Two in the Mailbox – No Need to Panic

The Sabres are back and while it’s only been one game but the team, and the fanbase, are up to their old tricks. Given the leadup to the season opener, and the game’s result, what better time than to do another mailbag?

We’ve got jersey numbers, the Jeff Skinner conundrum, coaching and more.

@Jiml77 – How do you feel about unconventional goalie numbers? 70, 88, 90?

I wore 24 throughout college, partially due to circumstance but it happened to be a number I’d worn in various other sports as a kid. So when that was one of the numbers available to me, I was happy to wear it. Even though it was an odd one. It also treated Adam Berkhoel pretty well at Denver, so who am I to complain?

Overall I think jersey numbers are all about what players make of them. With a few exceptions. 20 became synonymous with Vladislav Tretiak and many who worked with him or looked up to him wore the number as a tribute. I never batted an eye at Ed Belfour, for example. I think for the most part, if the player establishes himself with a certain jersey number, you get used to it. Like Braden Holtby in 70.

That being said, 19 is not a goalie number and I can’t get past Mikko Koskinen wearing it. And I think some odd numbers tend to be easier to get used to than others. Same goes for skaters for the most part. Some numbers plain old stink. But if a player makes it his own, suddenly an otherwise wacky number looks cool.

@ roy_harr – I know this is a big question, but is Krueger dumb? It seems like he’s basically just a charismatic Ted Nolan wrapped up in a soccer scarf. What are the chances he bombs enough to get fired in 2 more years and this terrible train keeps a rolling? (Not want I want, just concerned)

I think the interpretation of Krueger is all in the eye of the beholder. If you think there’s promise for him as a coach, then you’ll applaud his resume and his ability to relate to his players. It is not insignificant that players like Jack Eichel are so quick to compliment him and speak to what he’s done in the locker room. If you’re not a fan of his you’ll look at his tenure as a head coach as dotted with limited success, driven largely by hot goaltending and wonder if his limitations will hold back the team.

Thus far, my biggest worry with regard to his work as their head coach is whether or not he sees the game in the way that is necessary in 2021. Is he capable of seeing which players are valuable in today’s NHL or are his views too dated? A good example is how he described using Rasmus Dahlin on Thursday. He explained that he got more ice time due to the need to create more offense. Does that mean he doesn’t want to create offense all the time? Is he not trying to keep his best, most dangerous players on the ice throughout the game? That’s the sort of thing that can be frustrating. The Jeff Skinner situation is the most obvious and present conversation but you can poke plenty of holes if you’re looking for them.

If you’re hoping Krueger gets fired, I wouldn’t hold your breath. I think he holds a lot of sway in the organization and that the Pegulas truly value his views. It would require a monumental failure of a season for him to get fired. I have a feeling that they like how Sean McDermott took control with the Bills and want to try and replicate that with a strong presence as coach of the Sabres. I’ve been wrong before but I don’t think that simply missing the playoffs would spell trouble for Krueger.

@Matt_pollutro – How long until skinner gets traded?

PK Subban and Shea Weber both had monster deasls which I assumed were untradeable and wound up getting swapped for one another. So never say never with regard to Skinner, but I think it would be highly unlikely that he got moved. Maybe they swing something with Seattle in expansion, but I don’t think he’ll get the change of scenery treatment. His cap hit is way too big with the league’s flat cap.

The best (and only) solution is for Krueger and Skinner to meet each other in the middle. The Sabres can’t continue to get little to no support from the veterans they sign to longer deals. Skinner is hardly wasted as an contributor, his coach needs to make some concessions but Skinner needs to prove that he’s willing to work in their system at least a little bit.

@Sabersrumormill – Over under: Tage Thompson score 25 goals and 45 points

Under. That’s a 35 goal, 65 point pace over an 82-game schedule, so I think that’s aiming too high. If he stays with Eichel and Hall for the entire season, I think you could realistically aim for a 15 goal output as a high water mark. That would be worth about 20 goals or so in a normal year and that’s pretty decent production. I’m also pretty confident that you’ll see Thompson rotate in and out with a few other players as the season progresses, so his pace will ebb and flow depending on linemates and deployment.

@Kevinpalmer – With what feels like some sort of urgency to win now with the one year deals, Jack’s lament, and their drought do you think the younger guys will have a short leash or be benched for vets?

