Pump the brakes on the Vanek to New Jersey talk

The Devils are in trouble. They’re in big trouble.

A year after Zach Parise left town the team has seen David Clarkson and now Ilya Kovalchuk bolt for greener pastures as the organization is suddenly looking like a quickly sinking ship as entrenched veterans continue to jump ship.

With Kovalchuk’s sudden departure the Devils are now left with Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe as their top two scoring wingers on a roster that is starting to look devoid of much talent. All this shuffling has gotten Sabres fans talking about a potential trade partner for the services of Thomas Vanek. However, they’re forgetting that the Devils don’t have very much to offer in exchange for the talented sniper.

New Jersey does not have a deep prospect pool by any stretch. They have some young, budding stars in Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson in addition to a great center in Travis Zajac. However, they’re without their first round pick next year (as a penalty for Kovalchuk’s contract), spent a first on Stefan Matteau last season and shipped their first rounder for Corey Schneider at the draft this season.

While there is some significant talent on their NHL roster – and some defensive value in their pipeline – I don’t think there’s any way the Sabres are able to swing a trade with the Devils. Reason being, the Devils won’t have anything to offer. Continue reading

Trading Ryan Miller: Who will be looking to buy?

This will serve as the second portion to a post that I put up last week on the prospects of trading Ryan Miller

After exploring which teams may or may not make Ryan Miller’s no-trade list, I wanted to take things a step further and determine which teams may serve as suitors for the netminder. By doing so I wanted to determine which teams would have little interest in him as well.

As is well-known, Miller’s no-trade clause allows him to veto a trade to eight different teams. This may end up being a list that significantly handcuffs Darcy Regier but it could also serve as a list that does indeed limit options, but doesn’t prevent Regeir from effectively doing his job.

I decided to include the 11 different teams which Miller may veto a trade to on this list. I wanted to provide a comprehensive collection of the direction I’d assume each NHL club to take if approached about Ryan Miller.

Count the Rangers (Lundqvist) and Penguins (MAF) in a group of teams who would not provide themselves with a significant upgrade in acquiring Miller. Boston (Rask), Nashville (Rinne), Los Angeles (Quick), Vancouver (Schneider), Montreal (Price) and Detroit (Howard) are also on this list. Each of those seven teams have determined their goaltender of the future (and present) and wouldn’t provide their team with any sort of significant upgrade by bringing Miller into the fold.

There is another large group of teams who have a solid netminder and fall in the middle of the road when I consider potential suitors. They probably all lean closer to a no than a yes and here’s why: Continue reading

2ITB Stanley Cup Finals prediction

With the Stanley Cup Final poised to begin this weekend, I’ll take one final stab at prognosticating who may win the final series of the 2011-12 NHL season. I suffered through an up-and-down run of picking this year’s series and stand at 5-8 entering the Finals.

This year pits a pair of unexpected opponents as neither entered the playoffs as a sexy pick to be playing for the Cup. While the Kings have been an annual choice for pre-season success, they had an underwhelming regular season and nosed their way into the playoffs. The Devils were quiet for most of the year and are just now getting fully healthy. While their aging goaltender was average in the regular season, he has been stellar in the playoffs.

Somewhat ironically, the Devils enter this series as the more potent scoring team as the Kings were the team whose blanketing defense helped them through the regular season. However, Los Angeles has played David to the NHL’s Goliath this spring, knocking off the top three seeds out west thanks to terrific goaltending and a recent injection of offense.

This may serve to be a very entertaining Cup Final, and has the potential to make a major impact on the national sports scene with LA as part of the series. While the NHL and NBC didn’t get their silver platter matchup of the Rangers and Kings, the Devils seem to be slowly reminding people in the tri-state area that hockey is indeed a serious sport. Continue reading

2ITB Conference Finals predictions

With the Conference Finals poised to begin, my somewhat successful prediction rate plummeted in the second round. With Phoenix, Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York advancing, I will try my hand at picking the two teams that will face off for the Stanley Cup.

Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings

This is the matchup that all of zero people penciled in for the Western Conference Final back in October. Both teams had to scratch and claw over the final weeks of the regular season just to cement their respective playoff berths and each team has received tremendous goaltending.

Mike Smith is doing a fine job backing up the argument that a franchise goaltender in un-necessary, while Jonathon Quick (and Marty Brodeur, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne etc.) have done plenty to prove that a legitimate 1A goaltender is a key for playoff success.

Both teams play a pretty boring style of collapsing and blocking shots whenever possible. Each club has a defensive style that chokes out their opponents. They rely on their goaltenders to do the heavy lifting when necessary but typically limit as many shots and chances as possible. Continue reading

Double Minors: Offense falls short as playoff hopes dwindle

The Sabres are inching perilously close to entering sell mode as they mustered only one goal for the second-straight game. It was the 34th game the Sabres failed to score three goals, Buffalo has won only six times when scoring fewer than three goals.

Ryan Miller had another fine effort that was squandered by Buffalo’s offensive output. Say what you will about Buffalo’s goaltending this season, but the one constant has been the lack of offense produced by this team. Ryan Miller had a substantial slump this year, but has been dazzling since the All-Star break – and even in a few games prior. Beginning with Buffalo’s 2-1 shootout win against New Jersey immediately prior to the break, Miller has allowed 12 goals in eight games. Buffalo has scored 17 goals over that same span. Keep in mind that number is augmented by the 6-0 win over Boston.

If the dire need for scoring isn’t giving Darcy Regier a perpetual headache, I’d be shocked. The obvious conundrum of trying to swap out current players for new ones capable of changing the Sabres’ offensive output is going to be challenging. But there needs to be something done about the inability to score goals at FNC.

