Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Who Is To Blame?

Sabres fans were frustrated yet again in this 2013 season after another rough loss to the Ottawa Senators. They're  currently in 14th in the Eastern Conference and in the bottom 5 of the entire NHL. There has been a debate amongst all Buffalo hockey fans. Who is to blame? Is it the players, who look great on paper but are not playing to their potential. Or is it the coach, who is having trouble motivating his youth to playing to their full potential.
     Players have slumps. They hit rough patches in their careers. Players like Stafford, Myers, Leopold, Foligno, and Grigorenko are not playing to heir full potential. Ennis at times did show a spark, but he needs to do it consistently to be a successful second line centre.
     It seems like we were having this discussion last year on the team. While they showed some bright spots last year, the team still failed to win when they absolutely needed to. Myers, Stafford, and other players were not delivering last year when the Sabres were struggling, and the same thing is happening this year. Hockey is a team sport. You win as a team and you lose as a team. You cant point fingers at one player for a loss because several factors contribute to a loss.
     This has me questioning on what is going on behind the bench. The coaching remains consistent and the play is still awful. There have been sparks in this season and last season. For example,  Buffalo was brilliant last March when they were trying to make the push to playoffs. This year they were great against Philadelphia, and they did look good against Boston (still had no idea where that came from). Yes there are leaders on the team that are supposed to motivate their players, but the final voice needs to come from the coach.
     Coaching is the key to winning. There is a lot of great young talent on this team. The players just need change. A new system, a new game plan, new ideas, new techniques, a fresh start is needed to this organization. Buffalo fans have been very loyal and patient in Lindy Ruff, but the patience tank is running on empty for these fans. The team isn't winning and there have not really been signs of a huge turn around. The most logical idea the Sabres can do now is to address coaching first, then the players.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Ville Leino Done For The Season?

According to Bill Hoppe over at, Winger Ville Leino could be done for the season. Leino was injured late in the shortened training camp. Leino is coming off of a disappointing first season with Buffalo where the Fin only notched 25 points. Leino was supposed to be on the third line with Grigorenko and Ott.


