Sabres culture change continues with acquisition of Ott

The Buffalo Sabres mission to get tougher took another step forward this evening when they acquired Adam Pardy and Steve Ott from the Dallas Stars for Derek Roy.

After opening free agency with John Scott, Darcy Regier made a major decision in parting with Derek Roy, part of the post-Drury core. Not only does Roy’s departure rid the Sabres of one of their undersized forwards, it rids them of a player whose opinion of the coaching staff and organization seemed to have soured.

Ott is obviously the gem of the trade for Buffalo. He is a gritty center who will fit Lindy Ruff’s system beautifully. Ott hovers above the 50% rate in the faceoff circle, likes to hit and once got in Peter Laviolette’s face. What’s not to like?

Whether or not the Sabres win this trade is debatable. They lose a talented, second line center to pick up a grinder and a fringe defenseman. That isn’t an ideal situation for a team who went through long scoring droughts last season. However, for a locker room widely regarded as stale, mentally weak and in need of a shake up, Ott is exactly the type of player you’re looking for. Continue reading

Sabres draft opens options for the offseason

Based on what Darcy Regier was able to pull off this weekend, there isn’t much debate about the Sabres coming out of draft weekend as winners. Based on a favorable calendar, last weekend’s action may just end up impacting this weekend and Buffalo’s direction for the rest of the offseason.

After snagging two highly-touted centers, one who might just be NHL ready, the Sabres effectively shored up their organizational deficiency down the middle. If Mikhail Grigorenko is to play next season, they will have also potentially found a solution for their immediate need for a number one center.

Terry Pegula welcoming the two newest assets to the Buffalo Sabres. (photo: @BuffaloSabres)

Whether or not Grigorenko will begin his NHL career immediately is up in the air. He is already working out with his team, has expressed interest in wearing number 89 in honor of Alex Mogilny (awesome) and being okay with going back to Quebec if he doesn’t make the big club. It certainly seems like he wants to make the jump right away, and his attitude seems to be right. But that choice will likely be steered by Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier, two guys who aren’t always keen on rushing players along.

However, Grigorenko’s natural ability and perceived skillset could make him a strong candidate for the Sabres roster this fall. Where he may fit on the roster may be determined as early as next week.

The assumed trade of Derek Roy is something just about every Sabres fan has probably thought about or discussed over the past few months. Without knowing if there have been or will be any offers for Roy makes most talk futile, yet there is certainly some flexibility regarding his status on the roster.

As it stands the Sabres aren’t short on centers, they just have short centers. With Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and Roy on the roster, the need isn’t to get another center, it is to get a better center. They might just have that with Grigorenko.

If Grigorenko is to be kept around, he would be filling a spot on a line with scoring punch, which would likely mean moving Roy. The market for Roy is an absolute mystery, but he does have value and a manageable cap hit, which increases his value. If a home could be found for him, it would open things up quite a bit for the Sabres. Continue reading

Do the Sabres struggles trace back to how Lindy Ruff handles his players?

Over his 15-year tenure, Ruff’s job has been called for a number of times. Fans on the radio and message boards have typically been those leading the pitchfork mob, but the media has even begun to levy more criticism against Lindy Ruff as of late.

Most notably, Ruff’s players have come out to question some of the methods he has become known for. Derek Roy and Ville Leino’s locker clean out day remarks were the two that stood out the most in terms of questioning their coach’s approach.

There was a lot of pieces that were kind of out of place,” Leino said. “Also, they’ve got to work with what they were given. We have a lot of good players and we’re a good team, which we proved at the end. We just didn’t get that chemistry and all that right away at the start, and it was probably too late.

Coaches do most of the work, and obviously players want to be better, too. I think we’ve just got to get more out of everybody, which we did at the end. It doesn’t matter who plays if you don’t get their talents out. You’ve got to try to use everybody with what they’re best at. ~ Ville Leino

Terry Pegula and Ted Black have voiced their support for Ruff and Darcy Regier many times. Black all but confirmed the two would be back for 2012-13 at the All-Star break. When it was announced they would return, there wasn’t too much surprise. However, the long stretch of listless hockey last year and ultimately missing the playoffs has brought more heat on the Sabres’ bench boss. Ruff has been coated with Teflon for a long time. However, it seems as if his coating is starting to wear out.

The base of this argument centers around the fact that the Sabres have not won enough hockey games the last few seasons. As most are quick to point out, the Sabres haven’t won a playoff series since 2007. They also failed to make the playoffs last season and suffered through a season-long string of inconsistent play and injuries.

