Buffalo Sabres Season Preview

Let me begin by saying welcome back to The Gerbe Derby! TJ and I are as excited as anyone that the NHL Lockout is over. We look forward to some great hockey over the next 5 months.

Recap: Last season, the high spending Buffalo Sabres disappointed fans by falling short of playoff hockey. After a hot finish in the 2010-2011 season, new ownership, and a new found buzz, the Sabres had a season full of injuries and unfulfilled expectations. New addition Ville Leino hardly earned his paychecks, veterans such as Derek Roy and Drew Stafford were among many players that had slow starts, and the infamous Sabres “core” fell apart. The turning point? In November, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic ran over Ryan Miller, leaving him concussed. The team hardly responded and left Miller unprotected. Players such as Tyler Myers and Paul Gaustad (Miller’s best friend) allowed Lucic to skate off the ice without a single punch thrown. Questions arose at every turn about the team’s toughness, chemistry, and off-ice issues. They never recovered.

The new core of the team was given official leadership from coach Lindy Ruff. Many expected Thomas Vanek to be named captain, but the title was given to Jason Pominville on the team’s trip in Europe. Many thought this would disrupt Vanek’s game, but it actually motivated him. Vanek was arguably carrying the team on his back through the All-Star break. Pominville was consistent as ever, earning his first nod to the NHL’s All-Star game and remaining a leader throughout the season. The rest of the core? Derek Roy had always been rumored to be “cancer” in the locker room. Many media members have claimed that unnamed Sabres have confirmed this. General Manager Darcy Regier was finally able to deal Roy this past July (it was reported by WGR’s Paul Hamilton that Regier had been attempting to trade him for quite some time), acquiring the gritty Steve Ott and taking on a little extra depth with Defenseman Adam Pardy from Dallas. Center Paul Gaustad (set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2012) was dealt to Nashville for a 1st Round Draft Pick at the trade deadline. His fate was sealed after the non-answer to Lucic’s cheap shot of Miller. Drew Stafford struggled coming off a career season in 2010-2011. However, he found true chemsitry with Tyler Ennis and star prospect Marcus Foligno during the team’s incredible 20-9-5 run to end the year.

 

Key Arrivals:

  • Steve Ott – Ott was very popular during his time in Dallas. He is the antagonist the Sabres have thirsted for for years. He will get under the opposition’s skin night-in and night-out, finally freeing up stars Vanek and Pominville to play their own offensively-focused game. Ott also brings an offensive touch to the lineup and can take key faceoffs. Another thing: should Ryan Miller be run again, you can bet Ott will be out there the next shift.
  • John Scott – The team greatly addressed their need of toughness in the offseason, signing enforcer John Scott on day one of Free Agency. Scott is 6’8″/258 pounds. He will see minimal ice time on the fourth line, but he will certainly protect his teammates. Teams may think twice about being overly physical against the Sabres, knowing that Scott will be in the lineup for the rematch.
  • Adam Pardy – Brought in to free up cap space for the Stars while adding depth to an oft-injured Sabres roster, Pardy is a solid stay-at-home defenseman. He will likely not see a lot of ice time until some injuries occur. The Sabres (as seen below) are stacked on the blue line, especially with TJ Brennan being called up from Rochester and Alexander Sulzer resigning.

Departures: Brad Boyes (Islanders)

                                                     Organization Depth Chart

Left Wing                                                   Center                                               Right Wing

Thomas Vanek (26)                               Tyler Ennis (63)                               Jason Pominville (29)

Marcus Foligno (82)                            Cody Hodgson (19)                                 Drew Stafford (21)

Ville Leino (23)                                         Steve Ott (9)                                      Patrick Kaleta (36)

Nathan Gerbe (42)                            Mikhail Grigoernko (25)                              Corey Tropp (78)

John Scott (32)                                       Jochen Hecht (55)

                                                              Cody McCormick (8)    

Defensemen                                             Goaltender

Tyler Myers (57)                                        Ryan Miller (30)

Christian Ehrhoff (10)                              Jhonas Enroth (1)

Jordan Leopold (3)                                     David Leggio

Robyn Regehr (24)

Andrej Sekera (44)

Alexander Sulzer (52)

Mike Weber (6)

TJ Brennan (33)

Brayden McNabb (81)