Expect Changes Sooner Rather Than Later In Buffalo

           The Buffalo Sabres are slumping. Again. Buffalo started out the year defeating two playoff hopeful teams in Toronto and Philadelphia, but since then have only won one game out of their last seven. Out of a possible 14 points over the last seven games, the Sabres have only collected three total points. In an 82 game season, fans would certainly be worried, but not in panic mode. In a shortened 48 game season, we’re officially in panic mode.
            Fans are already clamoring for Ruff or Regier to be fired. However owner Terry Pegula is firmly behind both his General Manager and Coach. In other words, Ruff and Regier are not going anywhere, at least not now. So the Sabres will probably just stand their ground and hope things work out, right? Not so fast.
            The Fourth Period magazine reported this morning that the Sabres are not only willing to make a trade, but are “actively pursuing a trade”. Darcy Regier realizes that his team is in trouble in this shortened season and is looking to make changes. The Fourth Period is also reporting that the Sabres are “in the market for a gritty, defensive-minded forward, who can play on the club's second or third line and a shutdown defenseman.”
            Two names immediately come to mind, one with a team that has been linked to Buffalo, and the other one is a little bit of a stretch, but let’s take a look.
            Option 1: Jarret Stoll. This one makes the most sense, and would not be shocking to anyone if it occurs. The Fourth Period reported on January 29th that Los Angeles is in the market for a top four defenseman. Matt Greene was injured early this season and is out for the year. Buffalo and Los Angeles have been speaking, but talks between the teams have cooled down. There were scouts from Los Angeles at yesterday’s Sabres and Panthers game. Jarret Stoll, like the rest of the Kings this year, is struggling mightily out of the gate. Stoll has just one point this season, but he fills the Sabres needs of a defensive gritty second or third line forward. Stoll does have some offensive flair, as he has generated at least 35 points in six of his eight seasons with Edmonton and Los Angeles. Stoll also helps in another area Buffalo desperately needs help in, which is at the faceoff dot. Stoll has a face-off percentage of 53.5% so far this year and finished with a 55% faceoff percentage last year. Stoll would be an immediate upgrade in the dot as the best regular faceoff percentage at center is Cody Hodgson at 42%. Yes, the Sabres highest face-off percentage from a regular center is 42%. The best part of all this is Stoll is not going to cost a fortunate to acquire. Andrej Sekera or Jordan Leopold with a low pick would be enough to pry Stoll from Los Angeles. Did I mention Stoll has a Stanley Cup ring?
Option 2: Ryan O’Reilly. This one is a little of a stretch bit of a stretch because Buffalo has not been tied to O’Reilly or Colorado. Ryan O’Reilly is still an unsigned RFA, meaning Buffalo would still have to sign him to a contract after acquiring him. However, The Fourth Period reported on January 27th that “with no resolution to contract negotiations between the Avalanche and restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado appears to be dangling the young center as trade bait.” Ryan O’Reilly led Colorado last year in points with 55, and also had a face-off percentage of 52.8%. According to The Fourth Period, Ryan O’Reilly is only asking for three to four million dollars a year in his new contract. The Fourth Period also reports that “The Ottawa Sun claims Avalanche GM Greg Sherman is asking for a young forward and a second-round draft pick in exchange for O'Reilly.” That’s not much to give up for someone who could tremendously improve your hockey team not only in the short term, but in the long term. Buffalo has a plethora of young forwards and can certainly part with a second round draft pick.
            So if you’re Darcy Regier, what do you do? If Darcy wants to improve his team in the short term and the long term, he makes both trades today. Will he? Stoll seems likely, but O’Reilly is a stretch. Ryan O’Reilly is a legitimate number two NHL center who can help add some secondary scoring, and can win face-offs. Jarret Stoll would be a perfect third line center in Buffalo who would be the responsible gritty third line center Ruff and Regier want and he too can win face-offs. Buffalo won’t have to sell the farm for either like teams are going to do for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. 
           It’s two simple solutions. Get it done, Darcy.

-Information from articles can be found on, and stats were retrieved from

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chalk Up The "W": What Went Right And What Went Wrong For The Sabres

    Its been almost two years since the Sabres pulled out a victory vs Boston in T.D. Garden, but Thomas Vanek was a Bruin nightmare Thursday night in Buffalo's 7-4 win. He earned himself his eighth career hat trick and second 5 point game of the year.It was the third win of the year for the blue and gold and was the first loss in regulation by Boston this young season.
     Buffalo did what they planned to do. The signing of John Scott and Steve Ott was supposed bring grit and toughness to games such as Boston. John Scott dropped the gloves with the tough forward Shawn Thornton and if you watched the game you know who came out on top. It wasn't even a matchup for the 6'8 giant on skates. Thornton left the game after he was dropped to the ice from three solid punches by Scott.
    The main reason why Buffalo came out on top was because of their star forward Thomas Vanek. Vanek earned his eighth career hat trick. He opened the scoring 98 seconds into the second period receiving a beautiful pass from Cody Hodgson as he one timed a shot to the back of the net. Mid way through a two man advantage, Vanek deflected a pass from Christian Ehrhoff into the net. Ninety-three seconds later, Vanek was was flattened by Andrew Ference; even as Vanek was falling to the ice, he managed to make a stellar pass to an all alone Tyler Ennis to tie the game at three.
His third goal was a two on one break with Jason Pominville. It looked as if he was going to pass it off, but he held it long enough to make a video game like move on Tuukka Rask to give Buffalo the insurance goal they needed. Vanek who entered the game tied for sixth in scoring the league, now has 54 points in 46 career games against Boston.
     As for the goaltending, Ryan Miller had a shaky start to the game allowing three goals early in the second. He did recuperate in the third period. Miller made stop after stop on a powerplay that virtually saved the game for the Sabres, including robbing Zdeno Chara with his glove on a one timed shot. Miller stopped 38 of 42 shots which is pretty good in any standard.
    The defense, well where to start? It looked soft as always. It was a game for Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold to forget. They were on the ice for all of Boston's goals, including Marchand dangling both of them to get an easy shot on Miller for their second goal. One advice for Coach Ruff to give them? USE THE BODY.
    Buffalo was in desperate need for this "W". They travel to Montreal to play the Canadiens on Saturday. If they keep putting the puck in the net like they did against a talented and tough Boston team their is no doubt they could climb the standings.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Needs To Change For The Sabres?

