Category Archives: NHL

Two Games For Tootoo? Good Call

Sabreland patiently awaited word from the NHL’s hearing about Jordin Tootoo’s charging penalty against Ryan Miller on Saturday night in Nashville. The league took it’s time with this one, announcing this afternoon that Tootoo will be suspended for the next two games without pay.

Since WordPress won’t allow me to post Shanahan’s explanation, here is a statement handed down from the league office:

Nashville Predators forward Jordin Tootoo has been suspended, without pay, for two games for charging Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller during NHL Game #379 Saturday night, Dec. 3, in Nashville, the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced today.
Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Tootoo will forfeit $13,513.52. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
The incident occurred at 15:54 of the second period. Tootoo was assessed a major penalty for charging and game misconduct on the play.
Tootoo will miss games tonight vs. Phoenix and Dec. 8 at Columbus. He will be eligible to return Dec. 10 vs. Anaheim.

In Shanahan’s explanation, Tootoo is driving to the net with the puck, but loses it before he is able to make a play. Tootoo had enough time to avoid Miller even though Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff was making body contact with Tootoo. Another thing Shanahan nitpicks about is the fact that Tootoo jumped into Miller. While Shanahan understands the claim that Tootoo jumped to avoid contact, it actually made the play more dangerous, resulting in contact with Miller’s head. As you can see:

The result of the play was a massive scrum by the net, which included Paul Gaustad involving his fists, as well as Miller taking matters into his own hands, throwing blockers at Tootoo’s face. Furthermore, Tootoo was penalized with a five minute major for charging.

First of all, that’s already a lot more than what Milan Lucic got for running Miller outside of his crease. Lucic, if you remember, was given two minutes for that particular incident. The call on the ice was suitable for what Tootoo did. He was also ejected from the game.

When word came from the NHL yesterday that Tootoo was going to have a phone hearing with Shanahan, many were worried that the league might not come down on Tootoo at all, as the maximum suspension Tootoo could have gotten from a phone hearing is just five games.

Tootoo was given two games, though, and that seems good enough. Frankly, we shouldn’t even compare this to the Lucic incident, which was completely different from the way Tootoo ran the net.

In Lucic’s case, Miller went to make a play on a loose puck out of his crease, standing upright. Miller wasn’t “fair game” in this case, but he certainly put himself in a position to get severely hurt, which is what ended up happening, as Miller suffered a concussion from this play. While Miller was in a position in which he could get hurt, though, Lucic had plenty of time to steer clear of any sort of accident. The league really screwed that call up.

In this case, Tootoo was driving with the puck to the net, with Miller in his crease making sure the puck stays out. Tootoo loses the puck, yet still keeps barreling into Miller. Unfortunately for Tootoo, his trying to avoid hitting the goalie by jumping only made matters worse. Hitting the goalie like that, whether a player meant it or not, is a big no-no.

While Tootoo is what many fans are considering a “repeat offender”, keep in mind that Tootoo has been in the league eight years, and the last time he was suspended was when he sucker punched Stephan Robidas of the Dallas Stars almost four years ago. For reference:

Yeah, that was pretty blatant. The charging call on Miller didn’t seem as blatant. If anything, Sabres fans should be more appalled that Lucic got nothing for a more vicious hit on Miller than Tootoo did on a routine drive to the net. It looked more like Tootoo was trying to avoid the contact by jumping over Ryan Miller rather than just barrel into him. Not every player can think like Ryan Kesler and just jump on top of the net:

It’s basically the exact same thing. Kesler just made a much better choice and tried hopping over the net instead, while still making contact with the goalie.

Frankly, two games is enough for this incident, considering Tootoo was given a major penalty and was ejected from the game. There was no way this would get anything more than that. Again, it was a routine drive to the net in which Tootoo lost control of the puck, and himself. Nothing more. Jumping into Miller doesn’t seem like the best call to make, but perhaps Tootoo was a great long-jumper back in high school and thought he might try to put that to good use. Better luck next time, bud.

Honestly, there is no reason to believe that it’s going to be open-season on goalies from this point forward. How many other incidents have we had this year where the goalie was completely run over and nothing was done about it? Just that one from Boston game? Miller is the only goalie that has been viciously hit, and now that it’s happened twice, it obviously leads to the conclusion that Lindy Ruff was right, that it truly is going to be open-season on goalies. However, in reality, this seems to be a huge coincidence that just happened to involve the same goalie twice in a row, and the likelihood of it happening again seems fairly slim.


