Sabres deadline solidifies foundation for rebuild

It may have taken a late flurry, but Tim Murray put his stamp on the organization with a firm, aggressive series of trades around the 2014 trade deadline.

A look at the players that have come and gone since the start of the 13-14 season.
A look at the players and picks that have come and gone since the start of the 13-14 season. I consider a lateral move one that saw the Sabres acquire and flip a player for additional assets.

He got started early by sending Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to St. Louis on Friday and threw his hat in the ring with one of the earlier trades on Wednesday. Murray shipped Brayden McNabb, two second round picks and Jonathan Parker to Los Angeles for Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers.

Murray’s punctuated his first deadline with two 11th hour deals involving three of this pending UFAs that ensured previous investments would continue to pay dividends. After finding a dance partner to take Matt Moulson (and Cody McCormick), Murray managed to flip Jaroslav Halak for a younger goaltender with term.

It was a productive deadline that provides the framework for the way Murray will shape the roster through the 2014 and 15 drafts. Two drafts that will see the Sabres make four (possibly five) first round selections. Continue reading

Leveraging assets may be the key to Sabres deadline deals

The Olympic trade freeze will lift in two weeks and the ten days to follow will be filled with a flurry of rumor mongering and transactions as the NHL trade deadline nears.

Tim Murray is going to be more than a little busy both during and after the Olympics as he maneuvers to swap some of the talent on his roster as he continues to steer the Sabres rebuild. It’s no secret that his primary focus will be on his trio of pending UFAs with Ryan Miller’s status being of the utmost interest to observers.

The end game with those three is all but decided. They’ll be sold off to the highest bidder with Murray attempting to net at least two assets in return for each. In the case of Miller, the asking price will likely begin with four pieces and could end up at three or two depending on what the market bears.

I feel that the Sabres are nearing a stage in which picks will not benefit them as much as prospects or players who are nearly NHL regulars. While first round picks are obviously valuable currency, the stockpile the Sabres have been going through should allow Murray to be creative with some of his non-first round picks.

Additionally, I’d be in full support of Murray extending some of Buffalo’s younger talents to the trade market in order to make a hockey trade or two in the coming months. This particular strategy being available as an option to him both between now and the deadline and leading up to the draft and summertime.

Continue reading

NHL talent will soon trump picks, prospects on Sabres shopping list

At some point in the near future the Sabres will reach a critical mass when it comes to their rebuild. Eventually Tim Murray and the front office will be at a point where picks and prospects are trumped for the need of talent with NHL experience.

That point won’t likely come this summer nor is it likely to occur immediately after the 2014-15 regular season. But with the way Buffalo’s pipeline is expected to balloon in the coming months, Murray and company will soon need to find a different type of asset to add to the puzzle that is the Buffalo Sabres roster.

It was something that had come to mind somewhat recently with the hubbub surrounding Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott along with the reported return each player will bring. Add to that the comments from an unnamed Western Conference GM in Pierre LeBrun’s article on Murray and it’s clear that the next step of Buffalo’s rebuild will need to come soon.

… I have always believed that you need some good veteran players to help [the young] ones along. You don’t need tons more draft picks when you have as many as they already do. There comes a point when you could have too many young players [and] picks… I would personally not just get more picks and prospects back since they have lot of those already. I would look for players that can play so you don’t rely on rookies so much.

It’s a take I agree with wholeheartedly. At some point your roster can’t just be comprised of 18-22 year old rookies. There will need to be a veteran presence on the roster and it needs to come from various directions. Continue reading

Conspiracy theory: Could the Sabres be running the world’s greatest jersey con?

In an odd twist of rhetoric, many Sabres fans have been muttering a similar phrase the past couple of days. “It’s too bad to be true. Right?”

