Tag Archives: Cody Hodgson

Stafford and Leino – Time to Shine

The Buffalo Sabres roster is set, and judging from the lines at practice, there are two players in the top 6 that will have a ton of focus on them:  Drew Stafford and Ville Leino.  Stafford gets the first crack at being the other winger with Hodgson and Vanek, while Leino goes with Ott and Ennis.  There’s some possibility that changes when injured players come back (currently Armia, Zadorov, Foligno and Tropp are out) but Drew and Ville will both have a chance to make their case first.

Stafford has always been a frustrating case for most of us.  He’s a couple of seasons removed from scoring 31 goals in 62 games, and pulling down 20 in the season after.  However, last year went pretty bad for him, netting only 6 goals in the short season.  There’s reason for hope, though.  He’s got two legit threats with him, and last year saw his shooting percentage at less than half of his career level (5% versus 11.7%).  Stafford has always seemed like a ~25 goal type player, with a 30 goal plateau playing with the talent he’ll have – and on the first power play unit to boot.

Ville Leino should have a shot at improving as well.  He played only 8 games last season, scoring 2 goals and adding 4 assists.  His line has Steve Ott to bang bodies and be a nuisance, and Tyler Ennis to deal the puck.  Ennis is no Hodgson, but it’s still giving Ville a chance.  He was also seen on the second power play unit.  I thought Leino played well in his limited time last season, and there were flashes of that the year before.  He’s more of a long shot, but I’ve got a feeling a full, healthy season might be just what Leino needs to reach the potential he showed in Philly.

If anything works against these two, it’s the fact that there are so many young forwards eyeing their spots.  Girgensons and Grigorenko both sit on the third line as of now – but how much of one of Stafford’s slumps would it take for one of them to get a top-6 shot?  Armia and Larsson lurk as well.  Foligno’s return will give the team all the excuse they need to shake up lines if things don’t start well.  Me, I’m rooting for both guys.  I think Leino has been scapegoated pretty hard here, and Stafford has been a good soldier and could just need someone to believe in him.  Here’s hoping they seize the opportunity.  Go Sabres.

Sabres and Leafs – Weekend Warriors

I was at the Sabres/Leafs game on Saturday night with my son, saw a bunch of fights, goals, and an epic shootout.  And that was the LESS interesting game.  Sunday’s game in Toronto saw Tropp possibly concussed, John Scott and Phil Kessel sort of fight (I guess), Miller and Bernier fight, slashing, spearing, bench-leavin’ and pretty much everything else you can think of.

I’m not going to place blame or throw stones at any particular team, coach or player – there really isn’t anybody who comes out looking good in that mess.  It may have been entertaining to watch when it happened, but it doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth once there’s some distance on it.  Let’s just shake our heads and move on.

On the actual hockey side of things, I really liked what I saw from Zemgus Girgensons Saturday.  I thought he played hard and wasn’t afraid to hit.  He could be a fan-favorite here if he sticks.  Cody Hodgson was solid, too.  Jhonas Enroth was great, that shootout was crazy.  By round 15 I probably would’ve been ready just to skate off.  I’m ready to see what these young guys can do.

Aside from the game, I have a few comments on the upgrades to the First Niagara Center.

  • The new food options are nice.  Even the existing stuff, like the hot dogs and hamburgers were much improved.
  • However, if you get popcorn, and they ask if you want butter, SAY NO.  I was expecting the machine at the movie theater that drizzles a little bit on.  NOPE, IT’S A LADLE.  The solid lump in my stomach was not fun.
  • The game presentation was better.  There was genuine laughter at the Celebrity look-alikes thing with Foligno/Fabio.
  • I wonder if that changes when all the sponsored stuff is back in.  Recycle bins!

Looking forward to real hockey.  Getting excited!

Training Camp – Questions Without Answers

The Buffalo Sabres are opening training camp today, with veteran players reporting for their physicals and testing.  I always imagine ‘testing’ as Patrick Kaleta slouched in a desk, face all screwed up trying to answer a multiple choice question.  Anyway, as camp opens, there seem to be more questions than answers for fans that have been tracking the team through the summer.  At least they did announce another assistant coach hiring today, Jerry Forton out of Harvard (though he had a long stint at Niagara before that as well).