Things I Think: Realignment

1) With how quick the Winnipeg Jets’ returned to the NHL this past season, the schedule makers weren’t able to switch around the alignments to put Winnipeg in it’s rightful place: the Western Conference. Since then, the NHL and its Board of Governors have been trying to figure out a way to fix this problem. There are easy fixes, such as taking one of the teams in the Central Division and placing them in the the Southeast Division. There are also talks of a full re-alignment, in which the NHL could get rid of the two-conference system entirely. I would explain the entire thing in writing, but that’s too difficult, so I’ll post the pictures of what the NHL might like to do.

So what would the NHL do for realignment, specifically? There have been two forms of realignment proposed to the NHL Board of Governors. The first one keeps teams in conference form with new divisions:

In this form, the NHL gets rid of three divisions in favor of a two division system in each conference. In each conference, one division would have seven teams, while the other division would have eight teams. Each team would play teams in all other divisions twice, home and home. The rest of the games would be divided up equally intra-division. This alignment would also bring the idea of divisional playoffs back, in which the match-ups in the first round of the playoffs would be intra-division.

There are a few problems with this alignment. First, nobody’s sure if Columbus or Detroit would move over to the Eastern Conference, although Mike Ilitch, owner of the Red Wings, says that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman promised him that the Red Wings would finally move over to the Eastern Conference. This obviously benefits the Red Wings, who have to travel to all the team in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference twice a season per each team. Of course, the Blue Jackets have this same problem. At the same time, does anyone in Columbus care?

Another problem is that this alignment screws with the NHL’s established rivalries, most notably the Pennsylvania one. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers would not end up in the same division. If this is the case, the Penguins and the Flyers would only play twice a season unless they met later in the playoffs.

This past Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada, another realignment is introduced that completely changes the way we think of the NHL’s current alignment:

This alignment completely changes what the NHL has been used to for the last 14 seasons. In this form, the NHL completely gets rid of the two conference system in favor of a four-division system that isn’t bound by conferences. The schedule makeup would be exactly the same as the one described in the previous alignment. However, the one thing that does change is the way the playoffs work.

In this alignment, the NHL would adopt a playoff system in which the first two rounds would be battled out between the top four teams in each division. After the first two rounds, the teams are reseeded from one to four. This means that we could see a Buffalo-Vancouver semi-final matchup before the Stanley Cup Finals.

This alignment keeps all the NHL’s current rivalries intact, and even adds to an evolving one, adding Washington into a division with Pittsburgh. Geographically, it levels the playing field for all the teams in the NHL. Teams in the west wouldn’t have to travel as much as they do now, only visiting teams in other divisions once a season. It increases the travel of the current Eastern Conference, but like I said, this is more or less leveling the playing field with the teams in the West that rack up tons of frequent flyer miles by the time the season is over.

The NHLPA isn’t all that interested in this plan, though. In both of these alignments, there are eight teams in two divisions, and seven teams in the two others. The NHLPA claims that this alignment is unfair for the teams in eight-team divisions, which is a valid point. There’s always that idea of contraction, or maybe even expansion, but neither of those things are realistic for the NHL, who will never want to contract teams, nor does it have the ability to magically expand at the moment. Quebec and Las Vegas are thoroughly disappointed.

The second division alignment is the more intriguing option, here. It doesn’t screw too much up with the current system. However, it changes enough to make some sort of a difference, but that keeps it interesting. For all we know, though, the NHL will simply do what most people expect them to do and just switch two teams. Here’s to hoping for more change.

2) I know. That first one was a long one, so I’ll keep the next four short.

The Sabres are a mess. Other than Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, nothing seems to be meshing with this team. Ville Leino has been an atrocity offensively, but his defensive game deserves applause. There’s renewed hope with him currently on a line with rookies Luke Adam and Zack Kassian, though. Kassian, by the way, has been impressive in his five games.

3) Three coaching changes this week. Paul Maurice was axed in Carolina in favor of Kirk Muller. Bruce Boudreau received a call at 6:15 AM to be told that his services were no longer required in Washington, as former Caps captain Dale Hunter takes the helm.

The Boudreau firing becomes even more interesting after the Anaheim-Montreal game on Wednesday night, as he was hired by the Ducks to replace one-time Stanley Cup winning coach Randy Carlisle. If only I could find a job that would fire me in order to be hired by a better company the next day…

4) Claude Giroux is the first Flyer to lead the NHL’s scoring race after 25 games since Eric Lindros did it in the 1998-99 season. In case you needed a random fact to tell your friend at lunch, today.

