A memorable All Star weekend, at last

To say I was really into the All Star Game when I was a kid is an understatement. Dominik Hasek had established himself as a bonafide superstar and other things like glowing pucks typically catch the eyes of ten year olds more than, say, adults.

My interest in the event, like most fans, has waned in recent years. As the event itself stagnated there were few things that brought any sort of genuine interest on a yearly basis. This year’s event, however, really brought back an entertaining showcase of the game’s stars in a format that I’m hoping sticks around for years to come. Continue reading

There’s no longer room for a traditional enforcer on Sabres roster

Merely mention John Scott’s name amongst Sabres fans and you’re sure to get a divisive response. The hulking enforcer has managed to win over or alienate his fair share of Sabres fans over the past 44 games.

He enters tonight’s contest with Philly with 44 games played in Buffalo, 102 PIMs, zero points and one significant suspension as a result of a check to the head. Oh, and he’s a -6. Scott’s effectiveness on the ice has never really been in question. He is a big huge dude who is paid to keep the peace, not score goals.

Scott was deemed a necessary addition after the lack of response surrounding the Miller/Lucic incident signified a need for more toughness in the Buffalo locker room. So Darcy Regier went out and found the one guy who was capable of fighting anyone.  A 6’8” behemoth who had fought 22 times (according to HockeyFights.com) in four previous NHL seasons.

He was to be Buffalo’s great nuclear deterrent. The man who could stand up for his teammates, handle himself against each and every NHL heavyweight and the one player who would best instill a notion of confidence in his teammates.

The one problem is that the nuclear deterrent doesn’t seem to carry the clout that he was expected. The limited ice time that Scott receives means that he’s rarely available when duty calls and when he is dropping the gloves, it’s typically with another fighter who fits in the ICBM category.

The issue with Scott isn’t all that complicated. First, he isn’t the greatest hockey player out there, which limits his ice time. Because he doesn’t get much ice time he’s rarely available to fight. Because he’s rarely available to fight would indicate that he’s not much use to the Sabres. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Ugly game underscores uglier hit

Things got ugly on Wednesday night at First Niagara Center. On top of another ugly loss, the Sabres chief goon, John Scott did his best to draw more unwanted attention to the raging inferno at One Seymour H Knox III Plaza.

Scott’s hit was dirty, awful, embarrassing, the list goes on. Basically what any sane person had to say on the matter will suffice. Hopefully the NHL sits him down for a dozen or more and does the league and the Sabres a favor. He doesn’t help this team in any discernible way on the ice – yeah, I’m sure he’s a great locker room guy – and for a roster of young, developing players, that’s not the type of guy you need.

I’d give him 15, personally

As for the rest of the game, it was a pretty bad loss in a growing trend of lopsided decisions. While almost every game this year has been lopsided in one way or the other, the results this past week have been slowly getting worse. The Avalanche and Bruins both hit the four-goal plateau and it appears that surrendering a mountain of shots on goal won’t be the only trend the Sabres follow for the foreseeable future.

At some point I plan on focusing on specific goalie-related topics in addition to the game breakdown, but each loss manages to highlight some new deficiency that probably shouldn’t go unmentioned.

Wednesday was the flawed roster and it’s damning effects on this young season.

Most of the fans in Buffalo knew this was coming. It was to be a rebuild, the Sabres were shifting to a youth movement and building through their prospect cupboard and the draft. Yet it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel remotely close to right. 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.

Team

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

Patience a virtue on slow UFA Day

For months writers, hockey insiders and fans had talked about the thin free agent market for 2012. Apparently all of that was forgotten during one of the slowest openings to free agency in recent memory.

There were 59 total signings yesterday with a number of players working out a deal to stay with their former team. None of the big names inked their name to a contract, even the second-tier UFAs held off on making a decision. There were a few theories tossed around as to why players like Parise, Suter, Semin, Jokinen and others held off on signing. Some blame the expected trades of Bobby Ryan and Rick Nash, some point to others waiting for the dam to finally break. Some just blame the thin market.

The biggest signing (money) of the 2012 Free Agency period, thus far.

The reason for the dull showing yesterday probably lies in a number of different areas. The most obvious is that the top free agents are now waiting to make their final decision until they have heard and weighed every offer. NHL free agency is becoming less of a one day free-for-all and more of a two-three day process of discussion, offers and decision making. The Ryan and Nash trades likely have something to do with some of the waiting, but I suspect the shallow pool and the pending decisions for Parise and Suter likely have a lot to do with why next to nothing happened yesterday.

Looking down the list of transactions there isn’t one true winner. The Canucks got the biggest name, so far; the Senators made a trade and Anaheim tried to sign every defenseman on the market. Nothing of any profound impact occurred and I am of the belief that Parise and Suter will indeed set the firestorm for the rest of the league.

Those teams losing out on Suter will be screwed because Matt Carle is the only arguable top four defenseman left. Those teams hoping for Parise will either turn to Alex Semin or scramble for footing in the Nash and Ryan sweepstakes. Either way, there will be more action once today’s signings occur.

As for the decision by Darcy Regier to hold out and only make one marginal signing, I like it. Regier wasn’t quick to the trigger on overpaying for marginal talent, I’m certain he put out offers to those he wished to pursue and I think it is a safe bet that Uncle Terry pushed for a serious pitch to the Parise Camp. Continue reading

Sabres get tough with Scott

The Buffalo Sabres got big and nasty with their only signing on July 1. The Sabres agreed to terms with John Scott on a one-year contract reportedly worth $600K.

With the rest of the Northeast Division investing in tough, gritty players, the Sabres were looking awfully thin in the pugnacity department as the day wore on. After another year in which people questioned Buffalo’s grit, Scott should help fill the void.

Buffalo was silent for nearly the entire day and it seemed as if they were falling further behind in the toughness department as compared to their biggest rivals. Montreal re-signed Travis Moen last week and then threw a wheelbarrow of money at Brandon Prust. The Maple Leafs added Jay McClement and every just seems to be keeping up with the big, bad Bruins.

Scott is capable of playing wing or defense, although his contributions at each position will be severely limited. He will be better suited as a fourth line winger who sees a maximum of eight minutes each night that he dresses.

The decision to sign Scott is wise, don’t think that this is a waste. First, he isn’t impacting the cap one bit. Secondly, he is a player that is difficult to play against and that is precisely what Darcy Regier has been looking to add.

Don’t expect Scott to be an every night player. He will mix well with Cody McCormick, Pat Kaleta and Corey Tropp. Buffalo would still be wise to find one more capable fourth line player so that Matt Ellis doesn’t need to be counted on each night. Since Ellis’ contract switches to a two-way deal this year, he is an affordable choice for Rochester.

It would seem as if Scott has been brought in to add a massive dose of toughness and that every shift grit that the Sabres sorely lacked on a near nightly basis last season. He will most certainly dress against Boston, Montreal and at least half of the games against Ottawa and Toronto. The Rangers (his former team) boast plenty of goons, so he will likely see a few games there. I’d count on him for 40 games, more depending on injuries.

Don’t count on Scott to be Darcy Regier’s only move for the rest of the summer. Understand his patience with an ultra-thin market and the fact that he did get a player who can fill two roles if absolutely necessary.

Like it or not, the rest of free agency will be a wait and see operation for the Sabres and their fans.