heavy," I love what RW Hudson Fasching (ranked #3) brings to the table with his immovable net-front presence. I also love the "junk-yard dog" persistence that players like JT Compher (#6) and Brendan Lemieux (#10) bring to the rink.

But of all the forward prospects, and that may include this year's 2nd-overall pick Sam Reinhart (#1,) Armia is the only one who has pure, top-line talent.

Will he be able to put it all together this season and eventually bring it to the NHL? Last year he got off to a rough start as he began the season with a broken hand but came on strong in the playoffs.

How could Murray not take note of that?

2. Chris Stewart says the team is "playoff-bound," but when?

From Murray on down, the team is saying all the right things about competing hard and throughout his brief tenure, Murray has scoffed at the "five-year rebuild." And his off-season moves back it up.

Jon Lane's opening piece about a possible rapid improvement by the Sabres, pens this quote from Sabres forward Chris Stewart, "I think on paper right now there's no doubt in my mind that we're a playoff-bound team. We have some good players who are ready to take a step in the right direction and start leading. I think July 1st we took a big leap in the right direction and I think we'll be a team that definitely surprises some teams next year."

Although Lane quotes Stewarts as saying the playoffs are "very, very realistic," I love the way the term "playoff-bound" is left open-ended in the full quote. Equally ill-defined is Stewart saying that there are players on the team"who are ready to take a step in the right direction." By no means that be taken as the next step is the playoffs. Supreme optimists will look at the quote as the team looks to be making a run at the playoffs this season.

But two major obstacles stand in their way:  How the Sabres are going to score is a big, big question mark and the goaltending situation heading into camp is a battle of two players who may only project out as back-ups in the NHL.

Simple stats from last year look like this:  Goals for, 1.83/gm (an historic, expansion-era low.) Goals against, 2.96/gm, and that's with Ryan Miller having a stellar year before being traded.

The simple math may have eluded both Stewart and Lane.

3. Tyler Myers is an easy and oft-used target.

Look, we get it. There seemed to be nowhere to go but down for 2010 Calder Trophy winner, Tyler Myers. And followed that to a "T."

The 6'8" defenseman had a stellar 2009-10 season on a team that was put together real well and was backed by the Vezina-winning Miller in net.

Since then Myers has play plummeted.

Lane asks "which Myers will show up?" as one of his five questions before delving into his numbers and $38.5M contract extension. He says that all last season was a bottoming out for Myers using a stat-line of 9 goals, 22 points and minus 26-rating as proof that he is at the bottom of his career.

Fans who have watched Myers closely will tell you that he actually bottomed out the previous lockout-shortened season and into early part the 2013-14 season under Ron Rolston. His stat-line through the first 20 games under Rolston:  1 goal, 3 assists, minus-10.

Since then he's been on the rise under the guidance of head coach Ted Nolan.

Nolan is letting the kid (and he's still a kid at 24 yrs. old) skate and do what comes naturally, like skate the puck up-ice and jumping into the slot on the rush.

Granted, Myers still looks like a baby gazelle learning to walk at times, but he's a unique player who has the ability to take over a game at both ends of the rink.

4. How did Corey Masiak actually get it?

Projections and analyses come from everywhere at this time of year and it's tough for any one person to be on top of every team in the league.

However, Corey Masiak says what most of Sabres-fans have been thinking in a number of areas and pretty much nails it when he notes:
  • Nolan made the team more competitive in their many losses
  • Success this season may be defined as how the young players are developing as opposed to wins and losses.
  • The Sabres can afford to be patient with Sam Reinhart and keep him in junior
  • Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford aren't going to "drive the bus" but could be key role players
  • And, according to Masiak, "unless they drastically exceed expectations the names of top 2015 draft prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are going to come up a lot this season in Buffalo."
This is your team this season, Sabres fans. They are what they are.

Enjoy what you can and look for the foundation to get stronger as the year progresses. Then look for more movement at the trade deadline.

The 2015 Draft is less than a year away.

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