5) Finally, if Jordin Tootoo isn’t suspended for jumping into Ryan Miller on Saturday night, I’ll be convinced that the Shanabanner isn’t any better than Colin Campbell was. That is all.


Trade Rumors: Why They’re Fun and Why They Suck

I love when the trade winds start rocking the boat in November. It’s the beginning of the season, and teams are supposed to be feeling out where they’ll be by mid-season in January. Some teams are doing really well, like Boston, who went 12-0-1 in November. Naturally, fans and media alike wouldn’t think to mess with the mojo of a team by talking trades. Of course, there are those anomalies like Vancouver, who are playing well in front of backup goalie Cory Schneider, who in the month of November had a save percentage of .942 along with 2 shutouts. Roberto Luongo isn’t doing too hot, so naturally, fans are thinking it’s time to trade franchise goalie Roberto Luongo.

I stress that we are only two months into hockey season.

Of course, all hell broke loose this past week when a rumor was floated out through the hockey world: the Anaheim Ducks had made Bobby Ryan available by trade. The Ducks were a mess in November, winning only 2 of their 13 games. It made sense that the Ducks were looking for a shake-up. Everybody and their mother was trying to figure out the right trade to bring Bobby Ryan to [insert team name here]. For a while, it seemed like the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers were the teams most likely to get Ryan to play for their respective squads. Status quo.

Along the way, Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal reported that Ryan Miller may not consider it the worst thing to be traded out of Buffalo. This one picked up a ton of steam simply because of the amount of respect Matheson has from the hockey world.

It was Tuesday night that things started to get really interesting. Ducks GM Bob Murray and two Anaheim scouts paid a visit to Buffalo to watch the Sabres play the Islanders. Twitter erupted shortly afterwards, trying to figure out why a hockey GM would ever decide to go to an opposing team’s arena to watch an NHL hockey game.

Who would have thought that it’s more or less because they can?

The hockey world was a mad-house on Wednesday. WGR was talking about trade ideas with Anaheim for the entirety of Schopp and the Bulldog. Reports were coming in and out all day that team A was out, team B was in on Bobby Ryan. Ryan referred to the trade rumors as “a nightmare.” His coach, Randy Carlisle, pretty much told him to deal with it.

This went on all day until around 10:00 Eastern time, when the Ducks and the Montreal Canadiens got things going in Anaheim, with Bobby Ryan skating on Anaheim’s second line. That’s when things started dying down.

Where does Ryan Miller fit into all this? Obviously, the Ducks were looking for a big piece back in order to ship out a player as talented as Ryan. The only explanation was that the Sabres and Ducks were talking about a trade for the two players.

Unfortunately in the hockey world, trades aren’t that simple. Besides, the Ducks are set at goalie with Jonas Hiller. Trading Miller for Ryan didn’t make sense, in any respect imaginable.

If Ryan Miller was going to be traded, it would have been news to him, which is news in itself. Miller has a no-trade clause, where he’d have to submit a list of eight teams he does not want to play for.

It is awesome that we have something like this to talk about in the month of November. Year in and year out, we as fans wait for the trade deadline in order to discuss ridiculous deals that (probably) aren’t going to happen. To have something like that to talk about in November is awesome for hockey fans who aren’t especially fond of the first part of the regular season.

Of course, the bad part about a rumor in November is that it makes the entire hockey world crazy about just that one rumor, until it’s over-hyped so much that every single team’s fans think that their team can get the guy that’s being hung out like bait for other teams to grab a hold of. Fans dream up every single possible (or impossible) way in order to satisfy their urge to make that player a member of his or her favorite team’s roster.

The point of this story is that when a star player’s name is floated out like Bobby Ryan’s, the entire hockey world stops in awe of who might actually pick up a guy with his caliber. He’s a decent sized forward with a ton of skill that can help any hockey team in the scoring department. There’s not a team in the NHL that doesn’t want Bobby Ryan, except for the Anaheim Ducks, seemingly.

In the end, the Ducks just did what every other team does when their team needs to be re-energized. They fired their coach.


Things I Think: Did You Hear Sidney Crosby’s Back?

(This is a weekly segment at Hockey Heaven, New York. It features TJ Luckman’s thoughts on the Sabres, the NHL and other things that tickle his fancy.)

