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.

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.


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?

  1. Kings
  2. Bruins
  3. Blackhawks
  4. Penguins
  5. Red Wings
  6. Ducks
  7. Hurricanes

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?

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.

Sabres Gameday LIVE – Leafs at Sabres

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.

Pre-game thoughts:

  • 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.

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.

Gameday 2013 – Flyers at Sabres

It sure was fun to type that title, and it’ll be even better to watch the game.  Let’s put the lockout in the rear view and enjoy the Sabres being back on the ice.  I won’t be at the game, though I will still be trying to get into the press box several times this year.

Ville Leino may not be able to play today, with a nagging injury.  Nathan Gerbe is hurt but should be back soon.  We get to see the first game for Mikhail Grigorenko, as well as Steve Ott.  And John Scott I guess.  With so little camp action, and no pre-season games, I don’t have much more to put here, other than I’ll be recording the game and will have some thoughts on real, actual Sabres hockey afterwards.  Let’s go!

Things to Remember

If you’re like me, and you tuned out the NHL a bit since the end of last year thanks to lockout shenanigans, you may be a bit fuzzy on some of the details surrounding the Sabres as they currently stand.  Here’s a handy list you can refer to, to help with your water cooler conversations.

  • Steve Ott, Adam Pardy, and John Scott are all Sabres.  Yes, Scott counts, even if he’ll be warming a press box seat.  (please don’t kill me John Scott)
  • Ville Leino is still a Sabre, too.  Sorry jerks, compliance buyouts start AFTER this season.
  • It is still funny when Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Myers stand next to each other.
  • Terry Pegula added a pit trap underneath the Sabres logo in the dressing room, so REALLY don’t walk on it, Harrington!  There’s no spikes at the bottom, but that IS where Harry Neale will be sitting, ready to regale you with the same stories about coaching in the WHA that you’ve heard thirty times.
  • Rob Ray will be in the booth next to RJ, so you can marvel at the way he makes ‘at all’ sound like ‘a tall’ even more.  Rayzor is thrilled, as Pierre McGuire was really starting to creep him out when sharing the space between the benches.
  • The Winnipeg Jets are a team again, in case you forgot.  They have not yet moved to the Western Conference, either.
  • Toronto fans will still be crossing the border to see their beloved Maple Leafs, until they take a look at the roster and decide shoving the money they’d be spending in the fireplace for heat would be a better use for it.
  • Tim Thomas is still crazy.
  • Milan Lucic was denied by the competition committee when he asked if he could use “one of those mart carts” on the ice.  He left the conference room dejectedly, though he did have to take a knee once to catch his breath.
  • Scott Gomez is still a Canadien.

I hope that helps you get ready for training camp.  Go Sabres!

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.