Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Colin Kaepernick issue hasn't reached the NHL, but we all have opinions

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch posted an blog yesterday dealing with the Colin Kaepernick situation. Kaepernick's refusal to stand during the national anthem before his San Fancisco 49'ers took on the Green Bay Packers has turned into a hot-button issue with far-ranging opinions covering the entire scope of the conversation but has yet to make it's way into the NHL as it has in other major sports.

The NBA had the same thing happen when the Denver Nuggets' Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (previously known as Chris Jackson) refused to stand during the national anthem because his new-found Muslim beliefs clashes with what he said was oppression by the government. Abdul-Rauf was suspended by the NBA for one game and he was forced him stand while the NBA allowed him to look down, eyes closed during the national anthem.

NBC Sports reminded us yesterday that Major League Baseball had a similar situation in 2004 with the Toronto Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado when he "drew the ire and respect of many fans for refusing to participate in the ceremonial singing of 'God Bless America' during games, in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War."

Nothing like that has happened yet in the NHL even with a city like Buffalo that plays both the American and Canadian national anthems before each of their home games.

On the 2nd annual Prospects Challenge, Cody Franson and Jack Eichel

With Labor Day weekend close at hand bid adieu to a rather uneventful summer of 2016 and gear up for the beginning of hockey season. The National Hockey League is staging their World Cup of Hockey slated for September 17th to October 1st as two divisions comprised of four teams each will battle it out for "world" supremacy in the game of hockey.

While the biggest and brightest stars will be on display at the WCOH, including a North American team featuring Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews anchoring a 23-and-under squad, various prospect tournaments will be taking place to highlight younger talent not quite at the WCOH-level. Among them is the Traverse City Tournament celebrating its 17th year, a tournament in Coral Springs, Florida and the 2nd annual Buffalo Sabres Prospect Challenge.

The Sabres attended Traverse City from 2011, the off season after Terry Pegula bought the team until 2014. They won the tournament in 2011 and after the NHL lockout scrapped the 2012 tourney, the Sabres found themselves back in the finals dropping the championship game to the host Detroit Red Wings. The 2014 tournament was a disaster for the Sabres featuring this quote from former Buffalo d-man Nikita Zadorov, "Maybe it wasn't our tournament." after the team finished 0-3-1, were outscored a combined 17-6 and scored more than one goal only one time.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On Robin Lehner, Tyler Ennis and Gustav Possler

Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner opted out of the inaugural World Cup of Hockey this season by telling Team Sweden that he won't be joining them for the tournament that begins less than three weeks from today.

With an extremely slow summer for news outside the world of Jimmy Vesey, various media outlets jumped on the story from various angles with some going as far as to imply that Lehner had an injury.'s Fantasy Hockey page, citing a Renaud Lavoie report, began it's piece by saying "Lehner is dealing with an undisclosed injury" while stating in the next paragraph that their not sure whether it's "a new injury or one related to the high-ankle sprain" Lehner dealt with all last season.
In it's lead paragraph for the piece, the Associated Press said that "Sweden replaced him on its World Cup of Hockey,"
And the Ottawa Sun's Ken Warren injected some NY Post-style sensationalism calling Lehner's career "never-ending soap opera" as he proceeded to state that "the slow recovery is troublesome for the Sabres," while having Murray "trying to put out any fires" concerning Lehner before prodding  his audience to "Stay tuned. Life with Lehner is never boring."

An official statement from Sabres GM Tim Murray reads like this:

"As Robin continues to progress during the offseason in his rehab from last season's ankle injury, he felt that it was best to withdraw from Team Sweden for the upcoming World Cup. Robin felt it was important to continue his rehab in Buffalo to prepare for training camp. He has been working out both on and off the ice and we look forward to seeing him on the ice with our team next month."

