Thursday, October 30, 2014

10-game grace period? Plus, a change of heart on Sam Reinhart

Reprinted with permission from

Sabres head coach Ted Nolan has tried an approach to coaching similar to former Sabres' bench boss Lindy Ruff, treat his team like professional hockey players.

After an embarrassing 4-0 loss--the fourth time they've been shut out in the last six games--it would seem as if he's had enough. If the team plays like a "pee wee" team, then they need to be taught a lesson .“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If it’s not working, maybe you’re not working hard enough,'" said Nolan. "I was upset the way we worked.”

He had them working "hard enough" today putting them through a tough skate reminiscent of Ruff's (in)famous bag skates. Nolan said he gives his teams a "10-day grace period" but  "taking it easy is over now. We got to work. I’ll take full responsibility for that. Maybe I didn’t push them hard enough. But today’s the day we have to start."

They'd better get started. The team is 2-8-0 and even the "Tank for McEichel" world is getting a bit restless. Apparently they thought that barreling towards the bottom of the league to land one of the top two picks shouldn't be this difficult to watch.

And if fans think it's tough, the coaching staff must be going out of their minds.

Granted, there's not a lot to work with on this club and they've had a pretty tough schedule for the first 10 games. You could even throw in Paul Hamilton's synopsis concerning the west coast trip the Sabres just returned from and how, usually, a team falters. But the performance last night was just plain pathetic. What more can one say except "Wake the (expletive) up!" which is what Nolan screamed today.

Fact is, the Buffalo Sabres are what they are and this is what they'll have to work with for a fairly large part of the season. You are either professionals or you're not and as of right now, they're not.


I was a big fan of sending rookie Sam Reinhart back to junior for a number of reasons and the most compelling reason right now is that the team's playing so poorly it looks as if there's negativity bordering on toxicity. Although I don't think it will be as bad as it was last season under head coach Ron Rolston, if you juxtapose the smiles in Rochester with the frowns in Buffalo, there are better places to be than in Buffalo at this point.

Last season when former hockey operations president Pat LaFontaine and Nolan came in, they sent all of their rookies, save for Zemgus Girgensons, back to their respective developmental leagues. Basically they sent them on a life raft back away from the sinking ship.

Immature players like Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko along with more mature players like Rasmus Ristolainen and Johan Larsson were better off being in a winning environment.

Reinhart, to me, represents the type of player that will continue to grow and mature no matter what kind of environment he's placed in. Throughout this whole process he's been able to take in the game and progress each game. It hasn't mattered what line he's been on as Reinhart has been looking better and that tells me he's focused and that not much will bother him as he continues to learn at the NHL-level.

Although Reinhart still looks like a skinny kid out there, he's managed to stay out of too much trouble as he maneuvers his way around the rink. And although he shouldn't be expected to light things up this season he's probably on a path similar to Girgensons' last season where he'll probably be able to produce, albeit modestly.

He'll have one more game to go, versus Boston on Thursday, before the team will need to make a decision on him this season.

Might as well keep him.


Finally, I wrote this piece on my blog October 19th of last year. It's entitled Suck it up, Sabres fans, no one said it would be easy.

Here's the abridged version:


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

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 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.

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.

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."

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. 

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

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