The curious case of Matt Hackett

Matt Hackett was very much seen as a serious candidate as the goalie of the future for the Sabres when he was acquired at the 2013 trade deadline. He’s since slid down the depth chart and sits in a precarious position as the 2014-15 season dwindles away.

Entering the year, Hackett needed to get in eight appearances of at least 30 minutes to remain a restricted free agent heading into the offseason. His status is a unique one that isn’t encountered too often, but put both himself and Tim Murray in an odd situation even before the season started.

Hackett’s up-and-down play, late-season knee injury, the emergence of Nathan Lieuwen and the presence of both Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth made things that much cloudier.

Of course, things have cleared up a bit as Enroth and Neuvirth were both traded and Chad Johnson was injured before appearing in a game, leaving just Hackett and Anders Lindback to man the crease for the remainder of the year. Lindback’s hot play has kept Hackett from seeing the lion’s share of the work and time is running out with only nine games to go in the season. Continue reading

Despite record, in-season changes wouldn’t suit Murray

With the Super Bowl, and all its build up finally over the next major date on the sporting calendar, the start of Spring Training notwithstanding, is the trade NHL trade deadline. While Sabres GM Tim Murray will undoubtedly be tasked with getting the best return for his tradeable assets before the deadline, the Sabres’ current performance on the ice has led fans and media alike to criticize Murray for his perceived lack of action during the franchise worst 14 game losing streak.

While I’m going to steer clear of the tanking discussion at this particular time many people are of the viewpoint that if you’re not even changing anything in the middle of a 14 game losing streak you’re not trying to win. This is an opinion that is a difficult one to argue, but let’s take a look at the cards Tim Murray has to play. Continue reading

Decision on Reinhart and Zadorov needs to come soon

It only took three games for a puzzling lineup decision to grace Sabres Nation. Andrej Meszaros will be a healthy scratch against the Carolina Hurricanes as Tyson Strachan steps in for his first game as a Buffalo Sabre. Meanwhile, Cody Hodgson appears to have been moved back to center and Sam Reinhart will be centering Cody McCormick and Nicolas Deslauriers. Stop me if you’ve seen this movie before.

Buffalo’s prized first round draft pick, with full junior eligibility, will be playing on the fourth line.

Reinhart hasn’t been a world beater in his first three NHL contests and his play hasn’t warranted much in the way of continued faith that he’ll suddenly begin to produce. However, count me among those who think playing major minutes in all situations in Kootenay is preferable to a fourth line role in the NHL.

It’s only been three games, so it isn’t fair to cast much judgment on Reinhart. Simply put, he isn’t ready for a full-time NHL role. He could use a few more pounds of muscle along with improved foot speed to go along with his world-class vision. That will all come with time, especially with his ability to not only step in as Kootenay’s best forward but also because he’ll almost be guaranteed a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship roster.

Going back to Kootenay is hardly a step back in Reinhart’s development and will ultimately be the best thing for him. Giving him a chance to start the year in Buffalo wasn’t a bad choice. Both Reinhart and the organization got to see what he brought to the table at this level and will be able to adequately identify what areas need improvement moving forward. Whether he became a Calder candidate or finished the year in Kootenay, it wasn’t a scenario where either side could lose. Although, giving him fourth line minutes is about as close as you can get. Continue reading

Sabres make sweeping changes as LaFontaine and Nolan return

A pair of very familiar faces are back in prominent positions with the Sabres organization as Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan were brought back in the fold after a massive shake up at First Niagara Center.

LaFontaine takes over as the team’s President of Hockey Operations with Ted Nolan stepping in as the interim head coach. Both Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier were relieved of their duties prior to LaFontaine and Nolan stepping in.

Ousting Rolston seemed like an inevitable choice given Buffalo’s woeful record and the ugly way they went about earning it. Exactly when the axe was to fall on Rolston was left to guesswork due to Buffalo’s current campaign for the first overall pick. The heat was rising fast, however, as Buffalo’s string of first period flops and ugly losses was punctuated by an inability to draw any sort of redemption from the progression of the team’s young players. When a coach lauded for his ability to develop players isn’t even doing that, obviously there is a problem.

Regier’s departure is only shocking when you consider the scope of this shakeup. The construction of the roster left plenty to be desired and his quest to mimic the toughness of the Bruins ended up sacrificing the overall skill level of Buffalo’s forward group. Like Rolston, Regier’s departure was something that was expected at some point in the coming calendar year, the timing is what comes as something of a shock, as were his replacements. Continue reading