The Buffalo Sabres didn’t make the playoffs. They traded their captain away. Ryan Miller is selling his townhouse. We’re booing too much. It’s a tough life, being a Buffalo sports fan, and I’m not even going into the hand-wringing over what the Bills are doing in the draft. It seems like forever since we were truly comfortable with the people in charge of our teams, the choices they make. At best we can offer a lame “Well, at least they made some changes!” when looking at the new coaches, but for many, it’s not enough. The back office people are all the same, and while many of us are hoping there will be some significant changes in players on the field/ice, well, we’ll see what happens. Fitzpatrick and Pominville are both gone, both guys who were liked here as much for their nice-guy personalities than for contributions to the cause. A few shining moments here and there, a ton of mediocrity, and a hearty shrug as they pass through the door.
What does it take to change this attitude here? There’s an adversarial feel to the team/fan/media dynamic much of the time, does winning alone fix that? Do you have to win the Stanley Cup or a Super Bowl? Just make the playoffs? It can’t be that last one, at least for the Sabres, as just squeaking in and getting eliminated didn’t help much. Bills fans might kill for that now, but knowing this city, that buys ‘em six months, tops.
It’s like people have forgotten that sports are fun. I watched the Sabres game the other night, and had a blast. Despite the fact they were eliminated from the playoffs. Stop crossing our arms and sitting on our hands because we don’t like their breakout play. If watching hockey or football makes you miserable, and you can’t help but take it out on your fellow fans, why do you still do it? Did you forget there are other forms of entertainment? Or are you afraid of being called a bandwagon fan when you hear about a win streak and start watching again? I won’t call you that.
I didn’t want this to come out like a “quit booing, dummy” post, but it does seem like our go-to move. It reflects poorly on a city that loves their sports teams as much as anywhere. Let’s make next season, a season to be positive. Let’s cheer again. Let’s support a player who makes a mistake. We can’t control the team on the ice or field, or what the media writes, but we are in charge of ourselves. Be happy. Have fun.
See you at the draft.
The Sabres traded away their captain yesterday. Jason Pominville was a completely inoffensive, very solid player. He said the right things, to a fault. He played hard, he produced at a decent rate. He provided us with one of, if not THE most exciting moment for the franchise since the lockout, the short-handed OT series winner against Ottawa. I’ll wish him well in Minnesota.
I do NOT think Buffalo is done dealing their core players. Obviously they are until the season is over, but no one is yet safe. Players with years left on their contract make a lot more sense to be moved in the offseason, at the draft for instance. You know what exact picks you are getting then, and what holes you may need to fill. And make no mistake, you will want to get players at the draft or via trade – you’ve seen the ‘Top’ UFAs at CapGeek, right? The only one under 30 is Tyler Bozak, he of 23 points this year. Pascal Dupuis isn’t scoring 40 for Buffalo, not unless he brings the rest of Pittsburgh’s top lines with him. That leaves players in the system contributing, and players traded for. I like the haul Darcy pulled in for Jason. The two players are actual prospects, with good upside. Another 1st rounder and a 2nd added to that is great.
Would I trade Miller and Vanek. My heart says no, especially on Vanek…but my brain says, why not? You’d get a fantastic return, clear tons of cap room, and be well positioned to build a new core from the existing prospects and draft picks stockpiled. Girgensons, Grigorenko, Armia, Larsson, McCabe, Hackett, Catenacci, Pysyk, any of them could be a star. Or it could be someone else. I’m with the majority that sees Steve Ott as the mentor moving forward, possibly with a letter. On D, it’s Ehrhoff.
It’s kind of funny how fast this has changed. A few weeks ago, who could’ve imagined a Sabres team without Vanek and Miller? Now, I feel almost…excited at the idea. A new era! A (presumably) new coach! I want this, I want to see the change.
With the deadline tomorrow, and the deals already made, I’ve been talking to my friends about the Sabres more – who should go, who should stay to build around, that sort of thing. One thing that keeps coming up for a few of them is how Buffalo is not hard enough to play against – they need to be the Flyers or the Bruins! – but it rings hollow to me.
