Ryan Miller made his thoughts about the Buffalo Sabres trading Paul Gaustad crystal clear on Tuesday. The star goaltender was upset his close friend and one of the team's best leaders was dealt to the Nashville Predators for a first-round pick.

Professional athletes speaking their minds has become increasingly rare in recent years because they fear the backlash, so when a player does make pointed comments it becomes a big story. In this case, it shows a disconnect between Sabres management and the players.

John Vogl of the Buffalo News passed along some of Miller's thoughts. Here's one snippet:

“Like I've said, we don't make those decisions. That's more proof because if I had any more influence Paul would still be here. I appreciate the way he plays. He's been one of my best friends for a long time there. Obviously, that's going to continue, but it was nice to have him as a teammate and have those other intangibles.”

The Sabres have failed to live up to sky-high expectations this season after spending big money in free agency. When one of the team's prominent players starts talking about a lack of influence, it's obviously going to raise some flags.

Buffalo's roster has featured a bunch of homegrown players in recent seasons, but the team hasn't been able to get over the playoff hump. So the front office, under a three-year Stanley Cup mandate from owner Terry Pegula, has been trying to infuse outside talent to reach that goal.

It didn't really hit home for the players until Gaustad, one of those guys who has been in the organization for a long time, was sent packing that things are changing. And clearly Miller isn't a big fan of the new direction.

What makes it worse for everybody involved is that the trade was actually a good one by general manager Darcy Regier. Getting a high draft pick for a third-line center like Gaustad, who is an impending free agent, was an unexpected treat.

So if Miller is willing to sound off about a move that will help the franchise, what happens when Regier makes a trade that isn't as savvy? It could get ugly.

In reality, the core Buffalo had in place simply wasn't good enough to reach Pegula's ultimate goal, so changes were necessary. That means longtime contributors like Gaustad are going to be expendable, whether Miller likes it or not.

In the business of sports, it isn't wise to get overly attached to a friend, because they could easily be on a new roster tomorrow. Especially if a team is willing to pay a hefty price to get them.

The days of Sabres management being content to break even with most of the same faces leading the way are over. Gaustad is the first of a couple changes likely on the way before next season starts, so Miller had better be prepared.

And, if he does have concerns, keeping them behind closed doors is still the best option, even if he gets applauded for his honesty.

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The NHL Trade Deadline has concluded with the Buffalo Sabres shipping out Paul Gaustad and a fourth-round pick to the Nashville Predators for a first-round pick, and sending Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani to the Vancouver Canucks for Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer. The much-scrutinized Sabres GM Darcy Regier should be saluted for his work.

Early morning reports stated that Buffalo was looking for a first-round pick for Gaustad's services and those around the league scoffed at such a notion. Low and behold, Regier was able to get just that as he waited until the last second to pull the trigger.

The Sabres now have two first-round picks and two second-round picks in this year's draft that can either be used to acquire more young talent or to land a big name through the trading market. After all, most of the larger trades happen over the course of the offseason and not at the deadline. Look for the Sabres to have another active summer. 

The physical, hard-nosed center will be missed, but no one can argue with what the Sabres got for his services. But what about that hole at the center position?

Regier wasn't done. Shortly after the deadline, reports trickled in that Zack Kassian had been dealt to the Canucks. Soon after, we found out that 21-year-old center Hodgson was coming to Buffalo. His 16 goals already this season is the third-most on the roster.

Hodgson will only get better and will fill a major void at the center position. Not only does this move help the Sabres moving forward, but it helps them in the present as they still cling to playoff hopes. They may actually be better today than they were yesterday.

On the flip side, Kassian is heading to Vancouver. The physical forward has been struggling all season long in both Rochester and Buffalo. That mean streak that the Sabres coveted from him seemed to be all but missing and his scoring touch has been nowhere to be found.

While Kassian can certainly turn things around in Vancouver as he is a top prospect, he certainly wasn't getting much done in the Sabres system. 

Some Sabres fans may not be happy with the deadline moves, but the franchise put their money where their mouth is when they said the goal remains to build a Stanley Cup winner and not just strive for short-term gains. 

The future appears to be very bright in Buffalo. 

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After acquiring forward Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets, it appears as though the Los Angeles Kings are interested in dealing captain Dustin Brown. One team that should do anything within reason to acquire him is the Buffalo Sabres.

