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Top Prospects Game was Worth the Price of Admission

January 23, 2015

I circle a handful of dates on the hockey calendar every season. Given Buffalo’s lack of success over the last few seasons, the trade deadline, draft and UFA day are usually high on my list.

However, there were a pair of games on the 2014-15 calendar that I had circled very early on. The first was the All-American Prospects game which featured Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin gracing the First Niagara Center Ice and the second was last night’s CHL Top Prospects Game.

I’ve grown more and more interested in the draft process and prospects in general over the last five or six years and the Top Prospects game is always a big event as the season rolls along. When I found out it was going to be hosted just up the QEW in St. Catharines, I knew I’d be making the trip.

The event itself is very cool. Very cool. You’re watching a collection of 40 of the best players in junior hockey, all of whom will have their name called at some point during the NHL Draft in a small, intimate venue. The Meridian Centre itself is a gleaming 5,300 seat venue that serves as a perfect junior hockey arena. There is one concourse and only one level of seats (not counting the suites) so there isn’t a bad seat in the house. With the event drawing every amateur scout, assistant GM and general manager from around the NHL, the event also happens to be who’s who of NHL executives.

Within a five or ten minute window I bought a beer next to Bill Guerin, almost ran into Kris Draper and settled into my seat a few rows behind Don Maloney, Darcy Regier and the rest of the Coyotes contingent. Other familiar faces milling in or around my section included Donald Audette Kevin Cheveldayoff and Fred Braithwaite. While I’m not easily star struck, it really made for a surreal environment when it was all said and done. Read more…

Dreaming Up a Legends Plaza for the New Bills Stadium

January 22, 2015

A new Buffalo Bills stadium is coming, there’s no doubt about it. While there are still some pushing for a renovation or construction of a new stadium in Orchard Park, it appears all but assured that the Bills will be calling downtown Buffalo home in the near future.

Here’s the template for the Jim Kelly statue.

The most recent chip to fall in the Bills’ stadium saga was the release of the State report detailing the recommended sites based on the opinion and expertise of the New York State commissioned report. Of the four sites they mention, three are in downtown Buffalo and two of those are located a stone’s throw from the front door of First Niagara Center.

While the State’s report does not need to be taken as gospel, there is clear momentum building towards a downtown stadium that will more than likely join with First Niagara Center, HarborCenter and Coca-Coal Field in creating a cohesive arena/entertainment district. Coupled with the revitalization of Ohio Street and the riverfront and the continued growth and success of Canalside, Buffalo will have the opportunity to have a phenomenal entertainment district situated right on the waterfront.

There are still plenty of hurdles to clear in terms of getting a stadium built. There’s no guarantee that Terry Pegula or anyone else involved in the financing and construction of this project will choose one of the four sites the State selected. Nor is there any official word on what the stadium will ultimately look like. But I have one idea to make the exterior of Buffalo’s new downtown stadium stand out.

Depending on logistics, infrastructure and general design constraints, I’d love to see some sort of fan plaza or grand exterior entryway factored into the design of the new stadium. Something similar to the mezzanine area at Gillette Stadium or even the oft-photographed plaza at AT&T Stadium in Dallas is what I have in mind. Read more…

The Deck is Stacked in Murray’s Favor

January 19, 2015

Nearly a full month removed from their last victory, plenty is being said of the Sabres express trip to the NHL’s basement. The ethics and direction of Buffalo’s season bring about accusations and arguments over tanking, the skillset of the head coach and the ability of Tim Murray to move the Sabres from cellar dweller to contender.

At this point of the season the Sabres are nothing short of a roaring dumpster fire. The scalding hot play of Jhonas Enroth, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Matt Moulson – the quartet that helped power their late November surge – has all but disappeared while the rest of the roster has been battered by injuries. With the roster limping around, the tactically feeble head coach has been unable to find a way to turn around Buffalo’s month-long slump and the team’s slow starts and weak finishes should bring about question surrounding his famous motivational skills.

The result of Buffalo’s 11-straight regulation losses is a spot in 30th place and an increasing probability that they’ll be the proud owners of the highest or second highest chance of drafting first overall. As is widely known, finishing 30th guarantees the Sabres the opportunity to draft Jack Eichel as a consolation if their 20% chance at winning the lottery doesn’t pan out.

While a grand debate has raged all year over the ethics and logic surrounding the push or hope for the first overall selection, it would seem that far too many individuals who follow the Sabres have ignored the arsenal that Tim Murray has at his disposal. While getting McDavid or Eichel remains up in the air, there is little doubt that the 2015 Draft will represent the point in which Murray puts the pedal to the floor on this rebuild. Read more…

Jersey Retirement Stirs Hasek Memories

January 13, 2015

Dominik Hasek was a special player. For the Sabres but for me as well.