Adam Pardy

5 Things to Watch for:

  1. Mikhail Grigorenko’s Emergence – The Sabres had a fantastic first round in last year’s entry draft. They nabbed the Russian Star Grigorenko in the 12th spot (many projected him to be taken in the 3-5 range, but sickness and injury forced some teams to overlook him) and Latvian Center Zemgus Girgensons in the 14th spot (the Sabres traded up, making a deal with Calgary). Grigorenko has had a dominant season in the Juniors, producing nearly 2 points per game and nearly 1 goal per game. At 6’3, his size is ahead of his age (18). Coach Lindy Ruff has deemed his defensive game NHL ready, a high compliment from such a defensive minded coach. The team’s shortened Training Camp will determine if Grigorenko gets a shot at playing at the NHL level. The Sabres can keep him on the roster for 5 games before being forced to commit him to their roster or send him back to the Juniors. All eyes will be on Grigorenko to see if he will thrive out of the gate or if the Sabres decide to bring him up slowly.
  2. Ennis, Foligno, and Stafford Reunited – Last season, prospect Marcus Foligno was called up to help fill in roster space after injuries plagued the team. Previously, the Sabres had given every opportunity to Zach Kassian to not only keep a permanent spot, but to play big minutues with players such as Vanek and Pominville. Kassian impressed early on with his physical play and scoring touch, but quickly faded out. Darcy Regier made a bold move and shipped him out to Vancouver at the trade deadline, landing another big prospect in Center Cody Hodgson. Foligno not only filled in, he earned what is considered to be a permanent spot on the Sabres roster. He was consistent with intimidating physical play and produced at nearly a point per game pace once paired with Stafford and Ennis. Tyler Ennis exploded upon his return to Center, having played the Wing for the majority of his first two seasons. These three will be together on opening day against the Flyers and will counted on to bring big offense and speed.
  3. Will the Sabres acquire any help up the middle? – The Sabres glaring need comes at the Center position. With a thin market last summer for free agents, the team began to address toughness and the search for a bonfide “Number One Center.” Grigorenko could be the guy, but he also could be a few years away. Agitator Zemgus Girgensons has good hands too and will certainly figure into the team’s short term and long term plans. He has had a great season of growth in Rochester, but will likely finish the season there and possibly next season as well. Centers Roy, Gaustad, and Tim Connolly are all gone. Jochen Hecht has been brought back in for depth. I don’t agree with this decision, because Hecht’s best years are behind him and his concussion issues have not gone away. Not to mention, the team’s theme of filtering out the old, losing core somehow doesn’t apply here. So who are the studs? Third year player Tyler Ennis was dominant in last year’s final third and emerged as the team’s number one center, for the time being at least. First round draft pick Cody Hodgson was slated for big plans in Vancouver, but got buried on the depth chart. He also had a tough relationship with the Canucks staff, which led to a favorable trade for Buffalo. Hodgson is mature, has great vision, and will likely play between Vanek and Pominville. Hodgson has also been working out with Gary Roberts, who will certainly bring Hodgson’s physical abilities to the next level. The team has not had star centers since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. Look for the team to jump at an opportunity if presented one at the deadline. If nothing emerges, they will likely persue all options through the draft and free agency.
  4. Players in need of a bounceback year – Outside of Pominville and Vanek, the entire team either had a below average year or failed to meet expectations. Even Vanek had a stretch of issues, primarily due to his injuries. The key to a more balanced attack is health. When healthy, the current Sabres roster can be lethal at times. Tyler Myers had another slow start. Ville Leino was by far the biggest disappointment. He not only failed to break double digits in goals, but decided to jump back to the wing after 3 weeks of play. Many cited a poor work ethic. He could be a player that the team decides to buy out this summer if he does not improve during the shortened season. Robyn Regehr played solid as always, but had to carry too much of the load when Myers and Ehrhoff both got hurt. Stafford played poorly until being sparked upon his emergence with Ennis and Foligno. Ryan Miller had concussion issues and never recovered until February. Backup Goaltender Jhonas Enroth had a cold streak to end the season. Nathan Gerbe took a step back in production. Many felt Hodgson played poorly after arriving in Buffalo, but I disagree. Having a major role in a new city at such a young age can be difficult, and Hodgson still performed at a solid level. If the team can have a bounceback across the board while remaining healthy, the Sabres can make the postseason.
  5. Will Ryan Miller return to Vezina form? – Ryan Miller was inconsistent after the Lucic hit, leaving him in a poor state mentally and physically. Once Miller shook things off in late January, we began to see the dominant goaltender we have experienced in the past. If Miller can focus and get into a groove in this short season, the Sabres could catch fire and go far. A lot is riding on Miller’s shoulders and all seems to be well. He appeared to be happy to be back on the ice in Buffalo and even joked with the media (Miller has never had a great relationship with the media). Enroth will also play a role and must be prepared to give Miller a rest when called upon.

Final Thought – The Sabres can have a great season if they remain healthy, focused, and hard-working. If the younger, newer players such as Hodgson, Foligno, and Grigorenko bring their game to new levels, the opposition will have too much to worry about. They must then divide their defensive focus between Vanek, Pominville, and agitators such as Steve Ott. My prediction? If the team is healthy and Miller plays to his abilities, a 6th place spot in the East is within reach.

 

 

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheGerbeDerby) for news, opinions, and giveaways all season.

 

 

 

                      

                                                             

 

 

Reaction to Canucks/Sabres 3.4.12

Positives:

- Ville Leino played his best game as a Buffalo Sabre in the team’s 5-3 victory over the NHL’s number one overall team, the Vancouver Canucks. Not only did he notch two goals (his first multi-goal game in nearly one year), he looked incredibly comfortable at the center position. He won faceoffs and made all the “little” plays. Most important, he has found chemistry with Nathan Gerbe and Pat Kaleta, which leads me to my next point:

- Patrick Kaleta has found a way to be more than relevant again in the NHL. He is often penalized for otherwise legal play, with a large target on his back in the eyes of the NHL. He has found new life, playing more like Nathan Gerbe and making things happen in the offensive zone. His two assists were well deserved. Not to mention, he is playing well without friend and linemate Paul Gaustad (who had an assist in his debut as a Predator tonight).

- Ryan Miller looked great again. The goals against were not a result of poor play by any means.

- Matt Ellis, Corey Tropp, Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, and Alexander Sulzer all had very solid games.

- The Sabres played incredibly well in the third period, despite giving up a few goals. Their work ethic was top notch and enabled the team to get a win. Short shifts were the key.

- Christian Ehrhoff scored in his return to Vancouver after last season’s Stanley Cup Finals run.

Negatives:

- Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani decided to show up. Interesting, given their play was next to useless in Buffalo earlier this year.

- The Sabres almost blew an early 3-0 lead, but almost doesn’t count. They escaped this time.