A year or two ago, the goal was ‘Team Toughness™’ and it involved moving out guys like Derek Roy and Chris Butler, and bringing in Steve Ott and Robyn Regehr. It sounded great to use, and let’s face it, we love tough, physical hockey in these parts. Does that actually mean tough to play against, though? Looking at the Cup winners since the deadline, who is ‘tough’ to you?
- Red Wings
How many of those were physically brutal teams to play? Two? If you expand the list to the losing teams, you really only add Philly to the list. The thing is, you can be tough to play against without being punishing. I’d much rather model the Sabres on Detroit (before this year) or Chicago. When the Red Wings were playing the Penguins for the Cup, they weren’t bashing everybody through the end boards, they were outscoring them (1st in Goals for in 08-09, 3rd in 07-08). “Get me Eric Lindros in his prime!” he says, well I counter with Patrick Kane in his prime. Or Teemu. Get me someone who will make a difference, and might avoid the worst of the physical damage. Get me someone who can possess the puck and put it on net. Those guys come in all shapes and sizes.
Doesn’t anyone remember how fun 05-07 was?
By this time tomorrow, most likely, there will be another name next to ‘L. Ruff’ on that top line. You all know (and can see there) how long it’s been since you could say that about the Buffalo Sabres. Whether ‘R. Rolston’ starts with a win, or a loss, it’s going to look pretty darn strange there. I almost started this by saying I’ve never seen a non-Lindy Ruff Sabres team, but that’s not true. My first NHL game (albeit a pre-season one) was in the second year from the bottom (1992-1993), when the Sabres played in their ECHL affiliate’s barn in Norfolk, VA. Here’s my local paper’s take on the game. Funny to me now how they mentioned the crowd seemed to be behind Buffalo and not Washington. I think Alexander Mogilny might’ve had something to do with it. Another newspaper complaining about the home crowd, imagine. I seem to remember that being a notable year for Mogilny, heh. Anyway, I think every other game I’ve attended had Lindy Ruff at the helm.
I do think the timing is right here. He seemed to be at an end with what to do with his band of losers, and it’s as much putting him out of his misery as it is ‘shaking things up’. I hope he does well somewhere, preferably in the Western conference. I’ll always remember the anger and fire from his best days, as Heather B. mentioned, whether it’s sparring with Bryan Murray or Ken Hitchcock, or grabbing Pominville’s stick to bang on the boards to get the ref’s attention (and scaring the crap out of Jason at the same time), I’ll miss him. But I already missed that Lindy, as he’s appeared all too infrequently in recent years.
Do I expect some monumental turnaround? I don’t, really. Ruff had faults as a coach, but the talent is what it is. There are a lot of parts here that seem to not fit into a spot, at least the way they’ve been assembled. It might take another off-season to fix that. I’ve been resigned to the fact for a time now that the playoffs are pretty unlikely, and it’s best just to enjoy the games as best as I can. That’s actually a pretty good thing to do at any time, by the way. It’s how I get through football season. I’d like to close by thanking Lindy Ruff for all the time he’s put in here and for here, and wishing good luck to Ron Rolston.
Taken on it’s own, last night’s Sabres loss wasn’t so bad. They played hard, and took a lot of shots, a change from their most recent games. They took too many penalties, but the Senators were diving hard, and the refs were calling invisible infractions on both sides on top of that.
But, in a shortened season especially, you can’t take this game on it’s own. This was a winnable game, and they didn’t do it. The shots were mostly ones that were easy to stop, and too many of them hit Anderson square in the chest. Even a middling goalie could swallow those up, and Anderson is anything but this season. Ryan Miller was great, but zero goal support is the one thing he can’t overcome.
Can the Sabres recover? There are doubts, man. They’ve got a couple of days here to regroup, but the next two tilts are against Boston and Pittsburgh. Pretty tough to get right against those guys. It’s only a 3 point gap to 8th, and every other Northeast team would be in the playoffs right now. The goal should be to catch as many of those teams as possible. Unfortunately, fans are rapidly losing faith that this is even possible.
