Murray active in second deadline season

The 2014-15 trade deadline was much different for Tim Murray than the 2013-14 deadline when he was just a few months into his new job.

Entering last year’s deadline, Murray was tasked with finding a home for pending UFA goaltender Ryan Miller, pending UFA Steve Ott along with other pieces. Most notably, Matt Moulson, who was also set to enter free agency. deadline

Last year’s deadline saw Murray make four separate deals and acquire a total of six players and four draft picks. He also claimed Cory Conacher on waivers on deadline day. Murray was not facing the same steep challenge at this year’s deadline. He did not have a franchise talent like Miller to deal, while sporting three pending UFAs who held varying levels of average value. The deadline closed with the Sabres having made four trades (again) while acquiring a goaltender, a prospect and four picks.

You certainly can’t give Murray a strong grade for this year’s deadline alone. None of the four deals he made were blockbusters and he wasn’t dealing from a position of power like in 2014. However, looking at the big picture, Murray has positioned himself very well to take the next big step in the rebuild of the Sabres franchise. Continue reading

Kane acquisition represents the next step in Buffalo’s rebuild

Tim Murray has had the arsenal of assets to make a major play for talent going back to his first trade deadline as the Buffalo Sabres general manager. He will enter his second trade deadline with his second major trade in his rear-view mirror.

Murray shipped an impressive package of Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a conditional first round draft pick to Winnipeg in exchange for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf. It’s a trade the provides the Sabres with not one, but two significant pieces that fit in both the short, and long term plans of the organization.

There is some concern that Murray may have sacrificed too much in order to complete the trade but in a world where you have to pay a premium to obtain premium talent, it lines up as a balanced transaction for both teams. Continue reading

Who is the Next Captain of the Sabres?

The Sabres have a bunch of questions that need to at least begin to be addressed this offseason and next season. While everyone focuses on the draft and who is going to put the puck in the net for last year’s worst offensive team, many have forgotten that the Sabres are (once again) without a captain.

There are a couple basic things that I believe the organization should (or should not) do when considering who will be the next person to wear the “C”.

First (and most important) is that the next captain must come from in-house. The cons far outweigh the pros when it comes to naming a player who was just acquired as the captain. The most obvious issue is that it places undue pressure on the new player. No matter the age or experience of a player, when someone is traded to a new team, or signs with a new team as a free agent, they want to make a good first impression. On top of trying to fit in with new teammates and a new system on the ice, the player is faced with trying to acclimate to a new city off the ice. Throw in moving a family and all that comes with it into a new town and the player is juggling all he can handle.

Another concern is that naming a player that is new to the team as a captain is an indictment of the leadership qualities (or lack thereof) of your current roster. By giving the captaincy to a newly acquired player you’re basically telling the 23 guys on your roster, “I don’t think any of you are capable enough or ready enough to assume responsibility for this team.” Given the state of the Sabres’ roster, I’d advise against doing that. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Miller, Sabres outlast Isles for first victory

This probably doesn’t seem too familiar to some out there in Sabres nation. Winning has been something relatively absent from the psyche of Sabres fans for a while and was amplified by the team’s o’fer start to the year.

However an offensive – can I say explosion? – explosion from the Sabres pulled their contest with the Islanders to overtime where Ryan Miller eventually shut the door on two of the three New York shooters on the way to his first victory of the year. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres in the skills competition.

The shootout victory came after yet another shooting gallery effort from the Sabres skaters as they were outshot by the Isles 44-34 on the night and giving Miller another 40-save effort. Miller, who has seen over 40 biscuits in three of his five games, ranks first in shots against and saves in the entire league. As unbelievable as that may be, he has indeed seen the most shots in this young season.

Luckily for the Sabres he has been up to the challenge. I opined earlier this year that if there’s ever a time to want Ryan Miller on a roster it is during an Olympic year. He was a man possessed after his snub in 2006 and saw his name etched on the Vezina after standing on his head in 2009-10. I’m not ready to guarantee an Olympic roster spot or a Vezina season, but I’m fully confident that he will be maintaining this top form for most of the season.

Where there is going to be a disconnect is in the win and loss column. Only 1-4-0, Miller’s record is far from sterling despite his sublime stat line and plenty of shortsighted fans will point to negative decisions as evidence to how overrated, average, overpaid, soft, etc. Miller is. Despite the exact opposite to be true. Continue reading

Sabres have trade chips on the wings

It’s a time of turnover in Hockey Purgatory Heaven with Lindy Ruff getting his walking papers while Jordan Leopold, Jason Pominville and Robyn Regehr each were shipped out of town before the deadline. It appears as if this summer will bring about more change via the trade market for the Sabres as they continue their rebuild.

