The Instigator Podcast 9.9 – Burke and Hextall Hired in Pittsburgh

We recorded this episode on Tuesday and it felt like there was two weeks worth of news that broke over the past 48 hours in the NHL. From the offside review debacle in Columbus and John Tortorella’s benching of Patrik Laine to the hiring of Brian Burke and Ron Hextall in Pittsburgh, it’s been a busy start to the week. We explore the job that faces Burke and Hextall with the Penguins while also discussing the heat being applied to Jim Benning in Vancouver.

We close the show touching on Buffalo’s COVID postponement and just how impactful the delay could be on their season.

The Instigator Podcast is supported by Manscaped. You can get 20% off and free shipping by using the code 2ITB at

Over-Thought: Better Late Than Never

I’ve slacked a bit with my usual breakdown of 31 Thoughts, though I’m sure no one has really missed it. This is going to drop about five minutes before the newest edition hits, so I’m really batting 1.000 on this one.

I wanted to run it back though because last week’s version was packed with some interesting trade thoughts that I wanted to opine on. So, without further ado, here is a week-old version of The OT.

Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Third Round Picks Buffalo Shipped Away

The third round of the NHL Draft is hardly an electrifying portion of the event. The picks all hold fair value on the floor and in trade negotiations, but in either case you’re not referring to any blockbuster moves.

However, the Buffalo Sabres’ own involvement in the 2016 third round was actually somewhat interesting. Not so much for the picks they made, but for the ones which found their way to other teams.

At one point or another, the Sabres held five picks in this year’s third round. Buffalo would only wind up making a pair of selections in the round after entering the weekend with a trio of picks. Cliff Pu would be selected 69th (nice) and Casey Fitzgerald 86th while the other three selections previously held by the Sabres found their way to other cities. Continue reading

Celebrate Ryan Miller’s Return with Highlights

The inevitability that Ryan Miller was going to be traded two seasons ago was something I was aware of even before the season had begun. A looming UFA, Miller held value across the league as a quality starting netminder and didn’t fit well with the Sabres rebuild.

That didn’t make it any easier the day he was traded.

Miller received a fair dose of criticism during his time in Buffalo and, to this day, I don’t understand how he was so under-appreciated. Perhaps it was because he was living in Hasek’s shadow for many fans. Maybe it was simply because a “Ryan Miller Shoutout” was unacceptable for some. Either way, when I look back at his time two years removed from his trade, I appreciate the talent we had even more. The post-Briere and Drury years were rife with under-achievement and, frankly, wasted some of the best hockey of Miller’s career.

By no means do I think the Sabres should have kept him, however. Tim Murray made the right decision in moving Miller when he did. It was the right move for the Sabres and it was the right move for Miller as well. I’m glad to see that Miller is playing well in Vancouver and I’m looking forward to seeing him on the ice at First Niagara Center once again.

Perhaps this period of Sabres hockey in which the answer in goal is somewhat cloudy will help clarify Miller’s worth to the organization during his tenure. In the meantime, enjoy this collection of Miller highlights. Continue reading

Sabres trade bait powers team past Canucks

With precisely 20 games left on the schedule, the Sabres have worked their way deeper into the divide in the fanbase following a 6-3 triumph over the Vancouver Canucks.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice, Chris Stewart added a goal and an assist but most are left scratching their heads over where the tank stands and what to make of Buffalo’s recent string of hot play. neuvirth

The Sabres capitalized, once again, on substandard goaltending as Eddie Lack turned in a .783 SV% on a night in which he was only tested 23 times. Tonight’s win marked the third time this season the Sabres managed to shoot better than 20% in a game – the other two coming against San Jose and Calgary. Lack was strong early in the game, getting hung out on an early two-on-one and getting some unwanted assistance from Adam Clendening on Stewart’s breakaway. But he made a few impressive stops, including a dazzling glove save on Cody Hodgson in the second.

