Taking Inventory of the Rebuilds in Buffalo and Toronto

Saturday was a good day for Sabres fans. The team rebounded from a brutal start and beat the Jets, 3-2. Winning is always nice, but how the Sabres did it had me particularly pleased.

Hudson Fasching, days after signing his rookie deal, make Jacob Trouba look like a turnstile as he bulled around him and buried his first NHL goal. It was a prototypical power forward move, the type Sabres fans had heard so much about as Fasching excelled at the University of Minnesota. After Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel completed the comeback, the Sabres had three goal scorers aged 20 or younger and Eichel had his 50th point.

All was well for me until I came across an article with the headline “Maple Leafs Keep Doing Things the Right Way, Expect to be Rewarded by Hockey Gods.” This was the second article in the span of about a week that heaped praise upon the storied franchise just up the QEW while taking a subtle, or not so subtle, jab at the way the Sabres have executed their rebuild. The previously mentioned article, from The Hockey News, goes off a quote from Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock and praises the play of the prospects getting their first extended playing time in Toronto. Earlier in the week The Score came out with an article claiming the Leafs were better at rebuilding than the Sabres. To support this stance the author used such hard hitting facts as: Mike Babcock picked the Leafs over the Sabres, the Sabres fired their director of performance and the Leafs haven’t fired their director of sports science. Oh, and the Leafs beat the Sabres in meaningless late March game. Continue reading

It’s Never too Early to Shower the Leafs with Praise

It doesn’t take much to stir the ire of Sabres Twitter on the best of days. Today was no exception as David Alter’s post on The Score managed to work numerous Sabres fans into a froth despite being at peak #FaschingWatch. Speaking of which.

I encourage you to read through Alter’s article as he rolls through an argument that is worth having. The Leafs are one of the few teams in the process of a rebuild with the same financial might that Terry Pegula has to offer while also boasting a number of impressive prospects at the top of their pipeline. Both teams are positioned similarly. While the Sabres are likely a year or two ahead, the Leafs aren’t as far behind as some fans in the 716 would want to think.

The article itself is short on research and long on opinions that likely grew from Saturday’s 4-1 loss at the Air Canada Centre. I’m surprised that he held off on writing this for this week and not for, I don’t know Buffalo’s 4-3, comeback victory from earlier this month. That being considered, I thought I’d try my hand at a FJM of the post as it was simply too empty to stand as a proper evaluation of where each team’s rebuild stands in comparison to one another.

Original portions post will be in bold, my responses will be in normal type. Continue reading

NHL risking oversaturation with more outdoor games

With news breaking that the 2013-14 schedule may have upwards of four outdoor games, my wheels again began to turn at the thought of the diminishing spectacle that is outdoor hockey.

The lockout prevented the 2013 Winter Classic from occurring but the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will meet on New Year’s Day 2014 to make up for their missed appointment this past January. In addition, rumors have indicated that the Canucks will play host to the Heritage Classic with additional whispers of a Kings and Ducks showdown at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodger Stadium game is expected to occur on Hockey Day in America and would potentially serve as a doubleheader with another outdoor game played at Yankee Stadium featuring the Rangers. The latter three games have yet to be confirmed, but it would appear that they’re going to be part of the plans for the 2013-14 season.

While I think the Hockey Day in America doubleheader could make for some cool television, I fear that by the time those two games roll around no one will care much for the outdoor product. As it stands now, the Winter Classic makes for a fun game to watch in the elements even though the on-ice product isn’t always up to snuff. Scheduling a pair of games to come after the Winter and Heritage Classic could seriously cheapen what has otherwise become a very cool product.

I wrote this last year about the potential for watering down what these outdoor games mean. I fear that oversaturating the market will change these from unique spectacles to just another blip on the NHL radar. Continue reading

New division, same challenge face Sabres under realignment

Funny how 12 months, an intense labor debate and relatively happy returns from fans can change how things work in the NHL.

When realignment was brought up last season, the NHLPA shot down the proposal citing a number of issues surrounding travel and questions about the playoff format. After burning a major portion of the season to a lockout, the NHL and PA put through a realignment plan for next year that was nearly identical to the one that was vetoed last season.

There are some significant changes to this plan compared to the last proposal. Both Detroit and Columbus come East, leaving the league with unbalanced conferences; a wild card option has been instituted to keep a competitive balance for the playoffs; lastly, the recently approved plan ensures every team will appear in every arena over the course of the year.

The Sabres will welcome three new division rivals to their yet-to-be-named division dubbed as “Division C” in the most recent league graphic illustrating the new conferences. In addition to their current Northeast Division rivals, the Sabres will welcome Florida, Tampa Bay and Detroit to their new division.

