Saturday, January 31, 2015

A "contrite" Nikita Zadorov, an expressive Tim Murray, and tonights McEichel Cup

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Buffalo Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov was said to be "contrite" in his apology at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta yesterday. "I shouldn't do that. I should make the trip a day early and have a safe day, an extra day," Zadorov said. "It's kind of my mistake. I shouldn't do that. Next time I have to be safer."

Zadorov did not report back to the team on time after the All-Star break as he was bumped from his return flight to Buffalo. He and his girlfriend were stranded in the Dominican Republic for another day and it caused him to miss practice as well as the Sabres flight to Calgary. His agent, Rolland Hedges, told Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald that “everything” was tried to get him back on time. "He’s upset,” Hedges was quoted as saying.

The team took a measured approach to the incident with head coach Ted Nolan taking the lead. Zadorov's a 19 yr. old kid who used an eight-day break to bask in the warmth of the Caribbean. Although it's not too far-fetched to think that he wasn't in the Dominican Republic on a Buddhist monk retreat, it's probably best to believe that this was nothing more than a matter of a young player who needs to leave himself more wiggle room when it comes to planning his flights.

“When you’re a 19-year-old kid, sometimes if you’re not instructed to do things, you know how kids can be sometimes,” Nolan said on Tuesday. “But this will be a big, big learning curve for him. But we’ll deal with it when he gets back.”

They did deal with it. Zadorov is no longer suspended and according to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News, "[he] was one of the first players on the ice and one of the last ones off in his first workout (in Edmonton yesterday) following the All-Star break."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Should the Buffalo Sabres claim Mike Richards? Plus quick-pops.

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I’ve always been a fan of Mike Richards. He was a pick of former Philly GM Bobby Clarke who was pretty good at drafting top-notch centers with skill and bite. I love the 2003 draft class, which is one of the best in draft history, where Richards was picked 24th by the Flyers.

When Richards was at his best, his two-way game was amongst the best and he was extremely tough to play against. Although he crossed the line in this writer’s opinion, landing a couple of dirty hits which left David Booth and Tim Connolly injured, the way he masterfully disguised them was sheer genius. His style of play was in lock-step with an old-school attitude in that he’d do anything for the team on the ice. Kind of a throwback to the Broadstreet Bully days captained by Clarke.

Richards’ drive, cunning and chutzpah were attributes that were missing on the Los Angeles Kings in 2011 and I’m a firm believer that he is the main reason they were able to get over the hump and finally raise the Stanley Cup. Not the lone reason, mind you, but without him I’m of the belief that the Kings don’t get it done.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ramp-up to the trade deadline, plus some final thoughts on "Gus the All-Star"

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Hope y'all had a great All-Star break.

The Buffalo Sabres were off for eight days save for Zemgus Girgensons and the front office. While his teammates were spending time away from the ice tasting normalcy, Girgensons was busy rubbing elbows with an elite group of players in Columbus, OH for the All-Star festivities.
And while his players were off on their break, Sabres GM Tim Murray and his scouting staff were in the field taking in junior and college games. Murray, it's assumed, also had his phone attached to one ear as trade-deadline season is set to kick in.

If there's a player that as close to untradeable as one can get on a last place team, Girgensons is the one for the Sabres organization. As for the rest (save for Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorove, maybe,) there will be waves of emotions rising and falling as the NHL heads towards the March 2 trade deadline. If that's not enough, they'll be riding those emotional waves while trying to play the game of hockey on a last place team that comes back from an eight-day All-Star break with a west coast trip on the heels of a 11-game losing streak.

It's no surprise that the Sabres are in last place, but what's surprising is that they've managed fall to the bottom of the league only because of their recent losing streak. Even after 11 pointless games they're still only two points below the Edmonton Oilers and six points behind the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes who both have a game in hand on Buffalo.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Amerks in the balance. Don Stevens talks Rochester Americans

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The Rochester Americans are a few games into the second half of their season and are still trying to pull themselves out of a muddy first half. They were the highest scoring team in the league and were rolling along to begin the season but since that strong 6-2 start they've gone 11-21-1-0. The Amerks went from the top of the conference all the way to the bottom now sit second to last with 35 points, seven points out of a playoff spot.