The wheels fell off for the Canucks in the third as Andrej Meszaros cleaned up a sloppy no-look pass from Nick Bonino and put the puck through a screen for Buffalo’s third, while Mitchell cleaned up some garbage in front to put the Sabres ahead for good. Brian Flynn’s security marker at 18:28 came after Lack misplayed a loose puck badly and Stewart found Flynn to cash on the empty net. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Canucks blank Sabres

The Sabres mailed in yet another listless effort on home ice, allowing 28 shots through two periods and watching the Canucks skate away with a 3-0 win.

A pair of storylines have dominated the Sabres season thus far and they have been the stellar play of both Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth to go along with flat efforts from the ranks of the Sabres skaters. Thursday was yet another prime example of both. While Miller weathered the storm, the Sabres struggled to generate zone time.

Chris Higgins’ one-timer off Cody McCormick’s feed – yes you read that properly – was all that was going to be needed by Vancouver. Brad Richardson scored on a shorthanded deflection and Ryan Stanton scored his first career goal in the third.

That was the long and the short of it as the Canucks were operating on serious cruise control in the third and that’s likely the only reason they didn’t break 40 shots. A 28-14 edge in shots through two periods was a continuation of what has occurred in each and every game so far in this young season.

Miller chose not to speak to the media after the game and I can’t blame him. He’s been hung out each game, has been phenomenal in each performance and has a 1-5-0 record to show for it. Even if he was playing at an average level, no goaltender deserves that type of treatment. There are few players in the league, let alone the Sabres roster, who are more passionate and outspoken than Miller. I can only imagine his comments would have created some sort of firestorm with the media and fans alike. Besides, he stood tall all game, it was about time he was granted a reprieve.

Ryan Miller

What he did well

This will read quite similar to Tuesday’s round up as Miller was phenomenal for the entire game. He saw a game’s worth of pucks in the first 40 minutes and held his team within striking distance all night. You hear a lot about his inability to steal games for his team, if he was playing behind goal support I’m fully confident he would have stolen a whole lot more than he’s given credit for.

Where he struggled

Miller was deep in the net on Vancouver’s first goal. He was forced to make a quick adjustment on the original turnover and likely wasn’t expecting the one timer to come once the puck reached Cody McCormick. Still, he was on the goal line and didn’t have much of a shot at a save.

Save of the game

Miller had a number of dandies but the breakaway stop in the second period was indeed the best. It was a strong move on top of the paint and a well timed poke. He got some help from Ristolainen on the way through, but it was a nice stop.

Roberto Luongo

What he did well

Lu tweets with the best of them, I can tell you that much. As for the game, Luongo was able to kick back and relax for three periods as the Sabres barely tested him for most of the contest. Still, he controlled his space and earned his shutout.

Where he struggled

He looked out to lunch on his turnover behind the net in the third, but when you get a shutout you typically don’t have many shortcomings.

Save of the game

There were a few net-front battles that I really was impressed with throughout the night. Luongo covers the bottom of the net well, especially when he gets his butterfly wide.


  • Once again Mikhail Grigorenko played a miniscule role for the Sabres. While it’s obvious that he still needs to mature in many facets of his game, the roles he’s been given are far from what you’d expect for a highly touted prospect the organization hopes to develop as a cornerstone of the franchise. Or at least that’s what you’d expect.
  • Support in the defensive zone from their forwards may be the biggest issue for the Sabres currently. While there has been some inconsistencies from the blueliners but support from the forwards has been abysmal at times. The Stanton goal is a great example as Brian Flynn was sucked all the way down to the crease along with Johan Larsson and the defensemen. That needs to be improved.
  • Some of the biggest issues that seem to be coming up – power play, defensive coverage etc. – certainly seems like it may be tied to coaching, not just talent, no? Something to think about.
  • The Miller and Vanek trade rumors are going to keep rolling along. They’re going to command plenty of attention up until the deadline, I hope you’re ready.


