After their performance against Florida last week, I thought about writing an angry article, ripping the team and explaining how they are going nowhere. But then I reconsidered the fact that they came back from three goals down.
That was the biggest thing I took out of that game. It wasn’t the fact that there was no call on the Myers trip or that Buffalo couldn’t manage to tie the game up again. It wasn’t even that Miller couldn’t come up with “the big save”. They overcame a three goal deficit, which is what I took out of it.
A couple days later, I became aware of how bad this team really is. With the announcement of Derek Roy likely out for the season, it came as a no-brainer that this season is over. Roy was easily the Sabres most consistent player this season.
He had 35 points in as many games (10 goals, 25 assists). If the Sabres were struggling with Roy in the lineup, what are they going to look like without him? Here are some things to ponder about as we prepare for a Sabres team without Roy.
The Sabres are 14-16-4 and have 32 points. That has them in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and eight points out of the playoffs. The Sabres had a rough start, but they never completely turned it around.
The biggest problem on this team has to be the scoring—on starting goaltenders. First off, the opposing team has started a backup goaltender against Buffalo 17 times out of 35 games. Obviously, some of those may have been because of injuries, but for the most part, they were planned. Other teams see Buffalo as a good opportunity to start the backup goaltender.
In those games, the Sabres are an encouraging 11-4-2 against backup goalies..
That’s just the problem. When the Sabres play against an opposing starting goaltender, they are a dismal 3-12-2. That doesn’t give you much confidence now, does it? All but three of the Sabres 14 victories this season have come against a backup goaltender.
(Alex, who writes for Black & Blue & Gold recently posted a number of interesting stats about the Sabres this season. Click here to view his post.)
To make things worse: During the first period of the Anaheim game, fans in HSBC Arena were chanting “Jonas” as in Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller. They had all the right to do so, especially since he allowed three goals in the opening period. The only problem was backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney was in net. Oops.
Many fans are off the bandwagon already, abandoning all hope in this Buffalo squad. Some would prefer the Sabres to struggle this season only for a better chance of seeing changes in management.
Personally, I can’t wait for Terry Pegula to buy the team. I think he will be able to make some much needed changes, giving the Sabres a spark, and bringing back the lively HSBC Arena that we have missed since the Briere/Drury days.
As for this season, I will continue to believe in the Sabres. All it takes is to make that eighth spot. Look at what Philadelphia did last season. Yes, the Flyers may have a much better team, but anything can happen come playoff time.
I’ll be rooting and supporting them. Will you?
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It’s official: The Sabres' most consistent player and top point producer will watch the rest of the season from the press box, as center Derek Roy has been diagnosed with a torn quad tendon. He will undergo surgery and will miss four to six months.
Roy suffered the injury seven minutes into Thursday night’s game against the Florida Panthers. Roy was hit along the boards by Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and did not return to the game.
The Sabres’ playoff hopes were already fading away, and now it seems like playoffs are out of the question for this year.
The Sabres were already inconsistent with Roy in the lineup. Now the Sabres will look more like the Portland Pirates of years past, with youngsters Luke Adam, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe looking to fill the void left by Roy, who this year has been the unquestioned top-line center.
General manager Darcy Regier has a history of being patient, many times overly so, in making trades and deals. But with Roy out for virtually the remainder of the season, Regier will have to make a move for this team to be consistently competitive against the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
Roy has been the Sabres’ best player since the first game of the season, when he scored two goals in the opener against Ottawa. In 35 games, Roy has 10 goals and 25 assists to lead the team. Only Thomas Vanek, with 13, has more goals than Roy. Roy has also led the Sabres in point scoring for each of the past three seasons.
Regier will now be able to thoroughly examine his supporting cast with his two top centers out in Roy and Tim Connolly, who is undergoing facial reconstruction surgery. Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville and Ennis need to step up their games and produce on a consistent basis.
It may be much to ask that of Ennis, who is a rookie, but there is no denying he has the skill set to be a top-line forward in the NHL, as he is tied for third on the team with nine goals. Stafford has had a good season with nine goals and 14 points in 20 games. Pominville only has six goals in 26 games.