But many more uncertainties remain.  Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are both still here, without new contracts.  They are saying the right things – these two usually do – but it’s still unsettled.  Cody Hodgson remains unsigned, and Matthew Coller crunches some numbers on the young center.  They are somewhat bleak, though in my mind, I’d like for a few other players to make the leap up the middle so Hodgson can take the role Thomas Vanek had in 06-07, leading a line that basically just gets told to score and isn’t pitted against superior competition.  Kadri may set the number for Cody’s contract, but will Hodgson take the ‘bridge contract’?

Looking at the roster (you can see the training camp roster up at that first link) it’s hard to get a feel for what this team will be.  There’s room for rookies to stick.  Other questions remain…Will Myers be good with Tallinder back?  Will Hodgson be here?  Is Ott the captain?  Will Miller and Vanek still be here?  The rookies are interesting, especially to compare and contrast between Girgensons and Grigorenko.  And Zadorov!  It’s a team with a ton of questions, which could make for a very long season.  I just hope it’s a fun one.

Vanek’s Time On Ice Is Not The Problem

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?

Vanek Downs Flyers

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Buffalo Sabres pulled away from the Philadelphia Flyers and won 5-2 today at First Niagara Center.  Thomas Vanek was in on every goal, scoring 2 of them, and Steve Ott scored in his first game.  Tyler Myers and Cody Hodgson had the other tallies.

It felt like Buffalo came to play in the first, always close to the puck and pushing play up the ice.  They fell away from that early in the second period, however, and that’s when the Flyers took over and got their 2 goals.  Vanek tied it later though, and the Flyers’ dead legs didn’t do them any favors in the third.

Who I liked:  Vanek, of course, and Cody Hodgson came on as the game went on, too.  Drew Stafford attempted to fight Scott Hartnell the second time the stupidest Flyer tried to ram a Sabre into the boards from behind.  Miller was very solid in the net, with both goals being deflected or screened.  He wasn’t grabbing as many pucks and freezing it as often as he usually does, but that may be the rust.  Ennis won 64% of his faceoffs, and Hodgson and Grigorenko were both positive as well.

What I didn’t like:  John Scott was on the ice for 3 shifts totaling 2:10.  Why?  I realize Gerbe and Leino are both out but if you don’t trust him to play, dress someone else.

Things I still don’t believe:  Vanek played 19 minutes, and took 9 shots.  NINE.  SHOTS.  I dream of games like that from him.

I’ll see you again tomorrow night, as Buffalo is heading to Toronto to face the Leafs.

Five Sabres I’m Watching

The extremely short training camp is on for your Buffalo Sabres, and as it begins, there are five players I’m going to be watching with interest:

  1. Mikhail Grigorenko – We may not see for more than a few games this season, thanks to junior eligibility, but he’s a big-time player at a position of desperate need for the Buffalo Sabres.  I mean, Hodgson, Ennis, and Hecht (newly signed) are your other Cs.  While Hodgson and Ennis have potential to be very good for a long time, I’d like to see Grigorenko push to stay.  Or at the very least  make us want it.
  2. Ville Leino – Number one with a bullet, as soon as the words “Compliance Buyout” became a think at the endgame of the lockout.  I may be a softy, but I’d love to see him show his haters up.  Maybe a short, compressed schedule will help him get on a roll.
  3. Jhonas Enroth – Should probably list this as Miller/Enroth, but I’m not cheating.  The schedule is tight, with a ton of back to backs.  Enroth HAS to play, and play well.
  4. Nathan Gerbe – The small man is a fan favorite for his willingness to take on anyone, no matter the size, but eventually he has to rack up some points.  He had 16 goals 2 seasons ago.  He needs to exceed that pace to take the heat off Vanek and Pominville.
  5. Jochen Hecht – Many of us thought he would retire, but he got healthy and has been playing well in Germany according to Pominville.  He’s a great utility player, able to slot in pretty much wherever you need him.  But he has to stay healthy.  Buffalo has been a better team with Hecht in the lineup.  Can Lindy lean on him while protecting a lead?

