New All-Star Game Format will be a Win for the NHL

Clearly the NHL’s big decision makers are following me on Twitter and reading this blog as they announced a brilliant and awesome change for the 2016 NHL All-Star Game this week.

At one point last winter I penned my thoughts on altering the All-Star Game to a 3-on-3 tournament format although upon review I don’t seem to have ever posted what I had written. There’s a chance that I had originally wrote it for my duties with Great Skate and then swapped it out for another piece. So unfortunately my takes on the All-Star Game didn’t grace the internet which is probably for the best.

Whether or not I had published my thoughts on the potential changes to the game, know that the decision to move to a 3-on-3 tournament format is a masterstroke for the league.

Perhaps it was simply because of my age, but I remember a time when the All-Star Game was actually fun to watch. Owen Nolan calling his shot over Dominik Hasek’s glove remains a favorite hockey memory. Now the game is stale, filled with apathetic play and bloated scores. Amazingly, all this extra scoring didn’t seem to increase the entertainment value of the game.

Adding to the novelty of the game can’t do anything but help the product. Copying the MLB and awarding home-ice advantage to the winning conference would be foolhardy and aside from simply putting a cash prize on the line (which they happen to be doing) it doesn’t seem as if there were too many logical solutions to get the players to play harder. Continue reading

Long Term Outlook Should Shape Decision on Ullmark

No team wants or plans to lose their starting goaltender, certainly not on the first day of the regular season. But that was precisely what the Buffalo Sabres had to deal with when Robin Lehner went down just a period and a half into the 2015-16 season.

Chad Johnson stepped into Lehner’s role shortly after the injury but it’s been the play of Linus Ullmark that has spurred the Sabres push from 2-6 to a .500 record. Ullmark is just months removed from double hip surgery and is playing in his first season in North America, making his impressive play something of a surprise.

Ullmark has played inspired hockey, compiling a 4-2 record, 2.45 GAA and .924 SV% through six starts. He was 1-2-0 with a 2.72 GAA and .932 SV% in his brief spell with Rochester prior to being recalled. Ullmark’s play has shown fans and the organization what is coming to them in the near future between the pipes while stirring a debate whether or not he should remain with the team long term once Lehner returns.

We’ll likely see at least two more weeks of Ullmark in a Sabres jersey while Lehner finishes his recovery, so a decision isn’t imminent. Not only does Lehner have a couple more weeks until he’s healthy, but there’s a good chance he’s sent on a conditioning assignment before returning to the Sabres full time. This affords Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma a little more time before making a call on their young netminder. Continue reading

Instigator Podcast Episode 44 – Sabres Starting to Roll

Tyler and Chris are back after their European hiatus to chat about the improving fortunes of the Buffalo Sabres and the hot button issue of goalie equipment and NHL net sizes.

The Instigator Podcast Episode 44 - Sabres Starting to Roll by The Instigator Podcast on Mixcloud

Upcoming Equipment Changes are a Step in the Right Direction

Change is coming once again for National Hockey League goaltenders as this week’s GM meetings indicated that equipment will be scaled down after this season.

The apparent focus on chest protectors and pants is long overdue as the two units have managed to escape much of the focus of past equipment changes. They’re also the only two units that haven’t been altered since the 2004-05 lockout, as pads, gloves and blockers underwent the most change.

All of this is being done to hopefully inject more offense into the game. As goal scoring continues to dip, addressing oversized goal equipment is both an easy and obvious change to make. Oversized shoulder floaters will likely go the way of the Dodo along with other size-related changes.

As a goaltender myself you might think I’d be staunchly against these changes, but I think they’re necessary at this time. Chest protectors and pants are still quite beefy and can stand to be tapered more to the shape of the player wearing them. I’m speaking specifically to the current construction of the shoulder floaters on chest pads today. This is a good example of the type of height you see from these units that not all companies fall in line with (here’s a unit with a more tapered look). Continue reading

Celebrate Ryan Miller’s Return with Highlights

The inevitability that Ryan Miller was going to be traded two seasons ago was something I was aware of even before the season had begun. A looming UFA, Miller held value across the league as a quality starting netminder and didn’t fit well with the Sabres rebuild.

That didn’t make it any easier the day he was traded.

Miller received a fair dose of criticism during his time in Buffalo and, to this day, I don’t understand how he was so under-appreciated. Perhaps it was because he was living in Hasek’s shadow for many fans. Maybe it was simply because a “Ryan Miller Shoutout” was unacceptable for some. Either way, when I look back at his time two years removed from his trade, I appreciate the talent we had even more. The post-Briere and Drury years were rife with under-achievement and, frankly, wasted some of the best hockey of Miller’s career.

By no means do I think the Sabres should have kept him, however. Tim Murray made the right decision in moving Miller when he did. It was the right move for the Sabres and it was the right move for Miller as well. I’m glad to see that Miller is playing well in Vancouver and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the ice at First Niagara Center once again.

Perhaps this period of Sabres hockey in which the answer in goal is somewhat cloudy will help clarify Miller’s worth to the organization during his tenure. In the meantime, enjoy this collection of Miller highlights. Continue reading

Double Minors: Replay Derails Sabres Comeback Against Sens

For a few fleeting moments on Thursday night, the plan had fallen into place perfectly. Evander Kane had shoveled a puck home from beside the net, DJ Kool was blasting throughout the arena and the momentum had fully shifted as the Sabres had tied the game.

However, Ottawa successfully challenged the play as the Sabres were deemed to have been offside on the zone entry and the score reverted to 2-1. While the Sabres still had a firm control over the game, they were unable to score another tying marker.

For the record, the Senators and the referees made the right call. The play was just ever slightly offside and the review showed that. So twice in two nights the new NHL review system worked as planned. It will be a hard pill to swallow for Sabres fans but it was the right call. Continue reading

Projecting the Sabres Roster on the Eve of Final Cuts

The Sabres begin the season in four days, and some question marks still remain as to who will be part of that opening night roster against Ottawa. The organization has made quite a few cuts over recent days that have answered some questions, such as sending Cal O’Reilly down to Rochester. There’s still a handful of decisions to be made in the next 24 hours, or so, with the roster currently sitting at 28 players and only enough room for 23. Here’s how I see the Sabres’ roster looking to start the year. Continue reading