Welcome to Pominville! Again!

I know, I know, Marco Scandella is the important part of this deal.  The Sabres needed to upgrade their defense, and this is a solid step in that direction.  BUT don’t discount the positive emotions that seeing Pominville back in town will have.

What a great time to be a fan, right?  I happened to go to one of Pommer’s first games in that magical 2005-2006 season, and ended up waiting in line behind Jason’s mom.  She had a huge bundle of Pominville sweaters, and she asked the cashier something like “the player’s family gets a discount, right?”.  It was fun being there at the beginning of it all.

So yeah, he may no longer be a 30 goal guy, but for a little while, Buffalo sports fans were thinking about something cool.  I’m all for it.

Former Players

I’ll be honest here – I never quite felt right about “acknowledging” former players.  At least officially.  We all agree you can’t do it for all of them, so then it becomes a judgement call.  Did player X do ‘enough’ as a Sabre to be ‘recognized’?  Did they leave under dubious circumstances?  Do we just show them on the video board?  An intermission retrospective of their best plays?  Meh.  Never saw the point.  I wish Jason well, but I’d rather focus on (and worry about) the team that’s here.  I am more than capable of deciding on my own to clap for a guy I liked that left the team, I don’t need the jumbotron to tell me that.

This is not anything against Jason Pominville himself.  I loved him when he was here, he was a good soldier who played quite well despite getting saddled with a rough contract to live up to.  He’s the author of one of my (and probably your) favorite Sabres moments in recent memory, the overtime, short-handed Ottawa playoff killer.  I can still hear that idiot Bryan Murray say “It’sh Jashon Pominville” after being asked how a player could get in on goal like that.  Was it strange seeing him in a Minnesota sweater?  Yeah, but to lament it and clamor for “recognition” is to live in the past.  I know the present hasn’t been any fun yet, but it will be.

War Without End

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.

It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

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.

Blog Life

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.

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?

Forget Pominville At Your Own Peril

It’s easy to forget Jason Pominville.  He doesn’t run guys over, he’s polite and non-controversial in his interviews, and doesn’t make waves off the ice.  We can’t even make fun of his haircut anymore.  Before this year, how many players on the team would you go through before you got to Pominville, if a new fan asked “Who are the Sabres’ best players?”  Remember even Bryan Murray, asked about Pominville’s magical short-handed OT series winning goal, asked about how a player got behind the D like that, answered “It’s Jason Pominville”.  We as fans have called him overrated, overpaid, and have hoped he’d be traded for someone, anyone else.  Eyebrows were raised when he was given the C, for sure.

It’s pretty clear that maybe Lindy and Darcy knew more than we did about the room and Jason.  68 points in 77 games, 5 game winning goals, while facing the tough minutes each night.  That strip of Ovechkin last night, and the comments after the game about the team wanting to impose their will on Washington, speak volumes to his leadership by example.  He works hard every time you see him.  We need to do a better job of remembering Pominville.  I bet Ovechkin doesn’t forget him for a while.  Just like Bryan Murray.

The Beginning, Not The End

This is, frankly, amazing to me.  I AGAIN wrote this team off completely, still cheering for them, but kind of hoping they’d get an awesome draft pick and clean house.  They made some solid deadline moves, pulling in a great player for the future, getting another 1st round pick, and so on.  How could I know that Ryan Miller would start throwing down shutouts left and right?  That Ville Leino and Brad Boyes would light up the scoresheet in the one game where he didn’t?  And these are not bad teams being beaten either, with Boston, Vancouver and San Jose all falling to Buffalo recently.  A healthy defense, secondary scoring to pick up the team when Vanek and Pominville are scuffling…this is what we thought we had all along.  You all know by now that the Sabres can get at least a share of 8th place tonight, by beating Winnipeg in regulation.  It may not last, but even so – they matter in this race now.  What had been simply ‘not mathematically eliminated’ is now something much more possible.  It’s quite a ride, and I’m glad I get to see them in person (as a fan, not with my ‘Serious Blogger Face’ on) against Montreal next week.  Buckle up.

The New Boss

The Sabres won last night, though it still wasn’t pretty and took overtime and stupid penalties by the Thrasherjets to do it.  So it pretty much ‘solves’ nothing about the Miller/Enroth debate.  As I was watching the game last night, I think I came up with a good analogy for what is happening.  It’s like when your boss retires, and some new guy comes in from another department to take over.  You stop surfing the net, or goofing with your phone, or flirting with the hottie that sits a few cubes behind you.  Look at ME, you are saying, this company is my LIFE.

But after a few weeks, you ease the throttle back a notch.  Your work’s getting done, so there’s no harm in checking those NFL injury reports.  You find yourself standing next to the hottie’s desk chatting away after you get coffee.  It happens, you’re human.  That’s where the Sabres are with Enroth, though.  It’s still New Boss Mode.  They sit up straight and pay attention for Jhonas in a way they don’t for Miller right now, and make no mistake, Miller needs the D to do just that.  He needs to find his game, so they need to quit cheating, making bad passes, and generally expecting Miller to make the save.  He isn’t right now, so they need to put their phones away, leave the hottie alone (she’s got a boyfriend anyway guys) and get to work.  In the long run it’ll make them a better team when Ryan does get his game back on track.

Cody damaged Glass's hand WITH HIS FACE

As for the game last night, I missed the first period, and when I saw the score I thought “darn, I missed all the fun”.  Yeah, not so much.  Thomas Vanek scored twice (although the second one was ricocheting a goal in off him in his office), and Roy had two goals, including the one that tied the game late to send it to overtime.  It was a penalty-filled affair, with the Jets taking some dumb penalties in particular.  I thought Gerbe embellished to get the penalty in the OT.  Pominville played half the game.  A special nod to Gaustad for the super-sweet pass, and Cody McCormick for the epic bout with Tanner Glass.  Commander Cody got cut, possibly by Glass hitting his helmet as Tanner had to ice his hand in the penalty box afterwards.  Oh, and congratulations to Corey Tropp for his first NHL goal.

See you Friday when the Sens come to town.  May be in the pressbox for that one.

Sabres Hold Off Jackets

Giving up 40+ shots isn’t how you want to win, but a strong performance from Jhonas Enroth allowed the Sabres to do just that last night.  Vanek/Adam/Pominville continue to dominate, with Pommers scoring twice, Vanek assisting on 3, and Brad Boyes scoring again.  There were penalties and giveaways, guys named Cody fighting, and a Kaleta goal celebration.  It was the sort of game where you are happy you won but you still work the team twice as hard so they don’t get it in their heads that this was okay.  Still, it was entertaining as hell to watch.  Two of the goals came on the powerplay, which looked to have better puck and player movement.  That’s one thing they don’t have to forget, at least.

The Sabres will be back at it tomorrow night against the Panthers, and I might be in the pressbox for that one.