- The officiating by tonight’s referees was brutal. Three debateable calls included two high-sticking penalties in which the sticks did not even touch the opposing player (very good acting on Vancouver’s part) and a penalty to Pat Kaleta in which his head was rammed into the crossbar by Alex Edler of the Canucks. This cost Ryan Miller his shutout streak in the second period.

- Kassian and Gragnani again. I’ve never seen two players play further from their regular games in order to prove a point to their old team. Vancouver fans will be severly disappointed if they expect to see the pair play that way every night.

Summary:

The Sabres are now just two points behind eighth place Winnipeg. This is incredible, considering this team was dead and in last place one month ago. They are 11-3-3 and have points in 8 straight games. Are we seeing a repeat of last year? Time will tell. Buffalo fans should be rooting for Philadelphia tomorrow (actually later today), as a Capitals win would place Buffalo three points out. The Sabres face the Jets monday in the most pivotal matchup of the season to date.

Follow Josiah LeRoy on Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy

LeRoy: Reaction to Buffalo vs. Anaheim 2.29.12

Let me just start off by saying…really? That was one of the oddest finishes to a Buffalo Sabres game that I have witnessed in recent memory. The Anaheim Ducks clearly are a frustrated team, with stars Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan vastly underperforming this season. Ryan Miller likely was a factor as well, making 43 saves in perfectly played game in the crease. Miller performed in a manor similar to what we saw in his Vezina winning season in 2010.

The end of the game was just absurd. In the words of Sabres Commentator Kevin Sylvester, “This is just stupid.” Many of you know that the Ducks are my other favorite team, my Western Conference Buffalo Sabres, if you will. As a Ducks fan, the ending was just embarassing. In the waning minutes of the game, Ryan Getzlaf nudged Ryan Miller. Mike Weber immediately came to his teammate’s side and began throwing punches with Getzlaf (would Gaustad have done the same?). Though Getzlaf is not a fighter, this one makes the most sense of all the random fights in the end. Getzlaf has just 8 goals this season. Shortly after, Corey Perry fights Robyn Regehr. Seriously? That’s a road you don’t want to go down, Mr. Perry. Perry hacked Regehr repeatedly, and Regehr had enough. Odd. Then Patrick Kaleta comes onto the ice for the final seconds of the night. Oh boy. Kaleta skated away as the buzzer sounds, but Sheldon Brookbanks wanted more, and so did…Bobby Ryan? Yep. That happened. Bobby Ryan began throwing punches with Patrick Kaleta. Just about every player on the ice had a partner to team up with, including Tyler Myers. The Ducks should be embarassed. I think it’s ridiculous that team captain Ryan Getzlaf decides to fight with approximately one minute to go because he was frustrated. Be the bigger man (though he did bump Miller) and stay on the ice to try to give your team a chance. Some might say that after seeing the Ducks’ top 3 scorers go at it, they metaphorically threw in the towel. But enough about that.

Cody Hodgson made his Sabres debut and did not disappoint. His faceoff percentage was very close to that of Paul Gaustad’s average, he played on the power play and penalty killing units, and also had a bunch of scoring chances that included a 2 on 1. Hodgson played like a calm veteran, showing off his patience, defensive prowess, and smooth passing ability. If this is any indication of Hodgson’s future, the Sabres stole away a talent from British Columbia.

Ryan Miller was absolutely outstanding, as this was his season-high in terms of saves. He stole a win for a team that needs every point it can get (Toronto lost earlier in regulation). Derek Roy looked solid all night and has begun to come around for the team, netting his fourteenth goal of the season. Brad Boyes also had a good night, tipping home Christian Ehrhoff’s blast from the point, snapping a 22 game scoring drought.

The Sabres travel to San Jose to take on the Sharks later tonight.

Thoughts on the Sabres Deadline Deals with special guest Jeff Pawlak of Sabres Hockey Central

We brought in Sabres Hockey Central writer Jeff Pawlak for his thoughts on Paul Gaustad, the offseason, and the chances of Buffalo making a playoff push.

Josiah LeRoy: Darcy Regier and the Sabres management made a huge splash on deadline day, acquiring prospect Cody Hodgson while saying goodbye to Zack Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani, and longtime fan favorite Paul Gaustad. What was your initial reaction to these moves?

Jeff Pawlak: I wasn’t terribly surprised about Gaustad getting shipped out- he’s waned in recent years and this season it felt like whenever he was drawing attention, it was negative. Sending Grags on his way seemed like a no-brainer to me, and with him being scratched night-in and night-out it only makes sense to see if you can get something, anything for him. Dealing away Kassian definitely caught me off-guard. You don’t expect this management team to trade a first-round pick who the fans loved and was one of the few guys who brought grit to the ice. There may have been some signs, though. In the weeks leading up the trade, Ruff seemed to be losing patience with Kassian’s on-ice blunders. I can see him being a successful NHLer one day, but right now the Sabres’ priorities don’t align with the attributes he brings to the game, while Vancouver understandably wants to toughen up their roster. The fun will start soon when we get to see how these transactions affect Buffalo’s performance on the ice. Do you see see any immediate results coming about from this, or will they be more apparent down the line?

JL: I think you’re going to see results now, but more evidently in the near future. The Kassian trade was definitely a shock, and I also didn’t think that they’d let go of Gragnani so quickly despite his inability to crack the lineup. I think these trades show incredible growth on Regier’s part because he let go of both players that were at one point highly touted prospects. In the past, I think Darcy would’ve held onto them for a few years too long and just let them walk. Now, the Sabres have not just a perfect fit for their system in Hodgson, but a true center. The extra draft picks give the team a chance to go and acquire another center, while turning the “core” around. Seeing Connolly and Gaustad go is the start of something good for the Sabres. Interestingly enough, Ryan Miller is very upset about the Gaustad trade. Do you think this is going to pass quickly, or will it be another unnecessary distraction?