One key for the Sabres will be finding partners as they search for options to swap out certain players. There have been specific mentions of the need to find more offense from media members in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Nashville. These came from either interviews or game broadcasts on the NHL Network station on XM Radio. Obviously these aren’t confirmed rumors, but the need for more established offensive weapons on certain teams isn’t a difficult conclusion to draw.

Vancouver’s second-straight first round exit have some asking if they need offensive help.

Vancouver’s sweep at the hands of the Sharks has many asking if Alain Vigneault will be back for the 2013-14 season after his team again struggled to score in a first round series defeat. The Canucks aren’t short on elite talent. The Sedins’ production has begun to tail off lately but I’d say their struggles to find talent beyond their top line has been a major issue for them. Identifying more scoring help would immediately improve the overall depth of their forward ranks.

A similar situation has been illustrated with the Kings despite the acquisition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last season. The Kings top six is very impressive, yet they were tied to a number of scoring forwards during the year. While the roster is deep, they continue to win close, low-scoring games on the strength of their goaltender and defense. While I don’t see where they would place a top-six forward, I can certainly understand the connection drawn to improve their offensive potency.

The Blues and the Predators immediately spring to mind for me when I think of offensively challenged Western Conference teams. However, the Blues roster would indicate anything but that. Oshie, Schwartz, Berglund, Tarasenko. This list goes on for a while and forms a youthful, talented core which has the potential to be lethal. The Blues just happen to play a measured, defensive style and don’t allow too many shots. Perhaps they need a certain $6m goaltender. But probably not.

The Preds are actually a curious case. They have two big money players (Rinne and Weber) and made moves at the 2012 deadline to find more offense. However the second Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov didn’t do the trick and now they have retooled a bit with the acquisition of Filip Forsberg. Finding another piece to add to their top six would be extremely helpful towards finding more offense for the Preds; especially after missing the playoffs.

There is a market out west for scoring forwards, there is no denying it. Perhaps the e4s and #CONFIRMEDD tweets and blog posts aren’t flying yet, but media members are looking at the teams they cover and are saying they’re in need of offense. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card

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 Continue reading

Waiting on a surprise from Regier at the deadline

If history is to serve as a guide you can assume that Darcy Regier will make at least one fairly significant move at this year’s deadline. Perhaps a move will come in the days leading to the deadline, but Regier has made at least one move around the deadline in each of his years with the Sabres.

This year is different than most in recent memory due to the struggles on the ice and the calls for change from the fans and media. A great many are rightfully worried that Regier is not the man who should be guiding any sort of rebuilding process as he is the very architect who assembled the flawed roster that has hovered near the bottom of the league this season.

Buffalo will play a trio of games prior to the deadline and a string of losses would all but cement Regier as a seller. Granted many reports have indicated that the Sabres are willing to hear offers on the entire roster, three more losses would leave little doubt that the team will miss the playoffs yet again.

Whether or not you think Regier is the right choice to even begin retooling the Sabres roster is immaterial at this point. Fans have been calling for his head even before Lindy Ruff was fired but it is obvious that management isn’t willing to cut the cord on Regier at this point and the axe certainly won’t fall prior to Wednesday’s deadline.

Regier will indeed be the guy making and taking the calls for the Sabres on deadline day. However, he’s typically been an adept trade negotiator and has shown that his measured patience often yields the best results (see Gaustad, Paul).

I previously opined that the Sabres don’t need to enter this deadline as just sellers and I stand by that argument. This isn’t a team in the middle of a rebuild in which additional picks and prospects are the ideal return. The Sabres are a team with a flawed construction that could use a facelift. That means that hockey trades and some recycling would likely be in the best interest for the roster.

Moves like last year’s Cody Hodgson trade will allow for the Sabres to introduce pieces that can not only help in the future, but impact the roster today. Continue reading

Sabres could be both buyers and sellers at the deadline

As the NHL Trade Deadline looms near, rumors will certainly heat up and talk around all teams will center on the players that are set to be moved an acquired.

Things are different for the Sabres than they have been in recent years. After three-straight seasons of lurking in contention near the deadline, Darcy Regier was often in a position to deal for assets that would potentially put his team over the top and help power a late playoff push. This year, the Sabres have languished at the bottom of the league and appear to be in the position to sell rather than buying.

One terrifying thought, however, is that the lockout-shortened season has left the standings in a tangled mess with most teams no more than a few points from jumping into contention. The Sabres enter tonight’s contest with the Rangers in such a position. A seven-point gap separates the Sabres from the final playoff spot in the East; that is a gap that could arguably be covered with a four or five-game run.