1) The Sabres have called up the Chosen One, Zack Kassian, due to Brad Boyes’ injury against Boston on Wednesday night. John Vogl of the Buffalo News picked up some tweets from Kassian’s teammates indicating Kassian was on his way to play in the Sabres’ next game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. The Sabres later confirmed that news through their website. While many fans have been calling for this move to be made since the Sabres’ debacle in Boston nearly two weeks ago, I don’t think this is the right move for Buffalo. WGR 550’s Matthew Coller says that Kassian hasn’t exactly been the physical force the Sabres might be looking for, but he’s certainly helping in the points department, leading the AHL’s Rochester Americans with 14 points in 18 games.

Speaking of call-ups, T.J. Brennan had a memorable debut in his first NHL game, scoring in his first NHL game to put the Sabres ahead 3-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday night. Of course, the Sabres couldn’t hold on, losing 4-3 in a shootout, which Puck Daddy’s Harrison Mooney finds pretty ironic.

2) You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. All the while, I kept telling myself that hockey was fine without Sidney Crosby. The Penguins are still good with Malkin, and Dan Bylsma is one Hell of a coach. I wasn’t looking at this past Monday with as much fanfare as NBC Sports was when they decided that Crosby’s return was much more important than the rivalry game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

And then it happened.

Sid the Kid (is he ever going to be the Man? We need a new idiom for when he finally grows up, if he ever does) exploded on the scene against the New York Islanders, collecting four points in a 6-0 beat down on the Island. As much as I can’t stand the guy, everything he does is pure magic. He instantly transforms the Pens into a Stanley Cup contender. Of course, Sid was held scoreless against the St. Louis Blues the following game, so maybe he just took advantage of a cake matchup…

3) Since Jeff Carter’s return from injury to the Blue Jackets, Columbus has grabbed points in five of the last six games (3-1-2). Depending on what you think about overtime losses, that’s not bad. Perhaps he’s more important to the BJ’s success than anyone actually realized. Or maybe that’s just good timing. Who knows.

4) Thanksgiving is a bad day for a hockey fan. I can’t wait for Christmas.

5) Movember is the coolest thing ever. As a participant in the more laid-back (read: lazier) “No-Shave November”, I’m jealous of the mustaches that NHL players can grow. I never saw Thomas Vanek as a facial hair grower, but his mustache is very impressive. George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks always shaves his epic mustache for the month in order to grow it back for charity. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas created a new goalie mask design to show his support for the month, not to mention show off his great ‘stache. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller did the same, only his design is slightly more creepy.

Movember benefits those who suffer from prostrate cancer, or other problems in men’s health. Go to the website here to donate to the cause, if you can.


Marc Savard’s Concussion Brings Reminders of Tim Connolly

When Marc Savard’s season was ended by a blow to the head by former teammate Matt Hunwick, one could almost imagine that the first thought GM Peter Chiareli’s mind was something along the lines of “…and here we go again.”  The whole Boston fan-base echoed this entire sentiment.

Boston’s season was over, wasn’t it?

Obviously, we know the outcome to that.  Boston had great depth that allowed them to win the Stanley Cup.

Recently, at Boston’s Victory Parade, an ESPN reporter caught up with Savard.  Apparently, Savard’s still having major post-concussion syndrome issues.

“I’m feeling better but I still have my days and my memory is the biggest thing,” Savard said.  “My memory is not very good. Mornings are tough but besides that, I’m doing a lot better.”

After all this time (it’s two days from being exactly 6 months from his last concussion), Savard is still having memory trouble.  He had post-concussion syndrome symptoms from his first concussion as well.  He couldn’t seem to shake them.  He came back last year to play against Philly in the playoffs, but even after that, he started getting the headaches back.

He never took the ice again until November of 2010.  He only got another 20-or-so games in until–BOOM!  Another season lost for the troubled Savard.

This whole thing has brought back memories of a guy who couldn’t seem to shake the concussion bug years ago: Tim Connolly.

Connolly was a promising, up-and-coming player.  A 5th overall draft pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Connolly was known for his soft hands, his quick skating, and his ability to fight in the corners.  He was a shifty player, able to fake out almost any type of defense coming his way.  With all this promise, Islanders GM at the time, Mike Milbury, decided to package Connolly and 1999 8th overall pick Taylor Pyatt to Buffalo in 2001 in order to grab Mike Peca.  (I’m looking back at that trade right now…what in the world was Milbury thinking?)

Both Connolly and Pyatt were below-the-radar players.  They were good, served a purpose, got their points.  They played sound, decent hockey.

Connolly was getting better and better, and after three years with the Sabres, he had only missed two games.

That’s when all the injuries started.

