While Tuesday’s heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes left many Buffalo Sabres fans feeling blue, there should still be joy in the City of Light. Why you may ask? The answer is simple—your future is so bright, ya gotta wear shades.   Yes, yes, I know the past has not been too bright and celebrating your 40th year in the NHL and still not having a Stanley Cup to your credit is a dark cloud over that celebration. 

While some may want to blame goaltender Ryan Miller for last night’s loss, you may really want to look at the other end of the ice for the true culprit, Carolina goaltender Cam Ward.  By the end of the night Ward had racked up 40 saves and, as one die-hard Sabres fan, RockerTommyB, tweeted last night, “Cam Ward is our kryptonite.”

Brandon Sutter scored Carolina’s lone goal with just 42 seconds left in the first period giving the Canes a mental edge going into the locker room at the first intermission that Cam Ward apparently took to heart. With a lot of traffic in front of Miller, Sutter got lucky with a rebound off of Miller and backhanded it into the net with Miller lost in the commotion on the opposite side of the net.

Miller, usually a calm, cool and collected kind of guy, was obviously upset by the goal late in the first as he came off the ice. He is, traditionally, the last man off the ice and as he went off the ice he slammed his stick on the boards, clearly in frustration.  While the Sabres battled along the boards and hung in there and fought hard in the neutral zone, none of their 40 shots got past the brick wall that was Cam Ward.  

Yet, to the Sabre faithful, while the bitter taste from this game may still be in your mouth, you must take a cleansing breath and look to the  future.

The winds of change are in the air in Buffalo, with a new owner whose passion and deep love for the game is certainly contagious. It is evident in the chat rooms, blog comments and even sports broadcasts. Some have even speculated that this excitement has already begun to trickle down to the players.

The Sabres culture is moving in a positive direction with a new owner who has clearly stated that he isn’t afraid to make a sincere financial investment in the team. How’s that for some changing winds? 

If you have about 40 minutes, I highly recommend this interview between new owner, Terry Pegula, and a collection of Buffalo news reporters as part of an editorial board meeting on February 24th. If you are a Sabres’ fan and don’t have a man crush on Mr. Pegula yet, you will after listening to this awesome interview. He referred to what he is presently doing with the team, the fans and the organization as “culture change.”

While Buffalo is buzzing with reports that the Sabres new owner may also be positioning himself to buy the Buffalo Bills, I don’t think that will happen.

He was quoted in the interview above, after being asked if he was also interested in the Bills, “Nope, nope. I got too much going right here, right now, to get this running the way we want it running and to inject the attitude we want into the organization to think about, worry about, football.”

While some Buffalo reporters are claiming inside information and unnamed sources, Mr. Pegula doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would knowingly contradict himself in the press within a three week period. Knowing the history of the previous owner with the fan base, it would be more of a detriment to the vision that he has for the Sabres if he were suddenly seen as deceptive.   

Many would argue that you have one of the best goaltenders in the league. The simple fact that he was chosen as the goalie for the silver medalist 2010 US Olympic team, along with his Vezina trophy last year should leave the argument of Ryan Miller’s value to the team pretty much closed.

You have a solid goaltender who, I believe, will bring you far—possibly even farther than anyone would have suspected. Miller is certainly a goaltender who thrives on the adrenaline rush and rises to the occasion when asked. He will regularly exceed expectations. He is just that kind of player and that kind of individual.

Adding to Miller is a roster whose average age hovers around 25, what Twitter’s BSN360 refers to as “character guys,” in forwards Michael Grier and Rob Niedermayer and goaltender Patrick Lalime. The junior prospects are also a bright spot, in particular Buffalo native left winger Marcus Foligno, who is the son of former Sabre captain Mike Foligno (1981-1991).  

So, Sabre fans, with Mr. Pegula and Mr. Miller et al on your side, spring is in the air and your future is bright…go get yourself some cool shades—you’re going to need them.    

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Many Sabres fans, including myself, were a bit premature after Buffalo moved into seventh place last week. I was already thinking about who the Sabres should play in the first round. Well, after a 1-0 loss to Carolina, Buffalo is the team that everyone is looking to beat.

