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.

So…This Is What Rock Bottom Feels Like

If someone asked me back in November, when Bruins forward Milan Lucic barreled over Ryan Miller, causing the Vezina Trophy winning goalie to sit out some time with a concussion, if the Sabres would have suffered such adverse effects because of the incident, I would have told that person to stop being ridiculous.  The Sabres were 11-6 after that fateful day, and it didn’t seem like a 6-2 loss to the Bruins would be as demoralizing as it was.

However, that’s what happened.  The Sabres were exposed as a fraud team that could easily be beaten by showing a small amount of toughness that most of the players on the team just don’t have.  Outside of Robyn Regehr, who’s had an awful first season in Buffalo, by the way, the Sabres are barely a physical team.  There are only a handful of players that one could call tough, and even that’s questionable at best.

Regehr’s toughness should not be questioned.  We’ve all seen his ability to knock a player out at will.  Cody McCormick has shown that he’s never afraid to drop the gloves and get into the dirty areas.

Most of the other “tough players” leave more to be desired, though.  Paul Gaustad disappears at times, most prominently shown against the Bruins when absolutely nothing happened to Milan Lucic after he took out Miller.  Tyler Myers was almost invisible until playing the New Jersey Devils in November, scoring two goals and absolutely destroying former Sabre Dainius Zubrus along the boards, causing the league’s chief player disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan to get in touch with Myers to let him know where the line is drawn for illegal hits.

Selective toughness isn’t winning games though.  It’s causing the Sabres to doubt themselves, as shown by their inability to get back into one-goal games, something they used to be able to do on a routine basis.  No player on this team is willing to cause a spark, not that they’d know a spark if they saw one.  Momentum seems to mean nothing.  Scoring the first goal of a game?  Not even three-goal leads are safe with this team.

Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek can only do so much for this team.  Pominville leads the team with 47 points in 48 games and continues to be the Sabres’ only source of consistency, and has performed valiantly on the ice in his first full season as Buffalo’s captain.  Whether or not he leaves more to be desired off the ice and in the locker room is another story entirely, and not something that should be commented on.  Thomas Vanek’s play has tailed off recently.  Vanek is pointless in five games, with a -7 rating.  He has just two points in the month of January, allowing Pominville to take a commanding team lead in scoring.  Vanek has 41 points on the season.

The secondary scoring is non-existent.  Derek Roy has turned into an albatross for this team.  Sure, he’s third on the team in scoring, but there’s a big drop-off between second and third, as Roy has just 25 points in 46, a pace well off what he’s normally at, which is usually closer to just under a point-per-game.  Drew Stafford can’t find the back of the net to save his life, which is a problem considering  he signed a 4-year $16 million deal over the summer.  Luke Adam’s production has trailed off and finds himself on the fourth-line, which could only be ruining his confidence even more than it should be.

The Sabres haven’t gone on any sort of winning streak going since that Bruins game in November.  It’s not the winning streaks they should be worried about at this point.  The Sabres have lost five games in a row, not to mention 12 in a row on the road, all in regulation.

There’s still room for some slight optimism.  The Sabres remain just ten points out of 8th place in the Eastern Conference.  Ten points is very surmountable, but the likelihood of this team pulling themselves out of the hole they’ve dug themselves sees bleak for not just the team, but for the fans, as well.