A fired coach, traded captain, booing fans and missing the playoffs typically doesn’t not make for a very successful season. That was certainly the case for the 2013 Buffalo Sabres.
While there were a few bright spots amongst the doom and gloom, the lockout shortened season is certainly one to forget for the Sabres. Before shutting the door completely I wanted to grade out the team and players on how the year played out.
Coaching: It had been rumored that Lindy Ruff’s message had grown stale some time ago. Finally, after a number of listless losses, Ruff was fired after nearly two decades coaching the Sabres. Frankly, it just looked like the team had tuned him out and needed a change. While Ron Rolston arrived and helped to energize the roster, his presence wasn’t enough to lift the Sabres back into playoff contention. Entering the offseason, many are wondering if Rolston will have the “interim” tag removed from his title and command the bench for a full season. Grade: C
Powerplay: It is almost as if the Sabres don’t consider the possibility of an odd-man rush against while on the power play. It also seems likely that trying the same thing over and over again (zone entry) is not the definition of insanity. The power play simply wasn’t good this season and endured a massive dry spell in the thick of Buffalo’s ugliest stretch of losing. They would get an F but they managed to score every now and then. Grade: D+
Penalty Kill: Buffalo decided to run a unique, if not peculiar penalty kill which basically turns into a 1-1-2 in the zone and rotates with the puck. After Ruff’s departure it appeared as if things began to change, but the base of the kill still worked off the 1-1-2 set up seen earlier in the year. I personally didn’t like it as the second forward was rarely in the right position to deny passes across the zone. Grade: C-
Management: A lot was made over the end of the season press conference and other silliness. My focus is on what Darcy Regier did for the hockey team and if he made them better or worse. He traded away two veteran defensemen and his captain and came away with a first round pick, five second round picks, Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett. Overall it was a solid haul for what was given up (Leopold and Regehr) but the pieces acquired really won’t have much impact for at least two more seasons. Add in the firing of Ruff and it was a pretty tough four months for Regier. While he handled himself well I find it hard to see how he still has the reigns for this rebuild. Grade: C
Jason Pominville: I didn’t want to leave any stones unturned and this includes the trio of players who were shipped out. Starting with the departed captain, the Sabres got great return for the homegrown talent and he also chipped in well during the year. Taking his play at face value late in his time here, it appeared as if he had checked out. Still, his contributions on the HPV Line were great. Perhaps if the Sabres had a little more depth things would have been different. Grade: B
Cody Hodgson: The second member of the HPV Line had a great showing getting first line minutes this season. His defensive contributions weren’t really contributions at all which ended up being an issue in many games. Hodgson’s progression was quite impressive and he certainly showcased the type of offensive talent the Sabres are searching for at center. However, if he can’t defend it will be a major issue. Grade: B
Thomas Vanek: Buffalo’s best forward from beginning to end, Vanek suffered through a brief cold spell in the middle of the year that coincided with at least one injury that caused him to miss some time. It is a safe assumption that he finished the year with at least one relatively serious ailment. Regardless of his health, Vanek was one of Buffalo’s only significant contributors and his numbers reflected that. Grade: A-
Marcus Foligno: Foligno’s sophomore season was his first full season. So technically it was his first season, but that’s all semantics. Foligno wasn’t able to recapture the magic he had over the final weeks of last season and his numbers and ice time suffered for it. Ending the year filling a fourth line role as a center, I felt as if Foligno’s physical game really tapered off as the games became more meaningless. Seems to me like he may need a little more motivation to keep the nasty edge that mixed so well with his skill last year. Grade: C-
Tyler Ennis: Buffalo’s de factor #2 center, Ennis had a streaky year and was quite invisible on many nights. Fans have started to point to his puck overhandling as a negative and I can’t say I disagree at times. Ennis may just be expendable as the offseason opens despite the high ceiling on his talent. Grade: C+
Drew Stafford: There were rumors that Stafford spent the year filming Hollow Man 2 based on the number of times you actually saw him on the ice (rim shot). Stafford had nothing short of a maddening year that came nowhere close to justifying his salary. There were rumors he was nearly traded at the deadline and many expect him to depart in the summer. Unless he finds his touch again I’d say a change of scenery might do him some good. Grade: D
Steve Ott: Ott became everyone’s favorite Sabre this season as he played with grit, tenacity and passion in every game. He was rewarded with a letter towards the end of the season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him extended once July 5 rolls around. Ott’s all-around game gave the Sabres great value in the Derek Roy trade, regardless if they made the playoffs or not. Grade: A-
Jochen Hecht: Signed to provide a little stability down the middle, Hecht saw his minutes balloon as Ville Leino hit the shelf and Mikhail Grigorenko was handled about as well as the raptor at the beginning of Jurassic Park. Hecht wasn’t bad but he wasn’t productive either. It was good to have him finish his career in Buffalo despite his best hockey being behind him. I have to think he wouldn’t have had a roster spot on many other NHL teams. Grade: C-
Nathan Gerbe: Gerbe is lauded for his effort but typically has his actual contributions overlooked. He still hasn’t been able to recapture the skillset that won him his extension two years ago. Perhaps it is because he sees lower line minutes, but I just don’t see a proper place for him on this roster. Not this year or moving forward. Grade: C
Patrick Kaleta: You won’t find me complaining about what Patrick Kaleta brings to the table. He plays balls out, fills his role in the bottom six beautifully and is a phenomenal penalty killer. His injury history is lengthy as you would expect for someone who plays his style, but he had another consistent year. I care very little about his offensive contributions simply because he doesn’t need to find the scoresheet to have an impact. Grade: B+
John Scott: Scott was signed to be the nuclear deterrent and he was probably successful in doing that. My issue is that there are only a few guys in the league who can only be fought by Scott. Most other fighters are in Cody McCormick’s weight class and skillset. Scott was probably a great addition in the room, but I’m not sure how much he brought on the ice. Grade C-
Kevin Porter: Porter was a late recall but proved his worth upon his arrival. A player who I favored while he was in Colorado, Porter is a great two-way presence who would look great on the fourth line with Pat Kaleta on his wing. That’s something to think about for the future. As for last year, he was playing more minutes that you want him to see and didn’t offer much offensively, but he was strong in his zone, which is nice. Grade: B-
Brian Flynn: Like Porter, Flynn came in late but was impressive. He is speedy, responsible and has a nose for the net. I’d say he doesn’t offer much more than a third or fourth line right wing with offensive upside at this point. However, I think there is some potential there. One question though; If you need to pick one, do you take Flynn or Corey Tropp on your final roster? Grade: B-
Mikhail Grigorenko: I can’t say I like the way Grigorenko was handled this year but he didn’t show all that much during his first stint with the big club. It is obvious that he needs quality minutes, quality linemates and quality coaching along the way and I don’t know how much of that he was getting before being sent back to Quebec. We will see how he fares next season. Grade: C+
Ville Leino: Leino only saw a few games before getting shelved for the rest of the year. I think his injury is the key contributor to Hecht seeing more minutes and the reason why Grigorenko bounced around so much. I will say he was terrific in the eight games he played. Did he save himself from a buyout is the important question. Grade: Incomplete
Cody McCormick & Luke Adam: Both only received a handful of games while spending most of the season in Rochester. McCormick’s salary makes him a tough pill to swallow while Adam just can’t seem to find his footing at the NHL level. Both are incomplete grades in my book and it might be worth a cursory glance to see if they’re around in September.