JP: I wish I could say for certain. I’m still of the belief that there were rumblings in the locker room from time to time this season, so I’m convinced that drama has, and will always have potential to erupt within the roster, even if its not publicized as is the case with other NHL franchises. For the sake of the team, I pray it passes quickly. I can understand Miller’s disappointment, especially since he’s been an advocate for maintaining the core group of players all season, but he’s been in the business long enough to realize that not everyone’s feelings can be accounted for when creating a winning team. Gaustad offered us meager benefits, and the franchise is sitting on loads of potential with what they acquired at the trade deadline- everyone, fan and player alike, should acknowledge the positives in that situations. And let’s not beat around the bush anymore; perhaps the biggest of those positives is Cody Hodgson. How do you see this kid panning out while wearing blue and gold?

JL: Cody Hodgson might be exactly what this franchise has been yearning for. Ville Leino was brought in to play center and that clearly didn’t work (I think he’s going to be fine despite a bad season). Hodgson is going to be a great number two center, if not number one. I think he could fit in very nicely with Thomas Vanek. What’s great is the fact that he’s signed through next year and by the time he is up for resigning, the team will be able to afford him. I think the team should attempt to package Derek Roy with one of those picks and one of their defensemen to go and get their true number one center. What do you think about the plethora of June draft picks?

JP: Two first rounders and two second rounders in a single draft is practically unheard of, especially for a team that made the playoffs the two years beforehand. They’re sitting on a goldmine of options there. Either they can use them to pick up a nice collection of promising prospects, or they use them as sweeteners in deals over the summer which could go a long way towards nabbing an established player. I’m in complete agreement about combining some of those with Roy or Stafford- it’d be appealing to plenty of teams. With that in mind, what would you see like to see them pursue come July? They came up short in the Brad Richards sweepstakes, but any chance they take a shot at Rick Nash?

JL: I dont think so, because he has a limited no trade clause and did not list Buffalo as a destination. This could change, but not likely. I’d love to see them go after Zach Parise, he would be the ideal top line center to play with Vanek and Pomminville. The Sabres should do all that they can to go get him. They would then have Parise, Hodgson, Ennis, and Adam or McCormick down the middle (assuming they trade Roy). Final thoughts, do you see the Sabres squeaking in to that eighth seed?

JP: It pains me to say this, but no. They have a little over a month left to do so, and during that span several teams in the chase all have the bomb, while the Sabres have to acquire points in nearly every game left. I just don’t believe that they’re a good enough team to go on what would be essentially a flawless run. They still have issues, and they’re going to lose a game here and there. At this point, losing out on two points is about as close to that final nail in the coffin as it gets. But I’m not heartbroken about it. This run they’ve got going has been fun, and it gives me a lot of hope for the future. For now, I just want to enjoy each game one at a time and see what this team develops into.

We want to thank Jeff for stopping by. You can check out his coverage from the press box on the Buffalo Sabres at www.sabreshockeycentral.com.

Ryan Miller Isn’t Exactly Thrilled Paul Gaustad Was Traded

When word got out that Paul Gaustad was traded to the Nashville Predators for a 1st-round pick in 2012, fans rejoiced.  A 1st-round pick for Paul Gaustad?  Who would have thought Darcy Regier would be able to swing that?

If Ryan Miller was GM, Paul Gaustad would still be a Buffalo Sabre

Regardless of what Buffalo got for the penalty-killing center, goalie Ryan Miller isn’t pleased.

“It was a pretty tough day,” Miller said Tuesday to the Buffalo News. “I’m not going to lie. I’m not real happy about the way it all turned out. But that’s the business of hockey.”

Of course what Miller had to say was over-analyzed by the Buffalo media, like anything the former Vezina-Trophy winning goaltender says.

Buffalo News sports reporter Mike Harrington tweeted “Until the last 15 games or so, Ryan Miller has had enough trouble stopping the puck that he shouldn’t be trying to play GM too.”

While he’s right in saying what he had to say, it should be noted that if that’s how he, and the media in general, truly felt, then they wouldn’t put players in the position to try to “play GM” by asking players to give their thoughts about player movement.  Of course, it wasn’t Harrington that asked Miller the question, but it’s nothing I wouldn’t doubt that a News sports reporter would do.

Miller has developed a crybaby image this year that many fans have pointed out to when things go bad for the goalie.  It’s been fairly prevalent since Miller was barreled over by Boston’s Milan Lucic.  Miller, of course, had a few choice words to say about Lucic in the locker room later.

Miller has never been afraid to voice his opinion on something, which is why this really shouldn’t be a big deal.  He’s the same guy that told us weeks ago in Detroit that there was nothing the Sabres could do this season to right the ship and save the season.  He’s the same guy that reiterated this same sentiment a day before the NHL’s trading deadline.

Besides, Miller brings up a great point about his former teammate.

“He does the things that are not easy to do every night,” Miller said. “It’s just too important for a hockey team, and it is a little frustrating in that regard”

Miller and Gaustad are really close.  In fact, when Miller signed his long-term deal with the Sabres almost four years ago, he cited the Sabres signing Gaustad to a long-term deal as a significant move that furthered his belief that the Sabres were making the right moves to win a Stanley Cup championship.

While Gaustad’s defensive play will be missed, Ryan Miller may have gone a little overboard on this one.  Sure, a player like Gaustad is the type of player teams look for at the trading deadline to help them win championships (see: Sammy Pahlsson).  At the same time, did Miller truly believe that the Sabres could win the Cup this season?