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What Dave Bolland to Arizona means for Buffalo

Arizona Coyotes GM and analytics guru John Chayka has made some pretty bold moves this summer as he continues to add to the stockpile of prospects he inherited when he was promoted at the end of last season. Chayka took the reigns from the released Don Maloney with a young roster, deep pool of prospects and a boat-load of cap-space, a combination that allowed him add even more to his already burgeoning prospect pool.

On the first day of the 2016 NHL Draft Chayka made a trade with the Detroit Red Wings to take on Pavel Datsyuk's $7.5M cap-hit. No actual salary was involved in the deal but the Wings were still on the hook for the hit after Datsyuk decided to head back to Mother Russia. Chayka was able to move up from the 20th overall pick to the 16th overall pick to select defenseman Jakob Chychrun by simply having enough cap-space to absorb the hit. Of note, Arizona also gave up a second-rounder in the deal.

Yesterday Chayka was at it again as he agreed to take on an injured Dave Bolland and the remaining three years of his bloated contract. The Florida Panthers were saddled with a $16.5M cap-hit over the next three years and have a number of youngins coming off of their entry-level contracts during that time. They finally found a taker in the 'Yotes, but it came at a hefty price. In the trade the 'Cats added in 2015 11th-overall pick Lawson Crouse in to make it work. In return Florida received a 2017 third round pick and a conditional 2018 second-rounder.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Sabres take variable pricing a step further with dynamic pricing

The Buffalo Sabres announced a "new dynamic ticket pricing model for all Sabres home games in 2016-17." This new model will "adjust ticket prices to better reflect demand throughout the seasons," according to the press release.

Variable pricing is nothing new to the Sabres and it's fan-base as the team initiated the concept in the NHL back in 2004.

The Sabres were having problems filling seats because of a team in transition that had missed the playoffs the prior three seasons. Then team president Larry Quinn was faced with an attendance problem. "The team had 6,800 full-season ticket holders last year and another 1,400 'season ticket equivalents' or fans who bought partial season ticket packages," according to a Buffalo Business First article from July 12, 2004, with the team losing "about $8.5 million," according to Dan DiPofi, chief operating officer.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Vesey picking Rangers is a bummer, but c'est la vie

Frank Sinatra is known singing, New York, New York. He's also known for the title track to an album called "That's Life." Such is the juxtaposition of Jimmy Vesey's decision to sign with the the NY Rangers as the highly coveted free agent started "spreading the news" about "leaving today" to "be a part of it" in New York City. For the Buffalo Sabres and their fans, we flip to the other side of the coin with Sinatra singing, "that's life" while fully knowing that despite another miss, the Sabres will take the approach that "each time I find myself layin' flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race."

Let's get this out of the way right now, it sucks not being able to land Vesey. The Sabres offered the highly sought after Hobey Baker winner the opportunity to be apart of their future but it seems as if the allure of the NY Rangers and a chance to live in the Big Apple was too much for Vesey to pass up. "One of the things I definitely liked about New York was the top-notch lifestyle that the city offers,” Vesey was quoted as saying at his conference call last night.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lookin' for that top-six left-winger.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray has done a lot of work putting together a lineup to his liking. He's come a long way since this lineup to open the 2014-15 campaign:

Matt Moulson, Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson, Sam Reinhart, Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Chris Stewart
Nicolas Deslauriers, Cody McCormick, Torrey Mitchell

Josh Gorges, Tyler Myers
Andre Benoit, Andrej Meszaros
Mike Weber, Rasmus Ristolainen

Jhonas Enroth

In the Press Box--Brian Flynn, Tyson Strachan, Nikita Zadorov

That said, despite fortifying his roster with young-vets like Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and as of July, Kyle Okposo, he still has some holes to fill.

In June Murray took a calculated risk sending third-rounder to the Nashville Predators for the rights to Hobey Baker-winner, Jimmy Vesey. Although the Sabres gave it their best shot, Vesey (in a curious move considering what other teams had to offer) opted for the NY Rangers. The 6'3" 195 lb. Vesey would have had the opportunity to land in a top-six/top-nine role in Buffalo despite not having any pro experience.