There will be more pressure than ever on Regier to make a move. It has been rumored that Dallas Stars center Brad Richards is available. The Sabres will need to give up some assets to get him, but that is the nature of the business. No matter who it is, the Sabres definitely need a top-line center, which is ironically the Sabres’ stated No. 1 task in the offseason.
Currently the Sabres' top center is Adam. They could also move Ennis to the middle if need be. However, it is pretty easy to see that this scenario is not going to fly come playoff time, if the team even makes it that far. The Sabres are already struggling to score goals. With Roy out of the lineup long-term, that struggle will be prolonged, barring any roster moves.
It is time to find out once and for all whether this group of players is capable of overcoming the injury to its scoring leader and dealing with adversity.
For further updates on the Sabres, follow me on Twitter @RichLunghino
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Buffalo Sabres: The Making of a Contender continues on with Part 3 of 3: Now do you Believe. The Infamous words by Sabres announcer and play-by-play man, Rick Jeanneret. This is the final piece of a three-part article that has dissected the Sabres current defensive and forward rosters and potential talent in the pipeline with parts one and two respectively. The third and final article will be two-fold, first we look at the goal-tending situation with the Sabres then we will dive into the recent news on the possible sale of the team and what that means for the future of the organization. Finally, at the close of this third article of the series, we pull it all together and attempt to answer the question that this article has been focused on: Are the Buffalo Sabres a Contender in the Making? Let us begin the final analysis...
First up, the goaltenders. It is common practice for most of the Sabres fan base to consider themselves fortunate enough to have a long line of distinguished net minders in the Sabres history. And they are correct. Let's take a look at the Sabres current and future puck stoppers.
Ryan Miller - ($6.25 million, 3 yrs)
Miller (or Millsie, as some call him) is about as solid of a goaltender as an organization can have between the pipes. Known as the "unofficial" Captain of the Buffalo Sabres, his leadership on and off the ice are unquestioned. The first one on and the last one off the ice in every instance. Some fans say he lets in the occasional soft goal that costs the team heavily in competition and there is evidence of this (the Crosby goal in the Gold Medal game in this past Olympics comes to mind immediately).
Certain players appear to have Millers number as well (the aforementioned Sidney Crosby for instance, does very well against Miller every game it seems like) and this leads to some key questions with Miller.
Does he have what it takes to lead the Buffalo Sabres to the promise land? To date the answer to that question is no, he is not Dominik Hasek. This cannot take away from his amazing focus and game play however. Miller has a Vezina Trophy (awarded to the top goaltender in the league each season), you don't win this award by luck. He is rock solid and even though he has the occasional off-game, is hands down the Buffalo Sabres number one net minder. That may change however, as he draws towards the end of his current contract. Given the amount of money other "Franchise" players are sure to demand, Miller may become expendable as he ages towards his mid thirties and younger, hungry talent in net begins to come up through the ranks.
Patrick Lalime - ($650,000 UFA)
This will most likely be Lalime's last season as a Sabre. With a younger Enroth ready to join the club as a backup net minder and Lalime's apparent inability to garner any type of victory pattern the club will most likely go with youth. Lalime deserved a better fate than what he was given here in Buffalo these last two seasons. Oftentimes, the team in front of him seemed to just hang him out to dry. He had some bad games but also showed he could compete (last seasons 2-1 Chicago game comes to mind). Many of the fan base are more than prepared to say goodbye, I must agree with this, I would also go so far as to say he shouldn't have been re-signed this season, but whats done is done.
Jhonas Enroth - ($866,667 RFA)
Enroth is more than ready to step in and fill the backup goaltenders position with the Sabres. After having honed his skills for three seasons in Portland, he looks prepared to take the next step. Under the tutelage of Ryan Miller for the next three seasons, Enroth will no doubt end up as a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.
The question is, is he the heir apparent to Ryan Miller and if so, will he ascend to the Sabres net minders throne of No. 1 goalie upon the eventual departure of Ryan Miller? This is a question that is being mulled now by the fan base, but it is much to early to answer. A plethora of events must take place first to see where Miller is going to sit, then the Enroth question can be answered. For now, the Sabres faithful can take solace in the fact that true help is on the way next season for the back up goal-tenders position in Buffalo, that in itself is most welcomed news.