I’ve been debating writing something about the blogger meet and greet with Ted Black the other day, then Ryan over at the Roost went ahead and wrote just about what I would have, right down to the Galactic Senate pod bit. So read that, first, if you haven’t. How do I feel? Well, it’s clear why Terry Pegula has Ted as the public face of the franchise - he fits in just as well with us regular folk as he probably does in the boardroom. I, on the other hand, write on the internet for a reason. Like Ryan said, Ted is a guy you want to listen to and believe. I’m happy to have been included, especially for game with an ending like that. It’s an interesting look at how the other half (or is it 1%?) watches games even without meeting the team prez. Oh, and hey: rope line thoughts:
- John Scott is big. (shocking, right?)
- I like Jason Pominville as captain, but he sounds hilarious trying to pump guys up.
- Steve Ott gave a little girl a stick, which was fun to see. I wonder how often that happens?
- It must be really strange for the players. Felt like they were trying NOT to look at us. Awkward. Apparently there are times when the players are more interactive. It was a tie game at the time which may have had an effect.
It’s been a tough start for Buffalo, despite starting the season by winning the first two games. Thomas Vanek, however, has been hot from the start and has shown no signs of cooling. He’s got 19 points in just 8 games (he missed one), and has never looked more dominant. He’s being ably assisted by Cody Hodgson and Jason Pominville on what might be the best line Buffalo’s had since Briere and Drury were still here. So what’s the problem? Well, Vanek isn’t leading the Sabres forwards in TOI, and that’s bad, okay? It’s terrible!
For reference: I used to complain about Vanek’s low ice time. But when I did it, he was getting 14-15 minutes a game many nights. He’s at 19:13 right now, two minutes better than his highest season average TOI ever (17:21 in 2010-2011). That sounds pretty good to me. Mike Harrington and others shout “There are 55 players getting more ice time than Vanek!!”. Yeah? How many of those have as many points? NONE. Because he’s LEADING THE LEAGUE. Playing 26 minutes a night hasn’t helped Kovalchuk. Vanek has more ice time than Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Marian Hossa. The other top scorers so far are either at the 19 minute range, up at 21 minutes (for those that play on the PK). Look at it this way – top 60 in icetime in a 30 team league would put you on the top line, if lines were sorted that way
There are other reasons not to play Vanek more. He’s a guy that puts a ton of pressure on himself. Do you really want Ruff, who has never seemed completely at ease with Vanek, telling him 19 points in 8 games isn’t good enough? We already have TV quotes like this:
The latest debacle was a 4-3 loss to Florida after which Vanek was named the first star. He appeared on the verge of a breakdown afterward.
“It adds up to a losing record,” Vanek said. “Obviously, I gotta do more, too.”
No, Thomas, your TEAM needs to do more. Your defense corps needs to not act like the puck is a being of pure fire, to be thrust away as soon as it approaches. Other forwards can shoot the puck in and chase after it, instead of trying stupid stuff at the blue line.
“But but but, HECHT!” you cry. Yes, Hecht is getting a lot of ice time. Think about Jochen for a second, how would you describe him as a player? Solid, dependable two-way C/LW, responsible in his own end, chips in some goals. Sound like somebody Ruff may be leaning on in light of the horrible D? And for the rest of the players getting more ice time, could Lindy be trying to let them play their way out? The ideal result here is another line (or two!) playing well, not Vanek playing MORE well, when he’s already better than he’s ever been. At the end of the day, Vanek and his linemates are working. Shouldn’t they try to fix the rest of the team before messing with that?
Just a few things I saw that might help the Bruins after last night’s game:
- The opposing team’s best offensive player should probably be covered. You may even want to shove him around a bit when he’s parked in front of the net on a power play.
- Tuukka Rask’s default move when a goal-scorer is near probably shouldn’t be ‘lie on my stomach’.
- That best offensive player I mentioned? Passing him the puck yourself – with a gentle nudge of your hand, no less – also not recommended.
And a few notes for the fans of the Bruins:
- We know that Lane MacDermid wasn’t brought up to ‘deal with John Scott’.