Sabres have trade chips on the wings

It’s a time of turnover in Hockey Purgatory Heaven with Lindy Ruff getting his walking papers while Jordan Leopold, Jason Pominville and Robyn Regehr each were shipped out of town before the deadline. It appears as if this summer will bring about more change via the trade market for the Sabres as they continue their rebuild.

One key for the Sabres will be finding partners as they search for options to swap out certain players. There have been specific mentions of the need to find more offense from media members in Vancouver, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Nashville. These came from either interviews or game broadcasts on the NHL Network station on XM Radio. Obviously these aren’t confirmed rumors, but the need for more established offensive weapons on certain teams isn’t a difficult conclusion to draw.

Vancouver’s second-straight first round exit have some asking if they need offensive help.

Vancouver’s sweep at the hands of the Sharks has many asking if Alain Vigneault will be back for the 2013-14 season after his team again struggled to score in a first round series defeat. The Canucks aren’t short on elite talent. The Sedins’ production has begun to tail off lately but I’d say their struggles to find talent beyond their top line has been a major issue for them. Identifying more scoring help would immediately improve the overall depth of their forward ranks.

A similar situation has been illustrated with the Kings despite the acquisition of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter last season. The Kings top six is very impressive, yet they were tied to a number of scoring forwards during the year. While the roster is deep, they continue to win close, low-scoring games on the strength of their goaltender and defense. While I don’t see where they would place a top-six forward, I can certainly understand the connection drawn to improve their offensive potency.

The Blues and the Predators immediately spring to mind for me when I think of offensively challenged Western Conference teams. However, the Blues roster would indicate anything but that. Oshie, Schwartz, Berglund, Tarasenko. This list goes on for a while and forms a youthful, talented core which has the potential to be lethal. The Blues just happen to play a measured, defensive style and don’t allow too many shots. Perhaps they need a certain $6m goaltender. But probably not.

The Preds are actually a curious case. They have two big money players (Rinne and Weber) and made moves at the 2012 deadline to find more offense. However the second Kostitsyn and Alex Radulov didn’t do the trick and now they have retooled a bit with the acquisition of Filip Forsberg. Finding another piece to add to their top six would be extremely helpful towards finding more offense for the Preds; especially after missing the playoffs.

There is a market out west for scoring forwards, there is no denying it. Perhaps the e4s and #CONFIRMEDD tweets and blog posts aren’t flying yet, but media members are looking at the teams they cover and are saying they’re in need of offense. 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

Double Minors: Hot start keeps streak rolling

After leaning on Ryan Miller for over a week, Buffalo’s offense woke up and provided the necessary scoring support that has been absent for a number of games this season. Of course, the Sabres did play on their heels for most of the final two periods.

Darcy Regier was likely smiling big after Ville Leino put in a pair of goals and Brad Boyes picked a corner to chase Robert Luongo after only six minutes. Christian Ehrhoff scored the winning goal and Cody Hodgson continued to display the skills that Buffalo has been lacking down the middle all year.

Granted, Zack Kassian played like and angry junkyard dog all night and picked up a late goal to keep the game interesting. The game Kassian showed last night was the type of hockey Buffalo drafted him for. That attitude was in and out during his time with the Sabres. Whether his game was inconsistent because of his attitude, coaching or lack of veteran leadership; is unknown. In my opinion it is a combination of all three. I have to think his immaturity played a role, especially considering the assumed core of the team. Add to a system that appears to be predicated on position and puck control over physical domination, you have a perfect storm for a bust.

The Sabres win gives them a chance to tie Winnipeg tomorrow night and snag a playoff spot for the first time in what seems like the entire season. The playoff push has gotten awfully interesting just over a month removed from the Fail for Nail campaign.