Knowing that Darcy Regier has been slow to sell off assets while being “in contention” makes me wonder if he will be slow to pull the trigger on potential deals. He is also going to be trading to save his job, so he may not have the luxury of the ultra-calculated approach that has allowed him to “win” numerous trades over the course of his career.

The first half of the season for the Sabres has been ugly, to say the least. The roster is flawed and it is clear that some players need a change of scenery while others will likely be walking as free agents come season’s end. The firing of Lindy Ruff signals that Regier’s days are likely numbered unless he can lead a quick turnaround by overhauling portions of the roster.

The Sabres, however, don’t just need to be sellers at the deadline. This won’t just be a firesale of every potential UFA in hopes of stockpiling draft picks to restock the prospect cupboards. While the Sabres will certainly be selling off many parts, they can still deal from a buyers position in some ways.

Obviously Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold will be on the radar of many teams as short-term rentals. Drew Stafford’s rumored proclamation of “welcoming a trade” certainly puts him at the front of the parade out of Buffalo as well. Other names will likely crop up as Regier is basically faced with a decision of overhauling this flawed roster or packing up his office at the end of the year. Still, it doesn’t mean that Regier is selling off parts without considering NHL-ready return. 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

Deadline preview: Evaluating Drew Stafford’s value

Last week I examined the potential value Paul Gaustad could potentially bring on the trade market. Today I’ll take a look at Drew Stafford’s value as he continues to be mentioned in trade rumors.

The first thing that needs to be understood about moving Drew Stafford is that it is going to be a daunting task. Stafford just signed a lucrative four-year contract that isn’t attractive to many teams. However, he does carry some value as a scoring winger, especially if he is put in the right situation.

As prefaced in the Gaustad analysis, none of this should be considered to be more than conjecture. Short of the few trade rumors swirling about, there isn’t much concrete news surrounding Stafford’s status with the team. However, you have to think he was counted among the assumed “core” the Ted Black said the organization isn’t married to.

The injury information that surfaced this week regarding Tuomo Ruutu is great news for any teams hoping to unload wingers at the deadline. Ruutu was expected to be one of the most sought after commodities this season and his injury all but eliminates him as a target for any teams in need of a scoring winger. This, combined with Vinny Prospal’s new contract, thins the market and adds value to those who are expected to be on the market come February 27.

With Drew Stafford struggling offensively this season, and the Sabres in a position to sell pieces in hopes of retooling the roster, it would appear the winger is one player that Darcy Regier will be looking to shop. Add in the fact that top-six wingers appear to be at a premium on the market, Stafford should likely draw some suitors at the end of the month.

Exactly what type of return will Stafford bring? That is a tough call. His struggles this season cannot be ignored, he has been all but invisible for but a handful of games. He has three multi-point games and hasn’t shown any jump towards trying to end his scoring woes. What’s worse is that plenty of people – mainly fans – have issue with the apparent level of effort he brings on most nights.

I wonder if he is falling into a similar mold that Tim Connolly did in his final weeks in Buffalo. Connolly has enjoyed some success with the Leafs after getting his change of scenery via free agency. Stafford’s talent certainly remains but perhaps a mix of fan hatred, a stale coaching message and a general need for change is pulling his game down. If that is the case, I’m sure he could produce with a new team.

Stafford has plenty of redeeming qualities, however. Despite what many think, he is a young, good sized winger with the ability to score goals from many spots on the ice. Currently the only thing he may be missing is confidence. Stafford’s big season last year warranted a sizeable contract which is probably the biggest turn-off for potential trade partners.

What I will say for his potential value is that he could serve as a great option for a team looking for top-six talent for the foreseeable future, just like Los Angeles. The Kings are in desperate need of scoring and the light market could push them towards inquiring about Stafford. Other teams I could see having interest would be Columbus or Edmonton (for their rebuild) and even Nashville, who could use a little more scoring.

Does Stafford carry enough weight to get a first-round pick? I say no, but a light market could change things. I think a second-round pick and a prospect wouldn’t be a stretch with the potential of a money in-and-out trade for a roster player. This may sound ludicrous to most fans who have grown tired of Stafford’s game, but it is important to understand that he does carry value to teams throughout the league.

The one speed bump here is his contract. There is no getting around the fact that there are three more seasons of paying him $4M attached to any deal regarding Stafford. If Darcy Regier is able to find a team hoping to build on their future, Stafford could potentially serve as a worhty investment. How many teams like that are out there? That is a difficult question to answer.

Stafford’s prime strenghts do remain. He is a talents scoring winger with size. That type of player will always be a commodity in the NHL. Regardless of his production this season, Stafford has the size and history to warrant plenty of attention on the trade market.