One more thing that’s interesting is what to do with the defense.  They’ve got too many at this point, and TJ Brennan would have to pass through waivers to go to stay with the Amerks.  Considering he’s scored 14 goals in 36 games in Rochester that ain’t all that likely.  I believe the hashtag for that is #dosomethingdarcy.

Shifts in Strategy

The Sabres have made some moves.  They usually do this time of year, especially since Pegula bought the team.  The theme so far has been to get tougher.  John Scott, a feared fighter (murdersaurus!) who will probably see limited action, was the first signing of FA for Buffalo.  More intriguing is the trade, sending Derek Roy out to Dallas, and getting Steve Ott and Adam Pardy in return.  Pardy is probably just a spare part that had to be tossed into the deal, and at $2 million, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get the Shaone Morrisonn treatment in Rochester.  Buffalo has too many D to find a spot for him here.  I mean, I’d rather have Sulzer as the seventh guy at $725,000.

No, the interesting part of the swap is Roy/Ott.  I’ve defended Roy in the past, but it seems clear his welcome had worn thin with many people.  The team trades away offensive production for ‘grit’ and penalties.  Ott will not be a top 2 center, which leaves a hole to fill if you assume Hodgson is the number 2.  Ennis showed some skills as a C late last year, but it’d be risky to run him out there without a larger sample size to judge him on.  That leaves another trade as an option, and while I know Darcy can find guys that we think aren’t available and make it happen, I just can’t see who it is who is going to fill that role that Roy leaves empty.

The X factor in this is Bobby Ryan.  Not a C, but if you want to replace Roy’s scoring potential, there you go.  Perennially over the 30 goal mark, Ryan could add some punch on the right side, where Stafford has failed to find consistency.  Unfortunately, Derek Roy had been one of the guys mentioned going back as a return, so now you’d be left with figuring out who Anaheim wants in return.  Ennis?  McNabb?  I don’t think we’d be getting off easy here, and many of us fans wouldn’t like what we’d lose.  Alexander Semin?  Somehow I don’t think he would get along with Lindy Ruff, but I wouldn’t fault the team for trying it out, if the cap hit can be managed.

Buffalo is in an interesting spot here.  The old ‘core’ is getting slowly replaced by new guys, with Roy, Campbell, Goose and others out of town.  Can the young guns like Ennis, Gerbe, McNabb and the like step up?  Will there be a stud center on the team due to a trade out of left field?  The Sabres aren’t far out of the playoffs, but there hasn’t yet been a move that says “Yep, they just got closer”.  Big time right now for both Darcy and Lindy.

Thus Ended

The Sabres can no longer make the playoffs, and have one more meaningless game.  In the short term, I was ticked about it last night, but today, not so much.  It was a very difficult season in many ways, with injuries, underachievement, and media sniping.  The highs were really high, and the lows were rock-bottom.  We saw veterans and prospects leave (Gaustad, Gragnani, Kassian) and got a few new contributors (Hodgson, Sulzer).

How do I feel about this season?  I’m disappointed that it won’t be going on to the playoffs, for sure.  There is talent here – and I think the deadline improved that overall – but injuries and some questionable play overrode that.  Next year’s roster won’t be that different, barring trades, as there are already 20 players under contract.  Hecht, Boyes, and the surprising Sulzer are UFAs, with TJ Brennan, Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta as RFAs.  I can’t imagine either Hecht or Boyes being back.  Sulzer is interesting, though.  I’d love to keep him, as he showed some decent skills and kind of took that 6/7 D spot from Weber.  Ennis is a no-brainer, and I imagine Kaleta gets a deal.  That’s 13 forwards, including Marcus Foligno and Corey Tropp.  If Brennan and McNabb start with Rochester, that leaves Regehr, Ehrhoff, Myers, Leopold, Sekera, and Weber as the D pending something with Sulzer.  Of course, Miller/Enroth in the net.

Do I think that’s where we end up?  I do not.  The Pegula era Sabres have already shown they are willing to deal guys to get guys, and we have parts and pieces other teams would covet.  July 1 is going to be interesting.  Buffalo will be a player again, a destination for players who hopefully see the improvements and potential here.

