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Surprises on Opening Night Rosters

October 11, 2014
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Every year there are relatively unknown players that work their way onto opening night rosters. Luke Adam for the Sabres in 2011 and Cory Conacher for Tampa Bay in 2012 are examples of players not only finding their way onto rosters, but contributing right away. While those immediate impacts were short lived, and instances of a relatively unknown player bursting onto the season as those two did are pretty rare, there are players on every roster that no one expected to be there. Here is one player from every NHL team (except the Sabres) who are surprises on opening rosters, unknown to the league (and the fans) or both.

William Karlsson, Anaheim Ducks- The 21 Swede spent the majority of last season playing in Sweden before making cameo with Norfolk of the AHL. He posted nine points in nine regular season games and three points in eight games for the Admirals. While he is on the opening night roster, he looks to be in a battle with Rickard Rackell, who got his first extended look in the NHL last season, for the Ducks’ last center spot.

Justin Hodgman, Arizona Coyotes- He’s bounced around from Fort Wayne to the KHL before signing a two-way deal with Arizona at the age of 26. He’s not a scorer, having neot registered a 20 goal season since he was in the OHL, but may find a home on the Coyote’s 4th line.

Bobby Robins, Boston Bruins- The 32 year old journeyman racked up over 300 career AHL games, along with making stops in Great Britain, Austria, and Slovenia, before cracking an NHL lineup with the Bruins on Wednesday night. He even got in his first NHL fight, with Luke Schenn.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames- Gaudreau is not exactly an unknown to hockey fans after he torched the NCAA during his two years at Boston College. He got a one game audition towards the end of last season with the Flames and found the back of the net. He’ll get a chance to stick with the big club during his first full pro season.

Patrick Brown, Carolina Hurricanes- The 22 year old will start his first professional season in the NHL after four years at Boston College. He begins the years on the ‘Canes’ 4th line with Riley Nash and Chris Terry.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Chicago Blackhawks- The kid brother of Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk made the Blackhawks roster after the team had to trade Nick Leddy because of cap issues. The 23 year old has been skating alongside Niklas Hjalmarsson in practice recently.

Dennis Everberg, Colorado Avalanche- Everberg is new to North America after playing the last five years in Sweden. At 6’ 4” Everberg definitely has the size, and will get a look on the Avalanche’s 4th line. Read more…

Double Minors: Jackets topple Sabres in season opener

October 10, 2014

The Sabres finally played a game that counted and it has left many fans counting the days (259 as of October 10) until a Connor McDavid jersey isn’t a faux pas.

Buffalo was thoroughly outplayed by a shorthanded Blue Jackets team last night, losing 3-1 and being dominated in terms of puck possession. Even with Ryan Johansen seeing his first ice with NHL players since the playoffs and with Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray and Nathan Horton on the shelf, the Blue Jackets were the better team for nearly the entire evening.

However, the Sabres were in the game right up until the final minutes. Jhonas Enroth was steady as he turned aside 37 shots and Zemgus Girgensons turned in an impressive individual effort to tie the game at one in the second.

In the end, it was about as textbook of a result that many Sabres fans may be hoping for this season. There is a fair segment of those who simply want the team to win now at all costs. There is another segment who are actively hoping for losses as the prize at the end of the rainbow surpasses any short-term success in their eye. Then there is a third segment. One which seems content watching the Sabres night-in and night-out, hoping to see a win but taking solace that a loss isn’t something to worry over.

Last night showed a Sabres team with some improved pieces, guys who will try hard and be more entertaining to watch but a group which will likely fall behind the pace of most other NHL clubs. Only Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges and Zemgus Girgensons had positive Corsi ratings at even strength (each was plus-one) while the entire roster was well into the negatives in all situations. I’d expect this to be the case through many games this season.

Of course, it is only one game. Enroth shouldn’t be expected to dazzle every night and he’ll certainly have his cold streaks. Buffalo will find their footing and put up a better fight in many games. The Sabres are going to be easier to consume than last year’s roster. However, this is still not a team that is built for puck possession and the very early returns didn’t show much improvement on special teams.