From the way he’s talked lately, that’s unlikely.

Referring to the 2011-12 season, “There’s not ever going to be a trade in the history of the NHL that’s going to change something like this,” Miller said.

So something doesn’t quite add up.  Sure, that’s how Miller felt about a month ago, and a lot can change in a month, but if we assume that Miller still thinks the Sabres can’t be fixed, then shouldn’t he be happy for his friend that he gets to go to a championship contender?  Of course he should, but Miller more than likely wants to be there with the Goose when that moment happens.

Besides, the big thing Ryan Miller is missing is that Gaustad is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, free to sign with any team in the NHL.  Who’s to say Gaustad doesn’t sign back with the Sabres over the summer?

Of course, if that’s what actually happens, the Sabres may as well have pulled off armed robbery.

LeRoy: Evaluating the NHL Trade Deadline

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone. The most eventful exchange of the day happened right around 3:00, and the news did not break until around 3:30 as the Sabres and Canucks brought a blockbuster deal to an extremely quiet day. All in all, there were 16 trades. Here is an evaluation of each team’s day:

Anaheim Ducks
In: Mark Fraser (TOR) & Sebastian Erixon (VAN).
Out: Dale Mitchell (TOR) & Andrew Gordon (VAN).
Overall Grade: C
A simple set of minor league deals, the Ducks did not need to make any major changes, as they are the hottest team in the NHL since January 1. At that time, they were 20 points out of a playoff spot.
Expect this team to make the playoffs.

Boston Bruins
In: Brian Rolston (NYI), Mike Mottau (NYI), & Greg Zanon (MIN).
Out: Yannick Riendeau (NYI), Marc Cantin (NYI), & Steve Kampler (MIN).
Overall Grade: B-
The Bruins added depth in order to try and repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau are underrated veterans and will do well in Boston. Brian Rolston is back for another stint in Bean Town, coming in with a steep salary after clearing waivers. I do not think that he will be the Rolston of the past, but a homecoming could be what he needs to revitalize his career. If not, this will be viewed as a bad move.

Buffalo Sabres
In: Cody Hodgson (VAN), Alexander Sulzer (VAN), & 2012 1st Round Draft Pick (NSH).
Out: Paul Gaustad (NSH), Zack Kassian (VAN), Marc-Andre Gragnani (VAN), & 2013 4th Round Draft Pick (NSH).
Overall Grade: A
The Sabres pulled off the surprise move of the day, acquiring Calder Trophy candidate Cody Hodgson and sending super prospect Zack Kassian to Vancouver. Kassian appealed to fans at first, but after 27 games in the big leagues, it became evident that he wasn’t what the Sabres brass was looking for. This is an absolute steal for Buffalo. Last year, most people would have told Darcy Regier that he is crazy for trading Gragnani (Gragnani tied a Sabres playoff rookie record for points in a playoff series). Gragnani’s game has significantly fallen off this year and he has had a tough time cracking a lineup that conists of Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Jordan Leopold, not to mention defenseman of the future Brayden McNabb. In a more predictable move, the Sabres sent fan favorite Paul Gaustad to the Western Conference. What is surprising is the fact that Buffalo received a 1st round pick. Regier made the Sabres better not just for the future, but for the present.

Chicago Blackhawks
In: Johnny Oduya (WPG) & 2012 5th Round Draft Pick.
Out: 2013 2nd Round Draft Pick (WPG), 2013 3rd Round Draft Pick (WPG), & John Scott (NYR).
Overall Grade: B-
This move isn’t as good as people might think. Jeremy Roenick would agree with me. The Blackhawks overpaid for Oduya, but that’s what happens when a team is trying to win the Cup. He is a good depth player and will likely fit in well with Steve Montador.

Colorado Avalanche
In: Jamie McGinn (SJ), Michael Sgarbossa (SJ), & Mike Connolly (SJ).
Out: Daniel Winnik (SJ), T.J. Galiardi (SJ), & 2013 7th Round Draft Pick.
Overall Grade: B
Colorado is essentially rebuilding again with these moves. They gave up some very good players but received some good prospects in return. Only time will tell if this move will pay off for a young Avalanche team.

Columbus Blue Jackets
In: 2012 4th Round Draft Pick (VAN)
Out: Samuel Pahlsson (VAN)
Overall Grade: B
The Blue Jackets receive a “B” because they waited to move Rick Nash until summer. Moving Carter was necessary and unfortunately didn’t pan out for the Blue Jackets. By waiting until summer, Scott Howson is going to have a plethora of offers (and much better ones). This will also enable more teams to get in on the bidding, even though Nash has a limited no trade clause. Moving Pahlsson was a good move, though given the market, Columbus may have been able to squeeze out more.

Detroit Red Wings
In: 2012 7th Round Draft Pick (Conditional) (TB).
Out: Mike Commodore (TB).
Overall Grade: B-
The Wings were able to shed some unnecessary salary by sending Commodore to Tampa Bay. Kyle Quincey provided a better option, so dumping Commodore was ideal. A 7th round pick in any organization might be frowned upon, but Detroit has the best scouting in the league’s history and will make that pick essentially worth a 4th.

Edmonton Oilers
In: Nick Schultz (MIN).
Out: Tom Gilbert (MIN).
Overall Grade: A-
The Oilers are going to be a formidable foe in the next few years, with numerous high draft picks such as Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already making a big difference, among others. Tom Gilbert is a solid player, but Nick Schultz is primed to take the reigns of this defense core and will thrive in Edmonton. He is a model of consistency (he is the Wild’s all time leader in games played) and will likely rack up more points with such a skilled set of forwards to work with in an offensive environment. Once the Oilers have a goaltender, they will be a playoff team for years to come.