The Bolts and Panthers ended up being the black sheep of the entire realignment as they’re geographically hamstrung compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference. Short of splitting them between the two divisions (an unrealistic option), the NHL had limited options with their two Sunshine State franchises. Detroit (along with Columbus) made good on the reported promise made by the league to get them into the Eastern Conference, away from 10:00 starts and into a division with relatively limited travel.

Buffalo will play five games a year against division opponents, three games a year against the other Eastern Conference teams and 28 total against the West.

While the new division alignment doesn’t stack the odds against the Sabres, it doesn’t necessarily favor them either. Finding success within their division may not be as much of a challenge for the Sabres as remaining above those teams from the other Eastern division.

Continue reading

Rolston’s debut spoiled by familiar flaws

Hopefully you didn’t expect Ron Rolston to show up for 24 hours and sprinkle a magic cure-all on the Sabres roster. There certainly wasn’t much of a difference between the final game of the Lindy Ruff era and the first game of the Ron Rolston era.

A quick, uptempo start was erased by a poor second period littered with turnovers, penalties and a squandered lead. Ultimately the Sabres dropped another game (their second to the Leafs this season) and fell further into a hole that is looking near impossible to climb out of.

Firing Lindy Ruff was probably one of the toughest decisions Darcy Regier ever had to make. However, it was a necessary move that probably needed to be made sooner. Naming an interim head coach did a few things for the Sabres, namely keeping all options open once the season comes to a close.

You also might be able to speculate that having Ron Rolston take over on an interim basis keeps Darcy Regier untethered to any hire and may play a role in the expiring shelf life for the general manager. If Rolston has little impact on the roster, the writing would be on the wall for the Sabres to part ways with Regier at the end of the year.

As for Rolston, his impact wasn’t going to be felt in game number one. He officially took over just 24 hours previously and only had a morning skate as an introduction to his new team. Even tomorrow’s game against the Islanders will likely be a challenge as he will still have very limited ice and video time to impact his roster with.

Perhaps a more realistic expectation would be to wait until Tuesday night’s contest against Tampa Bay. By then Rolston will have had two full days of practice in addition to today to install some of the systematic tweaks he will want to run. Hopefully by Wednesday he has a firm grasp on running the team. Continue reading

Plenty of Northeast play on the horizon for the Sabres

As was illustrated last week, one loss can really be magnified with such a short schedule. Three losses can send a fan base into an absolute state of terror.

With two losses to the Canes followed by another defeat in Washington, a number of fans seem to be inching closer to the panic button as 10% of the 2013 schedule is now behind the team. Of course, that is only five games worth of a 48-game schedule.

The reactions to these losses seem to be fueled more by the way in which the games were lost more so than the actual outcome. However, there is still plenty of time to right the ship as the Sabres prepare to close out February with a pair of division games; their second and third within the Northeast Division this season. In fact, five of their next six games will be against Northeast Division rivals.

Buffalo’s win against Toronto was a practice in great goaltending and clinging on for dear life. You might say that the below average third period carried into the loss at Carolina two days later and has stayed with the team since. Ryan Miller’s stellar night against the Leafs last week was the catalyst in Buffalo’s victory; along with another great night from the team’s top line.

Tonight’s First Niagara Center debut from the Leafs is different only in that Toronto has suffered two ugly losses down in New York and are still searching for answers in the James Reimer/Ben Scrivens debate. Reimer impressed against Pittsburgh last week before getting lit up for five against the Rangers but wasn’t victimized by the Islanders as Scrivens was. I’d expect to see Reimer between the pipes tomorrow night. Continue reading

Sabres on their way after two wins

Well that was a fun couple of days, no? A 5-2 beat down of the Flyers followed by a near textbook road win against the Leafs and the Sabres have gotten off on the right foot for this shortened 2013 season.

Sunday’s opener was about as sloppy as expected, as the Sabres and Flyers plodded through forty minutes of fairly average hockey before the Sabres third period explosion put the game away. The one takeaway from that opener was seeing the rust on both teams. Even with a game under their belt from the day before, the Flyers still looked sluggish in many ways along with their hosts who were playing their first game of the season.

The Sabres did do plenty of things right, however. They engaged physically from the opening faceoff, scored the game’s first goal and maintained composure after falling behind in the second period. Drew Stafford’s unexpected fight was pointed to as the spark that drove the Sabres into the third period and their scoring surge in the final frame got the job done.

Defensively there was plenty to improve upon in front of a strong outing from Ryan Miller – who benefitted from two disallowed goals. Special teams was a bright spot as the powerplay was clicking and the penalty kill did great work outside of allowing Claude Giroux to wire a one-time home for Philly’s second goal of the game. Continue reading