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

Grading the Sabres: The new core

The next group of player grades for the Sabres is comprised of young talent and new faces. This group either arrived in Buffalo this season, or are part of the burgeoning youth movement on the depth chart.

Tyler Ennis – A-

This might seem like a high grade to some, it may even look like a low grade for some. I say it is adequate with the understanding that Ennis still has room to grow, especially as a center. The ankle injury that sidelined him for 34 games was a devastating blow to his progress and the Sabres in general.

While he was sniffing at a point per game pace, it was basically just in the second half. That bodes quite well for a player that is looking like he could be a major weapon for the Sabres in the coming seasons. I still think Ennis needs to add a little size, but he certainly doesn’t need to change anything on the offensive side of his game.

Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson should prove to be the centers of the future in Buffalo

Cody Hodgson- C+

I like Hodgson’s game. His numbers weren’t ideal, but he showed some traits that should make him a dangerous piece of the puzzle moving forward. His brief time here was highlighted by a few nice goals and assists, obviously putting him with scorers will be a necessity. Depending on what kind of summer he has could mean that he comes to camp has the incumbent number two center (behind Ennis) with the chance to be a key contributor for next year.

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Double Minors: 2012 starts with the right foot forward

Yesterday’s victory over Edmonton wasn’t exactly the most riveting but it was certainly necessary. The Sabres got decent goaltending from Ryan Miller, scored four goals and gutted out their first win of 2012.

Miller was credited with 23 saves on the night, a few of them were solid saves that needed to be made. However, he gave up three goals yet again. Certainly Taylor Hall’s first tally should have been stopped. He could certainly get a pass on the other two.Nikolai Khabibulin gave up a real softie after the first Edmonton goal, so Miller is all but absolved in that situation.

The Sabres have another shot at their first win streak since November on Friday night in Raleigh.

Considering how the season has gone, that may have been the closest to a complete effort the Sabres have put forth in quite some time. Maybe even all season. Buffalo managed to overcome an early deficit – and horrible play – to tie the game. They faced down another challenge after relinquishing their lead and managed to build a cushion late in the third. While it was no better than a 40-minute effort, the Sabres pieced together a respectable win. The key will now be to build on it.

  • Jhonas Enroth would be a good choice to start on Friday. He has all but owned the Hurricanes in his short time in the NHL and Miller would likely fare better against the Jets. Yes, the same team that pumped him for five goals earlier in the season.
  • Zack Kassian will likely be packing his bags for Rochester in the coming days. With Ville Leino inching closer to a return and Tyler Ennis also coming close, Kassian will certainly be shipped back to the AHL. It is obvious Kassian needs a little more prodding to play his game on a consistent basis. It would be ideal to get a veteran next to him in the room to provide the guidance that will be necessary for him to truly blossom. Look at the effect Mike Grier had on Thomas Vanek. Now equate the same results to Kassian.
  • The Sabres are still in need of help on the blueline. Obviously injuries to three of their top five rear guards hurts matters. Still, with all of the offensive talent on defense in Buffalo and Rochester, it wouldn’t kill the Sabres to bring in a little more grit in the form of a stay-at-home type defender.
  • Bucky Gleason pointed to the potential for some trades in the near future. From the out of left field department: would Tyler Ennis fetch a quality return on the trade market? He is a dynamic winger with a lethal scoring touch. If a team out West was interested, would it be worth including him in a package? Remember, you need to send skill to receive skill.
  • Anyone still harping about Christian Ehrhoff being a waste can probably stop now. Despite lacking flashy goal stats, Ehrhoff clearly had a strong influence on the power play. Without Myers and Ehrhoff, that unit looks quite lost.
  • Yet again Jordan Leopold proves how valuable he is to this team. He may be one of the best signings Darcy Regier has made in a long time. To think, he was brought in when the team was still budget conscious.

Three Stars

1. Drew Stafford

2. Nathan Gerbe

3. Brayden McNabb

NHL Links

Game Summary

Event Summary

Where does Hecht go in the lineup?

There are a few facts and a few delusions floating around the First Niagara Center right now. The fact is the Sabres were very impressive in their first two wins during the NHL Premiere series in Helsinki and Berlin last weekend. Some of the delusions are that this team will be virtually unstoppable as the season progresses.

The Sabres are not going 82-0, sorry. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a good bet to finish high in the East, or even to snag the Northeast Division crown. However, there are some overzealous fans out there with expectations that are far too lofty.

One factor that could seriously change the fortunes of the Sabres will be the return of Jochen Hecht. I am going to leave out the two extremes – he provides an even greater spark or sends the team down the abyss – but it is safe to say that his return to the lineup will disrupt the status quo.

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Buffalo Sabres season preview: Wingin’ it

Thomas Vanek is a prime candidate to be the Sabres' next captain.

This is part four in a series previewing the Buffalo Sabres 2011-12 season. Part four focuses on the wingers. Read the previous three entries here.

Darcy Regier has a knack for acquiring wingers. It probably has a lot to do with the league-wide overabundance at the position. Still, the Sabres have a stockpile of talented wingers entering training camp this week.

There are eight openings available and at least ten players vying for a spot on the opening night roster. Based on the salary figures – the Sabres are still $3.5 million over the cap – the projected depth chart is fairly easy to lay out. There are a handful of players who a prime trade candidates, but without anything more than vague rumors it is unfair to speculate who will be part of the organization in a few weeks.

Although the top four wingers are likely locks, the remaining four positions are up for grabs, so to speak. Due to contract structure, intangibles and production; Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek are all likely to be safe from a trade or demotion to Rochester.

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Gerbe signed to a multi-year deal

News broke late this morning that Nathan Gerbe has been signed to a multi-year contract by the Buffalo Sabres. Reports say it will be a three-year deal. (credit WGR 550 for that info). Bob McKenzie says the contract will be worth $4.3 million which is good for a 1.433 cap hit.

This was a wise move for the Sabres. Gerbe established himself as a fixture in the second half of the season and simply extending an qualifying offer would have been a mistake. Add to that the fact that it is a sweetheart deal at only 1.433 per season. This certainly afford the Sabres some room under the cap and a bargain for a 20-goal player.

By locking him up for more than a season the Sabres ensure that he can continue to progress. This virtually ensures that a winger will be traded as the summer continues. The top candidates being Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht.

I’m interested to see how this will affect Darcy Regier’s approach for Friday. Brad Richards is rumored to be looking for about $6.5 million per season, that is a manageable number that I’m certain Regier will hit or exceed with his offer.

Still, count on at least one incumbent winger to be traded away in order to create cap space for free agents.

Sabres series recap, what to remember

As I just wrote, there are plenty of things to forget about this series. However there are plenty of things to stroll into the offseason happy about. Not all of them are silver lining, grass is greener reasons either.

– The kids are alright. Tyler Ennis came to the party a little late, but he was still dynamic with the puck on his stick late in the series. Chris Butler may be my only exclusion from this list because it seemed like he ran out of energy as the series wore on, he had quite a few bad turnovers. However, Mike Weber and Marc Andre Gragnani made some strides and Tyler Myers showed his nasty side. Big time. Last, but not least, Nathan Gerbe asserted himself as an NHL forward. He had a terrific second half of the season and continued to show his strengths in this series. I think it is safe to say he and Paul Gaustad are a pretty great match on the third line moving forward. Continue reading