Kukla's Korner

The Sabres Observer

Post-Free Agency Atlantic Division Outlook

Now that the major portion of free agency season has come and gone, let's take a look at how the Atlantic Division, as of today, is stacking up for 2017-18 (listed by predicted order of finish):

1) Toronto Maple Leafs: It's easy to criticize going three years for Patrick Marleau, but TSN's Scott Cullen may have summed it up best when he said, "...if the Maple Leafs end up going further in the playoffs with Marleau in the lineup, criticism will be muted". Truth be told, the surging Leafs were already on the verge of breaking through the stratosphere to elite contender status, and adding Marleau certainly shouldn't change that. The group that was third in the NHL in 5-on-5 shot attempts, and took a lot of mojo out of the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, remains pretty much intact, less rental Brian Boyle. The Leafs are primed for really big things this season.

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  Tags: atlantic+division, bruins+prediction, canadiens+prediction, leafs+prediction, lightning+prediction, nhl+predictions, panthers+prediction, red+wings+prediction, sabres+prediction, senators+prediction

Botterill’s Patience Mantra Will Be A Tough Sell

The last thing a Sabres fan wants to be asked in this town is for more patience. You might as well ask him to eat boneless wings with ranch dressing.

Six consecutive non-playoff seasons and a lot of unwarranted flak towards the diehards have made things from a hockey perspective pretty miserable around here.

But new GM Jason Botterill really doesn't have a choice.

The former Sabre-turned-executive came over from the hugely successful Penguins organization and inherited a slow, underachieving team with depleted depth from a predecessor who tossed away draft picks like they were penny candy.

That, along with the salary cap headaches of Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian and Tyler Ennis, isn't going to be resolved overnight.

Yet there is still hope. Bogosian and Ennis could turn into a pair of interesting reclamation projects for new head coach Phil Housley, who has promised to implement a fast and aggressive system.

And, following years of questionable decisions and approaches to running their hockey and football teams, Terry and Kim Pegula seem to finally be on track to getting it right.

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  Tags: botterill+patience, buffalo+sabres, jason+botterill, phil+housley, sabres+draft

Sabres Fans Unfairly Criticized Yet Again

They've been blamed for the poor atmosphere at KeyBank Center, scorned by fans and even Sabres players for booing, and mocked by many for leaving games early.

As if that isn't enough, now many of them are getting unwarranted flak regarding Saturday night's tilt against Toronto.

It was a great game in front of a packed house. Nearly half in attendance were Leafs fans. It was Hockey Night in Canada, except that it was in Buffalo. There was plenty of blue and white and not as much blue and gold.

The fact that a large number of season ticket holders had the audacity to resell their seats, for enough money in many cases to make a car payment or feed a family of four for a week, did not sit well with the hockey-is-holier-than-thou crew.

There were non-paying Sabres fans spewing venom via twitter from the comfort of their living rooms in front of their televisions. Hard-working fans were being shamed and tagged as money grabbers. It was even suggested that cashing out for this game should be grounds for season ticket account revocation.

This whole act is just ridiculous and deplorable. Being trolled by visiting Leafs fans pales in comparison to all of the garbage criticism that loyal Sabres fans who financially and emotionally support this heartbreaking team have had to put up with year after losing year.

Conform. Stand up and cheer despite your team being doubled in shots and looking lost. Even when the players you paid to see are clearly taking the night off, no booing is permitted. Regardless of when you have to get up in the morning, you stay until the final horn. And don't you dare resell your tickets.

Enough already.

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  Tags: archaic+1970's+mentality

Bylsma’s Future In Buffalo Looks Bleak

In his last 6 starts, Robin Lehner is 1-3-2 with a 3.94 GAA and a save percentage of .874. He's given up at least 5 goals in 3 of those 6 games. Yet at no point has Dan Bylsma dared to test fate by pulling him.

Not after falling behind 3-0 almost 2 weeks ago to Colorado in the first period, not last night after the second period when his underperforming goaltender was behind 4-2 in a still-winnable game against the Flyers, and at no point in between.

It's not crazy to think the January 17th fiasco in Toronto, when Lehner was posing for selfies by the bench and then staring down his coach after playing horribly and being yanked, is still in his head. Lehner made it very clear after that game that he always wants to keep fighting and not be taken out in those situations, sensible shake-things-up-to-jump-start-your-team strategies be damned. 

Meanwhile, the once radical theory that Sabres players are consciously or subconsciously diverting a bit from the coaching staff's game plans -- out of confusion, inability, rebellion or indifference -- is actually starting to gain some legs.

There just isn't another reasonable answer available to the question of how so many defensive zone lapses can occur so often in so many games. Last night's parting of the Red Sea for Claude Giroux is Exhibit A.

In a nutshell, the inmates are running the asylum. Bylsma seems unable or unwilling to force his imprint on this group. He does not appear to have control of his team. And it doesn't fare well at all for his future in Buffalo.