"It was a huge surprise," said long time Amerks broadcaster, Don Stevens. "In looking at the roster at the start of the season and with the way they started, I thought it was going to be an outstanding year.

"But the wheels fell off."

Particularly troublesome was that they played a good chunk of their home games already and have managed only four wins on the road thus far, two of them coming last week. Before that three-game trip, the Amerks were on a 10-game road losing streak. But, ironically, the road may be where things began to turn around.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What to do with an eight-day break? Depends upon who you are.

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Save for center Zemgus Girgensons, the Buffalo Sabres will be off until January 27 when they kick off a three-games-in-four-nights west coast swing starting in Calgary. They'll head to Edmonton on the 29th and Vancouver on the 30th to finish off the month.

Girgensons will be the lone Sabres participant at this weekend's All-Star Game in Columbus, OH. Although his team-leading 13 goals and his 22 points are hardly All-Star worthy, he was the top vote-getter as his Latvian countrymen helped propel him to the top with  1,574,896 votes. Second place in the voting was the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane with 1,232,201 votes.

While Girgensons is in Ohio's capital rubbing elbows with the NHL elite, rallying with the National Champion Buckeyes and participating in various events of joy and happiness this weekend, it will be a desperately needed break away from the rink for his teammates and the coaching staff. The Sabres extended their franchise record losing streak to 11 with a 6-4 loss at Detroit last night and full reset might be in order.

Sometimes it's just best to drop back and punt rather than continue beating your head against the wall and the All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time. The stats and video are there for review, but an 0-fer for January and 11 regulation losses in a row pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

GM Tim Murray: Year One Trades and Transactions for the Buffalo Sabres

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On January 9, 2014 former Sabres President of Hockey Operations Pat LaFontaine hired Tim Murray, then assistant general manager for the Ottawa Senators, as the new GM of the Buffalo Sabres.

It's been just over a year since then and the following is what he and the team have been up to beginning with the latest, which happens to be over a month ago:

Someday (hopefully) this team will remember the lumps they've been taking

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The Buffalo Sabres head into tonight's matchup vs. the Philadelphia Flyers on a franchise-record nine-game regulation losing streak. Losing tonight for a 10th consecutive time would be nothing new to the team as they finished last season with seven losses (one in the SO) and opened up this campaign with a three game losing streak for 10 in a row. But losing a 10th game in a row in regulation is something that hasn't been done at all since 2006 when the Pittsburgh Penguins with rookie Sidney Crosby did it from January 6-23.

Pittsburgh, of course, won the 2005 draft lottery prior to the 2005-06 season and picked Crosby first overall. He would score 39 goals as a rookie and his 102 points would place him 6th in the league. Even with that production, as well as solid contributions from the likes of Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi and John Leclair, the Pens still could only manage 22 wins, one less than a 2003-04, pre-Crosby team which went 23-47-8-4 (eight ties and 4 OT losses.)

With their losses mounting and a bottom-dwelling finish in the offing for the second year running, the Buffalo Sabres have often been compared to the Pens as well as the Chicago Blackhawks of that era when both of those franchises were reaching bottom during their rebuilds. Both teams would eventually come out of depths to raise the Stanley Cup.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hang in there, Sabres fans. No one said it would be easy

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Ya gotta hand it to the hardy souls who were at the First Niagara Center enduring last night's excruciating 7-0 loss at the hands of a Minnesota Wild. A Wild team that came to town limping left looking like a four-time Stanley Cup Champion. It was an ugly game for the home crowd and although the boo-birds did come out, it was nothing like October and November of 2013, when a chorus of boos came raining down seemingly moments after the drop of the puck.

Throughout last night's the game the fans endured, moreso in state of shock then anything else, as a big mess unfolded before them. There was a brief moment of excitement when Buffalo's Nic Deslauriers got everyone's blood pumping in unanimous decision over Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. I'm pretty sure the 20 yr. old Dumba had no idea what he was getting into when he dropped the gloves with Deslauriers, but he eventually shook of the three shots he took to the head and went on to score Minnesota's fourth goal roughly half-way through the game.

