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?

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.

Gameday LIVE – Rangers at Sabres

Getting set up in the pressbox for tonight’s visit from Martin Biron and the New York Rangers.  It’s the Sabres’ first game against the Rangers, and Jhonas Enroth gets the call after Miller played in the win last night.  Leino comes back from his suspension, but Hecht (‘lower body’) and Corey Tropp (concussion) are both out, so Colin Stuart gets the recall from Rochester.  The wheel turns, does it not?  Eventually all of this focus on head hits might mean you don’t have a new player concussed every night.

Some notes from the Sabres’ gameday crew:  Vanek has only been held scoreless in consecutive games twice, gaining a point or more in 20 of 28 games.  Stafford has 1+1 in the past two games.  Ehrhoff leads the team in ice time with 24:33 per game on average.

I’ll be updating this post after each period with my thoughts.

1st Period:

Buffalo begins the game by taking a high-sticking penalty, Robyn Regehr 9 seconds in.  PK is no big deal for this team, and with some help the lineseman’s leg, they get a break.  Biron almost mishandled the puck right in front of him.  The penalty was killed.  Beautiful play from Kassian to Adam but it didn’t go in.  Enroth is absorbing shots, good sign.  Ehrhoff joins Gragnani with early giveaways.  The Sabres aren’t generating zone time or chances, though Drew Stafford is working hard.  Excellent opportunity from Chewie/Vanek/Pominville, then another partial break by Vanek afterwards.  Play picked up after the 8 minute mark, with the top three lines finally getting some chances.  Enroth had a big save on Brad Richards.  Cody took a number after getting knocked down in front of the net shortly after.  Rangers and Sabres trade interference penalties.  Vanek with a near-beauty out of the box.  Buffalo got a little scrambly at the end but managed to avoid the late goal being allowed.  Scoreless after one.

2nd Period:

Stafford/Ennis/Roy some solid work to start the period.  Seems to be more balanced early, Buffalo making some plays.  Not so many stoppages.  Good steal by Roy, and save by Biron.  Nice breakup by Ehrhoff coming back on a Rangers rush.  On the power play Vanek seems to forget how to puckhandle for a minute.  The Rangers score on a short handed rush when Hagelin picks his corner on Enroth.  Vanek answers not long after on a ‘fuck you I’m scoring’ blast from between the circles.  Brandon Prust took exception to Vanek giving old friend Marty Biron a show shower.  This is fun.  Not so fun when Callahan scores another shorty.  Ehrhoff has to knock him down there.  The crowd let’s the Sabres hear it at the end of the second for that second shorthanded goal.  2-1 Rangers.

3rd Period:

A few good chances to start the period.  Adam just missed on a great pass from behind the net.  And then Enroth lets in another softy.  Just a killer, that one.  Not even sure what really happened.  Ennis and Stafford had some great chances not long after that but to no avail.  Just don’t seem to be making good decisions when the puck.  Vanek has 2 great chances, then Kassian decks a dude along the boards and gets a penalty.  PK letting too many Rangers stand in front of the net.  Puck possession is a problem.  The Rangers ice the game on the power play, whistling a shot past Enroth’s glove hand.  It’s Gaborik.  There is a baby crying nearby, I don’t blame him or her.  4-1 Rangers.  Your three stars:  3 – Callahan, 2 – Biron, 1 – Hagelin.  Biron got a big cheer.

Postgame Thoughts:

Lindy felt the powerplay was too stationary, not making the defenders change their angle of attack.  He also felt that they had more and better chances than last night, but made more mistakes.  There were a lot of shots missed high, he noted that they had discussed shooting high on Biron, but they couldn’t make it happen.  Marc-Andre Gragnani had been coached to join the rush more, but he still made some tough plays.

I’m honestly not sure where to go with this tonight.  They weren’t terrible, though maybe Enroth was in the second and third.  Some blame can be laid on his teammates on a couple of the goals, but none of them were impossible stops.  It’ll be interesting to see if Miller starts to get more starts or if Lindy sticks with The Schedule.

Gameday 2011-2012 – Sabres at Hurricanes

It’s hard to know what to write about this team right now – that was a rough loss last game, but if Myers is going to score and go beast mode on guys, well, that I’m glad to see.  Carolina sucks so hopefully Jhonas Enroth can rebound against them.  Weber is hurt, TJ Brennan is recalled, Hecht practiced, Ennis is still non-contact (think I got all that right).

Wins tonight and tomorrow (Enroth gets both?) would be great for putting some distance on Toronto who is struggling through injuries and questionable goaltending also.

Gameday 2011-2012 – Jets at Sabres

It’s going to be quite a night at the FNC tonight.  Dale Hawerchuk and Rick Jeanneret will be inducted into the Sabres Hall of Fame (hey, that means they get swords right?  COOL).  The newfangled Thrasher-Jets are in town for the first time, and we are all waiting impatiently to see which goalie gets the nod tonight for Buffalo.  Ryan Miller provided some choice quotes regarding the situation:

“I’m here to win,” Miller said Monday. “That’s the emotion you get from me. If I’m discouraged, if I’m pissed off, that’s just how it is. I want to win. I don’t want to be out there getting scored on. I don’t want to be pulled out of a game. I want to, you know, I want to fucking win the game.”