With him out of the equation, there is a top-six slot on the left side that needs to be filled. How will Murray do it?

Let's take a look at the contenders.

Monday, August 22, 2016

V-Z Day. Probably tomorrow? More time for erroneous conclusions.

The Jimmy Vesey watch continued today much to the dismay of many. Nothing has been leaked out that can be deemed concrete although some claiming to have sources inside Vesey's circle have tweeted their supposed info on his decision.

Vesey heard pitches from a number of teams, mostly in the northeast region of the country close to his hometown of Boston. Some examples of teams bringing out the big guns were the Pittsburgh Penguins brought Sidney Crosby, the New Jersey Devils--Corey Schneider, the NY Islanders--John Tavares and the Chicago Blackhawks--Patrick Kane in the room. Of course the NY Rangers not only had their contingent in person but also had the backing of celebrity tweets from the likes of Susan Sarandon, Justin Tuck, Boomer Esiason, Linda Cohn and Run DMC, among others, putting their two cents into the Vesey sweepstakes. It's New York.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Where will Jimmy Vesey land? The odds.

True to his word all along, at 12:01 a.m. coveted college winger Jimmy Vesey hit the open market hell-bent upon finding a home. Vesey and his agents have said all along that there are a number of factors that the 23 yr. old will weigh while making his decision including the opportunity to maximize his post entry-level deal (2 yrs.) via top-six/top-nine ice-time and time on the powerplay. And not to be dismissed is the pull of possibly playing for his hometown Boston Bruins.

Vesey had said from the start that he's interested in staying in the East (more specifically the northeast) and that he's also very much interested in a team's overall philosophy and their depth chart as well as how ownership takes care of it's own. The first part of staying closer to home was reiterated this morning as agent Peter Fish (via WEEI, Boston,) but he also did not completely rule out the Chicago Blackhawks who, with their recent record, three Stanley Cup rings and organizational quality from top to bottom usually has them at the top of anyone's list.

To their credit the Vesey camp has kept things close to the vest this summer with virtually no leaks. Some rumors have surfaced but none of them had any direct links to Vesey. "I think there’s a lot of things out there that either aren’t true or people are just searching to say things," Fish told Yahoo's Puck Daddy last week.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

After the Mark Pysyk trade, the 2010 Buffalo Sabres draft comes up empty

Last summer in a series called Prime Years (links below) we took a look at the 2005-2009 draft classes for the Buffalo Sabres that constituted a group of players who are now in their primes (ages 24-28.) The Sabres selected 37 players from those five drafts and as of last summer only three were with the team heading into the 2015-16 NHL seasons--Mike Weber (2006, 57th overall,) Tyler Ennis (2008, 26th) and Marcus Foligno (2009, 104th.)

This off season represents another year where players from the 2010 NHL Draft would just be entering their prime years and, ideally, making contributions to the Buffalo Sabres at the NHL-level. However, the 2010 draft class, much like the prior five classes, failed to have an impact.

In all fairness, there were some good players from 2005-09 who were traded away for other pieces, like the Tyler Myers and Brayden McNabb trades, and at one point the Sabres had the most draft picks by percentage playing in the NHL. But the fact remains--for a small market team like Buffalo, they did not hit on enough draft picks to rise above mediocrity. They missed on Marek Zagrapan (2005, 13th,) completely whiffed on Dennis Persson (2006, 24th,) ended up trading away their 2009 first-rounder Zach Kassian and didn't have a first round pick in 2007 after trading it away for a rental. The two best picks (both first-rounders from 2008) in Myers and Ennis are two very good players but there wasn't nearly enough talent around them during their formative years to sustain any of the success they had early on.

With that kind of track record at the draft and with overpaid veterans playing with a country-club mentality, it's not surprising that the Buffalo Sabres opted for a full rebuild as there was nothing in the cupboards to get them out of the never-ending cycle of middling finishes and middling draft picks.

