The Sabres Observer
Not even a year removed from Terry Pegula’s purchase of the Buffalo Sabres and the most ballyhooed press conference here since Jim Kelly rode a limo into town 25 years earlier, the honeymoon is just about over.
But if you want to play the blame game so badly that you’re looking to the man at the top as the biggest reason for this season’s failures, then you’re just trying too hard.
Although Pegula has gotten his due criticism for the ill-advised gamble on Ville Leino, some misguided folks are trying to convince you that he should be vilified for much more than that.
[A trade] will be the next move for the Buffalo Sabres if Darcy Regier has his way. I’ve talked to other teams around the league over the last week. Regier is doing his homework. He’s talking trade with teams. What he’d like to do is move a top 6 forward in return for a top 6 forward. Easier said than done. Drew Stafford, Derek Roy, Brad Boyes - those are names that I’ve been told are in play for the Buffalo Sabres. Not every team in the league is going to want to move a top 6 for a top 6, but that’s what he’s trying to do.
The Sabres currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a 19-21-5 record and are 7 points out of a playoff position.
One year ago today, the Sabres were in a 19-20-5 hole following an ugly Saturday night loss to the New York Islanders. They were 8 points out of a playoff spot at the time, but there was still some optimism that Buffalo had a run in them.
Sure enough, the team that some were ready to peg as players in the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lottery ended up coming within 10 minutes of knocking the Philadelphia Flyers out of the playoffs.
It’s been an identical underwhelming 44 game ride to start the 2011-12 campaign, but these are not your older brother’s 19-20-5 Buffalo Sabres. With a brutal road schedule on tap for this week starting tonight in Detroit, combined with everything else that’s gone wrong during this nightmare of a season, the playoffs are looking like a pipe dream.
During their dispute with DISH Network in November 2010 over fees for broadcasting Sabres games, MSG Networks Executive Vice President and General Manager Dan Ronayne had this to say: “Every other operator is paying fair market rates, while they seek some sort of special treatment.”
Fast forward to January 2012 and MSG’s feud with Time Warner Cable, and logic will lead you to conclude that Ronayne apparently believes that fair market rates have gone up 53% in only 14 months.
From The Buffalo News,
“What everybody is missing is that I’ve been carrying around 167 man games,” [Pegula] said by telephone Thursday evening. “Forget about the season. I’m talking about the last 25 games. We’ve had 18 players go down. It’s like a merry-go-round every night. You look on the ice and what are your defensive pairs tonight? Hell, who knows? Who’s healthy?
“I think what’s important is the number of guys. You can have 167 man games with four, five, six guys out for a long period. Eighteen? Cut me a break. I told Darcy Regier one time, ‘If I was you, I would be afraid to get on the plane.’ “
It would be foolish for this Ryan Miller apologist to say that the former elite goaltender has played well this season, because he hasn’t. The Buffalo defense, which was supposed to be a lot better after the offseason upgrades, has had way more than its share of breakdowns. But we all keep hearing about how the NHL is now first and foremost a scoring league.
With tonight’s 2-0 loss to Toronto, the Sabres have scored two goals or less in eight of their past ten games. These forwards, save Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, are gripping the sticks so hard that they look like they could miss the ocean shooting from the edge of the beach.
If teams are calling Darcy Regier about Derek Roy and/or Drew Stafford, there has to be little doubt that he’s listening. For better or worse, past history suggests that the effort to move them may not be as strong right now as it might be around trade deadline time. Roy in particular has just about worn out his Buffalo welcome in Tim Connolly-like proportions.
If Anaheim is really planning on unloading Ryan Getzlaf, I’d like to think that Regier is willing to push and shove his way to the front of the line with both roster players and prospects in tow. The Sabres’ GM has hinted that he wants to see the injured players return before he makes any major moves. But with continued injuries and ailments (Lindy Ruff said postgame that Vanek’s absence from most of tonight’s contest was due to food poisoning), and what looks like some uninspired play on the ice, patience may no longer be a luxury.