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, the Sabres are one of eight teams with strong interest in acquiring the gritty winger. It's a bit curious that the Kings would want to trade their second-leading goal scorer when they rank last in the league in scoring, but Buffalo needs to capitalize on the situation.

Brown's numbers are a bit down this season with 14 goals and 31 points through 61 games, but he's proven in the past that he is a consistent offensive producer. Prior to this season, Brown has netted at least 24 goals and 53 points in four consecutive campaigns. When you add to that his rough-and-tumble style of play and leadership, he is an ideal second-liner.

The Sabres have played much better of late, but they are ultimately a major disappointment this season. With the offseason acquisitions of Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr and Ville Leino, Buffalo was considered a surefire playoff team by most. Instead, they are currently seven points out of the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference and need a fantastic late-season run to make it.

While Brown may not save their season this year, he is precisely the type of player the Sabres need. The overwhelming sentiment in Buffalo is that the team is suffering from a rotting core, which includes forwards Derek Roy, Drew Stafford and Paul Gaustad, specifically. While all of them have been productive at some point during their career, they haven't lived up to their billing this year.

Essentially, the only players contributing offensively for the Sabres right now are Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, as they have combined for 46 of the team's 150 goals, or roughly one-third. Secondary scoring has been non-existent because neither Roy nor Stafford has held up their end of the bargain with 23 total goals.

Roy had four straight seasons with at least 63 points from 2006-07 to 2009-10, while Stafford was among the NHL leaders in goals per game last year with 31 in 62 games. Most Sabres fans consider Roy and Stafford to be the two biggest on-ice culprits for Buffalo's struggles this season, and it's possible that neither will be on the roster by the start of next season.

With that said, a player like Brown, who has a nose for the net and leadership qualities, is the perfect antidote for what ills the Sabres. Brown isn't afraid to get involved physically and he brings a consistent effort every night, which is something that can't be said for most of the players currently on Buffalo's roster.

On top of that, Brown has an extremely friendly cap hit of $3.175 million through the 2013-14 season. Not only would he help the Sabres now, but he could be a big part of a potential Stanley Cup contender over the next couple years if further astute moves are made this offseason.

Although it's uncertain precisely what Los Angeles will ask for in return, it stands to reason that it would love to get a puck-moving defenseman after dealing Jack Johnson to Columbus for Carter. Luckily for Sabres fans, Buffalo is loaded with offensively-minded defensemen, making a Brown for Andrej Sekera swap quite sensible.

Sekera has a great cap hit in his own right at $2.75 million through 2014-15, so it makes financial sense for both sides. Sekera has developed into one of the team's most reliable defensemen, and while he only has 10 points on the season, that doesn't tell the story of how good his offensive skills are.

Unfortunately, you have to give up quality players to get quality players, so the Sabres will need to part with an asset like Sekera to land Brown. Buffalo has plenty of good, young defensemen in the system, though, like Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc.

The Sabres would be dealing from a position of strength, so it would be silly for them not to consider the deal if it should come up in negotiations. Buffalo needs a change in culture, and a hard-working yet skilled player like Brown is a piece that the Sabres have been missing for quite some time.

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As is the case with just about every NHL franchise this time of year, the Buffalo Sabres have been a much talked-about entity, as we are just days away from the NHL trade deadline.

A number of Sabres have been linked to trade rumors, including Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad and Derek Roy.

The fascinating circumstance surrounding the blue and gold is that it is yet to be confirmed whether the team will be a buyer or seller. The team, just like everyone else in the NHL this season, is still in striking distance of a playoff spot despite having a disappointing season. Thus, they are in a precarious situation and find themselves pondering their trade strategy.

As February 27th nears, the team should be a seller to ensure long-term success. 

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It's way too soon for the Buffalo Sabres to give up on Drew Stafford.

Few Sabres players have received more heat for the team's disappointing season than Stafford. The talented winger hasn't been able to match his point production from last season after signing a long-term contract extension that pays him $4 million per year.

That has led to rumors about his possible departure from Buffalo. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News reports the Edmonton Oilers could be interested in landing him if the price was right:

If the Sabres really find a willing partner, they might shed a more lucrative deal. Drew Stafford has three more seasons on his contract at $4 million per, and Andrej Sekera has three more at $2.75 million.