The 2010 draft was the last one of the Tom Golisano-era. Kevin Devine was still at the helm as Head Amateur Scout and they still did't have anywhere near the number of scouts in the field necessary to build successfully through the draft. The edict from Golisano and Team President Larry Quinn was "just break even" and part of the equation had the team relying heavily on video (the VideoScout3000 as the late jtswinehart once called it.) Although it saved them money, it was a cost-cutting move that really hurt.

When the Sabres headed to Los Angeles for the draft in 2010 they'd just come off of a first-round loss to the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. Buffalo had clinched the Northeast Division behind the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltending of veteran Ryan Miller and the Calder Trophy season of defenseman Myers. All of their top-scorers that season were decidedly a plus in plus/minus column while centers Derek Roy (69 points) and Tim Connolly (65) lead the team in scoring. Myers was fifth with 48 points and was tied for second-best on the team with a plus-13 plus/minus rating.

Despite adding some serious heft at the previous draft, most still felt that the "soft-but-skilled" team Darcy Regier built still needed size and toughness as evidenced by the Bruins series. The Sabres had skill and Miller was on his game as well, but when the going got tough, the Sabres were no where to be found. Goals needed to be scored in the dirty areas and the only one that did that was Cody McCormick a player signed by the Sabres in the off season, played in the AHL and eventually got the call from Buffalo after Thomas Vanek was undermined by a questionable check to the lower body by Boston's Johnny Boychuk. The lasting image of that series in that regard is McCormick barreling to the net so hard to try and score that he crashed into it and received a penalty in the process.

The Sabres making it into the playoffs that season meant that they'd be drafting 23rd-overall. In the prior five drafts they drafted no higher than 12th (Myers,) had two 13th-overalls (Zagrapan and Kassian) and a 24th in Persson. And with the 23rd pick of the 2010 NHL Draft, the Buffalo Sabres selected defenseman Mark Pysyk.

Pysyk was a puck-mover, one in the long line of puck-movers Regier favored. He had decent size (6'1", 188 lbs.) on a projectable frame and was known for his smarts, leadership and defensive acumen. Unfortunately for him, when it was time for him to make inroads into the NHL, the Sabres were headed into rebuild-mode.

After being drafted by the Sabres, Pysyk spent two more seasons with his junior club, the Edmonton Oil Kings and captained them to their first-ever WHL Championship in 2012 as well as a trip to the Memorial Cup that May. He began his professional career the following season with the Rochester Americans while the NHL locked out it's players. In 57 games for Rochester that season he had 18 points (4+14) and was a plus-8. He also appeared in 19 games for Buffalo scoring his first-ever NHL goal and adding four assists.

Pysyk started out the 2013-14 season playing for Buffalo but after turmoil engulfed the team he was sent back to Rochester. He continued to be a steadying force on the blueline in Rochester but new GM Tim Murray kept him in Rochester even after purging the team of a bevy of players including McNabb.  Murray was fully aware of Pysyk's defense and said of the move to keep him developing in Rochseter, "I want him to take big strides here. I don't want him to be happy being a safe, puck-moving defenseman, I want to see him push himself more offensively, push himself into the transition game a little more."

After full-time duty in Buffalo last season resulting in one goal in 55 games, Pysyk was part of a deal with the Florida Panthers at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo. Pysyk and two picks (Nos. 38 and 89) were sent to Florida for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and the 33rd-ovearall pick which was used to select center Rasmus Asplund.

A quick note on the trade. The Florida Panthers revamped their defense-corps by trading away physical players like Kulikov and Eric Gudbranson (VAN) in favor of more puck-movers like Pysyk.

Defenseman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc was selected in the third round with the 68th pick by Buffalo after an outstanding season for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL. Gauthier Leduc was touted as a very strong skating offensive defenseman with good size (6'2" 192 lbs.) and exceptional vision.
Gauthier-Leduc would finish up his CHL career with Rimouski scoring 74 regular season points (28+46) in 62 games plus another 19 points (9+10) in 21 playoff games but could not transfer that scoring acumen to the pros. He spent four seasons in Rochester scoring 19 goals and adding 38 assists in 231 games before being traded to the Binghamton Senators in an AHL blockbuster on February 27th. His struggles during the 2013-14 campaign had him sent to the ECHL that season for an eight-game stint.

