Instigator Podcast – Episode 36: After Babcock

While Mike Babcock decided to head to Toronto, the Sabres aren’t left without options. We discuss the impact Babcock’s decision had on the Sabres and the candidates they may pursue moving forward.

Instigator Podcast Episode 36 - After Babcock by Instigator_Podcast on Mixcloud

Sabres are hardly short on candidates in the wake of Babcock’s decision

Despite multiple reports that indicated the Sabres were on the verge of landing the biggest fish in the free agent coaching pond, Mike Babcock chose to take his talents to Toronto after a long, drawn out search process.

This leaves the Sabres standing at the altar without a coach for the time being as their bride-to-be sets off to the Great White North. The Sabres aren’t without options, however. Nor should this be seen as some black eye on the organization as they proceed through the next step of their rebuild.

Landing Babcock would have helped pile credibility onto the organization after two-straight 30th place seasons. Babcock’s presence would have likely chummed the waters for interested free agents while providing the Sabres with a bench boss with a strong winning pedigree. Missing out on him is obviously no small hiccup, but it will hardly derail the path Tim Murray has set the team on.

Luke Richardson is just one of a number of promising young coaches the Sabres can look to.
With a fish this big and stakes as high as they were, it’s easy to present the pros and cons of this argument. A pair of Buffalo News reporters did just that as Mike Harrington and Jerry Sullivan each penned a column regarding Babcock’s decision just hours ago. For what it’s worth, Harrington’s is the only one of the two worth reading.

Although today’s news throws a curve to the coaching search, it’s not as if the Sabres are left without any viable options. There are a host of solid coaching candidates on the market that Tim Murray will almost certainly be taking a closer look at in the coming days.

Names like Dan Bylsma, Peter DeBoer and Paul MacLean along with a host of up-and-coming candidates remain on the open market. There are also a number of coaches with NHL experience serving as assistants or overseas who shouldn’t be discounted. Continue reading

More thoughts on the Sabres solution in goal

A short while ago I took a deep dive into the route the Sabres might take when it comes to their goaltending next season. I settled on the trade route being my preferred option for Sabres’ GM Tim Murray to take.

Buffalo’s goaltending pipeline isn’t too shabby with Linus Ullmark set to make his North American debut this fall alongside established farmhand, Andrey Makarov. Cal Petersen is still a couple years away from a professional contract but was impressive as a freshman at Notre Dame while 2014 draft pick Jonas Johansson’s big frame makes him an intriguing prospect.

The situation above those players, however, is quite murky. Chad Johnson is the only goaltender with more than one game of NHL experience under contact and he slots in as a backup at best. Since posting my thoughts on the goaltenders (linked above), the Sabres have fallen out of the Matt O’Connor sweepstakes and Matt Hackett’s knee injury prevented him from playing enough games to retain restricted free agent status.

With O’Connor out of the picture and Hackett likely to join him, Murray should at least have a better idea of who will be in the crease in Rochester this season. The Amerks could stand to have a veteran AHL presence in the locker room and on the ice, but we’ll have to see who is available for that type of role.

My opinion on Murray’s direction remains unchanged (like the Browns). The best route, in my opinion, is to acquire a young goaltender who has shown he’s capable of growing into a dependable starter in the league. Even with Ullmark showing impressive chops and Petersen growing into a fine prospect, the Sabres need more stability at the top of their depth chart. Stability that also provides them with an outlook beyond the next few seasons. Continue reading

2015 2ITB End of Season Awards

The 2014-15 season was like no other in Sabres history as Buffalo’s rebuild plunged the team into another last place season as they pushed to secure the right to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Media narratives on tanking and the need to pick first piled on game after game of poorly played hockey by a patchwork roster led by a lame duck coach. The season was capped by the Edmonton Oilers snatching the first overall pick with the Sabres guaranteed to slot in second in the draft order.

Such an odd season cannot be served by any run-of-the-mill awards post. So the fourth-annual 2ITB Awards will take on a slightly different look this year as we reflect back on a headache inducing run towards the end of the rebuild.

Most Valuable Player: Jonathan Toews – Toews heroics in the final minutes of Chicago’s 4-3 win erased an improbably Buffalo lead and snatched away a regulation win that would have brought the Sabres two points closer to 29th place. As it turns out, Captain Serious’ tallies were much needed as Buffalo didn’t ensure last place until the second last game of the year and the lottery results would have pushed them out of the second pick.

Least Valuable Player: Andre Benoit – I’m not sure there was any one player on the roster who was as consistently disappointing as Benoit was. He scored a nice shorthanded goal in a drubbing by the Red Wings but was generally bad the entire year. He certainly contributed to the tank but was a complete albatross in every other situation.

