Grading the Sabres: 2013 report card, Part II

The defensemen and goaltenders get to share the spotlight in the second portion of my Sabres season grades. As always, your thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

Tyler Myers: Oh, where to begin? Myers was downright bad to begin the year before leveling out at midseason. He looked out of shape and lost most of the time and his play suffered for it. Considering the salary he is being paid, his contributions are especially frightening. Before his injury he was only okay and you could certainly say the defensive play was better without him. Yikes. Grade: C-

Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff finished off another strong year in which he remained Buffalo’s best defenseman. He hasn’t blown up the scoresheet like some expected, but his powerplay time has changed from the Sedins to any number of players in blue and gold. Still, there’s a lot to like about Ehrhoff and he will be around for a long time. Grade: A-

Andrej Sekera: Everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Sekera actually wasn’t bad at all this season. He quietly goes about his business and plays steady hockey. I’m not a huge fan of his but I can’t deny that he has been a solid contributor in his own end all year. Grade: B

Mike Weber: Steve Ott’s arrival may just be the best thing for Weber’s career you could ask for. Weber is beginning to evolve into a leader, plays a gritty nasty game that is almost entirely absent on this roster. His puck skills aren’t very good, but as a defender there is a lot to like. He may still be on the rise for this squad. Grade: B- 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

Grading the Sabres: Final defensive group

The final group of defensive grades will also be the final portion of the Sabres’ report cards. This group includes the three players called up from Rochester at various points during the season.

Mike Weber – C+

Weber was slightly less consistent that he had been in previous seasons. His best hockey was played with somewhat limited minutes as compared to games when he was given a heavier dose of ice time. While he was a decided upgrade over Marc-Andre Gragnani, he was little more than an adequate sixth defenseman. Overall, his year was little more than average. Considering the role he fills, you can’t complain too much about what he brought to the table. However, there is likely room for improvement that could come in the form of another player.

Alexander Sulzer – B+

Sulzer’s time with the Sabres was somewhat brief, but he was solid in those few games. A mobile defenseman, Sulzer showed he has a nice physical side to his game while not being a pylon. His athleticism might be what is most impressive to me. While he is a UFA this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-signed. Considering he was basically a throw in with Cody Hodgson, discovering him could be a major steal for Darcy Regier and the Sabres.

Brayden McNabb – B+

McNabb still needs to stew a little longer in the minors. However, I don’t think that he will need to start the season in Rochester next season. In fact, if he continues to progress over the summer, I have little doubt he will find a spot in the top six.

McNabb is physical and has shown he can contribute offensively. Some of the traits he possesses makes him a very interesting player for the Sabres going forward. He could definitely be a cornerstone for the Sabres defense for a long time. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Adam, Chewy and those departed

This is the final group of forwards I will evaluate. This set of grades will actually include reviews of the three players who were traded at the deadline, plus a pair of centers who are still with the team.

Luke Adam – B-

Adam sort of got a raw deal this season. After a scorching hot start, he ended up in the doghouse and eventually was sent down to Rochester after the All-Star break. His demotion was permanent as he is still playing on the farm. I loved his play with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and I contend that line should probably have stayed together through the brief slump that eventually led to Adam being sent to Rochester.

Adam did struggle some along the way this year and may have needed more seasoning. However, I think he was handled poorly and I question if his confidence has been shaken by the way Lindy Ruff decided to ship him away.

All things considered, Szczechura proved he is a capable depth forward, perfect for the AHL and spot call-up duty.

Paul Szczechura – B

Just one game short of ten, I felt comfortable giving Szczechura a grade for his play. He was called up in the middle of Buffalo’s injury crunch and actually outperformed some regulars. He had a few very nice games at center and proved that he is more than worthy of an early call up in the future. Like Derek Whitmore, Szczechura doesn’t fill a fourth line role all that well but has that offensive touch that makes him intriguing to recall. Again, if the Sabres are in need of a bit more skill, Szczechura is likely to get a call. Continue reading

Grading the Sabres: Role Players

Next on the report card list are role players and a few re-calls from Rochester.

Patrick Kaleta – B-

Kaleta had another rough and tumble season in which he dealt with injuries and suspensions. He was effective playing his gritty style, although the offense wasn’t where it was a few seasons ago when he was an ideal third line grinder.

As an RFA, I wonder if Kaleta could be on his way out the door. At some point Darcy Regier will probably start trimming a few dollars here and there to keep his top six at an elite level. Many teams do this in one way or another. While Kaleta fills a valuable spot, he could be deemed expendable.

For what it’s worth, Kaleta would be very difficult to replace. He had another great year blocking shots and being very defensively responsible. Those types of forwards are tough to come by, which could be a primary reason Kaleta is back for next season.

Cody McCormick – C-

McCormick’s chance at building on a terrific 2010-11 was derailed by concussion issues. While he did a nice job as an enforcer and filling a fourth line role, his sporadic play (due to injury) kept him from producing offensively. He only had one goal this season and when paying over one million dollars for a fighter/grinder, you need more production than that. 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

Grading the Sabres: Goaltenders

Over the next few days and weeks, I will be providing some grades for each player to suit up for the Sabres this season. The evaluations will be done in groups, beginning with the goaltenders.

Ryan Miller – B

Overall, the Sabres goaltending wasn’t good enough this season. Based on numbers alone, both Miller and Jhonas Enroth would be right in the middle of the pack among their peers. However, it was an up and down year for each highlighted by rough patches and some great play.

Miller’s hot streak to end the season was one of the main reasons the Sabres were even alive in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. His slump through November and December was one of the main reasons Buffalo was so deep in the Eastern Conference.

Overall, Miller played some very good hockey for long stretches. Obviously the run he began in January all but erased the ugly stats he developed earlier in the season. I would contend that a great deal of his struggles were tied to the long recovery from his collision with Milan Lucic. The injury itself may not have done as much damage as the lengthy recovery period Miller went through. A simple eye test would show that he wasn’t back to normal until well into January – nearly two full months after the injury.

Critics and apologists should all be able to agree that Miller’s season needed to be better. However, when healthy, I would argue he would have produced one of his best professional seasons to date. His play in early October was stellar, as was his final three months. There were a couple appearances that hurt his numbers – when he was injured and stepping in for Enroth in Philly – but his play at the end of the year all but righted the ship.

Miller’s play has always been more about his actual results rather than strictly numbers. Goaltending has always been about making the big saves when necessary, that doesn’t always mean your numbers will be Hasekian. For Miller, there is plenty of room for improvement. I would say a good offseason and a run of healthy hockey could certainly help shake some of the critics from his back. Continue reading