David Leggio - ($500,000 RFA)
Perhaps the largest surprise within the Sabres organizational pipeline. If fans have not had a chance to see Leggio play (or some of you may not have even heard of him as of yet), I highly recommend you research this young, come out-of-nowhere talent. He is currently splitting games with Enroth with the Portland Pirates (the Buffalo Sabres AHL farm team) and has something he apparently wishes to share with the Sabres faithful: He Is For Real! Leggio spent four years at Clarkson University with a record of 59-29-12 and a .922 save percentage with eight shutouts. He also won back to back ECAC tournaments in 2007 and 2008.
Over the summer of 2010, the Sabres signed him to an AHL contract which they converted to a two way, one year NHL deal. The organization has shown they like this local kid from Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo (but fans tend to remember the Kennedy affair when it comes to local talent). Can he break the line up with the big club? Only Leggio can answer that question and he'll have to do it on the ice, through hard work and success.
Conner Knapp, Bradley Eidson and Nik Eno round out the Sabres prospects for net minders in the pipeline. Knapp is currently playing at the University of Miami, he shows steady progress to date. Eidson is currently playing at the University of North Dakota and Eno is with Bowling Green University. Neither prospect has stood out as top tier goaltending material, but they have time to develop. The Sabres may be thinking goaltender in a mid round pick this season or next season in an effort to shore up the pipeline.
Possible New Ownership of the Buffalo Sabres:
Lets not waste any time and dive right into this subject. First the back drop this story all falls on. Every fan of the Buffalo Sabres should send a hearty SHOUT OUT to Tom Galisano, current owner of the team for saving the club from bankruptcy and the possibility of them being sold and shipped out of town. THANK YOU TOMMY G.
Since Mr. Galisano bought this team two Eastern Conference Finals and a painful downward spiral followed. In 1997, the organization (then owned by the criminals that ran Adelphia Cable) brought in two individuals that remain with the club to this day and are considered by various factions of the fan base as controversial at best.
Darcy Regier, General Manager, Buffalo Sabres
Regier is despised by a majority of the fan base for his inability to make moves and put the final pieces in place to bring a Stanley Cup Championship to Buffalo. He has been shrewed in his dealings, but his short comings are more than obvious. It is widely rumored throughout the NHL and the fan base that some players will not sign with Buffalo while Regier is in charge. If this is true or not remains to be seen, but more than several players have indicated that is the case.
Lindy Ruff, Head Coach, Buffalo Sabres
Ruff is considered one of the top coaches in the game today. Well respected by his peers and by many players in the league itself, he is by far the most coveted coach by multiple teams fan bases. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard other fans say "I wish we had Ruff as our head coach" I'd be retired. But, Ruff does not come without his own detractors here in Buffalo. Some of the fan base squarely blame Ruff for the lack of passion from his players. I cannot subscribe to this. Ruff can only do what he can do with the talent given to him by Regier is my opinion.
With all of this we have the news that has created an unmistakable buzz among sports fans in Western New York. The Buffalo Sabres may be sold, and to a hockey fan fanatic who has been a fan of the team for years.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:
Terrance Pegula, worth somewhere around $3.5 to $4 billion dollars
Mr. Pegula's wife is from the Western New York region, they have lived in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo. They have had season tickets to the team for years. Mr. Pegula sold his majority interest in East Resources, an energy company that has Natural Gas as its majority business. His love for the sport of hockey is highly recognized as he just recently gave $88 million dollars to Penn State University to build a state of the art Division 1 hockey arena.
According to multiple reports Mr. Pegula and Mr. Galisano have agreed on a price for the sale of the Sabres, $175 million dollars. With the sale currently under going review by both parties and the NHL, it is most likely that no players will be moved in trades until completion of the sale. There are other large questions the fan base have as well. We all feel comfortable that the Sabres, should this sale go through, will be in good hands and that a Championship is Mr. Pegula's goal.
