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Revisiting Buffalo’s Lottery competition

November 3, 2014

Even after Sam Reinhart had been selected the collective eyes of Sabres Nation were on the 2015 Draft and Connor McDavid. Even as Tim Murray approached the podium in Philadelphia he had three first round picks in this year’s draft sitting in his back pocket and a ragtag roster with fairly limited potential.

Fast forward beyond July 1 and the first month of the season and not much has changed. The Sabres are bearing headfirst towards the draft lottery, allowing an astronomically high number of shots per game, barely scoring and showing little capacity for carrying out any sort of hockey system.

While I don’t endorse rooting for losses, I fully understand the course this team has been set on and I can accept the decisions based on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I put together a post at the end of June that gave a peek at which teams may or may not compete with the Sabres for 30th place in the NHL and the precious 20% lottery share that comes with a dead last finish. Some of the teams that I expected to nosedive have managed to keep their heads above water while others are surprisingly bad. So I decided to take the opportunity to revisit the teams who could sneak in beneath the Sabres in last place.

The entirely subjective 1-5 (one being the highest) ratings I gave each team were designed to reflect my opinion on where a team would likely finish in the final standings. I made a slight change from “Lottery Threat” to “Lottery Chances” to reflect the influence each team could have on the draft. A team with a one means they have a strong likelihood of picking very high. The opposite, of course, is true of a team with a five. After offseason acquisitions and a month of play, my rankings have undergone a slight change as the NHL landscape has taken shape. Read more…

Pipe Dream: Taking the opportunity to upgrade First Niagara Center’s exterior

October 30, 2014

The fanfare surrounding HARBORCENTER isn’t going to die down soon. Nor should it. This is a phenomenal project that will inject all sorts of money and life into downtown Buffalo. It has the added flair of pissing off Tim Tielman and leaving him pouting in his open air bus, clutching to his construction paper and crayon “alternative”.

Just take a minute to look at that thing and tell me it’s not the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever seen. I can’t tell what’s more hysterical, the fishing huts along Main or the rink on a portion of the DL&W Terminal that isn’t currently a platform suitable for a rink.

Make this a statement, not an afterthought.

Anyway, HARBORCENTER is going to be a boon for downtown, the waterfront, Canalside and the arena district as a whole. It has raised some concern over the First Niagara signage on the arena being obstructed and it has also obstructed a vast majority of First Niagara Center’s atrium. The former point probably isn’t all that important. Nor will it be all that difficult to address. The latter, however, should be addressed in some form or function.

I’ve mentioned before that it would be beneficial to re-skin the atrium as a way to improve the visual connection between HARBORCENTER and the arena. The drop off in height and the drastic difference in architecture makes the adjoining buildings look odd, especially from Main Street. So the idea of a visual upgrade makes sense to me.

However, in between portions of our most recent podcast, Eric (of 3rd Man In) and I got to talking about a few aspects of the arena and how the Sabres may be able to improve on the exterior of the building. Read more…

What To Expect Out Of Jonathan Drouin

October 21, 2014

By Matt Scully

Tampa Bay certainly did not wait long in the 2014-2015 regular season to call up top prospect Jonathan Drouin. Just a couple of weeks into the regular season, the 19-year old is set to make an impact at the NHL level right away. While the hype is real surrounding the forward, just how good can he be from a fantasy hockey perspective in year one?

During the preseason, some thought that Drouin would be ready to play on opening night of the regular season. However, a fractured right thumb held him out of some important training opportunities, so Tampa Bay sent him to Syracuse to begin the season.

At the beginning of his NHL career, Tampa Bay expects to play him regularly. After all, it would be silly for them to call up a promising youngster and place him on the bench instead of allowing him to get reps. He will most likely be on the third line at first, and his playmaking at center or left wing should allow him to contribute in fantasy hockey right away. He is worth taking a risk on, especially if a person is in a keeper league.

Tampa Bay is off to a decent start so far this season, as they stand at 3-1-1 on the year. They feel like they have a chance to be pretty competitive in the Eastern Conference if they are able to stay healthy. Drouin is going to have a chance to make this team a serious threat for the Stanley Cup if he is as good as advertised. The Lightning will not be putting huge expectations on him just yet, but they do think he has a chance to be a franchise type of guy down the road once he gets familiar with this level of play.

 

Calling for commemorative banners for Hasek’s jersey retirement

October 20, 2014

Despite lacking a Stanley Cup Championship, the Sabres have a handful of banners adorning the roof of First Niagara Center. This includes 10 division and conference championship banners (and one President’s Trophy) along with six retired numbers. Dominik Hasek’s number 39 will join the French Connection, Tim Horton, Danny Gare and Pat LaFontaine on January 13.

The Sabres commissioned some very cool one-off merchandise for the LaFontaine retirement and I’d love to see them take the same approach this time. In fact, I think it’s a shame that the Sabres don’t offer a full collection of team banners in the Sabres store.

In addition to pictures and t-shirts, I’d assume the Hasek ceremony will also be accompanied by some sort of replica banner available for purchase. Why not make that final item a permanent addition to the Sabres Store? Why not offer the other six retired numbers as well?