  • Ryan Miller’s tremendous shutout streak was finally ended in the second period. He played good hockey last night, it just wasn’t as dazzling as the previous handful of games. He was a difference maker, particularly in the second period. He needs an equally effective game on Monday before he earns a break mid-week.
  • The Sabres need to find a way to stomp their foot on the throat of their opponents. Too many times during the season Buffalo has staked a two or three-goal lead only to let their opponent back in to tie or steal a victory. Credit the entire roster for the third period clamp and grinding out the win. Still, this is not a way to win games. The Sabres were bitten in the playoff last year and I can assure you the same will happen this year, too.
  • Alexander Sulzer was quietly effective in his Sabres debut. He and Mike Weber play a similar game. I think Sulzer has better puck skills than Weber, while Weber plays with a little more jam. It is a good position to be in compared to how poorly Marc-Andre Gragnani played this year.
  • To that point, Gragnani looked like he wanted to prove a point was is still too soft to get the job done. Kassian has the physical gifts and edge to get that job done. Gragnani is a soft, expendable player and he proved that in spades last night.
  • I’m glad to see Ville Leino playing well. He is not my ideal pick as a center, especially a checking center. However, he has embraced the role and was rewarded last night. His game finally turned a corner in January. He isn’t earning his pay yet, but he is getting there.
  • I’m waiting to see Cody Hodgson actually get on the scoresheet. He has been terrific in all three games, but hasn’t gotten the tangible results that many fans are waiting for. Understand this, he makes the Sabres a better team today and in the future.

Game Summary/Event Summary

The Morning Skate: Immediate reunion for Kassian and Hodgson

Tonight’s reunion for Cody Hodgson, Alexander Sulzer, Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani isn’t likely to be too friendly. They will face their former teams only five day after the four players were involved in the most surprising trade of the 2012 deadline.

Hodgson has already shown his two-way skill and offensive prowess while centering Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford. The needs he addressed for the Sabres were exactly what has been missing for most of the season. The same can be said for Kassian in Vancouver. His physical edge is something the Canucks have been looking to build on and he should provide a nice bit of sandpaper for the playoffs.

It is my contention that the culture of the Sabres organization wasn’t suited to bring out the best in Kassian. His bruising style is the reason they drafted him. However, I don’t think the locker room has any veterans who can help young players identify the need to play 100% every night. Additionally, I don’t think the coaching staff preaches the need to finish checks and bury opponents. Considering that, you would see why Kassian’s physical game was often missing. Losing Kassian’s toughness is ok, that is something that can be purchased via free agency.

Tonight is just another arduous matchup for the Sabres. They need every point possible and are on a western road swing against some of the Western Conference’s best teams. Vancouver is playing brilliant hockey and is a deep, talented team. This is a game that will truly test Buffalo’s hot streak.

I’d expect to see Jhonas Enroth in net, for reasons I name later. Vancouver could roll out either of their goaltenders and give the Sabres fits. Buffalo beat Vancouver in OT last season, but Vancouver’s depth is likely to give the Sabres a lot of trouble tonight. For a road trip that has been tough enough, it seems to get more difficult as it continues.

Highlighted Matchup

Jhonas Enroth. He almost has to play tonight. Ryan Miller was extremely busy on Wednesday and Thursday. Miller also suffered some sort of injury late in the third period on Thursday. Whatever was hurt (ankle, calf etc.) doesn’t seem to be serious. But I’d play it safe, especially considering the hot streak he has been on. Enroth needs to spell his partner and a day off against a dangerous Canucks team might be just what the doctor ordered for Miller. Not to mention, he would be fully rested for Monday’s pivotal game against Winnipeg. Still, don’t be surprised if Ruff trots Miller out yet again. He still doesn’t seem to have a grasp on rotating his goaltenders.

Projected Goaltenders

BUF: Jhonas Enroth

VAN: Roberto Luongo

Last Meeting

Sabres 4 – Canucks 3, HSBC Arena, 11/15/2011

*no stats for tonight*