The Sabres had their fair share of struggles tonight. Their penalty box parade handcuffed them and the lopsided penalty numbers (Seven minors to two) were incredibly skewed. Regardless, not capitalizing on chances is a worthy excuse for a few games, but this team has been all Swedish and no Finnish this year.

  • It is convenient the Marty Brodeur brings his A-game against the Sabres every game, even in an off-year. He robbed the Sabres on multiple occasions and has been sterling for the entire season series.
  • Based on the video, the Myers/Sekera pairing had a rough night. Obviously Sekera’s deflection and his gaffe at the blue line are glaring errors. But the pair as a whole struggled. I’d assume you see Myers and Ehrhoff back together once Ehrhoff is healthy.
  • Regardless if Thomas Vanek scored that goal or not, he and Jason Pominville remain the only two viable offensive threats the Sabres have. As I said, something will need to be done soon and I’m hopeful the trade deadline is where the retooling begins.
  • Zack Kassian still has a lot to learn. I’m not quite sure if he can learn it by getting nine minutes a night. He is showing flashes that he has the skill this team is looking for. I maintain that he needs a guiding force that can get him to play that gritty game on a nightly basis.
  • Second thought on Kassian. Is it possible that his recall was motivated by potential trade suitors? There is a chance that he is being showcased or that he will be stepping up to a bigger role if certain players are moved.
  • The penalty situation the Sabres have found them in recently has not been helpful. It seems as if they have been on the wrong side of the coin for each of their last few games. Tonight in particular was tough to swallow. Granted, Buffalo did it to themselves with lazy, offensive zone penalties.
  • I don’t see the Sabres remaining in a position to make a playoff push any longer. The few losses they have to give are evaporating quickly and they don’t appear to have the offense necessary to make a proper push. The deadline is looming, lets see what moves are made.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: No room for error against Devils

Happy Valentines Day, we are two weeks away from the trade deadline and the Sabres are in must-win mode for the rest of the season.

The Sabres aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they are in a position where they need every point available to play in the second season.

There is a chance that Lindy Ruff will be back behind the bench, but that has yet to be confirmed. Zack Kassian appears as if he will remain on the wing with Brad Boyes and Matt Ellis for the near future. Buffalo is still without Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick, but are otherwise healthy – particularly with regards to their skill players.

Buffalo’s lack of scoring and slow starts have been just about an epidemic this season. The Sabres need to shake that habit immediately if they expect to be playing well into April. That starts with finishing chances. Buffalo has missed on a number of glorious opportunities this season and it has reflected in the standings. Ryan Miller has been providing excellent goaltending as of late but hasn’t gotten the necessary goal support.

If Buffalo can score more than three goals for more than just two games in a row, they will have a punchers chance at reaching the postseason.

Highlighted Matchup

Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek vs. New Jersey’s defense. There is no mistaking the two most valuable players on Buffalo’s roster this season. Vanek has been back for two games and has a goal and an assist. Pominville has the same stat line in those two games. It just so happens each assisted on the other’s goal. New Jersey’s defense has gotten pretty thin as of late and Buffalo could really take advantage of a weak set of defensemen tonight. Of course they also have to deal with Marty Brodeur.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Ryan Miller

NJD: Martin Brodeur

Last Meeting

Sabres 2 – Devils 1 SO, Prudential Center, 1/24/2012

Double Minors sprinkled with stats

Last night’s loss was yet another performance in which Ryan Miller surrendered at least three goals. In fact, Miller has allowed at least three goals in seven of the ten games he has started since returning from injury.

However, last night also marked the ninth game in the last fifteen which the Sabres failed to score more than twice. The Sabres scored only once in six of those nine contests. Only twice in the past 15 games have Buffalo scored at least three goals only to lose a game. Clearly Buffalo’s issues go far beyond the goal crease.

Buffalo managed only a handful of scoring chances last night, most coming with the man advantage. At even strength the Sabres were rather stagnant. Yet again, secondary offense was absent for most of the game. While Thomas Vanek added yet another point to a fantastic year, he received no help from the likes of Brad Boyes, Drew Stafford or anyone else who would be considered outside the top-six.

There is no debating that Ryan Miller is not playing at an all-world level. A basic eye test would show strong efforts on most nights, however his is still allowing three goals and hovering around a .900 save percentage on most nights. Obviously his game needs to be elevated.

What is unfortunate is that the team in front of Miller doesn’t appear to have the ability to provide the scoring support their goaltending needs. It is becoming obvious that Miller (or Jhonas Enroth) will need to steal any win the Sabres get.

It is clear that a shake up is in order. Whether that is in the locker room or on the coaching staff, something needs to change and it needs to change now. This team will have trouble staying between ninth and eleventh in the East, let alone scratching into the playoffs.

  • Vanek and Pominville have truly reacted to their responsibilities as leaders. They have stepped up and become leaders on the ice. The same can’t be said to the other three wearing letters this season (9, 21, 28).
  • Losing Andrej Sekera certainly isn’t a good thing. First, it means that Marc-Andre Gragnani will see a few games. Second, Sekera had been one of the most consistent defenders for the Sabres this season. His play as of late has tailed off, but he was certainly bringing some stability to the blue line.
  • The Sabres won the special teams battle last night, they didn’t win much else. The shots were even, the Sabres only sustained zone time came with the man advantage and Buffalo didn’t create very much offensively.
  • Miller made a few sparkling saves to keep the game respectable last night. You probably want him to stop the first goal, but there wasn’t much he could do on the second or third markers. Still, Miller will need to steal a game or two if the Sabres are hoping to go on a run.
  • Enough is enough regarding Luke Adam. Sure, he has a good bond with Zack Kassian. But the Sabres had the most success with him centering Vanek and Pominville. It is astounding that Lindy Ruff won’t reunite that line.