For those of you demanding change as the Sabres dropped their fourth game in a row, the obvious answer is clear--fire Lindy.  Let me stop by being realistic now and tell you that that is just not happening.

There is no doubt that changes need to be made and that the onus falls on the coach to put a winning team on the ice.  Lindy Ruff is just as responsible for the team's failure as he is for its success.

But if the coach isn't going anywhere, what can the team do to ensure improvement on the ice?

What the team can change is its philosophy.  The name of the coach is not going to change, but what needs to is his style.

Right now, Lindy Ruff is coaching scared.  In a tie game with under a minute to go in regulation, he sent out a line composed of Marcus Foligno, Jochen Hecht, and Matt Ellis.  Now normally I am all for playing for overtime, but the team had an offensive zone faceoff against a Leaf team they were able to maintain decent puck possession against all night.  Instead, he nailed one of the hottest lines in hockey to the bench and tied his rookie sensation's leash to a stake.

Ruff's handling of Grigorenko is a testament of its own to his non-aggressive coaching style.

It can be argued that Mikhail Grigorenko has been the best center for the Sabres thus far this season, yet Lindy has shown he still does not completely trust him.  Despite the fact that he was a -2 last night, the kid scored his first career NHL goal in a key moment and looked better than both Hodgson and Ennis.

Ruff's infatuation with sitting the talented center is beyond frustrating. Grigorenko made it this far due to his offensive abilities and skill. The maddening part of the situation is that Ruff continues to be afraid to use him in his proper role.

Any player can dump the puck in and chase after it, so why do you need to burn a year off your highly touted prospect's contract to do it?

Mikhail Grigorenko is here to provide offense and therefore should be playing offensively, as with the rest of the team

Lindy Ruff, and the team as a whole, need to comprehend the importance of every game in a season this short. The time to wake up is now.

It comes down to the desire to win.  Desperation and compete will drive this team to victory. The Sabres need to be playing desperate for points whistle to whistle from Game 1 all the way to Game 48.  And this sort of team attitude has yet to be seen like it has in past playoff runs.

It's time for the Sabres to, as they say, "play like you mean it."

Below I've posted new line suggestions that I think would bring out the best in each player:



PP1: 26-19-25, 29-10
PP2: 63-9-21, 3-57

Monday, January 28, 2013

Can Thomas Vanek Win The Rocket Richard?

Thomas Vanek became a star in Buffalo even before the Sabres selected him fifth overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.  Just months prior, Vanek stole the show at the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament held in Buffalo that year leading his University of Minnesota team to its fifth national championship in school history and was ultimately crowned tournament MVP.

Vanek spent the first year of his entry-level contract riding out the 2004 lockout with the Rochester Americans where he notched 42 goals in 74 games.  The following year, he earned a spot on the Sabres opening night roster and played all but one game that season finishing with 25 goals.  Immediately, expectations were set high for the young Austrian winger.

But Vanek’s production fell off during the Sabres’ dramatic playoff run.  He only netted 2 goals in just 10 games and eventually found himself in the press box.  Vanek’s poor performance in the clutch created an army of doubters that have followed him ever since.

However, Thomas Vanek proved he excels at tuning out his critics.  He’s also proved he excels at one other thing--putting the puck in the net.

Among his many criticisms such as being “lazy” or “soft,” he is often scrutinized for being “inconsistent.”