I put the bad words back in, those weren’t in the News story.  Could you imagine all the letters (hand-written!) they’d get from the old people that still get a physical copy of the paper?  Heh.  By the way, love this bit from Lindy Ruff at the end:

“There’s a lot of fire there,” Ruff said. “He’s emotional about his game, and that’s what you like. I like him the way he is.”

I keep hearing the chorus to “Just the Way You Are” now.  Aww.  Moving on, Ennis and Hecht are still recovering, and Kaleta is still suspended, so I imagine Corey Tropp will still be in tonight.  As an aside, wasn’t his name being pronounced like it was spelled ‘trope’ in the preseason?  Or maybe at Traverse City.  Whichever way it’s said, he hasn’t looked out of place out there to me.  It’s a 7pm game, but expect it to start a bit later with the pre-game festivities.  Adjust your DVRs accordingly if you need to record the game.

Let’s Play Two

The Sabres play the Lightning again tonight, at home this time after getting their hats handed to them by the same team on the road.  Tyler Ennis cut his hair and got hurt…coincidence?  I think not.  Anyway, it does leave Buffalo an interesting option – move Ville Leino to the wing and play Hecht at center.  You’d never have a better time, as the injury is the perfect excuse to try it out.  If Leino goes gangbusters back at the wing, you can leave him there as long as you like.  If not, he can go back in the middle.  It doesn’t mean he’s a ‘bust’ if he plays better on the wing, he might just need more than a couple of weeks to adjust and get his feet under him.  No big deal.

It’s a 7:30 start time again (seems like we’ve had a bunch of those already).  Garon is apparently going to be in goal again, as the Lightning noticed Roloson hasn’t beaten the Sabres in 9 tries.  Still, Buffalo needs to solve the TBL defensive scheme and get some shots on net.  Garon is beatable, and Vanek has eaten these guys up in the past.  I think we’ll see some solid play tonight.

One Possible Roster

Playing with the Cap Calculator at Capgeek (too much fun), I’ve worked out this roster possibility.  I’ll post new ones as the Sabres make more moves, or the real cost of an RFA contract becomes known.  I gave everyone that I brought on a bit of an upgrade in salary, seems like what usually happens to most RFAs.


Thomas Vanek ($7.142m) / Derek Roy ($4.000m) / Jason Pominville ($5.300m)
Brad Boyes ($4.000m) / Ville Leino ($4.500m) / Drew Stafford ($4.000m)
Tyler Ennis ($0.875m) / Jochen Hecht ($3.525m) / Patrick Kaleta ($0.907m)
Nathan Gerbe ($1.433m) / Paul Gaustad ($2.300m) / Cody McCormick ($1.200m)
/ Luke Adam ($0.875m)

Tyler Myers ($1.300m) / Robyn Regehr ($4.020m)
Jordan Leopold ($3.000m) / Christian Ehrhoff ($4.000m)
Andrej Sekera ($1.200m) / Mike Weber ($0.850m)
/ Marc-Andre Gragnani ($0.600m)

Ryan Miller ($6.250m) / Jhonas Enroth ($1.200m)

BUYOUTS: Tim Kennedy ($0.166m)

CAPGEEK.COM TOTALS (follow @capgeek on Twitter)
(these totals are compiled without the bonus cushion)
SALARY CAP: $64,300,000; CAP PAYROLL: $62,645,357; BONUSES: $562,500
CAP SPACE (22-man roster): $1,654,643

This is a fairly typical Lindy Ruff 22-man roster, I didn’t work too hard on lines and pairings as Lindy changes them as often as Bruce Boudreau changes his bib at lunch.  This setup demotes or trades Kotalik and Morrisonn, but really it could be done by moving Hecht or Boyes (or both) instead.  Basically, Buffalo has a ton of guys in that $3mil – $5.5mil price range, it makes sense that they’d get some of these guys out to make room not just for the space to sign the RFAs they have, but to also make room for some of the Amerks that are ready to make the jump.  The team is remade, and will be remade again next year.

You Just Don’t Know

Really, you just can’t know how a team, any team, will respond to an injury to a key player.  Many of us wrote off the season after Roy got hurt (myself included), but all the Sabres have done since then is go on a run.  Since the 5-2 loss in Calgary, Buffalo has gone 4-0-1, including a 7-6 barnburner highlighted by a Drew Stafford hat trick, and a 3-0 real shutout of San Jose, and a 2-1 win against the Coyotes, games in which the Vezina quality Ryan Miller made appearances.