It’s not over until it’s over. New Jersey knows a little something about that this season. Former Sabre Henrik Tallinder and the revitalized Devils are looking to make one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, and I have jumped on the bandwagon. I’ve always felt that teams like New Jersey and Detroit have always been good, always making the playoffs. That’s because they have.

As much as I normally dislike the Devils, this year is different. After being in last place for the first half of the season, New Jersey has gained my respect. If there is one team that I do not want the Sabres to face down this final stretch, it’s the Devils.

The Devils are just six points behind Buffalo. They still play the Sabres one more time and they have a game in hand. It will be no easy task fending them off. They even have a chance to catch the Rangers in seventh. New Jersey trails New York by eight points, but still have two games in hand and a meeting against them in the second to last game of the season.

Obviously, I want the Sabres to make the playoffs, but I believe that New Jersey will take the seventh or eighth spot in the East. I feel sorry for whoever has to face New Jersey in the first round (if they make it) because they will put up one heck of a fight.

New Jersey started the season with a 10-29-2 record, falling 27 points back of the eighth place spot. Since January 9th, the Devils have been on fire, going 23-3-2 and moving to just six points back!

No team has ever made the playoffs after a deficit of at least 12 points. New Jersey is looking to shatter that record.

The Devils also just went through a span of 17 games without allowing a first period goal, a big reason in why they were able to win so many games. That streak was snapped when they fell behind 2-0 to the Islanders in the first period on Tuesday. But, the Devils came storming back with four unanswered goals to win that game, too.

The last couple of weeks, many Buffalo fans were content because the Sabres had game in hand over most teams. Well, guess what. Those games in hand are gone. Don’t count on the Sabres just cruising through the final stretch.

The Sabres still have games against every team in the Eastern Conference, with the exception of the Islanders, Boston, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Not one of the remaining games will be an easy win, but not many are in the NHL anymore.

Remember that the Sabres did not get off to a good start this season, either. It wasn’t as bad as New Jersey, but Buffalo were 10 games back at one point. The Sabres started off 15-18-3, including a 3-7-2 record in October.

It goes to show you that games early in the season are just as important as the ones toward the end. New Jersey defeated Buffalo 1-0 in October. The Sabres went on to win the next two against the Devils, and those games turned out to be huge.

There are still four teams that could move into the playoffs by the end of the season, and as a Sabres fan, I’m extremely nervous.

Carolina, Toronto and New Jersey are all in the chase. Even Atlanta are just six points out. The Thrashers have fallen dramatically though, going 7-14-6 since January 7th. Going 2-7-2 in February didn’t help their cause.

Overall, I believe that New Jersey will take the seventh spot and the Sabres will take eighth. The Rangers are going to drop off. Carolina and Toronto don’t want it enough as the other teams.

I know Buffalo just lost to the Hurricanes, but it was a solid effort. I think the whole road trip and the passing of Rick Martin, finally caught up to them. I think now is a great time for three days off.

With the presence of Terry Pegula, I think the Sabres are determined to do well this season. They, along with New Jersey, would be fully capable of pulling off a first-round upset if they make the playoffs.

That brings me to my next piece: ‘Playoff Momentum’ which will be posted tomorrow.

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The news of Richard Martin’s death did not impact the hockey community like it would if it were one of the well-known legends of hockey like Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau or Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky.

Rick Martin still had an impact.

Martin had the advantage and equal disadvantage of playing for the expansion Buffalo Sabres rather than being drafted by an established team like the Montreal Canadians—the team he grew up watching.

He did benefit by being able to play in the NHL and make an immediate impact.  He was at a disadvantage because he did not get a chance to win the Stanley Cup and reinforce his superstar talent for those who select Hall of Fame inductees.

Few nowadays remember that “Rico,” as he was nicknamed, grew up in Quebec and played for Thetford Mines and the Montreal Junior Canadians, where he starred with future Buffalo line-mate Gilbert Perreault and NHL alumni Marc Tardif, Rejean Houle, Andre DuPont, Jocelyn Guevremont, Ian Turnbull and Rick Kehoe.

The Junior Canadians had a stockpile of young, French Canadian talent and, playing in the Montreal Forum, they actually outdrew the NHL’s Montreal Canadians.

Martin and his future line-mate, Perreault, were young stars and extremely popular in Quebec.