The Sabres selected center Kevin Sundher with the 75th-overall selection in 2010. Sundher put up some pretty big numbers in the WHL (94g+158a in 252 games) but his perimeter game didn't translate well to the pro ranks. His smaller size as well as lack of physicality and grit showed and after three seasons in Rochester and a nine-game stint with Elmira (NY) of the ECHL he went unsigned. Sundher played 10 games in the AHL and nine in the ECHL last season.

Matt Mackenzie (83rd-overall) came out of junior with a simple, two-way game and it got him a good look from the Sabres organization. At 6'2" 198 lbs. Mackenzie had decent size and did get some decent playing time on Rochester's third pairing but he also was sent to the ECHL in three of his four seasons.

Steven Shipley (98th,) Greg Sutch (143rd) and Cedrick Henley (173rd) all came out of junior without ever making it to the pro level. According to Jason Chen of Hockey's Future, Shipley finished his hockey career with St. Mary's University (Atlantic University Sport,) Sutch played a short time for York University (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) and Henley finished in the CIS with Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

Right Wing Christian Isackson was a high school star out of St. Thomas Academy and was a finalist for Minnesota's Mr. Hockey Award which was won by Florida's Nick Bjugstad that year. Isackson had great hands but couldn't adapt to play at the college level totaling eight goals 109 games for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. His pro career consists of 70 games in the ECHL.

Left Wing Riley Boychuk was Buffalo's last pick in the 2010 draft. The 208th-overall pick has been bouncing around the lower pro levels since turning pro in 2011. He last played for the organization in 2013-14.

In looking back at the final six drafts of the Tom Golisano-era, it's not surprising that Terry Pegula and his charges decided to blow the whole thing up as the lifeblood of the organization--drafting--was not adding much to the big club. When Pegula took over he pledged--while also following through on that pledge--to cut loose the financial chains of the club. Most people look at that free-spending 2011 off-season as an example of that, but most noteworthy was his undercover commitment to the scouting department.

From Pegula's first presser as owner:

"Starting today, there will be no financial mandates on the Buffalo Sabres hockey department. There is no salary cap in the National Hockey League on scouting budgets and player development budgets. I plan on increasing...our scouting budgets, both with bodies on the ground, and in areas we may not be hitting capably, and also enhancing our video department. Starting today, we will bring in more player development coaches, to help these guys become better hockey players, work on their weaknesses, or whatever the coaches think. We will aspire to be the best in the league at finding, developing, and keeping our players in their new Buffalo Sabre family."

Pegula's first draft was in 2011, but the full weight of his financial commitment to more scouts and better player development wouldn't begin to start taking shape until the following year. In saying that, the 2010 draft should be considered the last one where the Sabres were stuck "VideoScout3000" mode, a failure of an era that limited their success to two players--Ennis and Foligno--being on the team in the prime of their careers.

 Prime Years past columns:

2005--Prime Years. Past drafts and players who'd be in their primes today
2006--Prime Years: The void grows bigger as the 2006 draft flops
2007--Prime Years:  2007, Another draft class with nothing to show for it
2008--Prime Years:  2008--a seismic shift, poor season, solid draft
2009--Prime Years:  2009, Where's the beef? Sabres bulk up at draft

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Charge of the youngins--The first wave

It's been a little over four years since the Buffalo Sabres ushered in their rebuild by trading core player Paul Gaustad, and just over three years since they hastened the teardown by trading away Jason Pominville.

The 2012 and 2013 drafts would represent the beginning of the future for the team and. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, 8th-overall) has made the biggest impact on the team thus-far as he anchored the top-pairing last season. Jake McCabe (2012, 44th) hit the pros after his junior season at Wisconsin and looks to have solidified a spot in the top-four on defense. And despite coming off of a very poor 2015-16 NHL campaign, forward Zemgus Girgensons (2012, 14th) is still considered a top-nine forward with enough upside to possibly crack the top-six.