There are however, the questions of Regier and Ruff and their respective futures with the club. It is the assessment of this writer that Regier has seen his last days as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres (many fans will have just held their own parties of the decade with that statement), and I come to this conclusion based on Mr. Pegula himself. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man who breeds success and he will bring that attitude with him to the club. I do however, believe Lindy Ruff will be retained as the head coach for another two years minimum. These are merely my thoughts on the situation and I strongly urge all of the readers to chime in with their own on the situation.
So, at the end of it all we can surmise the following:
The defensive unit is in a rebuild, mostly from within the organization and that is an ongoing affair that is making headway.
The forwards are currently in shambles with near zero secondary scoring. In order to right the ship this years off season (the draft and Free Agency) need to start addressing this immediately if it is to keep pace with the defensive rebuild.
The goaltenders position appears to look as solid as it can with a couple of options in the club's internal talent pipeline that have potential.
New ownership on the way, with a renewed sense of purpose and by a man with local connections and a passion for both the team and the game itself.
With this information now bundled together, I ask the fan base to ask themselves:
Now Do You Believe?
The Buffalo Sabres: Are They A Contender In The Making?
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Being a male athlete must be nice.
I mean first off, you get paid ridiculous amounts of money to do something you love.
Your clothes are all paid for, your meals, your everything pretty much.
And if you're good at what you do, you get an amazingly beautiful woman to marry you.
Ryan Miller, the Buffalo Sabres' goalie, just got engaged to actress Noureen DeWulf.
Here are the best pictures on the web of his wife to be.
The Buffalo Sabres: A Contender In The Making continues on with the next article in the series. Welcome to part 2 of 3, an overall look at the Sabres' offense, its short comings and what can be done to address any needs to plug the holes in the dam, so to speak.
There is a great deal of information to cover in this article and there will be a great deal of speculation and conjecture on the part of many readers. One thing is absolutely certain, The Buffalo Sabres' forwards (12 of the 23 man roster) are on life support. There is near zero secondary scoring from lines two, three or four and what is probably the most concerning of all is the lack of depth at the Center position, either with the big club or in the development pipeline. Let us begin this journey into the Sabres' offense with clear minds. We're going to need it given the woes of this team of late...............
Derek Roy - ($4 million, 2 yrs)
Thomas Vanek - ($7,142,857, 3 yrs)
These two players are a deadly duo and are leading the Sabres in points and goals respectively. We are all aware of their play together over the years. The one thing sorely lacking is a true Right Winger (or Left Winger, due to Vanek's ability to shift to either wing) to not only elevate production of the line itself, but to also lift its consistency level.
Tyler Ennis - ($875 ELC, 1 yr)
Ennis fit with Roy and Vanek on the Left Wing. His production numbers increased, but Roy and Vanek remained streaky. Ennis has fantastic puck control and skating skills. It is puzzling as to why coach Lindy Ruff broke this line up early into the season. Nonetheless, Ennis remains the best potential to play with Roy and Vanek within the roster to date.
Drew Stafford - ($1.9 million, RFA)
Stafford has been inconsistent during his entire tenure in Buffalo. He shows signs of greatness, then disappears for long stretches of a season. There is no doubt he is a gifted player, but his streaky production has been one of the staple problems with the Sabres' offense for the last three seasons. He plays with Roy and Vanek from time to time with varying degrees of success. He is in my cross-hairs as a very possible trade commodity come the trade deadline.
Nathan Gerbe - ($850 thousand, RFA)
Gerbe (or, The Gerbil, as I affectionately call him due to his height, 5'5") is one of the smallest players in the NHL, if not the smallest. He creates havoc to the opposition due to his speedy puck control spins and dangling. He reminds me of Danny Briere a great deal. However, Gerbe was given a large amount of games to prove himself with the Sabres this season and has no goals and only six assists to show for it. I would re-sign Gerbe, but only to a two way contract. He needs to earn his spot on the team by producing, not only in training camp, but also in the regular season.