Still, fewer knew that Martin, and Hall of Famers Perreault, Marcel Dionne and Guy Lafleur, relished playing against each other as children in the Quebec peewee tournament each year.

Make no mistake—Rick Martin was a rare hockey talent who could play in today’s NHL and probably score more goals than he did in his prime as a Buffalo Sabres’ top draft choice.

As hard as it is to believe, he could score with Stamkos, Ovechkin and Crosby if he played today.

That claim could not be made of every star NHL performer from a different time.

For those who have never seen Martin play—you really missed a treat.

His slap shot rivaled the hardest and most lethal in the game.

His wrist shot was so accurate, he would regularly challenge players to a game of “hit the post,” and he could do it eight out of 10 times, consistently.  Martin could also skate and was capable of carrying the puck and playing roughly when necessary.

He made a perfect line-mate for Perreault and Robert and helped create the legendary French Connection—one of the best forward lines in NHL history.

The thing that made Rick Martin unique, though, was his temperament.

He was highly competitive and, although it was hardly ever mentioned, he was nearly unstoppable from the blue line in.

Rick Martin was addicted to the high of scoring goals and never came down from it.

They said the same thing about another French Canadian sniper, Maurice Richard, who was described as having eyes like burning coals when he was skating in from the blue line. 

A great guy off the ice, Martin was capable of holding grudges on it, and woe to his foes if he did.  His sense of humor and wisecracks often needled the other team to distraction and sometimes caused longstanding grudges with opposing players.

His scorching blasts often put a period on what he was trying to get across and won the Sabres many contests.

Martin never forgave forward Ryan Walter and goalie Mike Palmateer for upending him on a breakaway and causing a knee injury that shortened his sparkling career.  If not injured, Martin by all estimates would have scored at least 500 goals in his career.

Martin also made a few coaches more than a little angry.  His wisecracks and practical jokes—like cutting the hockey sticks of fellow players so they would break at just the right (or wrong) time—caused some heated locker room diatribes from head coaches.

Martin was not very fond of Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman for trading him to the LA Kings.

I personally had the opportunity to meet Rick Martin several years ago in Florida, where he was taking part in a hockey legends game against the retired New York Islanders Stanley Cup team.

Martin was down to earth and spent a lot of time answering questions and pontificating on the game he loved.

On the Buffalo Sabres not winning the Stanley Cup Martin said, “We were only one or two players away.  We needed another defenseman and a playoff goalie.”

When I asked him who his favorite player was, he said, without hesitation, ”Bobby Hull.”

He also said his biggest thrill was meeting the Golden Jet at an All-Star game and being invited to sit with him and talk about the do’s and dont’s of the NHL.  

Rick Martin was a superb host and a guy who decided to put down roots near Buffalo, where he and his wife worked together on Globalquest, a computer business that they ran together.

Like his childhood idol Hull, Martin always took time to shake hands and take pictures with adoring fans well after his playing days were over.

There is no doubt that Martin will be greatly missed by his family and those who admired him for his work on and off the ice.

God bless you, Rick.  There will not be another like you.  You touched the hearts of hockey fans everywhere and we will not forget you.

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We have officially entered the stretch run of the 2010-2011 NHL regular season. This is the time for teams that are already in contention to tweak what they have to their needs, and for teams on the outside to do whatever they can to get in.

Improvements must be made in order for all teams to go on viable runs for the Stanley Cup.

This slideshow will examine the needs of 10 teams in each the Eastern and Western Conference.

Although it is quite difficult to predict which teams battling for a playoff position will qualify, I tried to make a fair assessment to the best of my abilities.

My apology to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota Wild and Atlanta Thrashers.

Begin Slideshow

The Buffalo Sabres and their fans, as well as the entire hockey world, are shocked today to find out a true Sabres legend has passed away.

Tragically, Rick Martin, of the storied French Connection line, died at age 59 after he suffered a heart attack while driving.

Martin will be most remembered by fans for being a winger on the French Connection line along with Rene Robert and Gilbert Perreualt. Martin donned Buffalo blue and gold for ten years, amassing 382 goals and 313 assists in regular-season play.

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Drafted fifth overall in the 1971 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres, Rick Martin amassed 382 goals in 10 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.

His rookie season, Martin tallied 44 goals and 30 assists. And that was only just the beginning.