Connolly lost the entire 2003-04 season due to post-concussion syndrome from a concussion he suffered in a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  On top of the 2004-05 NHL season being lost due to the lockout, Connolly missed two entire seasons of hockey.

Thankfully, Connolly recovered and came back for the 2005-06 season, where he had a career year, scoring 16 goals and 55 points in 63 games.  Injuries once again took their toll on Connolly that season, but thankfully none of it had to do with concussion issues.

Not in the regular season, at least.  Connolly was having a fantastic playoffs, grabbing 11 points in the eight games that he played.  He played like a man possessed in Game 1 of the Ottawa series, where he scored 2 goals, one of them being the game-tying goal with 10.7 seconds to go.  In Game 2, everything came to a screeching halt when Peter Schaefer came across center ice and nailed Tim Connolly, effectively ending his playoff season.

Darcy Regier showed faith that Connolly would get through one.  After the playoffs ended and the Sabres were eliminated, Regier rewarded Connolly for his breakout year with a brand new, three-year deal.

“We foresee him building on what he accomplished last year,” Regier said back in 2006. “Up until the playoffs when he took the hit, he was performing at a very high level, a very good player.”

Unfortunately for Regier, that contract didn’t look so great as Connolly went on to miss the next 80 games due to issues from post-concussion syndrome.

Since that concussion, Connolly hasn’t been the same player.  Gone was the soft hands he used to have, weaving in and out of players just to keep posession.  Long forgotten was the speed he had played the game with.  Vanished was his game-in-game-out effort to play in the dirty areas of the ice, possibly from a fear of getting hurt again.

While Connolly went on to post decent numbers (47 points in 48 games in 2008-09, 65 points in 2009-10), but his injury problems never went away.  Between a broken rib, a stress fracture in his leg, and cracked vertebrae from a stick-butt in the back, Connolly had officially inherited the label of “injury prone.”

Even though Connolly’s regular season stats didn’t suffer (at the time), he seemingly lacked the necessary drive to play the game as hard as he used to.  He looked afraid to go after the puck from time to time.  He just couldn’t produce when it mattered most, which is what was expected out of a guy who signed a 2-year, $9 million contract.

It all came down to what seems to be the final season of his career in Buffalo.  He had to prove his worth, and he failed, scoring only 42 points in 68 games, missing more games with various injuries (although, really, there was nothing he could do about a puck hitting him in the face.)

It all seemed to come full-circle once the playoffs came around.  It was game 6, and Connolly went into a corner to collect a puck, something that he seemed to be getting better at.  But once again, the injury bug came and bit Connolly right on the head, as Mike Richards came flying into the zone, laying a bone-crushing hit onto one of the few centers the Sabres actually had.  Connolly’s season was over, quite possibly his career as well, the way the hit looked.

Connolly’s final year with the Sabres truly ended with a bang.  Regier hasn’t completely closed the door on Tim just yet, saying that the Sabres could very well sign Connolly if they deem the price to be right.  But let’s be honest;  Connolly isn’t going to take a massive paycut just to get another chance with the team that gave him his in the first place.

Connolly is one of few centers in free agency that may attract attention, and he’s going to get market price for what he’s done in season’s past, which has been good, maybe above-average.

With all of that in mind about Connolly, Marc Savard’s journey doesn’t seem to be over yet.  It’s highly unlikely Savard will be playing in the beginning of next season for the Bruins.  Could Savard’s career be in jeopardy?

It’s something he and Connolly may want to talk about.


Offseason Needs: NHL Draft 2011

It’s been a while, angels, but as I sat at home last night, scanning the many tweets coming from the bloggers attending the Sabres Summit, it dawned on me that school had ended, and I’ve had plenty of time to write. The Sabres have been out for a while, and a Stanley Cup has already been awarded. However, it’s not too late for me to join in the game.

Hell, with the draft coming up, it’s probably a good time for me to get into the swing of things. July 1st isn’t too far off. It’s time for me to put my mind to the word processor and assess the Sabres’ needs heading into next Friday’s draft.

First of all, our furthest need for the draft is to grab a defenseman, at least not in the first three rounds. For years, our biggest need has been center (at least the past two). For years, I’ve seen the Sabres draft a defensman or a winger in the first round, two things that this team is in absolutely no need of.

It’s time for this team to start stocking up on what they’ve been needing for a long time: a first- or second-line center.

The Sabres truly missed Derek Roy last year. Buffalo’s #1 center was having one of his most promising years as a Sabre until a terrible knee injury took him out for the rest of the regular season. After that, our center depth was Tim Connolly, Paul Gaustad, and a bunch of wingers that had significant dropoffs in their play as fill-in centers.