Best Prospect: Mark Pysyk – Pysyk has been a good solider for the Sabres since he was drafted. Tim Murray knew that the best place for Pysyk this year was likely to be Rochester despite Pysyk’s ability to excel at the NHL level. He’s poised to be a major piece of the puzzle in the near future and if his health issues clear up I think he’ll wind up playing a top-four role next year. Continue reading

It’s time for the Sabres to address their rafters

The summer is expected to bring changes to One Seymour H Knox III Plaza both on the ice and off. Tim Murray will not only be ushering in the second overall pick in the draft – which is all but assured to be Jack Eichel – along with a number of other acquisitions which are expected to improve the on-ice product.

Away from the ice, improvements to the arena will be on their way again as First Niagara Center continues to get updates as its 20th birthday approaches. One area of the arena that I think needs immediate attention is the rafters. Particularly the items hanging from the rafters.

Presently the Sabres have seven retired numbers, ten Sabres championship banners, two banners in memory of the Knoxes, six banners commemorating the Bandits retired numbers and championships and then four “Gold Ring Sponsor” banners. That’s the extent of what hangs from the FNC rafters (aside from the US and Canadian flags) and I’d like to see the Sabres organization address this aspect of the in-arena experience.

First off, the Sabres banners look horrible. They’re separated by a large gap and there are at least three different fonts used on the seven banners. The French Connection and Tim Horton banners are obviously made with a different font than Gare, LaFontaine or Hasek’s and it appears as if the Hasek banner has a slightly different number font than the others as well.

Additionally, the Hasek banner itself is a different size than the rest. It appears to be the same width but the break to the pointed end is lower than that of the neighboring banners. Combining that poor measurement with the varying fonts – and potentially colors – cries out for the team to revisit and re-hang the banners with a uniform look.

Finding a new location for them, hopefully somewhere in the rafters that isn’t interrupted by a spotlight stand, would provide the ability to order them properly as well. The large gap between Gare and LaFontaine’s banners look ridiculous and I’d rather see the team decide to abandon that spotlight location in order to provide a better layout for their retired numbers. Continue reading

Sabres Banners, Revisited

As you may remember, I lobbied hard for the Sabres to produce a line of replica banners commemorating both their retired numbers and championship seasons. They listened and both lines can be found at the Sabres Store at this moment. IMG_0858

While I knew that Dominik Hasek’s banner was the only guarantee this past winter, I took matters into my own hands as it pertained to the rest of Buffalo’s retired numbers. I contacted Thomas Lutz of Primetime Banners on Etsy regarding a custom set of banners.

After some preliminary talks and design plans, Thomas produced a full set of retired number banners along with a French Connection banner to hang above Robert, Martin and Perreault’s banners in my basement.

Just last night I repositioned and rehung the banners with a rod along the back to ensure a bit more rigidity for the entire collection. That made me realize I hadn’t followed up on this group of banners and I wanted to share how they turned out. They’re bigger in size than the versions offered at the arena but they also highlight the work Tom is capable of pulling off.IMG_0859

He can make anything you want. He just recently said he was working on a set of Buffalo Bandits banners for a customer and I’m certain that he could cook up any player or team banner you would want adorning the walls of your man cave or office.

You can reach Thomas at thomas.lutz21@gmail.com or through his Etsy shop. Forgive the picture quality. The lighting in my basement is less than ideal.

Reflecting on the positives after a season of negatives

The 2014-15 Sabres season was strange, bizarre, and everything in between. As a season ticket holder I thought I knew what I was getting myself in to when the team broke camp at the end of September with a roster not exactly built for a long playoff run.

I was so wrong.

As Tim Murray shipped off whatever talent was left on the roster at the trade deadline the tank discussion was ratcheted up to a level previously thought unreachable. The various social media platforms became a veritable cesspool, as the tankers and anti-tankers became more and more entrenched in their beliefs. Columnists decried the goings on at the foot of Washington Street as immoral, while one particularly prescient radio personality knew all along that this was the right path to take; hell, he was so certain he declared himself worthy of being an NHL scout. Even when you thought it was over, the artist formerly known as “Harry Tee” got his 15 minutes of fame (and scorching hot takes).

When last place was finally cemented in Columbus a few weeks ago it put an end to the debates over Tim Murray’s morals and bemoaning Anders Lindback moonlighting as a capable NHL goaltender. In its place was (finally) the opportunity to take stock of the positives that have been overshadowed by being more concerned about Mike Smith’s sudden inability to get in the way of a hockey puck.

Believe it or not, there have been quite a few positives, both noticeable and not so noticeable, that will make the 2015-16 season (and the summer leading up to hit) much more enjoyable than the last six and a half months. Here are a few things that will ease the sting of that McDavid guy going to Edmonton: Continue reading