- The timeout was taken because the wrong Sabres were on the ice. Tough guys versus skill players is not something you want if you’re a coach. Reverse the situation, and Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand are standing nose to bellybutton with John Scott (or Jared Boll, or Colton Orr) at a meaningless late-game faceoff, you don’t want to switch them out?
- Actually, I kind of want Ruff to own that, since it bothers some of the Bruins players so much. “Oh, that? Yeah, I called that timeout for a victory lap. What of it?”
By the way Sabres fans, this really wasn’t one to crow about after today – the defense on the Buffalo side was just as brutal, only Ryan Miller bailed ‘em out more than Rask bailed out the Bruins. Many of the same problems remained from the Leafs disaster.
That was a tear your hair out type of game for both fanbases last night, but I’m glad the Sabres came out on top. They meet again in just over a week, and it’ll be interesting to see if there is any carry-over. Might depend on how Thornton’s doing.
You know, I’m dreading this game. Not because Buffalo has sucked since game 3 of the season. Not because we’ll get a hundred and fifty Miller/Lucic references. Because it won’t live up to the hype. They almost never do, these ‘team toughness’ statement games. Oh, Lucic might fight somebody, John Scott may terrorize some poor sap, but at the end of the day, what the Sabres need is two points. They need to GET RIGHT. They could hardly pass the puck with a purpose in the last game, the only reason they were in that game at all is the Leafs suck just as bad. This might mark me down as a ‘bad’ fan for a certain portion of the fanbase, the part that thinks adding -mafia to the team name makes you sound intimidating. I don’t care. Two points, awesome goals, that’s what needed.
Now, if John Scott were to rip Lucic’s spine out, Mortal Kombat style, I’d probably nod and say ‘Good Job, Hodor’…but not if it’s 4-1 Bruins at the time. Sorry.
I am blogging from the press box tonight, so this post will be updated after each period (and maybe once or twice before the game) with my thoughts as I have them.
- Grigorenko stays. It makes the most sense. He hasn’t been out of place, and it isn’t like he’s keeping somebody else important from playing. There’s plenty of time to lock him up if he’s good.
- Passed RJ while getting a hot dog. That never gets old. Good to see him up here.
- Still cold.
First period thoughts:
- First few minutes has some good pressure for Buffalo. Foligno and Scott both involved.
- Good clear by Pominville when they needed one.
- Myers showing his physical side a bit. Love that.
- On the Leafs goal, Miller had the stop but there was nobody around to clear McClement away. Should’ve caught it, though. Letting Kessel skate right in afterwards too for a chance.
- Great patience by Pominville to wait for the traffic to clear before shooting. And as @BNHarrington said, great keep in by Ehrhoff.
- Weber’s fight was a great response, though Brown is a tough customer. Kaleta went to the locker room, not what you want for a guy that has neck issues.
Second period thoughts:
- Ott keeps winning faceoffs. Is he the only one?
- No Kaleta yet.
- Just after I complained about Stafford being weak on the puck, he deals to a streaking Sekera who shelfs a backhander. Nicely done.
- And then they give it right back. Typical of the D this year. Ugh.
- The Sabres D has quickly melted down and can’t clear. 3-2.
- Some small signs of life at the 7 minute mark. Probably means another Toronto goal is forthcoming.
- Vanek trying to dig the puck out from under Reimer there. Can someone else show up?
- Ott stuffed on a breakaway…should’ve deked. Hindsight of course.
- 4 minutes of penalty by Hecht. One down, one yet to be killed.
Third period thoughts:
- Grigorenko back at it after being benched for a while, had a solid shot.
- Foligno shows what to do when you lose the draw – paste the opposing player to the boards and try to get it back.
- Great rebound clean-up by Mikhail Grigorenko for his first goal, and a great celebration with Foligno. Great job, kid. Tie game.
- Sabres are working harder on the puck now, and it shows.
- Myers is not right. Had a chance to wind up and blast one from the point, and Reimer snagged it easily.
- Heartbreaker. Miller doesn’t seal the shortside and the goal sneaks in with a fraction of a second left. Frattin.