Words from Lindy Ruff this morning, via WGR-550, regarding scrapping his goalie rotation to give Ryan Miller the vast majority of the work:
“I haven’t got a set rotation now. My main focus has been to have both goaltenders contribute. I really want to get Ryan going. If he’s feeling comfortable, playing well and not tired, I’m going to try to play him a little more and see if that helps him. Obviously Jhonas (Enroth), before last game, went through a real tough stretch too. It was good to see that both guys can help us put points on the board. Really my main focus, and I know we’ve got a lot of hockey coming up here, would be to try to get Ryan on a run and let him run with it.”
Good on Ruff for doing this. It’s hard to picture the Sabres having a chance to be any kind of threat in the East without a healthy and productive Ryan Miller in net. The Michigan native this season is 10-10-2 with a 3.05 GAA and a .900 save percentage.
Would you be interested, Sabres devotee, in seeing your team acquire a player who averages more points per game than Pavel Datsyuk, Jason Spezza, and Jonathan Toews? How about considering a proven veteran who has been hovering near the top ten in league scoring all season? And he’s talented enough to play on your top power play AND penalty kill units to boot.
Don’t bother firing up the #DoSomethingDarcy twitter hashtag for this one, because that player is already here. His name is Jason Pominville, and he’s the most underappreciated talent on this team.
I’ve been hearing a lot this season from media people and talk show callers about who the current and future core players are in the Buffalo organization. Give or take a name or two, it’s been pretty much the same list: Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, Ryan Miller, Christian Ehrhoff, Brayden McNabb, Zack Kassian, and Marcus Foligno.
It’s nothing short of inconceivable to me that Pominville wouldn’t be put into this mix.
If Mikko Koivu, Stephen Weiss, Anze Kopitar, Kris Versteeg, Ryan Smyth, Tomas Plekanec, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Shawn Horcoff, and Dustin Brown all can play more than 20 minutes per game, why can’t Thomas Vanek?
The most important guy in a Sabres uniform has more points this season than each of those 10 players. It’s not like a team that has scored 1 regulation goal in 8 of its last 16 games couldn’t use more of him. For the record, Vanek played a part in 5 of those 8 goals.
And with the befitting news that an injury suffered by defenseman Christian Ehrhoff in a 3-1 loss last night to the Washington Capitals will keep him out of the lineup for a number of weeks, an undermanned blueline corps means even more of a premium will be placed on goal scoring in Buffalo.
I don’t care for the excuse that Vanek doesn’t kill penalties. As members of the opposition last night, Alexander Semin, Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich each had more even strength minutes. Marcus Johansson???
Heck, Vanek even played less than teammate Drew Stafford, which makes a whole lot of sense given Stafford’s blistering pace to reach 13 goals this season.
While Buffalo has gone 5-9-2 in their last 16 games, Vanek has managed to tally 14 points. He’s on a 7-game point streak and is on pace for 37 goals and 82 points, which would put him in the NHL’s top ten. Fans and media recognize him as a legitimate superstar in this league. It’s time to start treating him like one. Facing the Capitals and giving him fewer shifts than Troy Brouwer doesn’t qualify.
An awful run of injuries has forced most of their projected future stars into the present lineup. The franchise goaltender is having a season so subpar that his beloved owner is throwing him under the bus. One Buffalo News writer is bashing fans and bloggers for demanding firings and trades while another columnist at the same paper is demanding firings and trades.
Yet the Sabres have managed through all of this to keep themselves within two points of being a number six seed in the East.
Is the sky really falling, Buffalo? Realistically, how much worse can it get?
Personally, I have a hunch that we’re at or near rock bottom now. Is it really that much of a shame that the Sabres won’t beat out the Stanley Cup champs to win their division? With all apologies to the doomsdayers, a reasonably healthy version of this roster is not a tenth-place team.
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.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]