I haven’t been able to get a good read on how Krueger operates in this respect. Mainly because there wasn’t much room for younger guys on the roster to begin with. I suppose you can use Arttu Ruotsalainen as an example here. I struggle to understand why he wouldn’t at least have made Buffalo’s taxi squad. Maybe that’s because Krueger and the organization wants to rely on the veterans on their roster. It’s hard to say because I think they know Dylan Cozens is going to be a key player for them and I don’t foresee him getting buried in the press box or on a line that only gets eight minutes each night.

It feels like beating a dead horse but it would be nice if there were just a couple more spots to debate this over. If Will Borgen and CJ Smith were in a position to be fighting for ice time, for example. I suppose given that younger guys like that can’t really get a look due to veterans that it would point to Buffalo’s preferences.

@Eddy_tabone – Do you have any outstanding jersey number change requests on the roster? And what are the ideal replacement numbers if so?

I think Tage Thompson is the only one left with a funky number. He wore 29 at UConn and I believe that number is available for the Sabres. Other than that I think they’re fairly set. Which is nice I guess.

@Kopyj – 1) How do you think Larkin will do as the wings captain?  2) Three Favorite Goalie Masks this year? 3) Will any WJC21 players make an impact for their teams? 4) more goals this year for the Sabres Hall or Eichel? 5) Wings destined for 1st pick or another team?

1 – I think he’ll do just fine. I don’t think it’s overly important since their a team in transition so they’re going to see more turnover in the next couple of years. What’s nice from a Wings perspective is that this would indicate he’s there to stay. If there was any concern about him getting moved out, I think this should ease those fears.

2 – Braden Holtby’s mask is killer. The initial backlash really led to an incredible collaboration and a beautiful mask. Not sure if I have two more? Martin Jones has a cool looking mask out in San Jose and Jake Allen’s Habs mask is pretty sharp. Same goes for Cal Petersen out in LA.

3 – Stutzle is the obvious one here. He’s going to get every opportunity to make a splash in LA.

4 – I’ll take Eichel. Even if they play together I think Hall’s best suited as a setup man, so give me Jack.

5 – Given the volatility of the lottery, who knows? But they’re probably going to be up there with Chicago in terms of high lottery odds. They’ve still got another year to grow in my book.

@Foopsy – Why does Ralph Krueger hate Jeff Skinner so much? And if he keeps using Skinner in his current role can you call Terry to have him fired?

I don’t have much of a relationship with TerBear, so I can’t help on number two. As for number one, I’m perplexed by their relationship. Krueger is lauded as this great, intelligent communicator but when it comes to Skinner he’s like any other old school NHL coach. As I mentioned above, this needs to be a two way street.

Skinner needs to show Krueger he will buy in to what’s being sold. I would argue after game one that he was showing signs of that. He made smart plays in his own zone, was good on the forecheck and created chances. It was everything you’d want to see.

But Krueger can’t just bury him in the lineup. He has to give that line minutes, and more importantly, give Skinner an opportunity to thrive. That doesn’t mean first line minutes and a top six role. But he needs linemates who will complement his game and help create offense. If he’s going to get nine minutes a night playing with a rotating cast of grinders then no one should be surprised if he only scores six goals.

@Pyro_boro – Do they need goaltending and why do they need it now more than ever?

Without question. It was arguably their second biggest need this summer behind help at center. Yet they decided to come back with the same duo. The same defense too, for what it’s worth.

I had concerns about Carter Hutton as a target the summer they signed him. He had one good season in a career of average backup play. It was nice that the Sabres got him on a cheap, short deal as opposed to overpaying, but hhe didn’t bring that big year with him. He’s been below average much of his time here and I don’t understand how they could have much confidence in him at all in a condensed and shortened season.

I was beating the drum for Antti Raanta all summer and while he didn’t move, the Coyotes did eventually ship Derek Stepan to help alleviate their salary requirements. I think Raanta could have been had for a song. He’s battled injuries the last few years, but when he’s been healthy he’s been one of the best goalies in the league. A low cost trade to pair a legitimate, quality goalie next to Ullmark in the locker room would have been a coup. Instead, it looks as if it will be 56 games of hoping Ullmark gets hot and stays healthy.

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