I’d imagine the biggest challenge for fans this season will be to not over analyze each and every game and how they affect Buffalo’s chances to pick first. It’s a long year and there are far too many positive story lines to follow instead of pulling out your hair hoping that the Sabres earn a stranglehold on 30th place. Read more…

Sabres should improve but still won’t contend in 2014-15

October 8, 2014

Things are going to be better for the Sabres this year. Mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last year.

Buffalo finished last in the NHL by a country mile. The Sabres were 14 points back of the 29th place Florida Panthers, the same Florida Panthers who also finished 29th in goals for in 2013-14 (39 goals better than the Sabres).

Tim Murray had quite a reclamation project to work on as he inherited a team that was 14 points and 39 goals south of the second-to-last team in the league last year. If the status-quo were to remain, the Sabres would have quite a hill to climb just to leap frog one team, let alone make a run at the playoffs.

Buffalo’s historically bad season was accomplished with only a month-and-a-half of Thomas Vanek, and interim stay from Matt Moulson and two-thirds of the year with Ryan Miller. Miller’s .923 save percentage was good for a monumental point share during his time here and I’ll be interested to see how Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth perform as a tandem.

Enroth is without doubt the number one goaltender on the roster. To say Neuvirth was shaky during the preseason would be an understatement and he may need a little more time to settle into a groove. Meanwhile, Enroth was tremendous in his preseason appearances and he’ll certainly see the lion’s share of the work early on this year. Will he be able to improve on his .911 save percentage? Will he avoid the lengthy losing streaks that have plagued his young career? The latter is perhaps the most important question here as Enroth’s up-and-down performances have been nothing short of a Jekyll and Hyde of goaltending.

It’s safe to say that there will be a slight decrease in performance in the Buffalo crease. It may not be a regression so steep that it costs the team multiple wins, but it’s safe to assume that the expectations in net will differ from recent years.

Of course, the Sabres roster is vastly improved. The team that will take the ice on Thursday is heads and shoulders better than the one that took the ice in 2013-14. In addition to the departures of Vanek and Miller, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff, John Scott, Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain and Matt D’Agostini are all gone. There is some good and bad in that group, but the Sabres are more than improved from top to bottom.

A full season of Moulson and Chris Stewart alone should inject a fair bit of life into the Sabres offense as should the addition of Brian Gionta. With 23, 15 and 11 goals scored by the trio last season, it’s easy to say the Sabres have indeed made up their 40-goal shortfall from last season. Putting Moulson on the wing with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford could potentially give the Sabres a bona fide scoring line, although I’m not expecting anyone in blue and gold to surpass 30 goals this season. Read more…

A look at how the Sabres roster might shake out

October 6, 2014

UPDATE: This was written as the news regarding Mikhail Grigorenko’s demotion broke.

The puck officially drops on the Buffalo Sabres season on Thursday night when Columbus rolls into town. Today marks the final day for roster trimming and the Sabres still have a few moves to make in order to work their way to 23 players.

Ted Nolan’s job isn’t going to be easy, especially when it comes to choosing his forwards.

Buffalo’s roster, for the most part, is fairly easy to project. A handful of defensemen – Tyler Myers, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros, Mike Weber and Andre Benoit – are all but assured a spot as are a fair group of forwards. Namely Brian Gionta, Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, Chris Stewart, Marcus Foligno, Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford and Zemgus Girgensons.

That leaves only a few spots for a number of players. Read more…

Buffalo can take a page from Cleveland’s book on a waterfront project

October 6, 2014

You may have heard that Cleveland has been on a bit of a run lately. Similar to Buffalo, Cleveland has been working to reinvigorate their downtown core and much of their work is paying off as the 2016 Republican National Convention will descend upon the burning river. lakefrontpedestriandrawbridge_01

Much of what’s happening in Cleveland, however, is working to shake the opinion that it’s a rust laden burg with little to offer. In fact, the city planning in Cleveland over the past 30 or 40 years wasn’t nearly as bad as Buffalo’s which has given our Ohio cousins a bit of a headstart when it comes to revitalization. Cleveland is on the brink of adding countless new projects to their books that probably would labor in public hearings and subcommittees in Western New York for months (if not years) before dying on the vine or being drastically scaled back before construction.