Jason Pomminville - ($5.3 million, 3 yrs)
This player had a fantastic start to his career, but in the last three seasons, his numbers have consistently decreased in production. Pomminville is a very good two way forward and plays in many special teams situations. It must be noted however, that his salary is extremely high for his production and play. Pomminville was also injured early this season (concussion) breaking his four and a half season iron man streak. I view Jason Pomminville as a solid line two right winger.
Jochen Hecht - ($3.525 million, 1 yr)
Hecht (also referred to by the fan base as Zee German) is another good two way forward, but his offensive production has trailed off to being almost non-existent. He will most likely play out his contract to completion and then not be re-signed by the Sabres. He is a line three Left Winger, nothing more.
Tim Connolly - ($4.5 million, UFA)
Ah yes, the infamous Mr. Glass or Tin Man, as the fan base calls him due to how often he has been injured in his time with the Sabres. Connolly is perhaps the poster child for all that is wrong with the current Sabres roster. A soft, play-making Center, he has the skills to lead a second scoring line or Line two on any team, but he disappears for extremely long stretches. I'm talking seasons here, not games and he is so frustrating to watch as his defensive game is horrible, back checking is non-existent and his turnover ratio in any zone is putrid. Connolly will get traded by the deadline, for what, is debatable. I can see a 2nd round pick for him.
Rob Niedermayer - ($1.25 million, UFA)
Mike Grier - ($1.5 million, UFA)
These two +35 year old players will not be re-signed in my opinion. Although both players were two way defensive forwards in their respective careers, their legs are extremely slow and it is showing. Buffalo needs to inject speed into the line up and these two are very expendable. They do bring leadership to the locker room, but on the ice is where it counts and they haven't shown they can do that. Too bad really too, I like Grier. Niedermayer, I have no opinion of, but both players should be gone, if possible Niedermayer by the deadline, but more than likely both in the off season.
Paul Gaustad - ($2.3 million, 1 yr)
Patrick Kaleta - ($907,500, 1 yr)
Cody McCormick - ($500 thousand, UFA)
These three players comprise the fourth line of the Sabres. Gaustad (known as Goose) is one of the top face off centers in the league, but he is extremely slow and has hands of stone. He has done better in the past with production, if given the right set of skills around him. Kaleta is Buffalo's pest. He draws penalties, gets under the skin of opponents, has fast legs and checks extremely hard. He can put the puck in the net from time to time. He and Goose play well together. McCormick is a big bodied Left Winger that can fight as well, but overall, I have found myself very disappointed in McCormick's play, specifically his apparent refusal to use his body to throw thundering checks, to muscle opponents off of the puck in the offensive zone and to throw some massive open ice hits. The Sabres could do better than McCormick; I wouldn't re-sign him if there is a better option out there.
So, given the make up of the team, lets review the line up and then move on to the pipeline and potential directions management can take to address the team's needs.
Scoring line one
Vanek - Roy - ? (perhaps Ennis on Left Wing, shift Vanek to Right Wing)
Scoring line two
? - ? - Pomminville (this line is in shambles right now)
Scoring line three
Hecht - ? - Stafford (If Stafford isn't traded)
Now that we have identified the gaping holes in the forward roster of this club, let's see what can be done to fill them. We start in Portland, the AHL affiliate of the Sabres, where some of Buffalo's future goes to develop and further hone their skills.
Luke Adam - ($875 thousand, 2 yrs)
Adam is definitely an answer for one of the holes at Center on this team. Right now, I am looking at him as a fantastic line three center. He'll need to wait for the Connolly trade to get put into the line up full time after the trade deadline, but he'll be up with the big club none-the-less.
Mark Mancari - ($575 thousand, RFA)
Mancari is a real question mark to many fans. He is big bodied, he puts up large numbers in the AHL and he has played with Kennedy, Gerbe, Ennis and Adam as a line-mate as they all went through the Portland system and actually helped them develop their skills and achieve success while in the AHL.
The problem with Mancari isn't that he cannot transition to the NHL. In my opinion, the Sabres have not given him the amount of time they've given every other prospect to adjust. Mancari gets two to four game stints with the Sabres and very rarely. I firmly believe he is in the doghouse of Regier due to contract bickering, but I'll let the readers formulate their own conclusions. Mancari won't be with the Sabres organization at the end of this season most likely.