I might post about the draft, and July 1, but expect this space to be fairly quiet in the offseason.  I’m planning on blog maintenance, such as trying different themes, stuff like that.  Might post up about the playoffs if the mood strikes, too.  I’ll still be on Twitter, and please check out my non-hockey gadget/movie/TV/book talk at Honk if you Love Justice.

Sabres at Ducks and Derek Roy

A west coast swing with late start times, just when we get a new toy to play with??  UGH.  I can’t wait to see how Cody Hodgson does tonight, even if I might fall asleep by the third period.  The first game with a new player is always fun, even if it sometimes goes downhill after that (*cough*Bernier*cough).  Hodgson will start out on a line with Ennis and Stafford, but we’ll see how that goes as the game wears on.

On the Miller comments.  Sounds like a guy tired of being asked about personnel decisions he has no say in.  Mountain out of a molehill, indeed.  Kind of wish Miller was Russian so he could only give quotes when a Russian reporter rolls through town.

Speaking of the Buffalo News…I read a comment there again.  STUPID.  It’s this:

I have been silent for awhile. I can’t believe I am reading the comments by Lindy. He stated Roy will now be his last minute center. Roy is the WORST defensive center in the league.

*facepalm*  I know there are those of you not happy that Roy is still here, but let’s see if this is actually true.  Of players that Behind the Net registers as centers, with more than 40 games played, Roy is 36th as far as Quality of Competition (Sami Pahlsson, another C coveted at the deadline, is right below him).  That’s out of 148, by the way.  He’s not getting nutty zone starts either, with offensive zone starts about 51% of the time.  That’s on par with Henrik Zetterberg and Brad Richards.  To contrast, Henrik Sedin starts in the offensive zone a staggering 77.5% of the time!  It’s obvious that Buffalo doesn’t ‘optimize’ zone starts the way some teams do.   Looking pretty good for Roy, whose stats are colored by his low offensive output this year (possibly still recovering from his injury early).

As I look at the stats, it’s clear that Roy has grown into being at least a solid defensive player, middle of the road to a bit better in most areas.  You may not like him as a person, or just think ‘he sucks’, but it’s really not true.

Feeling Relevant

These were my thoughts as the NHL Trade Deadline coverage got rolling this morning.  Gaustad and Roy had both been involved in the rumors, so no huge surprise when that broke.  The return was surprising, even with the 4th rounder going the other way, but still, we knew he was the sort of guy playoff teams love to add at the deadline.  You know, that intangible-laden 3rd-liner, to win face-offs and ‘battles’ and all that other stuff pundits like to say.  When the official deadline was passing, though, people were disappointed.  “That’s it?” you heard.  Then you started to hear “Vancouver has another deal yet to come”, and then “They’re getting Kassian”.  We all sat up and took notice, and then when we heard Cody Hodgson was the guy coming back…wow.  That’s a great return, giving up Kassian and Gragnani, and getting Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer.  I love these deals.

As I was thinking about these since they went down, I decided this is basically a win-win-win for the teams involved.  Buffalo is a win both for now – Hodgson has more offensive upside than Goose, and is a lot younger – and in the future, getting Nashville’s first rounder next year in addition to the players from Vancouver.  Nashville gets the vet C that teams love for the playoffs, and Vancouver gets a couple of guys that might fit better on their team than ours.  Kassian needs to prove himself in the NHL, and Gragnani might work best for the Canucks where he can just be a power play QB and get the softest minutes otherwise.

I’m genuinely interested in seeing what Hodgson can do for Buffalo.  I’m sorry to see Gaustad go, as I had hopes for him…but it was pretty obvious that what he is now, is all he’ll ever be.  And if you turn Goose and a 4th into a 1st, you do it.  Gragnani was expendable…McNabb, and soon, other D-men in Rochester were pushing him from below, but he couldn’t move up any higher than 7th on the depth chart when everyone is healthy.  And all of this happened without crippling the Sabres’ cap situation any more than it already is.  Good job, Darcy.  Is it Wednesday yet?