There's continued chatter out of Edmonton, where his uncle was a longtime equipment manager, that the Oilers have interest in Stafford.

It's impossible to deny Stafford's contributions this season have been a disappointment, but there are only a couple players on the team's roster who you couldn't say that about. The Sabres are struggling because players who they expected to play prominent roles have struggled mightily.

Ville Leino, who was brought in to be Buffalo's No. 2 center, has moved back to wing and has just four goals in 44 games. Tyler Ennis has just seven points in 21 games after missing a lot of time due to injury. Brad Boyes and Derek Roy have also failed to play like most anticipated prior to the season.

That's how a team that was projected to finish in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference finds its playoff chances to be virtually nonexistent with two months left. It's not one player's fault, it's a franchise-wide failure.

So fans, as you would expect, have begun to call for radical changes to the team's roster. Stafford has been one of the main targets, with most considering him a contract-year fluke.

Even though this is Stafford's sixth season with the team, he's just 26 years old, which should mean his best hockey is yet to come. He established a 40-goal pace last season before injuries slowed him down, but the talent was obvious.

When he's playing up to his potential, the North Dakota product can be a dominate power forward. It's getting him to play with the necessary intensity on a nightly basis which has been a problem. That maturity should come soon.

Trading him now would also pose the traditional problem of selling low. Stafford's value on the market is unlikely to ever fall lower than it currently sits. He's in the first year of a new deal, underperforming and is a minus player for the first time in his career.

Whatever the Sabres get back in return, which wouldn't be much because teams would see a franchise desperate to make a move just for the sake of riding themselves of an underachieving player, won't be close to Stafford's potential value in the future to the Sabres.

Buffalo would be much better off holding on to him and hope he, along with many of his teammates, rebound next season instead of trading him on the cheap before the deadline.

It might frustrate some of the team's diehard fans in the short term, but it will be the right move for the franchise over the long haul.

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Earlier this week Lindy Ruff was injured in the Buffalo Sabres' practice, after Jordan Leopold lost his balance on a battle drill and took his feet off. Lindy landed on his arm and ended up breaking three ribs. 

Lindy Ruff has been behind the bench in Buffalo for the last 14 season. I must confess that despite being one of Lindy's largest detractors this season, it was kind of odd not seeing him behind the bench in such an important game.

Well, the Sabres faced the Bruins and they won. They won big. We saw the Sabres play like they haven't played during this season.

Here are four reasons why Ruff's injury might be a blessing in disguise for the Sabres' second half.

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With sharp blades, whizzing pucks and weapon-like sticks, hockey players and officials have one of the most dangerous jobs in sports, which we were unfortunately reminded of on Wednesday night when NHL referee Kelly Sutherland was forced to leave the New York Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres contest in the first period due to injury.

With 14:23 remaining in the first period of the game, Sutherland found himself directly in the line of fire, as a shot attempt was deflected off a Rangers player, careening directly into Sutherland's face.

The puck bounced off Sutherland and was briefly batted around by several Sabres and Rangers players before play was stopped to attend to the clearly shaken-up official. During the subsequent injury timeout, Sabres trainers and Sutherland's crew decided the veteran referee's night was finished just 5:37 after it had started.

Sutherland joined the full-time NHL staff in 2000, debuting on Dec. 19, 2000 in Los Angeles. A testament to his strengths as an official, Sutherland has officiated 38 playoff games, including both the 2010 and 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.

A native of Richmond, British Columbia, Sutherland is one of many players and officials who do not wear a visor or shield attached to their helmets, as the visor is sometimes considered as much of a hindrance to a profession that requires pinpoint accuracy and quickness as it is an assistance to safety.

Although this incident appears to have been a relatively minor one as far as hockey injuries go, it does raise the issue of safety vs. convenience—security and welfare vs. placing oneself in the best position possible to get the call right or play a speeding puck.

According to an October NHLPA poll, 68 percent of NHL players presently wear visors, up from 60 percent in 2009, 29 percent in 2002 and 15 percent in 1999. The 2009 TSN report was published in the wake of Edmonton Oilers captain Ethan Moreau's scratched cornea injury that could have been prevented had Moreau worn a visor.

Though the NHL does not require shields, visors or cages, most other organized hockey leagues do, such as the American Hockey League and the entirety of NCAA Divisions I, II and III.