The following is a list of young forwards in Portland that have a great deal to prove and need at least another two seasons in the AHL before they get a serious look from the big club. But none of them are currently prepared to step into the line up with the Sabres. This group may or may not address some of the club's needs as they develop, but as of now, they haven't convinced anyone they can step into a big club roster position and make an impact.
Paul Byron, Corey Tropp, Maxime Legault and Jacob Lagace.
As we move on to the Juniors to review the pipeline talent for the Sabres, the picture of the organization should be getting clearer to the reader. This club has drafted heavy defense but failed to address offensive needs with any balance. One name in the Juniors sticks out amongst all others.
Kassian is the power forward the Sabres have lacked for many years. This kid is something special. He scores, he hits, he fights, he is the Milan Lucic of the Sabres pipeline and is the most promising player in the Juniors for the Sabres. Currently playing in the World Juniors Championship Series for Canada, Kassian is a man amongst boys in the OHL. He will almost certainly make the Sabres roster next training camp and brings a nastiness with him that Buffalo fans have been longing for.
Marcus Foligno, Steven Shipley, Gregg Sutch and Kevin Sundher are all forwards that will most likely go through Portland in the next two to three seasons with Foligno (the youngest son of Mike Foligno, a gritty Sabres forward in the 1980's and well respected by the fan base) showing the most promise of the group. Some of these players may provide that essential secondary scoring that is currently missing from the line up.
After the pipeline review, the line up of the Sabres is still filled with many holes short term. Management's failure to address the offensive forwards of the organization since the departure of Danny Briere and Chris Drury via Free Agency is not only clear cut, but is painfully played out each and every season for the past four seasons now.
With this in mind, we reach a conclusion as to what direction the club is going to take to remedy the forwards issues.
I firmly believe the Sabres are going to move three, possibly four players at the trade deadline this season, in an effort to maximize draft picks in the late first round to mid to late second round selections. Then, at the draft, I completely expect the Sabres to draft strictly forwards with their first four of five picks, including what appears to be a very early pick in the first round.
Currently, they are slated to pick sixth overall in the draft if the season ended today. I would expect that to fluctuate but I expect the Sabres to pick fourth to sixth overall, and I expect a Center to be targeted with that pick. The two players I expect to be targeted with that early first round pick are Centers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Red Deer, WHL) or Ryan Strome (Niagara, OHL).
One thing is certain, the Buffalo Sabres must address the forward positions this off season with a vigor. There can be no other options. The defensive rebuild has already started in earnest and with that group of young players gaining invaluable experience, it may only be a season or so to view the Sabres as true contenders, if they make the right choices and put the forward pieces into place.
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This will be a one week, three-part article culminating on December 23rd. Welcome to Part 1, The Sabres Defensive Outlook.
The Sabres have a bright outlook for the defensive unit, and rightfully so. This team is currently in a rebuilding transition and what an arsenal of weaponry do they have at defense. Let the review begin.............
Craig Rivet - (* $3.5 million, UFA)
Team Captain and currently a healthy scratch. Most definitely his last season as a Sabre. The team will most likely attempt to move Rivet from here until the trade deadline.
What they may receive is debatable (my opinion, a fourth-round pick from a playoff team in need of defensive depth). Although Rivet is a professional, as the team captain and a veteran player, "riding the pine" must leave a very bad taste in his mouth. But, I am sure he is aware that his career is over or just about over.
Tyler Myers - (*$1.3 million entry level, 1 yr left)
Most likely the future captain of the Buffalo Sabres and sure to be locked down via contract at a large price for many years to come. Myers had a rough start to his sophomore campaign, but the prior seasons Calder winner (rookie of the year) has stabilized his game and is now coming on strong.
This kid has the goods and will be an anchor as the number one defenseman on the Buffalo blue line.
Andrej Sekera - (*$1 million, RFA)
Sekera has markedly improved his game this season and is in the process of solidifying his presence as the number two defenseman on the top defensive pairing with Tyler Myers. These two compliment one another nicely as they both can move the puck in transition quickly either via a pass or carrying it out themselves.