Minnesota Wild
In: Tom Gilbert (EDM) & Steve Kampfer (BOS).
Out: Nick Schultz (EDM) & Greg Zanon (BOS).
Overall Grade: C
The Wild shook up their defense by trading Zanon and staple Nick Schultz. Unfortunately, the Wild appear to be in a shape similar to that of Colorado’s situation; rebuilding in a time in which the team should be trending upwards.

Montreal Canadiens
In: 2013 2nd Round Draft Pick (NSH) & 2013 5th Round Draft Pick (Conditional) (NSH).
Out: Andrei Kostitsyn (NSH).
Overall Grade: B
The Canadiens sent Kostitsyn to Nashville to be reunited with brither Sergei. The rebuilding team acquired 2 picks, making the deal worthwhile. This is a good move and has been a good week for the franchise that will benefit them in the long run.

Nashville Predators
In: Paul Gaustad (BUF), Andrei Kostitsyn (MTL), 2013 4th Round Draft Pick (BUF).
Out: 2012 1st Round Draft Pick, 2013 2nd Round Draft Pick (MTL), & 2013 5th Round Draft Pick (Conditional) (MTL).
Overall Grade: A-
The Predators are touted as the winners on deadline day, having solidified their depth and added scoring in order to go deep into the playoffs. This is by far the boldest we have ever seen the Preds at the deadline. They also added Hal Gill last week. Despite overpaying for Gaustad, they have a center that adds size, toughness, PK ability, and faceoff wins. Gaustad will be a good player for the team should they be able to get past the first few rounds. Kostitsyn is a good addition, as he will be reunited with his brother, automatically providing chemistry.

New York Islanders
In: Yannick Riendeau (BOS) & Marc Cantin (BOS).
Out: Brian Rolston (BOS) & Mike Mottau (BOS).
Overall Grade: B
The Islanders made a good move for the future that also makes them better today, believe it or not. They were able to dump Brian Rolston’s salary after nobody claimed him on waivers. Adding two younger players from the Bruins system is a plus. All in all, a good move for the organization.

New York Rangers
In: John Scott (CHI).
Out: 2012 5th Round Draft Pick (CHI)
Overall Grade: B-
The Rangers failed to make a significant move that would bolster their Eastern Conference lead. They are the favorites in the East to win it all and frankly, they probably did not need to make a deal (though they lack scoring). Dropping out of the Rick Nash trade last second is a sign of growth for the organization, as they were not willing to give up more than what was necessary to acquire him. I would bet on the Rangers to go and get Nash come this offseason, especially if New York wins the Stanley Cup this spring.

Ottawa Senators
In: Matt Gilroy (TB).
Out: Brian Lee (OTT).
Overall Grade: C
Nothing special here, but Gilroy adds depth to the defense in Ottawa. He will be a good 3rd or 4th defenseman for the Sens going into the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks
In: Daniel Winnik (COL), T.J, Galiardi (COL), & 2013 7th Round Draft Pick (COL).
Out: Jamie McGinn (COL), Michael Sgarbossa (COL), & Mike Connolly (COL).
Overall Grade: B
The Sharks did a good job adding balance to their attack for the playoffs. Galiardi could excel with the amount of skill that San Jose has and could be one of the better additions in today’s activities. Keep an eye on him as the season goes on.

Tampa Bay Lightning
In: Mike Commodore (DET), Keith Aulie (TOR), & Brian Lee (OTT).
Out: 2013 7th Round Draft Pick (Conditional) (DET), Carter Ashton (TOR), & Matt Gilroy (OTT).
Overall Grade: B-
Steve Yzerman has been very active in reshaping the Lightning. He has done so without jeopardizing a possible run for 8th place in the East. The centerpieces of the team have remained, while shuffling smaller pieces around. Commodore is a solid veteran that has won before, and Aulie and Lee are good young players that could play a role in Tampa’s future.

Toronto Maple Leafs
In: Carter Ashton (TB) & Dave Mitchell (ANA).
Out: Keith Aulie (TB) & Mark Fraser (ANA).
Overall Grade: C-
The Leafs were the biggest disappointment for all the yapping that GM Brian Burke did in the days prior to deadline day. The steeply declining Leafs are not just losing badly, they did not improve their playoff chances at all today, despite landing a good prospect in Ashton.

Vancouver Canucks
In: Zack Kassian (BUF), Marc-Andre Gragnani (BUF), Andrew Gordon (ANA), & Samuel Pahlsson (CBJ).
Out: Cody Hodgson (BUF), Alexander Sulzer (BUF), Sebastian Erixon (ANA), & 2012 4th Round Draft Pick (CBJ).
Overall Grade: B
The Canucks are taking an enormous gamble by moving Calder candidate Hodgson to Buffalo. They are however adding a highly touted prospect in Kassian, though he has not lived up to expectations. Gragnani has potential and was acquired at a cheap price. Pahlsson is a good third line center with a Stanley Cup ring and will be a good depth guy for the team.

The Buffalo Sabres: Deadline Dealers

Paul Gaustad was traded to the Predators for a 1st-round pick

For the hours leading up to 3:00 PM eastern time, it was eerily quiet.  There was one move made in the morning, with the Predators acquiring Andrei Kostitsyn from the Montreal Canadiens, and there were sporadic deals here and there between the hours of 12:00 and 2:00.  The Wild slowly told Nick Schultz that he was traded to the Oilers, and the Lighting began Carter Ashton’s quest to become just like his dad, Brent, who called eight different cities his home in the NHL.

Then things got going.

