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.

 

 

 

                      

                                                             

 

 

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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.

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.

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.

LeRoy: Post Game Reaction 1.31.12

Five things I liked about tonight’s Sabres game:

1.Paul Gaustad has a three point game. It’s been two years since that has happened.

2.The Sabres drastically outshot their opponents, which has been a rarity.

3.Ryan Miller tied Dominik Hasek with his 234th win as a Sabre, the most in franchise history.

4.Ville Leino and Brad Boyes made a huge difference. Both players have a combined 7 goals on the season. Rough for a combined $8 million plus in salaries.

5.Tyler Ennis was all over the ice in his return, playing well at center and playing physically in addition to his great speed. Lindy needs to keep him and Gerbe together.

Five things that I disliked:

1.The Sabres couldn’t score more than twice on Carey Price, despite the high quantity of shots.

2.The New York Islanders won. Therefore, the Sabres did not gain any ground in the playoff race.

3.The Tampa Bay Lightning won. See #2.

4.Arguably the best player on the roster, Thomas Vanek left the game early and will be out for some time according to Lindy Ruff.

5.The Sabres are tied for 13th after tonight’s NHL schedule. I suppose this could also be a positive, but they have a long way to go and tomorrow will be a tough test against a great New York Rangers team.

Josiah LeRoy
(Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy)

The Conundrum of The Coaching Change: Food For Thought

Sabres fans have been calling for the heads of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff for the majority of this season. Coaching changes in the NHL are often viewed as a quick fix and many franchises will replace even those that have experienced playoff success. While Ruff has not won a Stanley Cup, he does have a Finals experience (’99) and has gone as far as the Eastern Conference Finals on 3 seperate occassions. He also had the most successful season in Sabres history, as the team exploded with goals, defense, talent, and heart in the 2006-2007 season, winning the only Presidents Trophy in team history. If Ruff is excused before his contract expires, he would likely receive 20 calls from teams looking to make room on their roster or front office. My opinion is as follows: Ruff is a man that can bring Buffalo a championship. I have always been a major supporter of his. This season has shaken my faith and I begin to wonder myself if he should stay or go. If you’re in the same boat as me, here is a look at the 7 NHL coaching changes thus far this season:

St. Louis – Nov. 6 – Ken Hitchcock in, Davis Payne out. The Blues were 6-7-0 under Payne and have since gone 24-6-7 under former champion Ken Hitchcock. Nobody saw the success of the Blues coming, especially after they sold off most of their players late last season. Bringing in Cup-winning vets Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are not a coincidence. Current Standings: 4th in the Western Conference, 2nd in the Central Division (just two points behind Detroit and with one game in hand).

Carolina – Nov. 28 – Kirk Muller in, Paul Maurice out. The Hurricanes have said goodbye to Maurice for the second and likely the last time. The team was 8-13-4 under Maurice and has not experienced much of a turnaround (going 10-11-5), as they are battling in the Eastern Conference basement with the Sabres and Islanders. Current Standings: 15th in the Eastern Conference, 5th in the Southeast Division (18 wins in 51 games).

Washington – Nov. 28 – Dale Hunter in, Bruce Boudreau out. Here come the Capitals! While Hunter had a slow start with the team that absolutely quit playing under Boudreau, they are trending upwards and gaining momentum. Ovechkin has yet to snap out of his funk (for lack of a better term). Boudreau had the team at 12-8-1 before the Sabres destroyed them in late November and are 14-11-2 under Hunter. Current Standings: 3rd in the East, 1st in the Southeast (the Capitals and Panthers have the same amount of points at 55, but the Caps have the tiebreaker).

Anaheim – Dec. 1 – Bruce Boudreau in, Randy Carlyle out. The Ducks are currently red hot and look like the team that not only won the Stanley Cup a few years ago, but the one that finished last season on a tear. Things didn’t look up for the first month of Boudreau’s reign, but January was good to the Ducks. They are 11-10-3 since the change. Seeing that Boudreau received a job (and perhaps other offers) just after getting fired, I would expect the same for Lindy Ruff. Oh, and the Ducks were 7-13-4 before Boudreau came in. The playoffs are a long shot, but never say never on a team that has Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. Current Standings: 13th in the West, 5th in the Pacific.

Los Angeles – Dec. 12 – Darryl Sutter in, Terry Murray out. Much like the Sabres, the Kings had high expectations coming into the season. After an average start, the Kings hired interim coach John Stevens (2-2-0) and then brought Sutter in. Under Murray, the team was 13-12-4. Since Stevens came in, Sutter has the team in the top 8, going 9-2-6. This is perhaps the biggest turnaround. Current Standings: 7th in the West, 2nd in the Pacific.

Montreal – Dec. 17 – Randy Cunneyworth in, Jacques Martin out. Longtime Rochester Americans coach and former Sabre Randy Cunneyworth replaces the former Ottawa coach. There is a big controversery over the fact that Cunneyworth cannot speak French, as he is the first coach in Montreal history to not be bilingual. I think this is a ridiculous distraction, and Montreal’s season isn’t going anywhere. The 13-12-7 team under Martin has gone 6-9-2 under Cunneyworth.
Current Standings: 11th in the East, 4th in the Northeast.