Sekera needs to focus on his defensive zone play, especially taking the body of the opponent off the puck either along the boards, down low or in open ice. He is working to this end and is improving quickly with Myers help.
Steve Montador - (*$1.55 million, UFA)
Montador (or Monty as the fan base affectionately calls him) is a real conundrum for the Sabres. He is the rock of the Sabres defense as of late. As of this writing he is a very respectable +12 with 3 goals and 8 assists.
He is a contributing member of the top-rated scoring defensive unit in the league. His defensive zone play has been nothing short of spectacular, and here in lies the problem. In this article you are going to read about a strong pipeline of youth coming up to push for roster spots or already securing one on the team. This creates a paradox of sorts.
With Monty's value most likely to be very high, his pending UFA status combined with what's sure to be a raise should a contract be offered, as well as the strong youth movement afoot, the question is, should Monty be signed or traded at the deadline?
I am strongly of the opinion to trade him at the deadline when I believe he can get a 28 to 35 overall pick from a team who is looking to push in the playoffs and needs defensive help.
Jordan Leopold - (*$3 million, 2 yrs left)
The best pick up of a player by the Buffalo Sabres since Danny Briere and Chris Drury hands down. Leopold is the center of a league leading defensive scoring unit that shows no mercy to opposing teams' goalies.
Quick to jump in tight to the net or a dead-on shot from the point, Leopold is one of the smartest offensive defenseman I have ever seen play.
His numbers are only held back by a lack-luster roster of forwards. He could easily have another 15 points if the forwards were producing more on lines two, three and four. He has solidified himself as the number four defenseman on the team, partnered with rock solid Steve Montador, these two make up Buffalo's second defensive pairing.
Shaone Morrisonn - (*$2.075 million, 1 yr left)
Morrisonn was a depth signing for the number five/six defensive spots. Although injured this season for some games, I am not overly impressed with his play as a Sabre. He will most likely finish out his contract here, in my opinion sometimes in the lineup, sometimes riding the pine.
Chris Butler - (*$850 thousand, RFA)
Butler has been mediocre this season. He plays well some games, not so well in others. He is an attractive piece in trade bait situations. Could also be utilized as a number six or seven defenseman at a very cheap price.
Mike Weber - (*$550 thousand, RFA)
Perhaps the best hidden secret of the Buffalo Sabres is Weber. An "in your face," take it to the limit, no holds barred young defenseman with a fire in his belly not seen on the Sabres since the likes of Larry Playfair or Jerry Korab.
Weber's smash-mouth style isn't his only attribute either. He boasts very good puck control skills and passing ability. He's not afraid to jump in on the rush. I have him listed as Buffalo's number five defenseman due to his work in the games he has played this season, but that should change to the number three position if Montador gets traded. (And I firmly believe this is what should happen as Leopold and Weber would be equally deadly as Montador and Leopold).
And waiting in the wings for next season's training camp or call ups if injuries hit the Sabres defensive corp are Brennan, Schiestel and Gragnani. These three will push for spots next season and one or two of them will most likely see time with the big club.
Add into this mix the amazing turn around of former first round pick Dennis Persson in Portland, as well as the steady progression of Alex Biega and Drew Mackenzie—both of whom appear to be on course to ascend to challenge for a big club spot in two seasons or so. Portland is putting out some very good defensive prospects.
The Sabres' pipeline doesn't end in Portland either. With the likes of first round pick Mark Pysyk and QMJHL phenom Braydon McNabb, this pipeline is the gift that keeps on giving.
Buffalo's defense will be great again, and with the players that are churning out gaining valuable experience, this unit will be elite for quite some time to come. NHL BEWARE!!!!
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If the season ended today, the greatest fear of any Buffalo Sabres fan holds true: the Sabres would be out of the playoffs. They currently sit in third place in the Northeast Division and ninth place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the Atlanta Thrashers for eighth. Obviously, this is a problem that isn't going to fix itself.
So, in order to make the playoffs, what needs to happen?
First of all, Ryan Miller needs to regain his Vezina-winner status for the Sabres to have any kind of success. After a slow start and a groin injury, Miller is showing signs of last year's form.