Players and coaches will always throw out the ‘other guys need to step up’ cliche when an injury like this happens, but it really is true, and it’s happened here.  EX:

“Since Derek’s (Roy) gone, there’s a chance for a lot of guys to step up and play some extra minutes. Guys are trying to take advantage of that.”  Jochen Hecht

Stafford is on a tear (in addition to the hatty he had an OT game-winner in Phoenix), Jordan Leopold has 10 goals, Shaone Morrisonn has brought an increased physical presence, Mike Weber has too (in addition to a few goals!) and there have been goals by Jochen Hecht, Luke Adam, and Jason Pominville, all guys who are in that ‘needs to step up’ category.

Looking at the standings, Buffalo is currently 10th, 8 points behind Boston and Montreal (catching both would jump them all the way into 3rd).  The schedule for the month means Lalime will be keeping the bench warm quite a bit, as there is only 1 back to back set of games as part of a 3 in 4, with two of them against the Isles.  Gotta get him in once there, I’d think.  There’s a game each against the teams they are chasing in the Northeast, how successful January is probably turns on how they do there.  It’s a tough lead to make up, but a team that plays the way they have in the past few games can do it.  They are making it interesting, at least.

In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck

Tyler Ennis did what he was supposed to do.

He went to the net, created traffic, but unfortunately instead of deflecting a goal in, he stopped it.  Of course, some still think it went in, but doesn’t show as such because of the angle of the camera above the net.  Until we have cameras IN the goalposts, there’ll never be a better angle, so we live with it.  Unfortunately for the Tiny Tyler, he followed up that ‘save’ with a high-sticking penalty in OT, and the Avs capitalized for the game-winner (4-3).  Both Budaj and Miller had stretches of spectacular saves, sandwiched around a goal or two that made you roll your eyes.

The game was definitely a spiritual successor to the Bruins game from the other night, defense optional.  I don’t think there was one d-man that was really any good, Montador got a goal from a bad angle thanks to Budaj brain-farting on the shot.  Thomas Vanek scored on a 4-min power play (yay!), but then the team gave it right back by allowing a shorty after that (boo!).  Hecht scored, Vanek had 1G, 1A, and Drew Stafford had 2 assists.

Buffalo travels to San Jose for a game tomorrow, a painful 10:30pm start.

Tradeable Assets

Yes, I think it’s time to look at who has value to ‘sell’, after that effort this weekend.  There is still time to recover, but it’s growing short.  49 games left, but only 30 points in the standings in the first 33.  It took 88 to make 8th last year in the East, but that was unusually low.  It will probably take a few more than that, which seems problematic for this current cast of characters.  So that means changes, and the decision to be a buyer or a seller.

For the purposes of this post, we are looking at ‘selling’.  I covered ‘untouchable‘ players before the year, thought I am taking Goose off the list.  I might even put Leopold and Roy on, considering their performances so far.  Either way, here’s what i’m looking at for tradeable assets:

  1. Tim Connolly – He’s always going to top the list for a lot of people, and it’s understandable.  We are tired of the injuries, the streaks, potential that never gets realized.  He would have value, maybe, and his contract isn’t terrible closer to the deadline.  He has to be healthy to move though, which is the biggest problem.  By the way, shouldn’t they be putting in a steel honker for Timmy?  Anyway, I don’t know anyone that would complain about him being gone, and most would be happy for whatever they get for him.
  2. Drew Stafford – This would be a case of selling high, as Angry Eyebrows is on a very favorable contract ($1.9mil expiring this year, RFA) for his production so far.  Trading Drew would potentially open a wing spot for Zack Kassian next year while getting some return for another guy who has shown potential here but never really put it all together for any length of time.
  3. Craig Rivet – It honestly makes more sense for him then the team, you know he wants to play but just doesn’t seem likely to get back in barring a run of injuries.  $3.5mil prorated would still be tough for a team to swallow for a d-man in the twilight of his career (who’s not cracking THIS lineup).
  4. Jochen Hecht – Has the complicating factor of another year left on a fairly hefty deal for a two-way forward who is underperforming.  Seems more likely to go if the Sabres are trading for a player with salary coming back.
  5. Chris Butler – Sekera has to be safe, in my mind, as Myers’s new partner.  I get the feeling Butler is on borrowed time, if there was someone that was trusted more to slide into his spot (which is not Rivet).

I’m honestly not sure what to do about Enroth, as no one would want Lalime, and anyone else that left would be a spare part for spare part deal, not any sort of change that would fix the culture/shake up the incumbents.  Same thing for trading prospects – there may be fantastic deals to be made, but that doesn’t fix the team next year.  All of this also assumes the long-term deal guys stay, which I find extremely likely (Miller, Vanek, Pominville, and probably Myers after this year).

There are two things that could shift the focus from selling players for picks/prospects.  One would be the Sabres going on a big-time winning streak…and the other is Terry Pegula.  He is the wild card, no doubt about it.  He could complete the sale and decide to set a bomb off in the locker room, wiping out coaches, GMs, players, the whole nine yards.  I know some of you are hoping for that, and to be honest I wouldn’t get upset if it happened.  What that would mean, though is giving up on this year AND next, unless you think the young players and newly acquired talent would mesh immediately with a potential new coach.

I still have hope that this team figures it out and makes these rambling thoughts moot.  The rational part of me has serious doubts.