For example, Cleveland will soon be home to a gleaming 28-story Hilton hotel tower that will connect with their convention center as an anchor for major national and international conventions. Buffalo’s bunker of a convention center is so far obsolete that any such hotel project would be a non-starter, but I can hear the cries from Donn Esmonde and his cronies about the lack of architectural integrity and historical consideration based on the sleek tower’s design.

Buffalo does have plenty to brag about. HARBORCENTER will be hosting games and serving up food at (716) before the month is over, the Embassy Suites anchor one of my favorite buildings in Buffalo and the Delaware North Tower is rising at an incredible clip. So don’t mistake consternation over Cleveland’s success for ignorance of everything great happening in Buffalo. In fact, Buffalo’s civic leaders ought to lift a page right out of Cleveland’s book.

One of the many projects that are working towards completion in Cleveland is a 143-foot pedestrian drawbridge that will connect portions of Cleveland’s lakefront. As the picture above shows, this is a visually pleasing bridge that will provide direct pedestrian access to an otherwise difficult to reach location. Sound familiar?

Buffalo will have a neat and convenient ferry that will shuttle people and bicycles from Canalside to the Outer Harbor in quick trips that will reduce or eliminate the need to even trek down a newly renovated Ohio St.  With the long-term plan of putting an at-grade bridge across the Buffalo River, why not look into a pedestrian bridge like the one above as a compliment to everything else that is being worked on?

The project cost of the Cleveland project is $5.5 million. That’s not small potatoes. Considering that any span across the Buffalo River would be nearly three or four times the length and the bridge would need to draw high enough to allow the lake freighters through as well. The easiest location would be to connect across near the end or Erie street or even at the mouth of the river across to the lighthouse walkway.

Unfortunately the shortest span would be at the mouth of the river and even that length would likely far surpass the $5.5 million price tag of the Cleveland bridge. I could see that making this a cost-prohibitive project. But maybe a bridge, combined with the new ferry and a renovated Ohio St., would buy more time for a vehicle bridge at the inner harbor. Maybe it’s simply time to strike out and add another signature item to our bustling waterfront.

 

 

Canalside is Finally Nearing its Potential

September 26, 2014

If you get the chance, take a drive down to Canalside this weekend. Every square inch of concrete has been poured on the historically aligned canals and yet another major milestone has been reached by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation. Now it’s time to wait.IMG_3563

Aside from the literal waiting that will accompany the concrete’s 28-day curing process (per The Buffalo News) it also appears that we will be waiting for the next significant move from the ECHDC. Tom Dee is always careful with his words but he never hesitates to reveal significant items when the opportunity presents itself. Yesterday’s development was no different as Dee said that Canalside is well past it’s tipping point.

I have to disagree with his sentiment. This is the tipping point. Read more…

Between the Pipes: Sabres shutout Canes in preseason home debut

September 23, 2014

It seems safe to assume that Sam Reinhart will be seeing significant minutes in each of the Sabres’ preseason contests. The second overall selection saw action in a second-straight game and had the opportunity to skate in a second line role for the third period.

After opening the game on the “third” line with Chris Stewart and Nicolas Deslauriers, Reinhart was moved between Zac Dalpe and Brian Gionta for the final stanza. He didn’t produce any points but was adept with the puck and played a sound game. While he may not necessarily be ready for the NHL, Reinhart has been displaying the skills that set him apart in the eyes of Tim Murray and the Sabres scouts.

His most impressive play came in the third period when he warded off a forechecker and exhibited enough patience to create time and space and make an outlet pass to Andrej Meszaros behind the Sabres goal. It was a small play that may have gone unnoticed but it was an impressive one. Read more…

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