I made a few purchases after Florida State won their third National Championship in January. One purchase was this three-pack of National Championship banners. They’re perfect. A uniform, understated design on a 12×18 felt banner which looks good from a distance and up close. I have them hanging from the ceiling in my basement and hopefully I’ll be able to add another in the near future. I’d love to add a few Sabres versions as well.

While the font isn’t uniform on all six retired number banners, the Sabres could make a killing selling replica 12×18 banners of their retired numbers. They could charge at least $50 for the French Connection pack and upwards of $100 for the entire group. I know I’d pay for them and I’m certain other fans would pay for them as well. Other teams do this and I think it’s a major missed opportunity that the Sabres don’t.

It almost seems foolish that the Sabres don’t do this. They sold tacky “Big John” t-shirts last year and have carried a number of very cool commemorative items in the past. Aud Bricks and the French Connection Statue immediately come to mind. This is a terrific money making opportunity that I’m certain fans would eat up. The Sabres need to be on this. Yesterday.

Zadorov is Buffalo’s second prospect impacted by NHL/CHL agreement

October 20, 2014

The Buffalo Sabres have managed to fall victim to the NHL’s agreement with the CHL yet again as they’re stuck in limbo regarding defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

Zadorov’s predicament is quite unique as Bill Hoppe reported this weekend. If you haven’t read Hoppe’s report, do it now. He did a great job digging up the information on Zadorov lacking the release from the Russian club that owns his rights which is preventing him from being sent back to London. Hoppe’s report is an all-encompassing recap of the various issues at play regarding Zadorov’s fate.

Hoppe’s report illustrates the precarious situation the Sabres are in as the CHL agreement comes into play along with the added confusion from St. Petersburg holding some control over where Zadorov can go. It leaves the Sabres with very few options.

The situation is even cloudier when you consider that the Dallas Stars were able to find a loophole that allowed them to send Julius Honka to the AHL despite selecting him from Swift Current in the AHL. This report from Defending Big D notes that Honka was loaned to Swift Current from JYP after he had signed a contract with the SM-Liga club. Because Honka was on loan with Swift Current he was considered a European skater as opposed to a North American skater. It appears this is not true for Zadorov.

What I’m unclear on – and what seems to be one of the overarching questions – is Zadorov’s status with SKA and why he wouldn’t qualify for the same loophole as Honka.

Zadorov played for CSKA Moscow prior to heading to London to play in the OHL and it would appear his rights were later traded or otherwise acquired by SKA. Based on my read of the situation I would assume that is why he wouldn’t qualify for the same exemption as Honka. I’m somewhat surprised that the Sabres haven’t tried to take the league to task on this as the situation between Zadorov and the Sabres and Honka and the Stars does share a few very similar traits. Of course, there are some stark differences as well.

Ultimately, the Sabres have been done in by the NHL/CHL agreement again and are struggling to find an out; and that’s truly the root of the issue here. Read more…

Double Minors: Sabres grab first points with shootout win

October 15, 2014

The Sabres are in the left hand column, registering a shootout victory over one of the primary competitors for the top picks in June’s draft.

For those keeping track of each and every game for tanking purposes, the fact that Carolina managed to tie and send the game to overtime was helpful as the Canes still wound up with a point. Meanwhile, the Sabres still managed to trail in a number of major statistical categories despite pulling out the victory.

It’s woefully early in the year to start comparing the Sabres to the rest of the league but their four games are beginning to paint a telling picture. The Sabres have allowed over 70 attempts at goal in each of their four contests, being out-shot 156-83 along the way. While that may not sustain itself through the entire season, the Sabres are clearly struggling to possess the puck with any sort of authority and have paid for it on the scoreboard.

Buffalo’s biggest issues appear to come with their defensive zone breakouts. There is barely any sort of semblance of a system in place with many zone exits and when combined with poor passing, puts the Sabres back on their heels. It could simply be a situation of bringing the forwards a bit deeper into the zone in order to shorten passes and find lanes to complete the breakout. It may also just be execution of the system in place as there have been countless sloppy plays made by every person on the ice.

It’s odd because often there’s only one glaring weak point in a team’s breakout – passing, board play, execution – but the Sabres have been able to hit on every facet. Further, the disjointed breakout that is acting as little more than a punt back to the other team’s defensemen has also led to breakdowns in Buffalo’s forecheck. Their lack of possession has served as a trickle down to unsuccessful dump-ins or mishandled zone entries that ultimately wind up back in the Buffalo end of the ice. All of these factors add up to show why the Sabres are seeing so many more pucks directed towards their net and why the ice feels tilted in the wrong direction. Read more…

716 Sports Podcast guest appearance

October 15, 2014

I was asked to come step in as a guest on the 716 Sports Podcast yesterday and had a great time talking about the Bills, Sabres, Pegula and Buffalo with the group. The guys get together on a weekly basis and produce a very strong product, I highly recommend checking them out regularly. Enjoy my Ed Jovanovski reference about halfway through.

Click here to listen direct.

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