In the past three games, he has allowed three goals and stopped 84 of 87 shots. Before yesterday's game against the Sharks, he has climbed into the top 10 in both GAA and Save percentage (seventh in both categories).
Sabres commentator Mike Robitaille made a very insightful comment when Miller came back from his groin injury a few weeks ago: as a whole, the Sabres simply play better when Miller is in net. The team plays more confidently knowing that if they make a mistake or costly turnover, a goal is not imminent, allowing more room for error.
Miller can take the pressure off of players like Tyler Myers who is experiencing the infamous "sophomore slump." In Miller's first shutout of the season against Columbus last week, Myers played his best game of the year. Although he did not register a point, he looked calm and collected, collecting a whopping 27:00 of ice time, telling how much Lindy Ruff liked his play that night.
In the past three games, Myers has picked up an assist against Boston and is plus-7, averaging around 24:00 a night. His play of late is a sign of another thing that needs to happen for the Sabres in order for them to keep winning: better defense.
Jordan Leopold has been outstanding, and may be perhaps the best offseason signing in the league. He leads all NHL defensemen in goals scored since April of last season. Steve Montador is an impressive plus-16 (second in the league in that department) and is playing with heart and passion (something the Sabres seem to lack, but that will be seen to later).
Brian Speers' boy Andrej "Reggie" Sekera has been putting up solid play lately, but nothing worth noting. To contrast Leopold's singing, Shaone Morrison has been a huge disappointment, averaging roughly 15:00 a night, collecting only two assists in 21 games while accumulating a minus-10 rating. He needs to play better to create a formidable Sabres defense that they sorely need.
Mike Weber has done a mediocre job (despite the horrid giveaway for Nathan Horton's tying goal Tuesday) as a fill in for the frequently scratched captain, the notorious Craig Rivet, which leads us to our next topic: leadership.
It may be fair to say that Craig Rivet is the worst captain in the NHL. He is consistently scratched from the lineup, and when he plays, he rarely plays over 15:00 a night.
I was listening to talk radio WGR 550 last year around Februrary and some guy called in after a game saying how "Lindy, as well as our defense is playing, should scratch Rivet more often, but unfortunately, you can't bench your captain."
Well sadly, it's come to that for the Sabres. Rivet cannot offer enough leadership to the team to make up for his poor play. Nothing against the guy, but he should take a page out of his coach's book. Lindy Ruff was the captain for the Sabres in the late '80s and was forced to the press box frequently as a result of poor play.
Lindy, like the great leader he was, resigned his captaincy and moved on with a trade to the New York Rangers. With a captain like Rivet, the Sabres don't have a chance. Whether it's a trade or someone stepping up (see: Roy, Derek) in the locker room, something needs to happen.
Over the past 4 games (the Sabres are 3-1), the offense has produced 13 goals, averaging 3.25 a game. This is an improvement upon their seasonal average of 2.5 a game. While the 3.25 average would put the Sabres in the top 5 of the league in that category, fans cannot expect this trend to continue. All the Sabres need to do is score consistently.
With strong defense and a balanced scoring attack that shows up almost every night, they should be fine. Thomas Vanek has been playing very well of late, collecting nine points in his last seven games.
Derek Roy has slowed down his early season output, but is still leading the team in points. The last time that he scored a goal was against Washington on Nov. 17. That needs to change. The usual scoring suspects need to start producing as well. Jason Pomminville has three goals and eight points in 17 games since returning from his concussion.
The offense doesn't need to put up records, but maintain a steady pace. Scoring five against Columbus, zero against Ottawa, two against Boston, and then six (five minus the EN) against San Jose is too irregular. It needs to show up every night.
What doesn't need to happen is for Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff to be chased out of town. For what they are given by the ownership, the longest tenured tandem in North American sports make the best of it. With rumors of Terry Pegula wanting to buy the Sabres, these two men at the helm for a team that is willing to spend would be the best possible situation for the Sabres.
With a steady defense, and strong play from Miller, and an acceptable offense, the Sabres should have no excuse to not be in the playoffs.
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