Double Minor: Discussing Buffalo’s trade deadline strategy

We’re nearly a month away from the trade deadline and the rumor mill is really beginning to heat up. The Sabres are expected to sell off a number of players on expiring deals as Drew Stafford, Chris Stewart, Torrey Mitchell and likely one of the team’s two goaltenders will be shipped out by March 2.

Tim Murray, however, is in a very interesting position. While Buffalo is firmly a seller this year, he also holds a bucket of picks and prospects that have helped make the Sabres system the envy of the league. Given the sheer number of players in the system, it’s very unlikely that all of the assets the Sabres have stockpiled wind up wearing blue and gold. In fact, Murray has admitted that not every player they’ve acquired or drafted will wind up as an NHL player and it’s up to the Sabres to determine who they need to hold on to. This tells me a few things.

First, Murray is very tapped into the assets he has and likely has a very good idea about who he sees as a fit in the near future. Second, he knows that he’s very close to the point of being over-saturated with futures and he needs to start dealing for NHL-ready talent in order to maximize the team’s elite talent and to speed up his rebuild.

As the deadline approaches, how do you think Murray will operate? Should his plan of attack be to continue acquiring picks and prospects or is it time to make some hockey trades? Continue reading

Despite record, in-season changes wouldn’t suit Murray

With the Super Bowl, and all its build up finally over the next major date on the sporting calendar, the start of Spring Training notwithstanding, is the trade NHL trade deadline. While Sabres GM Tim Murray will undoubtedly be tasked with getting the best return for his tradeable assets before the deadline, the Sabres’ current performance on the ice has led fans and media alike to criticize Murray for his perceived lack of action during the franchise worst 14 game losing streak.

While I’m going to steer clear of the tanking discussion at this particular time many people are of the viewpoint that if you’re not even changing anything in the middle of a 14 game losing streak you’re not trying to win. This is an opinion that is a difficult one to argue, but let’s take a look at the cards Tim Murray has to play. Continue reading

Top Prospects Game was Worth the Price of Admission

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. Continue reading

Dreaming Up a Legends Plaza for the New Bills Stadium

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. Continue reading

The Deck is Stacked in Murray’s Favor

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. Continue reading

Jersey Retirement Stirs Hasek Memories

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. Continue reading

How the Sabres’ Prospects Fared at 2015 WJC’s

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. Continue reading