Those three young players essentially held the fort, along with longer-term Sabres Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno during this period of transition with the youngest of that group, Girgensons, playing in 202 NHL games through the two bottom-dwelling seasons and last year's rise from the ashes. Buffalo GM Tim Murray's goal after taking the reigns in January, 2014 (other than dismantling what was left of the former core group of players) was to begin laying a foundation by adding seasoned vets into the mix. Through the next three drafts he was able to add to the stable of quality prospects he inherited and with the volume of picks and prospects that Buffalo had acquired over the course of the rebuild he was able to use them to acquire young-vets.

Through it all the Sabres were able to finish 8th in the league last season with one of the youngest teams in the league.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016's 30-In-30: "This current group of Sabres in uncharted territory.”

Every year gives hockey fans something to digest during the precipitous lull that is the off season--30 Teams in 30 Days. Today it was Buffalo's turn as the staff moves their way up from the bottom to the top giving an overview of each team.

Simply put,'s Dan Rosen said the bar has already been set and expectations have risen, so said head coach Dan Bylsma through an interview with Rosen back in July. The Sabres had been a doormat two years running but made great strides going from 54 points in 2014-15 to 81 points in 2015-16. In the last of his five questions from that interview Rosen posed this, "Nobody had any expectations for the Sabres last season, but I don't think we can say the same thing now. What can you do to manage the expectations? Or do you even want to manage them? What do you think about having expectations to potentially be a playoff team?"

"I think it's a really valid point and it's one we're going to be dealing with right from the start of training camp," began Bylsma's reply. "We're going to have that and we're going to want that expectation for our group.

"When we talked about our plan starting last year, we thought we were going to be an 80- to 85-point team last season even though we were obviously trying to make the playoffs right from the start. Prior to getting Kyle [Okposo] and the possibility of getting Jimmy Vesey, we thought we could be a 90- to 95-point team this year. Now Kyle and Dmitry Kulikov, and if we can add Jimmy Vesey into our top six, we should expect to be 95 points or higher than that. We think we're better on defense. We think we're stronger. We're deeper. If you're looking at expectations from within, we should be above 95 points at the end of the season. It took 95 points to get into the playoffs in the East last season."

Monday, August 8, 2016

Evander Kane and Jimmy Vesey, the best laid plans...

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray probably thought he had it all figured out. He made the trades for young vets with a solid on-ice history who still had up-side. He drafted 2nd-overall twice in a row to add almost instant NHL production. And as he went into last season with some holes to fill, he still had quality players from the old regime whom he at least could use in a transitional role. It would seem, however, that at this point in the 2016 off-season, Murray may need those transitional players once again.

Odd-ice issues aside, most Buffalo Sabres fans were all for the Evander Kane trade. Most had grown weary of the backward steps Tyler Myers had taken since winning the Calder Trophy in 2010 and they'd seen enough inconsistency from Drew Stafford to volunteer to take him and his guitars to the airport. Those were the two known quantities of that trade, both of them part of former GM Darcy Regier's new core.

Add Ryan O'Reilly into the mix to go along with two players from the previous season who lead the team in scoring--Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson. Heading into last season the Sabres top-six group of forwards looked as if it would supersede anything we'd witnessed in the prior eight years. However, Moulson had a horrendous season and Ennis wound up injured after a poor start. Even with those two combining for only 32 points, rookie's Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart picked up the slack, O'Reilly was approaching career numbers despite being felled by an injury and Kane hit the 20-goal mark for the first time since 2011-12.

Heading into this off season Murray made two moves that would shore up the top-nine for the club when he traded one of four 2016 third-round picks he had for the rights to left wing Jimmy Vesey. The Harvard Crimson forward had made substantial progress since his first two seasons at Harvard and he is now being looked at as a top-six left-winger.