Columbus – Jan. 9 – Todd Richards in, Scott Arniel out. 11-25-5 through January 9. Can you say “2012 First Overall Draft Pick?” The Blue Jackets are a mess and in the middle of a season in which I saw this team battling for a playoff spot. Poor Rick Nash. At least the All-Star game will be played in Columbus in 2013. Look for them to rebuild. Again. Even after grabbing stars Jeff Carter and James Wisnieswki, the team is in no better shape. Philadelphia is laughing at the fact that they were able to dump Carter’s decade-long contract. 2-5-1 is the record under Richards. Current Standings: 15th in the West, 5th in the Central.

The summary is this: of the 7 teams that changed coaches, 3 are in playoff position, 3 have improved their records (the other 4 either have continued at the same pace or gotten worse), and 4 are 23rd or worse in the overall standings. Food for thought.

The Sabres playoff push begins tonight against Montreal.

Josiah LeRoy
(Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy)

Lucky Bounces 1.30.12: Sabres 2nd Half Preview

Josiah: With just over 30 games left for the Sabres, can they make the playoffs and if so, what has to be done?

TJ: Absolutely not.  While they mathematically have a chance being only 10 points out of 8th, this team doesn’t seem to have the man power to make it to the big dance.  The Sabres of this year remind me of the Flyers in 2006-07, the year after Buffalo beat them in the 1st round and they had a completely terrible year.  Unfortunately, Ted Black and Terry Pegula seem to be enamored by the fiction that the current collection of players can actually win something.

Josiah: I am with you on that. There doesn’t appear to be any urgency within the players or the front office. Clearly this group has won before, but the hole they’re in this year is too deep to get out of. Because they believe they can go somewhere, I don’t see any major moves happening with regards to starting over. No one is going to take Roy/Stafford/Leino/Boyes right now. I am all for this team rebuilding around a select few players.

TJ: Exactly, and it starts with Vanek, Myers, and Pominville.  Outside of that, the Sabres have to figure out what to do and who to get.  I’ve been saying all season that they need a seasoned vet who has experience winning something: a gold medal, a world junior championship, or a Stanley Cup.  Guys like Ryan Smyth, Brian Rolston, Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott are all UFAs next year and could probably all be had for under $2M on a one-year deal.

Josiah: Someone that can take this team under their arm and guide them would be a huge asset. I would rather see a guy like Arnott come here than another highly-priced free agent (isn’t that weird to say as a Buffalo sports fan?). I believe Miller is still their guy in net, and I believe Ehrhoff is beginning to hit his stride in Buffalo. Couple that with Kassian and McNabb and you have a good “core.” Outside of those players mentioned, clean house (I’m looking at you, Darcy). Good news is that Jochen Hecht (roughly $3.5 million cap hit), Brad Boyes ($4 million) and Ales Kotalik ($3 million) will all be unrestricted free agents. This will give the Sabres an opportunity to attract an experienced veteran.

TJ: Well, Kotalik’s cap hit is clear from this team anyway, since they sent him to Europe, his cap hit doesn’t count against the Sabres’s cap space.  Still, according to CapGeek.com, the Sabres have 18 players signed for next season with just $7.3M in cap space under the current salary cap ($64.3M).  Assuming the cap will likely go up about $3-5M, Buffalo has only $10-12M to play with in free agency.  If Pegula wants his GM (whoever that may be) to be a big spender, there’s going to have to be some movement at the deadline.

Josiah: If Roy heats up for any stretch, he must be traded. Even if the Sabres can only get a third round draft pick for him, the cap space is worth 1-2 solid veterans. I’m doubtful of Langenbrunner or Arnott moving anywhere but St. Louis with the Blues’ incredible success. The Sabres could sweeten a deal with Andrej Sekera too, as they have many options on Defense. Final thought, do the Sabres make a move that helps their playoff push, or do they dump salary? I think it’s clear what we both want, but lets be realistic.

TJ: Realistically, I honestly think the entire organization truly believes this bunch can make the playoffs, and not only that, but go far.  I think they’ll take a few more weeks evaluating where they stand.  If they’re still only 10 or less points out, I think they try to make a deadline addition.  Anything more, and they’ll be sellers or just stand pat.

Josiah: I think that they believe they’re in the hunt and won’t begin to evaluate the team until they’ve played as a healthy lineup for 5-10 games. Still, I think it’s all too late. It’s the general manager’s job to keep a team in contention, even through injuries. I see a deadline move but I am praying that it’s not another Boyes/Torres/Zubrus (though Boyes had a great finish after last year’s trade).

 

Follow Josiah (@JosiahDLeRoy) & TJ on Twitter (@TJLuckman) for all of the latest on the Sabres & the NHL.