Sammy Pahlsson was dealt out of Columbus to the Cup contending Canucks, giving them a solid defensive center.  Ottawa sent Brian Lee to Tampa Bay for Matt Gilroy.  Jamie McGinn went to the Avalanche for T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik.  The Jets sent Johnny Oduya to the Blackhawks for a 2nd- and 3rd-round pick.

But between 2:00 and 3:00 PM, it seemed the Sabres did nothing, or so we thought.

At 3:00 PM, the exact time of the trading deadline, Sabres fans gave their last honk for the Goose, as it was reported that Paul Gaustad had just been traded to the Nashville Predators.  Twitter erupted, with everyone wondering what the Sabres possibly could have gotten for the defensively sound center.

Sammy Pahlsson, a player very similar to Gaustad, had been traded the hour before for two fourth round picks in 2012 and a defensive prospect, so it was only safe to assume that Darcy Regier traded Gaustad for a seemingly similar package.

Not a single person expected Paul Gaustad to go for a first-round pick, except for maybe Darcy Regier, who stuck to his guns on his market price for the Goose.  David Poille, fresh off his new extension as G.M. of the Predators, gave in to Regier on his demands, while Regier threw in a 4th-round pick in the 2013 draft.  The Sabres scored the Preds first-rounder in 2012.  The only way this trade could have gone better for the Sabres is if the Predators gave up a 2013 first-round pick instead, as the Predators are seemingly going all in this year not knowing what the future might bring them, but I’m not going to berate Regier for turning his 7th round pick from the 2000 draft into a first-round pick 12 years later.

Still, the day left a dry taste in the mouths of Sabres fans.  All these weeks, begging Darcy to do something, and yet all anyone can say about him is that he dealt Paul Gaustad for a 1st-round pick.

Oh wait, there was that one surprise.

Zack Kassian’s name got out somehow, being sent to the Vancouver Canucks, but no one knew who the Canucks were sending back in return.  Sabreland erupted.  Zack Kassian?  The Sabres’ version of Milan Lucic (laughable, by the way)?  What did they possibly trade him for?

Probably one of the most intriguing prospects the Canucks had on their roster.

It’s hard not to like Cody Hodgson.  There’s not much you can find not to like about him.  The 10th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Hodgson played in 63 games, grabbing 33 points, 16 of them goals.  While this may not seem astonishing, this is while logging a small amount of minutes as a 3rd liner on a team that boasts Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler as their 1st- and 2nd-line centers, respectively.

Hodgson will be given every chance to succeed with the Sabres with the amount of ice time he deserves.  He has brilliant hands and a magnificent shot to go along with it, not to mention he’s solid in his defensive zone.  He is one hell of a complete player, and could be the 1st- or 2nd-line center the Sabres have been waiting for.  It’s easier to find toughness than it is to find a potential top-line center, and that’s what we’re dealing with here: potential.

The Canucks also took defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani off the Sabres hands, which many outlets are saying is the wild-card of this deal, citing Gragnani’s +10 as a positive for the young defenseman.  If only the NHL kept official stats of giveaways…

The Sabres also picked up defenseman Alexander Sulzer, but he probably doesn’t figure into the Sabres future plans, as Sulzer is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year.  The Sabres could look into signing him for the Rochester Americans next year, but that’s the best-case scenario for Sulzer.

All-in-all, this deadline was a win for the Sabres, and their fans, whether they’re ready to admit it or not.

Photo Finish: Game 60 vs. New York Islanders

1) While some might say winning isn’t in the Sabres’ best interest at this point, I’m not going to be angry with the team for finally stringing two solid regulation games together.  The Sabres came out firing on all cylinders for the second straight game, getting an early goal from Tyler Myers, who crashed the net to stuff it in.  Myers has seven points in his past nine games to go along with a pristine +7 rating.

2) Let’s welcome Thomas Vanek back from his tour of obscurity.  He has five points in his last seven games with his goal tonight.  He’s significantly lost ground in the race for the team scoring lead, though.  The way Jason Pominville’s been playing all season, he won’t be getting it back any time soon.

3) Speaking of Pominville, this guy’s unstoppable.  He’s got 14 points since the All-Star break, and five points in his last two games.  He’s taken a commanding lead in the team scoring race and now sits at 9th in the NHL with 59 points in 60 games.  For years, fans have complained about Pominville being under too much pressure from his big contract (5 years, $26.5 million).  They can stop complaining.  The guy’s a stud.

4) Ryan Miller’s back.  Miller seems more focused, and he seems to have found a groove, starting 13 of the past 14 games.  He had a bad stretch of games from the 14th to the 18th, but he’s back on.  He made a miraculous save on an Islander breakaway by Brian Rolston, and dove to stop the rebound from forward Josh Bailey.  Wherever the Miller haters reside when he’s playing well, they’ll be back the moment he screws up, and it’s a shame.

5) As I said before, let’s not be angry with the Sabres for winning games.  Sure, we want them to get the better draft pick so they can escape the mediocrity that’s plagued them for the past five seasons, but I think Joe from Buffalo Wins put it best: Buffalonians love playoff hockey, and I’m pretty sure fans would miss it if we were left out of the dance of 16 this year.  Say what you will, that the Sabres’ making the playoffs is the worst thing that could possibly happen for this group of guys.  I don’t care.  Nothing beats the feeling of your team being a part of playoff hockey.