While Lindy Ruff certainly isn’t the only person to blame for the struggles the Sabres suffered through last year, he is certainly part of the puzzle. Ruff didn’t seem capable of righting the ship at various times. He certainly didn’t sit idly by as the Sabres took a nose dive, it just seemed as if he wasn’t capable of finding the answers with the players provided to him. With reports from people on, or close to the team (like Paul Hamilton) that players had begun to tune him out.

Ruff’s ability to utilize his players properly has long been a knock against him, but usually it was centered on his underutilization back-up goaltenders.  The 2011-12 season brought out a mob of fans who felt he wasn’t capable of getting the most out of his scorers as well. Personally, I think this may be Ruff’s greatest failing. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: “Scoring” forwards

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. Continue reading

Depth improved with Ennis playing center

Maybe Lindy Ruff had reached the end of his rope when he decided to skate Tyler Ennis at center, earlier this week. Whether or not that was the case, it is looking like the right decision.

When Monday’s practice Tweets and reports came out, seeing Ennis at center was assumed as merely a temporary stopgap. After all, Luke Adam and Jason Pominville had gone directly to Montreal to meet the team. Ennis remained at center for Tuesday’s game and reprised the role yesterday against the Rangers.

It is no secret that Ruff has grown tired of Adam’s play as of late. The rookie has been demoted to the fourth line and is seeing fewer minutes each night. The struggles culminated in a healthy scratch on Tuesday night, the first game back from his time participating in All-Star weekend.

The scratch, combined with a dire need to produce offense likely thrust Ennis into his current role. There have been no goals through two games, but it would appear that the decision has been a wise one. Ennis is a dynamic offensive player. His nimble, has terrific hands and showed a penchant for sniping last season. He played center during his junior career in Medicine Hat before moving to wing in the NHL. His most recent position change may provide the answer to a question the Sabres have been searching for since July 1. Continue reading

The Morning Skate: Sabres vs. Capitals

The Buffalo Sabres play in their final state-side preseason contest tonight before departing for Germany and the NHL Premiere.

With the roster set for the season, this will be the closest to a regular season contest that anyone has seen to date. Luke Adam is probably the only player who will end up in Rochester; he is filling in for Derek Roy for the time being.

The lines should look something like this:

Vanek – Adam – Pominville

Ennis – Leino – Stafford

Gerbe – Gaustad – Kaleta

Ellis – McCormick – Boyes

Regehr – Myers

Ehrhoff – Leopold

Weber – Sekera

Continue reading

Who wears the ‘C’?

For the first time since the summer of 2008, the Buffalo Sabres are without a full-time captain. The last captain, Craig Rivet, was waived in February and the Sabres have gone without an official captain since.

Tyler Myers wore a letter for the first time as a Sabres against the Hurricanes on Monday.

As the first puckdrop of the 2011-12 season fast approaches, the organization will need to peg the next man to adorn the ‘C’ soon. To offer a barometer for when an announcement may occur, Rivet was named captain on October 8, 2008. Rivet became the 27th captain in franchise history and it is rather unfortunate to think there have been 27 captains in this team’s history. Twelve earned the honor during the “rotating captaincy” years of 2003-04 and 07-08. Now that idea may be the most preposterous thing I have ever heard of. At the most you should have co-captiains – as they had in 2007-08 with Drury and Briere – but it is a shame to think a professional hockey team would need to rotate the captaincy, there had to be one or two candidates who could have easily filled that role.

Personally, I see four front-runners for this honor. Paul Gaustad, Tyler Myers, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. Each have their own pros and cons but are also likely the best candidates to become the 28th captain in Sabres history. With only four players deserving of a look, I am confident that a crime such as a rotation will not occur. Continue reading

Sabres season preview: The Centers

This is the final part in a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres season. Part five focuses on the centers, read the previous entries here: 1,2,3,4,5.

The Buffalo Sabres organization is painfully thin at center. This was a point of emphasis when the offseason began and remains a sticking point today. There was hope that a center would be found either before the draft or when free agency opened. Neither market yielded the result the Sabres desired.

Instead, Buffalo added Ville Leino in hopes of playing him as a pivot with their top six. Leino was a consolation prize, of sorts, after the Sabres missed out on the Brad Richards sweeps. Leino is a dynamic talent who couples silky smooth agility with scary hands. It has been said Leino will translate well to center because he played low in the Flyers system and was a center during his time in Finland.

So far I am sold on Leino stepping in at center. I only saw him in one preseason game, but he finds open ice and clears lanes for his line mates. Although he won’t see time on the penalty kill, I could Leino as an absolute upgrade over Tim Connolly as the “second-line center”. Continue reading