The other move Murray made was to land right wing Kyle Okposo via free agency. The powerforward had put together three pretty good seasons with the NY Islanders and unlike Moulson who spent five years on Long Island, Okposo made an impact on a line that wasn't centered by John Tavares. It was a major signing for Buffalo as Okposo was considered the best free agent available after Steven Stamkos wound up staying in Tampa Bay.

Murray's best laid, top-nine plans could have looked something like this:

Evander Kane/ Ryan O'Reilly/Kyle Okposo
Jimmy Vesey/Jack Eichel/Sam Reinhart
Matt Moulson/Zemgus Girgensons/Tyler Ennis

However, nothing's ever easy, especially in Buffalo, as Kane's well documented off-ice antics have many questioning whether he'll remain in Buffalo (and if he does how effective he'll be) and it looks as if Vesey could be signing somewhere else when he hits his free agency August 15th. There could possibly be two top-six holes for Murray to fill come October 13th when the Sabres host the Montreal Canadiens to kick off the 2016-17 season.

Fortunately, Regier and his former head scout Kevin Devine left Murray with some options.

Ennis was drafted 26th overall in the 2008 NHL Draft with the pick Regier received in the Brian Campbell trade to San Jose. Throughout his short career Ennis has either hit the 20-goal mark in four of his six full seasons. Although drafted as a center he's been able to adapt to either wing and even though it looked as if Ennis had trouble adapting to new head coach Dan Bylsma's system, he has enough hockey smarts to overcome whatever hurdles he may have faced last season.

Girgensons was another player who looked as if he had trouble with Bylsma's system. Although he scored 15 goals in 61 games the prior year he only scored seven last season. Both Bylsma and Murray had a hard time finding a home for him last year. At this point in his young career a third-line center role might be perfect for him, but they may also need him to try and gain some chemistry with Eichel and Reinhart on the second line out of necessity. Unless Moulson-a three-time 30-goal scorer regains his touch.

2013 second-round draft pick Justin Bailey may get called into duty should Kane and/or Vesey end up somewhere else. Bailey had a breakout second half of the season in Rochester last year and did everything but score in a short eight-game stint with Buffalo. Bailey would probably be better served spending a good amount of time in Rochester next year, but if he's pressed into NHL duty, he should eventually make some waves.

Marcus Foligno, a fourth-round pick in 2009, is a bottom-six winger who showed he could produce in a third-line role, at least with his linemates from late last year and Johan Larsson, who centered that line, can also play on the third line. He came from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade.

Despite many calls for the departures of Regier-guys like Girgensons, Foligno and even Ennis at times, they may play key roles for the team this year as they try to break a five-season playoff drought. They all have skills yet all have battled with inconsistencies which, at times, has put them in a bad light.

Yes, the best laid plans often go askew, but it's good to have some cards to play when they do.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Drought lessons for Buffalo from the Dead Wings-era and Jimmy Devellano

With the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres in the throes of multi-year playoff droughts the headlines have grown harsher, the criticism sharper and patience thinner with each passing season. The Bills opened training camp in suburban Rochester, NY after finishing last season out of the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. After making it to Game-Six of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, the Sabres made the playoffs three times, missed three times, made it to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, missed the playoffs twice lost in the first round twice and haven't been back in the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.

Rumblings within with the media and fanbase are omnipresent growing louder or softer dependent upon how the news of the day unfolds. Buffalo sports fans take it in and take their lumps, all while watching other organizations field or ice teams that are perennial winners. Yet, what's conveniently left out when using teams like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers,  Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins as the gold standard of modern sports success is that all struggled with severe droughts before finally making it to the top.

The Patriots went to the playoffs once in their first 17 seasons (1960-75) and had another drought of sevens years (1987-93) before beginning their long run of NFL dominance. Prior to the Chuck Noll-era of, the Steelers made the playoffs twice in their first 28 years (1944-71) which included droughts of 14 years ('48-'61) and nine years ('63-71).