A Sabres Fan’s Guide to Surviving the End of the Season

There’s no question that this NHL season has been a major disappointment in Hockey Heaven. Many fans felt that the Sabres were ready and able to challenge for the Northeast Division title and have a good playoff run. Dont worry, you weren’t the only one that was fooled. The Hockey News projected Buffalo to finish 5th in the Eastern Conference, while the Official NHL 2012 Yearbook predicted that the Sabres would finish 4th. Derek Roy was cited as the team’s top fantasy player and Marc-Andre Gragnani was named the team’s “darkhorse.” Don’t let NHL analysts and Buffalo media writers tell you otherwise, we all thought that this season would end up differently. In the five stages of grief, I have definitely entered the acceptance phase. Some entered acceptance during the team’s 12 game road losing streak, some after the Lucic incident in November. To those of you that have accepted that this season is a failure and to those that are hanging on to the thinnest portions of disbelief (those still stuck in the denial stage), here are a few pointers that can aid in the regaining of your hockey sanity:

1. Losing is a positive.

The more the Sabres lose, the more likely they are to finish last in the East. The lower they finish, the higher their draft pick this Summer. Winning can only deepen the dillusion that Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier have that this team can go deep in the playoffs when in reality, they can’t even qualify for the playoffs. The Sabres have drafted 1st overall twice in franchise history, picking Gilbert Perrault and Pierre Turgeon. Not bad. Oh, and the last time they drafted in the top five, they drafted arguably the best player on the roster in Thomas Vanek. Pittsburgh and Chicago won Stanley Cups after great drafts (Crosby, Kane, Toews, Malkin, etc.).

2. The future looks bright!

Take away the vast underachievers and you have a solid foundation for the future. The team has a solid captain in the incredibly consistent Jason Pomminville (20 goals/30assists in every season since ’06-’07). Thomas Vanek puts up great goal scoring numbers with little to no help. Tyler Myers is the most coveted young defenseman in the NHL and at age 22, is just beginning to hit his stride. Teams would give up a large chunk of assets to gain the abilities of the former Calder winner. Should Ryan Miller remain in Buffalo (and I think that he will), you have one of the best netminders in the league and possibly the world. He can win games by himself and is the kind of player that you can imagine winning the Conn Smythe (MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs). Youngsters Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis are lethal together, and don’t forget about the loads of talent in Rochester, spearheaded by coveted prospects Brayden McNabb and Zack Kassian.

3. Pick a second team.

The Sabres can make you lose sleep. I am as dedicated to supporting this franchise as anyone. I “bleed” blue and gold. But sometimes, it’s nice to have a second team to root for. I have always been a major Anaheim Ducks fan (you can imagine my excitement when the Ducks and Sabres made the final four a few years back). I also like the New York Rangers, partially because my favorite player is on their roster (Martin Biron). I’ll never be as passionate as I am for the Sabres towards another team, but it makes the final stretch of the season more enjoyable. My father is a Red Wings fan as well. Go find another team to follow in addition to our beloved Sabres but always root for Buffalo first. Just don’t choose Boston, Montreal, Ottawa, or Toronto.

4. Why so serious? Be optimistic!

That may sound unlikely (if not impossible), but it makes all the difference in the world. Yes, this season is a major failure, but think future. The Sabres have an owner with unlimited resources, a dedicated fanbase, and loads of potential. A few tweaks here and there, and we will be rewarded for decades of service and dedication to the Buffalo Sabres. There is light at the end of the tunnel, even if that tunnel is a few more seasons away than we had originally anticipated.

Follow Josiah LeRoy on Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy

LeRoy: The NHL 12 Sabres Would Have Been Nice

Every year, EA Sports releases their insanely popular NHL title. I ran a simulation of “Be A GM” Mode as the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. Here is what kind of stats my team had en route to winning the Stanley Cup in NHL 12, versus the disappointing real-life Sabres:

LeRoy Sabres through 82 games (Real life stats in parantheses, through 50 games)

Stat leaders –

Pominville 39 Goals, 31 Assists, 70 Points (17/30/47)
Roy 32G, 36A, 68P (9/16/25)
Vanek 31G, 31A, 62P (19/22/41)
Leino 23G, 27A, 50P (4/8/12)
Ennis 22G, 27A, 49P (3/2/5)
Stafford 20G, 24A, 44P (8/15/23)
Gaustad 17G, 27A, 44P (5/8/13)
Boyes 17G, 26A, 43P (3/9/12)
Ehrhoff 7G, 27A, 34P (3/16/19)
Regehr 5G, 24A, 29P (0/2/2)
Gerbe 13G, 14A, 27P (4/13/17)
Leopold 5G, 17A, 22P (8/9/17)
Gragnani 5G, 13A, 18P (1/11/12)
Weber 3G, 12A, 15P (1/1/2)
Grier (I decided to resign him) 6G, 7A, 13P (retired)
McCormick 2G, 9A, 11P (0/2/2)
Kaleta 5G, 4A, 9P (4/2/6)
Hecht (injured for majority of season, go figure) 0G, 8A, 8P (4/4/8)
Mara (another free agent signing) 1G, 5A, 6P
Sekera (I used Gragnani and Weber over Sekera) 0G, 1A, 1P (2/6/8)

Miller 67GP, 50-16W-L, 1.80 GAA (31, 13-17)
Enroth 16GP, 10-6W-L, 2.21 GAA (19, 8-12)

In the playoffs, the team went 4-3 against Toronto, 4-1 against Winnipeg, 4-2 against New Jersey, and 4-3 against St. Louis in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sabres won the Presidents Trophy, going first overall in regular season standings. Toronto was the 8th seed, Winnipeg the 6th, New Jersey the 4th, and St. Louis was 4th in the West for what it’s worth.

As you can see, my team did not provide crazy numbers. In fact, most of those numbers would have matched expectations for their real-life counterparts. It comes down to an improved defense and a vastly improved offense.

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