Clearly, Sutherland's is exactly the concussion-like injury the visor and helmet assembly was meant to protect when the hockey world first introduced the two devices decades ago, when Greg Neeld of the Toronto Toros became the first player to wear a shield in 1973.

Neeld lost his left eye after being high-sticked during a junior game earlier that year. Though drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in 1975, he never played a single game in the NHL due to his disability.

In 2003, NHL referee Kerry Fraser explained his and other veteran officials' reluctance to accept the helmet and visor assembly as necessary safety equipment: "When I started with the NHL back in 1973, officials did not wear helmets. It is what I am used to and I feel I my awareness is increased without a helmet."

Fraser admits he did experiment with a helmet in the mid-1990s, but felt they were inhibiting: "I felt like it slowed down my reaction time and reduced my peripheral vision."

Fraser got rid of the helmet less than a month later.

In start contrast, NHL referee Blaine Angus had no problem incorporating a helmet and visor into his daily dressing ritual, explaining that he always wore a helmet and visor when working lower level hockey in the Ontario Hockey League, where the equipment has been mandatory for as long as Angus has been officiating.

Unlike Fraser, Angus found that reincorporating the helmet and visor into his NHL game "has not been much of an adjustment."

Fraser was one of three NHL officials covered by a grandfather clause exempting him from the NHL's mandatory helmet regulation for referees and linesmen, which can be found under Rule 31 of the NHL Rules Book.

For newer officials like Sutherland and Angus, a League-approved black helmet is required, though a clear plastic or polycarbonate visor or shield is not.

After Moreau's eye injury, he elected to don a visor for the rest of his professional career.

The question is, will Sutherland now do the same? And if not, is it time for the NHL to join college, high school and all those other leagues that make full or upper face protection mandatory?

 

Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.

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If Lindy Ruff and the Buffalo Sabres hope to make a second-half run, it's safe to say that Tuesday night’s win in Montreal was a lunge in the right direction.

Buffalo got goals from Ville Leino and Paul Gaustad, and Kaleta’s empty-netter secured the win for Ryan Miller, who made 27 saves.

It was a blue-collar win to be sure, one that involved constantly grinding out of the defensive and the neutral zone to keep the Canadiens and Carey Price, who made 37 saves, on their heels.

The Sabres made the right plays when they had to in order to escape with the victory.

There’s no time for backslaps however, as tonight the Sabres will host the first-place New York Rangers, who let a point get away last night against New Jersey.

The Rangers had a 2-1 advantage with six minutes to go and a 3-2 edge with under four minutes remaining, but the team couldn’t escape. A random board carom allowed David Clarkson to score his 17th of the season to force overtime with 48 seconds left on the clock.

The Rangers eventually fell on the losing side of things when Ilya Kovalchuk was the only shooter to find the twine, beating former Sabres Martin Biron in the shootout.  

"We were in total control," coach John Tortorella said, courtesy of AOLSportingNews. "Then, we get a bad bounce. I liked our game. We played good. We'll take the point and go on to Buffalo."

Needless to say, not only will the Rangers come into the First Niagara Center as a hungry first-place team, they’ll most likely also come with "King Henrik" between the pipes.

Lundqvist, who joined Pominville in Ottawa, boasts a GAA and save percentage in the Top 5 in the league. Tonight’s game will be no easy task, despite the Sabres being 4-0-3 in their last seven home games since a December loss to these same Rangers.

Notes: Thomas Vanek left Tuesday’s game in Montreal with an upper body injury and his status for tonight is unclear. It would undoubtedly be a tougher go of it for Buffalo without him, as he leads the team with 19 goals.

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If I were Darcy Regier, I would embrace the pain of not getting into the playoffs right now, a little less than a month before the trade deadline, and put on the big "For Sale" sign in front of the organization's lawn and start re-shaping it right now.

The Buffalo Sabres are a good team with a boatload of very good prospects but these prospects alone won't take the team to the Stanley Cup that this organization sorely wants.

This year, the Sabres had no excuses to have such an awful season with Terry Pegula's pockets, but the hockey gods frowned upon the acquisitions made last summer and sent the injury bug to get the Sabres.

Here are several things that the Sabres need to do in order to prepare successfully for playoff contention next season.

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