Martin, of course, was a part of one of, if not the best, lines in hockey to ever be assembled: the French Connection. The year prior to Martin’s drafting, Gilbert Perreault was drafted in the team’s inaugural season. In March 4, 1972, the line was assembled, with the Buffalo Sabres acquiring Rene Robert.

Their first season together, they tallied 95 goals and 199 assists. Just as Martin’s rookie season, this was the start of an epic seven seasons together, where the trio became the first in Sabres history to tally over 200 goals.

Rick Martin was the scoring player of the three. Sure, the others scored, but Martin’s shot was pinpoint, with Martin amassing two seasons with over 50 goals and a 49 goal season. During the time at which the French Connection was assembled, they missed the playoffs just once, in 1973-1974.

The year after, the trio would play in the Stanley Cup, losing in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Martin’s accomplishments weren’t just on the ice. When he retired from hockey in 1982 with the Los Angeles Kings (only playing four games outside a Buffalo sweater), he moved back to Buffalo, New York. His number, along with the rest of the French Connection’s, was retired and now hangs in HSBC Arena.

He was a staple within the community, and for a short time, served as a coach with the Sabres. He could often be found in Clarence Center, New York, and was a figure who was liked by anyone he met. Even as a hockey legend, Martin was always a down to earth kind of guy and would sit and enjoy a time at the bar with anyone.

Today, the NHL lost a brother, a legend. The Buffalo Sabres lost one of their most prolific players, and the community of Western New York will never be the same. Rick Martin’s legacy will be one not forgotten by any hockey fan of the Buffalo Sabres. I was unfortunate to never see him play, but everything I have seen and heard of and from Martin himself indicated he truly was the great man he presented himself as.

Most likely, especially with new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres will honor Martin tonight when they host the Ottawa Senators.

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When new Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula officially took over the team from businessman Tom Golisano last month, he immediately made his intentions clear.

“From this point forward, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup,” said the billionaire and lifelong Sabres fan.

For hockey fans around North America, this statement was nothing more than the new guy in town trying to make a name for himself. For Sabres players and fans, however, the message sent chills down their spines.

Golisano had saved the franchise from a possible move out of Buffalo after the downfall of the Regis family, but his focus was on making money, not winning hockey games. He had no problem admitting that. In his first remarks as owner, Pegula said that there were no longer any financial restraints on the front office.

Since Pegula took over the reigns, the Sabres are 7-2-2 and have vaulted into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Pegula has attended every game since the $189 million purchase, despite the fact the Sabres just concluded a franchise-long, seven-game road trip in which they went 4-2-1.

One reason for the recent hot streak was Pegula’s green-lighting a trade for Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues in an effort to add another scorer into a grinder-saturated lineup. Boyes has provided an immediate boost by scoring six points in seven games, including a game-winning overtime goal against Boston on Tuesday.

Pegula hired former Pittsburgh Penguins vice president Ted Black to become team president. Both have repeatedly said that winning the Stanley Cup is never one big thing, but rather many little things with some lucky bounces along the way.

One such little thing was installing a $20,000 carpet with the Sabres logo in the locker room while the team was on the road trip. Starting on March 19, Pegula and company are adding a pregame show for all games.

Pegula said his timetable for bringing Lord Stanley’s Cup to Buffalo is three years, and although the odds are on the Sabres side to make the playoffs this season, it would take more than a few lucky bounces for them to win it all.

Looking forward to the offseason, however, the Sabres will clear nearly $7 million in cap space with Tim Connolly, Rob Niedermayer and Mike Grier set to become free agents and unlikely to be re-signed.

A sizable chunk of that $7 million will be spent to re-sign restricted free agent Drew Stafford, but there will still be enough space left under the salary cap for one or two impact signings.

With one of the deepest free agent classes since the lockout set to hit the market this summer, Pegula is set up to make a big splash.

Selling the city of Buffalo to a big name player like Brad Richards will be tough though, considering the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs are also rumored to be readying big contracts for the play-making center.

That is why Pegula and Black are focusing their efforts on making Buffalo a place players want to play, and why they will continue to implement those “little things” they keep talking about.

The honeymoon period is still in full force, but Sabres fans will tell you that having Pegula running their franchise is anything but little.

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