Former Sabre Thomas Vanek had a goal and an assist, both on the power play. Another former Sabre Jason Pominville had three assists and somehow I get the feeling that if he managed to light the lamp last night the house may have erupted in applause as there was really nothing else to cheer for.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dubnyk to MIN and why Murray may be in a bind with his trade possibilies

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The Minnesota Wild are set to hit the First Niagara Center Ice tonight and former Arizona Coyotes goaltender Devan Dubnyk is slated to make his first start for his new team. Arizona sent Dubnyk to Minnesota yesterday for a 2015 3rd round pick.

The 'Yotes are fourth from the bottom in the league standings, on a two-game losing streak and pretty much kissed their playoff hopes goodbye a month ago. Despite the "Mike Smith's our guy" mantra emanating from Glendale, this is a matter of jettisoning unrestricted free agents before they walk for nothing this summer. Arizona GM Don Maloney called the third-rounder "a good asset" for the future and also touted the always popular, "[we can now] take a look at a couple of our younger goaltenders in our system" rationale as well.

All sound reasoning, no doubt, as was bringing aboard former Buffalo GM, Darcy Regier, as Senior Vice President/Assistant General Manager. Regier, as we know, is pretty good at this rebuild thing, or at least the dismantling portion of the equation. As the Coyotes are primed to blow things up and start the rebuild, having Regier involved in the process may prove to be advantageous.

Although the Sabres have begun to acquire pieces with which to build a foundation, they're still in the dismantling process. That process, which began in 2012 with Regier in charge still has eight UFA's available as rentals right now.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just how hot is the iron for Sabres GM Tim Murray?

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"Strike while the iron's hot" is an old saying dating back to the days when the world had blacksmith's forging iron.

In regards to the Buffalo Sabres, the impending All-Star break and the eventual ramp-up to the March 2nd trade deadline, the demarcation between buyers and sellers is becoming more defined. Whereas early in the year only a few teams would have been considered out of the playoff race (Buffalo, Edmonton and Carolina) the field is starting to get crowded.

As of late, we can add the Arizona Coyotes to that list and we'll be keeping a watchful eye on four teams in the eastern conference who are at least 10 points out of a wild card spot right now: Ottawa, Philadelphia, Columbus and New Jersey. And just for good measure, we'll throw in the Minnesota Wild out west. They're on a four-game losing streak and seem to be going through the type of turmoil that could get their coach canned.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Buffalo Sabres will raise Hasek's No. 39 to the rafters tonight

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Dominik Hasek's No. 39 will take it's rightful place in the rafters of the First Niagara Center in a ceremony tonight. Fittingly, the Buffalo Sabres will play the Detroit Red Wings, the team he was traded to for sole purpose of winning a Stanley Cup. Which he did with them, twice.

The 2014 Hockey Hall of Famer was a 1983 draft pick (199th overall) of the Chicago Blackhawks and was traded twice during his NHL career with both of the trades having significant impact on his legacy.

For posterity's sake, on August 8, 1992, the Chicago Blackhawks traded Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for Stephane Beauregard, and a fourth-round pick (Eric Daze.) Hasek would play nine seasons in Buffalo and during that time he won the Hart Trophy for most valuable player twice (1997, 1998,) the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie six times (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000,) the William Jennings Trophy for lowest goals against average twice (1994, 2001,) and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy (now Ted Lindsay Award) for most outstanding player as selected by his peers twice (1997, 1998.)

On June 30, 2001, Hasek was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Vyacheslav Kozlov, a 2002 first-round draft choice and future considerations.

While in Detroit he would add one more Jennings Trophy (2002) but most importantly, and to put an exclamation point on his career, Hasek lifted the Stanley Cup twice (2002, 2008.)

Those trades and accolades are the principles of a NHL career from a player who arguably could be considered the best to ever play the position in the NHL or the world, for that matter. Also of note, Hasek lead his 1998 Czech Republic Hockey Team to a gold medal in Nagano, Japan. It was the first Olympics ever to allow professional players.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jake McCabe is taking his first pro season all in stride

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Hockey fans tend to easily get caught up in the hype and potential of teenage prodigies and top draft picks. When we see a player like Nathan MacKinnon light it up in Colorado for the Avalanche like he did last season as an 18 yr. old, we're sometimes left to wonder why a second-overall pick like Sam Reinhart can't do that for the Buffalo Sabres.