Vanek’s  career high came in 2006 when he tallied 43 goals and his career worse (and I use that term loosely) came in his rookie year with 25.  His career goals per game is .42 which is close to almost a goal every 2.5 games.  Vanek has averaged 33 goals a season over his seven year career with a median goal total of 32.  The slim margin between his average and median goal totals shows that he has been fairly consistent when it comes to scoring.

Vanek has clearly demonstrated that he is good at scoring goals.  But the question is can he be the best at it?

Only two Sabres have ever led the league in goals since the franchise’s inception, Danny Gare (1979) and Alexander Mogilny (1992) with 56 and 76 respectively.  Both tied with someone else; Gare with Charlie Simmer and Mogilny with the Finnish rookie sensation Teemu Selanne.

Neither player was awarded the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy which first began being awarded to the NHL’s annual goal leader in 1998.

That being said, no Sabre has ever won the Rocket Richard.  Can Thomas Vanek be the first?

It’s safe to say that he has the closest shot out of anyone on the roster.  He has twice finished in the top-10 in goals.

He currently has three in just four games this season which is six off San Jose’s Patrick Marleau’s lead of nine.  However, Marleau has played two more games than Vanek and is scoring at a record-setting pace that can’t continue for an entire season (or should I say half season?).  As of now, Marleau is on pace for 86 goals and Vanek 36 goals, but realistically neither will amass those totals.

If Vanek is to match his career average in this shortened season, he would need to pot around 20 goals.  20 goals is certainly not out of the question for Vanek, especially if the superb play of the top line of Vanek, Hodgson, and Pominville continues when Vanek returns from injury.

Since the 2004 lockout (funny that I had to specify which lockout), the winner of the Richard Trophy has scored on average 55 goals.  In a 48 game season, that is equivalent to 32 goals.

I would guess that this year’s winner is going to need at least 30 goals to secure the title.

Does Vanek have ten extra goals in him this year?  Time will tell.

With the amount of talent that is embedded in the NHL’s  superstars, the odds are certainly stacked against Vanek to win the Rocket Richard.  But,  there’s a slight possibility we could see Vanek in Las Vegas at the NHL Awards Ceremony in June if he continues to dominate.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sabres vs. Hurricanes Recap

     The Sabres Earned their first loss of the young season Thursday night to the Carolina Hurricanes. It looked as if Eric Staal saved his scoring for the Sabres by knocking in his first three goals of the season to earn his 13th career hat trick. Jeff Skinner added in two more to earn Carolina's first victory of the season.
     It was a 2-2 game in the second until it was short lived by Carolina. There was confusion from Cody Hodgson behind is own net as Jeff Skinner stole the puck and finished the wrap around before Jhonas Enroth could react.
     While the Raleigh crowd was roaring, Eric Staal found the net, as he beat Tyler Ennis off the face off and received a pass from defensemen Jamie McBain. Staal fought of the back-checking dive from Ennis  and slipped it under Enroths's pad for the goal.
      Six minutes into the third, Thomas Vanek continued his MVP caliber play by feeding a no-look back hand pass right on the tape of a thriving Jason Pominiville to put it past Cam Ward to bring Buffalo within one with 14:54 left in the third.
     Staal ended Buffalo’s hopes, scoring with 10:34 left and into an empty net with 1:28 to go to complete his hat trick. 
     Nathan Gerbe who was activated from injured reserve made a rough season debut . Mid way through he first period he dumped it into the Carolina zone only to be decked into the boarrds from behind by Drayson Bowman. He angrily joined a scrum after the hit to go after Bowman.
  The penalty to Bowman was the second of three first-period power plays for Buffalo. It failed to capitalize on any, totaling just two shots with the man advantage.
   Mikhail Grigorenko received extensive power-play time with the second unit, but the rookie’s main contribution was a giveaway in the slot when he decided not to shoot. It cost him as he played just two shifts in the second period.
   The teams move on to Buffalo on Friday night to complete a home-and-home series at First Niagra Center.