The second round of player grades will focus on Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jochen Hecht and Brad Boyes. These six players are major parts of the core, plus Boyes, and make up a major portion of the Sabres’ top six.
Jason Pominville – A
Pominville was named the team MVP and was the leading scorer with 30 goals and 73 points. Outside of his dominant years playing the wing with Danny Briere, this was the best hockey I have seen Pominville play. He was active in all three zones, played consistently all year and was heads and shoulders better than any other forward on the Buffalo roster.
While Pominville’s second half was somewhat quieter than his first half, he still remained a steady force offensively. I would credit his slight regression on being separated from Thomas Vanek. Regardless, Pominville embraced the captaincy and built a nice standard to try and surpass for next season.
Thomas Vanek – B+
Comparing Vanek’s first half play to his second half play is like comparing Kate Upton to taking a stick in the eye. Vanek was brilliant over the first 41 games of the season. He was flirting with the league leaders in goals and points for some time before tailing off as the season progressed. A lot of that had to do with some lingering injuries that he refused to elaborate upon. I think his struggles can also be tied to moving him away from Jason Pominville.
Vanek has always been somewhat enigmatic. At times he can be an unstoppable force and then completely invisible for stretches after. He basically enjoyed a tremendous first half, followed by a disappointing second half plagued by injury. I give him credit for refusing his injuries to be an excuse for his play. Getting Vanek a steady center to feed him the puck should be a top Darcy Regier’s to-do list.
Derek Roy – B
Derek Roy and Drew Stafford each reversed their ugly first half play with some strong hockey during the stretch run. Roy’s hamstring injury may have lingered during the early portion of the year before fully healing. However, some of his uninspired efforts didn’t seem to be caused by the lack of physical ability.
Roy’s late season success could increase his trade value with some teams. Whether or not he is expected to be traded is anyone’s guess. However, his comments about Lindy Ruff likely sealed his ticket out of town.
Drew Stafford – B-
Stafford did not even come close to the player the Sabres signed to a big extension last summer. He played more than half the season with a handful of goals. Many times he wasn’t noticeable on the ice. Only late in the year did he find chemistry with Tyler Ennis and find new fortune on the scoresheet. I hope his late surge give new hope to those who began to doubt him. I feel like a change of scenery would do wonders for him. Of course, if Zach Parise was somehow on the Sabres’ radar, I would have to think Stafford would be more than pleased to skate with his good friend again.
Jochen Hecht – NA
Hecht’s season was so hampered by injury that he never even had a chance to settle into a regular role. During the time he actually saw steady play, he was solid. Of course, he didn’t see much action for any extended period of time. I have to think his time in Buffalo will come to an end in July. He was pegged as a player to carry the torch after Briere and Drury left. I don’t think he ever reached that pinnacle and he certainly didn’t meet the standards set for the salary he was given.
Brad Boyes – D
Boyes looked like a great acquisition after three weeks last spring, but things quickly changed. Boyes was relegated to the fourth line for most of this season and only saw serious minutes on the power play. Boyes basically was kept around for the power play and shootouts, but he only ever contributed in the skills competition. I question why he was stuck on the fourth line for so long and how much that contributed to his scoring touch disappearing?