I was drawn to goaltending because of the cool masks and pads but there’s no bigger influence on my commitment to sticking with the position than Hasek. My formative hockey years came in the thick of his prime with the Sabres and before I really refined my play, I did everything I could to replicate what Hasek did in the crease.

I would drop my stick, flop around, race out on breakaways and make just as many saves falling down sideways as I would with a traditional butterfly. While my style was in closer emulation to my other goaltending idol, Patrick Roy, Hasek will always hold a special place in my heart. And then he left. Read more…

How the Sabres’ Prospects Fared at 2015 WJC’s

January 8, 2015

Every year the World Junior Championships is used by top NHL prospects as a showcase to prove to scouts that they are either worthy of a 1st round pick, deserve that first pro contract, or maybe a first shot in the show. As we are now three days removed from Canada’s triumph in the gold medal game the final sprint to June 26 in Sunrise is now underway. As evidenced by ISS’s January Top 30, scouts place a premium on performance (or lack thereof) at the World Juniors.

Sabres fans enduring the three-way battle royale for 30th place this season can take solace in the results from this year’s tournament, as many of their current prospects helped their cause, while some names they may have interest in come June also performed well. Here’s a look at how current Sabres farmhands fared in Toronto and Montreal, as well as how some 2015 draft eligible players helped or hurt themselves. Read more…

Uncertain contracts leaves Murray with decisions to make in the crease

January 5, 2015

It’s likely that the goalie of the future for the Buffalo Sabres hasn’t yet pulled on the uniform for a NHL game. That player may be in the organization already, but there’s a good chance that Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth don’t ultimately factor into Tim Murray’s future plans.

Both Neuvirth and Enroth entered the season on the last year of their contract with unrestricted free agency looming in the offseason and unless he gets into five games this season, Matt Hackett will join them in unrestricted free agency.

While Hackett’s situation is murky at best, the Sabres could conceivably lose three of the eight goaltenders they have in the system, of which six are currently under contract. That leaves Murray with an odd predicament as the deadline and offseason approach.

Not only does Murray need to determine which goaltender, between Enroth and Neuvirth, he wants to commit more time to along with evaluating Hackett and Lieuwen, the latter will enter restricted free agency this summer.

Tim Murray will most definitely be a seller at the deadline, this much we know. There’s a chance that he may move some assets early, but given the team’s performance, it would appear that he needs to wait to try and leverage as much from a bad roster as possible. Buffalo’s historically bad performance this season has been devastating for their goaltender’s stat lines. Both Enroth and Neuvirth have been victims of Buffalo’s historically bad systematic play in the defensive zone and the pair have typically swapped spots as the team’s statistical leader when their counterpart is between the pipes.

Where it gets interesting is the decision making process for Murray. Does he trade the better of the two, knowing that he will likely be searching for a goalie of the future elsewhere while maximizing return? Or does he choose to keep the player who is performing at a higher level despite the ability to get more in a trade? If his deals last year are any indication, it will be the player that maximizes his value. Read more…

Outdoor game fatigue highlighted in this year’s Winter Classic

December 26, 2014

Since 2008 the Winter Classic has stood as one of the most unique and impressive pillars in the four major sports leagues. An outdoor spectacle that was made for TV helped give legitimacy to a league that had lost far too much in the first half of the 2000s.

The 2012-13 lockout not only caused a cancellation of the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at the Big House but also cut away a great deal of fan allegiance after a second lockout in fewer than 10 years. The league compensated for the loss of half a season, an outdoor game and a great deal of revenue with six outdoor games last season.

With this year’s Winter Classic fast approaching, I find myself very disinterested in the build up to the game. Overall my level of interest for the game is incredibly low and it is somewhat amplified by the general lack of hype for what has previously been appointment television.

Losing 24/7 and the punch brought to the table by HBO certainly helps to amplify the lack of buzz or hype about the game, but the apathy surrounding the event seems to extend beyond that of the chatter regarding a pay-cable network’s inside look at the two teams.

What’s interesting is that the Epix production of Road to the Winter Classic has been excellent, in my opinion. I really enjoyed each of the first two episodes and I’m looking forward to the final pair. But even that hasn’t helped to boost my excitement for the upcoming game.

Even the jersey unveilings were just part of the white noise of the NHL in the summer. Maybe if one or both jerseys were more attractive I’d personally feel differently, but there hasn’t been all that much discussion on either since they were unveiled.

The entire practice just feels tired. Read more…

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