Tag Archives: Thomas Vanek

Sorry, Ville

Seriously, can this guy catch a break?  Er, bad choice of words.  The view from the press box probably isn’t helping him any, as his team struggles to find an identity (and their man in the defensive zone) managing only 1 point in the standings in four games.  Goaltending has been a bright spot, though they worked Miller so hard his groin kept him out of a game.  Jhonas Enroth ably filled in, but eventually, your team might have to chip in a goal or three.

I wish I could say things are going to get better soon, but really, a team filled with teenagers, head cases and only one real scoring threat is not one that shakes off a slump easily.  All the line-juggling and benchings in the world won’t help.  Time, practice and teaching will.  That can’t happen if a player is in a suit.  Neither can it happen if he’s toiling on the fourth line alongside John Scott or Cody McCormick.  Mistakes suck, and they are hard to watch.  I get that.  But they need to be made if they are to be learned from.  Or, pessimistically, we need to see if a player CAN learn from them.  So give me Grigorenko and Larsson, Girgensons and Ristolainen.  Foligno, Pysyk, Hodgson – let’s see what we have.  If we’re going to suffer, let’s suffer with a purpose.

Today’s lines at practice:

  • Vanek – Hodgson – Ott
  • Foligno – Ennis – Stafford
  • Girgensons – Larsson – Flynn
  • McCormick – Porter – Kaleta

On D:

  • Ehrhoff – Pysyk
  • Weber – Myers
  • McBain – Ristolainen

This is a problem.  Yeah, Grigorenko hasn’t been great.  But he’s not some 5 year veteran who needs to be shaken up by having to sit a few games.  He’s a KID whose best chance is to work on his game NOW.

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.

Free Agent Frenzy Not Likely In Buffalo

GoodbyeGerbeThe Buffalo Sabres are rebuilding.  Danny Briere isn’t walking in that door (he finally went to Montreal, where he’s been rumored to go for years).  Nathan Gerbe is going out the door.  I’m sad to see Gerbe go, but he wasn’t scoring enough to justify being top 6, and as tough as he is, just wasn’t suited long-term for a checking line role.  I hope he ends up in a great spot for him.  Whatever city he ends up in is getting a great person.

When you’re rebuilding, your free agent pick ups are usually pretty limited.  You’re not getting the older big name guys (Iginla, as an example) as they want to win this year.  You don’t want the lower-tier guys for the most part, as the idea should be to see how your young players do with an increased role.  Certainly, if Grigorenko is here all year as was stated, I don’t want him in the press box or toiling away 9 minutes a night.

Andy Boron at Die by the Blade covers some potential targets, but the Mikhail Grabovski situation intrigues me.  He’s a player young enough that you may be able to sell him on a rebuild, and if he wants to stick it to the Leafs, that works too.  He won’t come cheap, but the Sabres have cap space to spare with only Cody Hodgson left as a significant RFA left to sign (Sorry, Flynn).  More so, if Miller gets traded.  I’d want them to keep Vanek if they bring in Grabbo, but if a deal came along…well, make it work.

The idea of a Miller/Vanek trade intrigues me.  Is the deal for a player?  Who still needs a goalie?  Beyond watching for that, my only other prediction is Darcy makes a good, solid move that no one was expecting, because he’s a black hole of information and we never know what’s cooking here.  Go Sabres.

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.

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?

A few helpful notes for the Bruins

Just a few things I saw that might help the Bruins after last night’s game:

  1. 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.
  2. Tuukka Rask’s default move when a goal-scorer is near probably shouldn’t be ‘lie on my stomach’.
  3. 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:

  1. We know that Lane MacDermid wasn’t brought up to ‘deal with John Scott’.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Anger Leads to Hate

I’m certainly not going to tell you not to react poorly when your favorite team plays poorly – it’s an understandable reaction.  The short season makes every game feel important right from the get-go, so losing points hurts.  Still, it’s worth looking at the big picture here.  This season is one tenth over – that means NINE tenths are yet to be played.  The problems are many, but fixable.  The D has been a train wreck at times, that won’t last.  The Sabres finally scored some goals without Vanek on the ice, though of course that was because he couldn’t play due to an injury.  So while I tossed down the remote in disgust at the end of the game today, I also know there’s time yet to pick things up.

In other news, I hope Grigorenko sticks around.  He hasn’t gone all Tarasenko on us, but he hasn’t looked out of place.  If Lindy is willing to play him as much as he did today, there’s no reason not to kick one of the scrubs to the press box and keep him in the lineup.  I like Foligno’s game today, and Kaleta as well.  Saw a few good plays by Myers so I’m hoping he gets things rolling in the right direction.  See everyone on Tuesday.

Deep Breaths

It’s been a whirlwind to start the season, with games packed in together right from the start after a very short camp.  It went well for the Sabres, though, with two wins in two tries, and some worries relieved about the situation at center.  Buffalo had a day off yesterday, so too should we sit back, take a few deep breaths, and make sure we don’t get too amped up juuuuuust yet.

Now, I’m not saying go all doom and gloom like your typical WGR caller (or anchor).  I’ll never get tired of seeing Vanek do his thing, and having the good Ryan Miller to start the season is pretty awesome too.  But the downside of Vanek having been on the ice for every Sabres goal is that means other lines aren’t scoring at even strength.  They still haven’t played a whole game at their highest level.

But you know, that can go both ways.  They have plenty of time to get better at faceoffs, as an example.  Might even see a second or third line goal.  John Scott will win a fight (I kid, I kid, please don’t kill me).  Miller might have an ordinary game.  Vanek will go a few games without a point.  I know everybody had been saying “it’s a sprint!” this year, poking fun at the normal “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” proverb, but really, it’s a half-marathon.  Buffalo still has 46 more games.  It doesn’t take a whole mess of games to get behind – and you don’t have as many to recover if you do – but nobody is toast after 2 games, nor is anyone a slam-dunk to make the playoffs.  Should you like what you see so far?  I do.  It’s been a ton of fun, and hey, two wins after two games is right where you want to be.  Enjoy it, and don’t jump off a bridge, or write poorly spelled twitter/blog diatribes, if they lose a game or two.

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.