The Sabres new third jersey has only managed to scrape together a few dozen fans as backlash for the new jersey has been beyond negative to this point. Fans, bloggers and mainstream media members (local and nationally) have panned the uniform’s busy design leaving little support in their wake. Although social media was hardly what it is today when the Slug jerseys were unveiled, it seems as if this new creation has received more backlash than the previous number one contender for the worst jersey in Sabres history.

However, what if this was all part of a massive, well-orchestrated charade? What happens at training camp when the jerseys are to be officially unveiled and the lights go out and suddenly Ted Black’s entrance music comes on? Would the team President pulling the curtain on a different, better looking third jersey not be the greatest troll job in the history of hockey?

Naturally the chances of such greatness occurring are somewhere between slim and a new Peace Bridge, but I can’t say it wouldn’t be all that surprising. Let’s consider the facts: 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

Buffalo Sabres 2013 2ITB Awards

The 2ITB Awards made their debut last season after the Sabres’ playoff push fell short. After a disappointing season, here are my picks for some serious and not-so-serious team awards:

Most Valuable Player – Thomas Vanek

Atlas Vanek put the team on his back for most of the season. He and Ryan Miller performed at a high level for most of the year – although Miller’s numbers reflect that of a more average goaltender. Vanek’s contributions are more visible and he is certainly deserving of recognition on a team that would be dreadful offensively without his skillset. Here’s hoping he isn’t traded.

Least Valuable Player – Drew Stafford

Just a dismal year for #21. Stafford could never get the train on the tracks and has been largely invisible on many nights. He wears a letter to boot. To think that he makes $4 million a year is a cap crushing nightmare. I would assume he gets traded in the offseason, but that is no guarantee.

Top Prospect – Mark Pysyk

Looking at the body of work each Sabres prospect put together this season, Pysyk is probably the one to stand out the most. Just as 2011-12 winner Marcus Foligno put together a strong stretch run, Pysyk has set himself up very well for his first full NHL season for 2013-14. Continue reading

Searching for Hockey Heaven

A clarion call should go out to the league and to hockey players everywhere, that Buffalo is hockey heaven. – Ted Black, February 22, 2011

Those words will be difficult to forget. It marked the start of what was expected to be a long, happy relationship between the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. However, just over two years later things aren’t as rosy as they were on Pegula Day.

Give Terry Pegula and his management team credit, they took strides towards improving things on and off the ice. They renovated the locker room, upgraded the concourses and introduced numerous new features throughout the arena in an effort to make First Niagara Center a hockey mecca. The under construction HARBORcenter project proves just that. Pegula even gave the go-ahead to empty the Brinks truck in free agency as the Sabres went out and snagged a pair of the most sought after free agents in the 2011 crop.

Yet, here we are. The Sabres are languishing for a second-straight season, the coach has been fired and the hot topic of conversation now centers around booing. It seems like Buffalo has become Hockey Purgatory, not Hockey Heaven.

All of the good will generated in the 2011 offseason seems to have been erased by two seasons of largely lethargic hockey and below average results. Losses on the ice have transformed to frustration in the stands as the ever enlightened fan base with the high #hockeyIQ has resorted to booing at the drop of a hat at some points this year. Now, as the Sabres draw closer to a lottery selection than a playoff spot, the question I ask is: How far gone is the mindset of Hockey Heaven?

This isn’t about the incessant boos the rain down on the team almost every night. Booing isn’t a subject I care to delve into as fans will always have the liberty to do whatever they please with their tickets; particularly when the product they’re paying to see is underperforming. Of course, that doesn’t mean that piling on a group of players who only have a partial responsibility in the current situation doesn’t seem like the best way to spend that energy.

Perhaps if they at least waited until the end of a particularly horrid period, no need to jump on a team after one or two shifts in a game they’re winning.

Regardless, what I’ve begun to wonder is what the growing volatility within First Niagara Center will do for the Sabres rep with players around the league. Even with the dazzling locker room and the bottomless pockets and sincerity of the owner; how attractive is Buffalo going to be for those outside the organization? Continue reading