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  Tags: buffalo+sabres, dan+bylsma, robin+lehner, sabres+coaching+change, sabres+flyers

Sabres Trade Deadline Day Forecast: Calm

The NHL trade deadline is six days from today, and there's a strong likelihood it won't be much of a big deal in Buffalo.

Hey, you can never totally count out Tim Murray from having something secretive up his sleeve, but the list of prominent Sabres who could be dealt is looking pretty weak right about now.

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  Tags: sabres+trade+rumors

The Sabres Appear To Have A Maturity Problem

You can add Robin Lehner's postgame tirade in the Sabres dressing room last night to the growing list of episodes revealing some issues between the ears with this team.

Jack Eichel implicitly calls out fans who were booing during a poor stretch of a recent game against the Sharks which Buffalo eventually came back to win. What we think are big foundation-building wins against good teams are followed by absolute stinkers against the league's lesser lights. The act of successfully completing a line change is often an adventure.

But Lehner using the media as his personal soapbox to lay into his teammates, including a veiled reference to two of the most productive in Eichel and Evander Kane, really takes the cake.

Playing very well for a couple of weeks has apparently further deteriorated his filter with the press. The passion was great, but the method was terrible.

I couldn't possibly dislike what Lehner did any more.

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  Tags: "buffalo+sabres"

The Twelve Greatest Sabres of All Time

What started out as a debate on Phil Housley not being selected as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players of All Time turned into this piece.

I made it clear on hockey twitter that I agreed with Housley not making the list, mentioning that the offensive defenseman isn't even one of the top ten greatest Sabres.

A number of disgruntled fans, most of whom likely never saw Housley play and based their opinions on stats from a career points leaders list, found fault with this and asked for my All-Time Sabres Top Ten.

I accept this challenge head-on, with a caveat that I can only narrow it down to twelve. I can't in good conscience take any more Sabres greats off the list. It's perfect just the way it is.

In the spirit of this weekend's format of the NHL Greatest 100, these legends are unranked but sorted by era.

This is the #SabresDozen -- the 12 Greatest Buffalo Sabres of All Time:

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  Tags: sabres+all+time+team, sabres+dozen, top+sabres+of+all+time

It’s Almost Time To Move On From Lehner

Robin Lehner's 50th game as a Buffalo Sabre couldn't have gone much worse.

His teammates last night were hanging with the offense-laden Toronto Maple Leafs pretty tough, but a weak-as-they-come goal by Matt Martin, of all people, forced open the floodgates.

It would be comforting to say this was close to a first as far as Lehner meltdowns go, but it would also be a lie. An adventure earlier this season in Calgary where he handed the Flames two points and blamed the officials afterwards immediately comes to mind. There have been others.

He has his defenders, and it's not like they don't have an argument. His .920 save percentage seems respectable enough, and there have been frustrating nights where Buffalo's offense, which is admittedly more of a concern for this team than goaltending, left him on an island.

But if you peel back the onion a bit, it's safe to conclude that Lehner has been average at best. And trades where you give up first-round draft picks for average goaltending are what we call bad trades.

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  Tags: robin+lehner+trade

The Real NHL Standings

After seeing a tweet from hockey social media favorite Sean McIndoe (@DownGoesBrown) yesterday regarding the comedy that is the NHL standings format, it seemed like a good time to take a peek at how they really should look.

So, let's unveil the mask right here. Overtime losses are treated as losses, shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, and goals for and against are adjusted accordingly.

Ladies and gentlemen, "The Real NHL Standings":

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  Tags: nhl+standings

While Bylsma’s Seat Gets Warm, Murray Still Gets A Pass

Everything was supposed to be fine when Jack Eichel came back.

It isn't, and many Sabres fans are starting to get angry. Last night's 4-2 loss to Boston was a new low for this team. Seems hard to believe after a game in which they played their best first period of the season, but that fact is what makes it hurt more.

And, as expected, your humble Sabres correspondent received his usual daily dose of Fire Dan Bylsma tweets and emails. On top of that, in an unscientific twitter poll of nearly 450 fans last week, the coach was given the blame for Buffalo's struggles.

Funny thing is, when you ask them why Bylsma should be fired, the most common response is his system. But when you ask what's wrong with the system, most don't have a clear answer. They just say things like "he's stifling his players" but aren't able to get more specific. It kind of makes you wonder how many of those fans actually even know what Bylsma's system is.

Truth be told, and obvious to many, this coach has not been given a very good hand to play. But Tim Murray, Buffalo's lovable short-spoken everyman, has made it clear that the ascension to greatness is a process, and patience is needed.

Sabres fans for the most part are completely on board. When seeking a scapegoat for Buffalo's position at rock bottom of the standings, the GM is off the hook.

At least for now.

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  Tags: buffalo+sabres, dan+bylsma, tim+murray

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

2014-15 NHL Reverse Standings

 

Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]

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