The Blackhawks had a stretch where they made the playoffs once in 10 seasons from 1996-97 to 2007-08. In their lone appearance the 'Hawks were bounced in the first round. And after missing the playoffs in 1982-83 and finishing dead last in 1983-84, the Pittsburgh Penguins continued their six year playoff drought even after drafting Mario Lemieux in 1984. Of note, the Hawks and the Pens were both missing out on the playoffs during an era where 16 of 21 teams made it into the post season.

The Evander Kane saga continues plus....

Attorney Paul Cambria has his hands full with yet another Kane as client Evander is getting hit by a civil suit.

Not long after pleading not guilty to charges stemming from a draft-week incident at a club in downtown Buffalo (he returns to court in September,) it would seem as if an incident that was thought to be over has come back.

According to reports Kane is now being sued by a woman for injuries she said were incurred back in December stemming from an incident at a hotel. "The woman claims Kane assaulted her and caused physical injuries that forced her to undergo surgery. She alleged he caused her serious emotional distress," according to the Buffalo News.

Cambria and partner James T. Scime are filing a countersuit on behalf of Kane for false claims. Back in March the charges for the December 26 incident were dropped.

Back in 2015 Cambria was defending another Kane, Patrick, the Buffalo native who plays for the Chicago Blackhawk. Patrick Kane was charged with sexual assault but the case was dismissed by Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita.

Not sure what it is with Kane's and Buffalo, but they don't seem to be mixing all that well.


With Kane in the news and rumors of his impending departure starting to swell, should the Sabres end up trading the troubled winger, they'll have a pretty big hole to fill on the left side.

As of right now Kane is the team's top LW. Last season Zemgus Girgensons was shifted from center to left wing and played quite a bit on the second line. Marcus Foligno occupied the third-line LW while Nic Deslauriers played most of the season in that fourth-line role.

Even if Jimmy Vesey does sign with the club, the college free agent is still unproven. Going from amateur directly to the pros is a huge leap and there are very few who can do it no matter what their ages. Ideally, Vesey signs, is in a second-line LW role behind Kane and Girgensons moves to third-line center, where he would probably thrive at this point in his young career.

But now that the Chicago Blackhawks are fully in the Vesey mix, the chances of him signing in Buffalo have diminished considerably. Take Kane out of the equation and there are now two openings in the top six at left wing. Rumors of Buffalo landing NY Rangers winger Rick Nash have been swirling for a while and he'd aptly fill that top-line role but he carries a steep cap-hit.

August 15th is the big day as Vesey becomes a free agent. His list of teams is short and there's a possibility he could end up somewhere else. Kane, in the meantime, will probably be sitting down with  the Sabres brass talking about his past and how it affects his future. We're not sure if GM Tim Murray will give him any more chances or even if he deserves any, but the Sabres will need to make a decision pretty quick if they want to keep this rebuild moving along briskly.


For what it's worth, the political landscape keeps getting weirder and weirder as it seems to be barreling head-long to the depths of third-world politics.

Russia has been in the news lately and for some reason they've been hitting my other blog site pretty hard. It's not like I get a lot of hits at buffalosabresnow but there are patterns that have emerged over the last six years. Normally the U.S. is where all the action comes from representing about 50% of hits to this point with Canada and Europe accounting for another 10-15% or so, respectively.

Last month, however, the Ruskies have been picking up their game accounting for a staggering 67% of hits last month while the U.S. was responsible for roughly 20%.

Not sure why all of a sudden a hockey website has been of such interest to Mother Russia, but they're hitting it hard.

Oh, and by the way. Has anyone ever heard of Mauritius?

It's an island nation east of Madagascar on the southern tip of Africa. The tiny nation of just over a million people accounted for 3% of my hits last month.


Who knows? Perhaps there was a hockey fan who was just killing time while lying on the beaches wondering how Mark Twain found this little island. Twain is quoted as saying, "'Mauritius was made first and then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius."