Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Edmonton/Buffalo and McDavid. Plus Rolston/Marrone

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

The Buffalo Sabres have some company at the bottom of the league thanks to a three game winning streak that boosted their record to 6-13-2, good for 21 points. It's the exact same record as the Edmonton Oilers who are presently on a four-game slide. The Oilers hold the "tie-breaker" via their six regulation/overtime wins. Buffalo has four.

I won't claim to know what's going on in Edmonton, but perhaps they're thinking that they can finally time it right to land a franchise-type player at the top of the 2015 Draft. For three consecutive years (2010-2012) they had the first-overall pick in drafts that were generally pretty good but not great. And even though they bookended that run with a No. 10 in 2009, a 7th in 2013 and a 3rd in 2014, they're still struggling.

With all that top-end talent (six top-10 picks,) something isn't right once again this season. Regardless if it's a tank job or just incompetence on the part of their entire hockey department it has to be embarrassing. Especially to their dedicated fan-base.

Edmonton and Buffalo are similar in that for the past decade they've both had very limited on-ice success only to become struggling as franchises. The Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. The 'Canes made it to the Finals by beating the Sabres, the first of two consecutive years Buffalo was in the conference finals. Since then it's been mediocrity or worse as top-end talent has eluded both teams.

As smaller markets know, even with a hard salary cap in place luring top free agents to cities like Edmonton and Buffalo, as well as keeping them, is a most difficult task. After their run to the SCF, and the subsequent departure of key players, the Oilers got a bit desperate and tried poaching Sabres' winger Thomas Vanek with an offer sheet. And as difficult as it was to lure top free agents when a smaller-market team is successful, it's nearly impossible to do so as their team regresses. When free agents are steering clear it's painfully apparent that the road to success for markets like these goes through the draft.

It's a road the Oilers have been on for five years, but unfortunately they're no better off then when they began picking in the top-10. That speaks volumes about the organization and their inability to draft anyone of significance past the first round. It leaves them and their fan-base stuck in a rut that only a franchise-type player can get them out of. Maybe.

In a way, I wouldn't mind the Oilers with Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel as the fans of Edmonton, who seem to be similar to those of Buffalo, deserve it. They're a dedicated lot and although the people in charge of hockey ops should be held accountable (read fired) for their incompetence (as was the case in Buffalo,) it's through no fault of their fans that the incompetents were either put in their positions and/or lasted as long as they did. That's an ownership problem.

As for the Sarbes, owner Terry Pegula finally had enough and canned those responsible for the embarrassment on the ice. No one should blame them for completely blowing up former GM Darcy Regiers' vision and starting from scratch. No one should blame them for the incredible return they got. And no one should blame them for having good timing as they have a franchise-altering draftpick staring them right in the face as they rebuild. Had Regier's 2011 free agent spending spree worked, the Sabres would be in a different situation.

As similar as the Sabres and Oilers are, where they stand now in building a foundation for the future is quite different. The difference between the two lies in what would happen if they drafted outside the top-three in 2015. For Edmonton it would mean another player seemingly in the range of a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a Taylor Hall. Not a bad player by any means, but a player like that placed in the mix with what they have now probably wouldn't move them much farther along. The Oilers still have major holes on defense and in goal and because of the poor draft record, there's not much in the system to fill those holes.

The Sabres on the other hand have a deep pool of prospects they will be developing over the course of the next few years. None of them are on the level of a McDavid or Eichel but collectively they can make some waves. And it's not to say that Buffalo couldn't use one of those players either.

It's a long, roundabout way of saying that the fans of Edmonton and Buffalo have put up with too much crap over the past decade or two for their respective organizations to feel guilty about landing either McDavid or Eichel.  And if they get the pick, fine.

That's just the way it goes.


Earlier this morning Buffalo Bills beat reporter Joe Buscaglia was on the Howard Simon Show talking of the plight of the football team heading into the next two weeks and what the team should do at quarterback.

With the season already on the brink of failure, one more loss would leave them clinging to a feeble playoff hope while another the following week would send them tumbling towards their 15th consecutive season outside of the playoffs. In that scenario the question was should head coach Doug Marrone cling to veteran starter Kyle Orton in the hopes of saving his job or go back to their 2013 1st round pick EJ Manuel and look towards next year?

Buscaglia believes they should go back to Manuel to further his development if they lose these next two games (whereas I’m of the belief that he should be fired on the spot.) But what came to the fore in that conversation was just how the coaching staff was developing Manuel before he was benched in favor of Orton

Manuel suffered a Week-5 injury at Clevelan last season simply being the player he was drafted for—a big, mobile read-option kind of quarterback who used his mobility to buy some time or make a play when nothing was there. That’s what he was doing in that game against the Browns when he was hit on the knee.

From then on he was a “bubble boy” according to Buscaglia as the team tried to protect him. The little cocoon the coaching staff put him in took away all of his best attributes and it backfired. Manuel is not a pocket-passer, never was.

As Buscaglia was elaborating I had a flashback to what happened with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers under former coach Ron Rolston.

Rolston was a first year head coach (without the interim tag) who, turns out, was in way over his head. He had a rigid adherence to his coaching philosophies which included effectively keeping Myers’ best attributes in check. Back in 2010 when he won the Calder Trophy, Myers was able to use his long glide to skate the puck up ice and jump up in the play as a fourth forward. It helped produce a division title for the Sabres and a stat-line of 11 goals and 37 assists for the Rookie of the Year.

What Rolston did was completely handcuff Myers with his X’s and O’s. His “system” emphasized his defensemen getting the puck up ice by moving it to a forward. It was a disaster. Rolston was fired after his “system” lead to a 4-15-1 record to start last season.

The Bills face a Jets team tonight that’s coached by Rex Ryan and even as bad as they’ve been this season, he’s maximizing the talent given him. Ryan, if y’all will recall, got the Jets to consecutive Conference Championships with Mark Sanchez at QB.

Former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine coaches the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo’s opponent next week. Pettine coached under Ryan during those runs. He has Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator and Brian Hoyer as his quarterback. Although Hoyer is no Tom Brady, and the specter of “Johnny Football” has been hanging over their heads since they drafted Manziel in the first round, the Brows are 7-4 and in the midst of a dog-fight (pun intended) for the division lead.

Just sayin’

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