Rochester Americans defenseman Jake McCabe is about as well-grounded as a first-year pro can be and he knows how difficult the road to the NHL is, even for a second-overall pick.

Over the summer he roomed with Reinhart for a month and he watched him trying to make the jump, McCabe put things in proper perspective. "He's under a microscope," said McCabe of Reinhart during a recent phone interview. "Being the #2-overall pick there were high expectations on him and people forget that he's only 18 yrs. old. People need to realize that. It's a process. Not many guys are ready to play in the NHL at 18. We saw how he dominated at the [just completed] World Juniors."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Phil Varone nets two for Buffalo in a 5-2 loss at Carolina

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One by one, the parade of Rochester Americans heading up to the big club went by him this year. First bottom-six forward Johan Larsson. Then checking line center, Tim Schaller. Then former first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko, followed by another first-rounder, Joel Armia.

Through it all, Phil Varone just continued to do for the Rochester Americans what he's been doing since joining the Sabres organization in 2011, playing hard and racking up points.

A 2009 draft pick of the San Jose' Sharks (147th overall,) the 5'10" 186 lb. Varone maxed out his OHL eligibility in 2011 and decided to turn pro instead of heading to college. In 242 regular season games since signing with the Amerks that year he has 48 goals and 129 assists for 177 points (.73 points/game.)

He lead the team in points (52) and assists (41) his rookie season, did it again in 2013-14 (61 points and 43 assists) and was leading the team in those categories (29 points, 21 assists) once again before being called up on Sunday.

You'd think his resume would have gotten him more than two call-ups and a total of 11 NHL games to date, but he seems to have been somewhat forgotten. Or maybe underestimated.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Buffalo at the half-pole of the 2014-15 season

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What do you get when you average the lowest number of goals scored in the league (1.76) and average the highest number of goals against in the league (3.39?) Last place, right?

Not so fast mi amigo.

The Buffalo Sabres are at the half-pole this 2014-15 season and sit in 28th place. Their 31 points place them four ahead of the last place Edmonton Oilers (who we'll get to in a bit) and three ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes who have one game in hand on the Sabres. That's with Buffalo going 1-8-1 over their last 10 games.

Leave it to Edmonton and their organizational dysfunction to leave them the bottom of the league. Even with their bevy of first-overall and first round picks, they're managing to underachive to the point where it looks as if they're tanking the season for Connor McDavid or consolation prize, Jack Eichel.

Nary a word nor a negative sentence has come from our neighbors to the north concerning the farce that is the Oilers this season thus far save to sheepishly defend them. No, they're not tanking. To even think so would get you a serious, "thumbs down." The true measure of "tanking" will come later when we'll see "convenient injuries and suspicious scratches that give the team a minor-league look." Kinda like what happens when you trade a three-time 20-goal scorer for a 28 yr. old, borderline NHL'er and a low first-rounder.

But that's something that the Sabres have no control over. Nor do they have any control over the number of key injuries 29th place Carolina has endured. Carolina is similar to Buffalo except for their goal differential. Their minus-26 goal differential looks like them look like serious contenders compared to the Sabres' minus-62. Or maybe I'm having bouts of dyslexia from pouring over too many numbers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Prospect Sam Reinhart excells, continues a streak for the Buffalo Sabres

When Sabres' prospect Sam Reinhart was sent back down to junior after his nine-game stint in Buffalo, GM Tim Murray said of him, "He was emotional. I guess he was emotional walking out of the rink. He should be disappointed. I told him that, ‘Be disappointed. You’re allowed to be disappointed.’"

But don't wallow in self-pity.

The second-overall pick in the 2014 draft took his demotion in stride as he continued to do what made him successful last season in the WHL. Reinhart was stellar this season for the Kootenay Ice before the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships. In 15 games for the club, the captain had eight goals and 19 assists which is roughly his pace from last season. Reinhart was also captain of Team WHL in the Subway Series vs. Russia in November and was assistant captain for the Gold Medal winning Team Canada at the just completed World Juniors.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On the Tyler Myers to Detroit for Tomas Tatar-plus speculation

Detroit Red Wings LW Tomas Tatar looks to be having a breakout season. After scoring 19 goals and 39 points in 72 games last season, Tatar is on a pace to easily eclipse those marks as he already has 16 goals and 26 points in 39 games this season.

Fair enough. Good for him and good for the Red Wings.

But, does that mean Tatar should be a principle in a potential trade for Buffalo Sabres d-man Tyler Myers?

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press seems to think so. "Tatar [is] intriguing as a trade asset," wrote St. James, yesterday. "The Wings are eager to add a top-four defenseman who shoots right, and to get someone of quality - like Buffalo's Tyler Myers - it would take a young hotshot. Maybe the Wings can sway the Sabres with Tatar and defenseman Jakub Kindl (who doesn't seem to have a future in Detroit), along with a second-round draft pick."

Sabres having a rough go of it without Tyler Myers

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Make no mistake, the loss of defenseman Tyler Myers has been a significant one for the Buffalo Sabres. Without him in the lineup the past seven games the Sabres have gone 1-5-1 and have surrendered 31 goals. Ten of those 31 goals have come while the Sabres were shorthanded as the penalty kill without Myers is an abysmal 47%. Before succumbing to a "lower body" injury, Myers was leading the team in average ice time (25:21) and shorthanded ice time (3:13.)

Most everyone will agree that the 6'8" Myers is no Zdeno Chara, save for the height. Nor is he a Niklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, Raymond Borque, Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin, Bobby Orr, etc., etc. etc.

What he is, though, is the last vestige of former GM Darcy Regier's army of puck-movers that flooded the Sabres' blue line for eight seasons and he has emerged from that group as Buffalo's only homegrown NHL d-man that predates the 2011-12 season.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014-15 Individual Stats--December

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Jhonas Enroth took a two-hander to the post after Nikita Kucherov scored Tampa's final goal in the Lightning's 5-1 win at Buffalo on New Year's Eve. The tire fire that has been the Sabres' defensive zone work in front of Enroth (and Michal Neuvirth as well) for 10 games finally got to the normally cool Ewok and he had to let it out.

The Sabres started out the month of December really well going 5-2-0 on the back of Enroth's stellar play, sound defensive work and timely scoring. It gave us the illusion that they might be on the precipice of a playoff run. But over the last seven game it was back down to earth. Buffalo finished the month 1-5-1 while allowing 33 goals against and unfortunately for Enroth, he was in net for five of those games.

Enroth could not overcome the mess that was in front and watched his individual numbers drop, albeit only slightly, because of it. His goals against average rose from to 3.16 from 3.11 while his save percentage fell to .908% from .914%.

2014-15 Team Stats--December

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First off, Happy New Year everybody.

The Buffalo Sabres followed 6-6-1 record for the month of November with a very similar 6-7-1 record in December and just like the previous month it was a tale of two halves.

Buffalo followed up a strong 5-1-0 finish in November by going 5-2-0 to kick off last month. After that it was pretty much all down hill.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

On the Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel race plus thoughts on two former Sabres

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After gaining respectability via a 10-3 stretch and flirting with the mid-20's in the NHL's overall standings, the Buffalo Sabres are back down where many expected them--bottom-3 in the league.

There's a large clump of teams just above the Sabres and two teams who seem hell-bent on making the race for Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel a two-horse race. The Edmonton Oilers have been pathetic as of late and have plummeted to the bottom of the standings. Since their last back-to-back wins in early November the Oilers have compiled a 2-15-5 record including a winless stretch of 11 games.

After last night's 3-2 SO win over visiting Los Angeles, the Oilers' 23 points are one less than the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 'Canes have taken a tumble this past month going 3-10-1. They're ranked 29th in the league in goals-for with 1.97 goals/game and are one of only two teams under 2.00 g/gm (Buffalo, 1.86.) With 23 and 24 points, respectively, the Oilers and 'Canes are well below the Sabres' 31 points and a group of five teams slightly above Buffalo in the standings.