Bear with me, here. We all know that Jochen Hecht is a winger forced to play center. Rob Niedermayer was more or less… himself. I can’t even say a ghost of his former self because, to be quite honest, he’s been mediocre his whole career, living in the shadow of his older, much more talented brother. While Nied’s presence as a “leader” was nice, his lack of talent along with the rest of the team at the center position was just daunting.

So, the Sabres center depth as of right now is as follows: Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, and again, wingers forced to play center because of our poor center depth.

Traveling northeast to Portland, I see that we have the ever-promising, AHL Rookie of the Year Luke Adam, who in all honesty, seems to have the potential to maybe be a third-line center until he improves upon his speed. Paul Byron gave a little bit of a spark before he was sent back to Portland. Matt Ellis is the captain of the (insert future minor league team here) and shouldn’t be moved out of Portland anymore. His efforts as a leader are more valuable when spent teaching the rooks in (insert future minor league location here).

Who else… Brian Roloff? Travis Turnbull? Mark Voakes? At least I’ve heard of the first two. Roloff had 24 points in 76 games in Portland. Turnbull had 9 points in his 20 games with the Pirates.

I just don’t trust the center depth with this team, and that is obviously the most glaring need both on the big club and in the system.

So again. Let me stress. We want CENTERS in this year’s draft.

Why no defense?

First of all, we have only three defensmen signed. However, of the five that are unsigned, four of them are restricted free agents.

Of those that are restricted, two can easily be retained with the standard, one-year qualifying offers. Butler and Grags will be the ones to do that. Say what you will about the amazing Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was named the best defensman in the AHL this year on top of leading the Sabres in scoring in the playoffs. However, I need to see him play across an entire NHL season first. If anything, he might require a $1M offer, but please, nothing more.

Of the other two, Sekera and Weber may be a bit more difficult to retain. Sekera has his ups and downs last season, but it could certainly be counted as his “break-out” year. He’ll probably get a two-year deal in the $1M-$1.5M range. God help me if it’s $2M. Weber should command about the same, maybe a bit more. His toughness was exactly what this defensive corp needed, and could fill in as at the very least, a solid 2nd pairing defender.

When I look down to Portland, I see TJ Brennan (sick name, bro), Alex Biega, Nick Crawford and Dennis Persson, who have all shown some improvement since they’ve been drafted. The jury’s still out on Persson, though. 17 points for a guy drafted to be a puck-moving offensive defensman is unacceptable at this point of his career.

When I look at the juniors, I’m thrilled with the years both Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb had. McNabb is coming off a career season for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. The team’s captain, McNabb lead the team within a game of reaching the Memorial Cup Finals. He had 72 points in 59 games in 2010-11.

Pysyk improved his play tremendously for the Oil Kings. Increasing his production to 40 points in this past season, Pysyk also vastly improved his dreadful +/-, going from a -19 in 2009-10, to a +29 the year after he was drafted.

And please, Buffalo. Whatever you do, don’t draft a winger, when you know damn well that you have about 10 wingers and 2 centers in the big club. Oddly enough, the Sabres have the same problem in the minors as well.

Wingers back for the 2011-12 season include Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht (I will forever refer to Hecht as a winger. A center, he is not), Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis (at the moment. I think he has potential to be a top 2 center), Patrick Kaleta, Jason Pominville…am I done yet?

You get my point.

Taking a look at the system, we have the big, bad, bruising Zach Kassian waiting to recklessly kill somebody in the NHL, and Marcus Foligno waiting to be his tag-team buddy, and they’ve barely thrown a (insert minor league team)’s jersey on at this point.

On top of that, we’re still not sure if the Sabres are going to waste the space on yet another year for AHL All-Star (and I use that term very loosely, somewhat sarcastically) Mark Mancarri, who has proven time and again that the NHL is just not for him, but keep him in the AHL and the guy explodes.

However, on a bright note, I love what I’m seeing from guys like Derek Whitmore (47 points last season), Corey Tropp (40 points), and Dennis McCauley. There’s going to be more too, with the Sabres’ junior prospects waiting to make the jump to the AHL after their eligibility for juniors is out. All-in-all, the Sabres are solid at winger, although it seems that maybe a new draftee or two wouldn’t hurt.

Finally, I get to the goaltender’s position. Honestly, I view goalie to be the second most important need on this team. While Jhonas Enroth all but secured his spot in the NHL next season as Ryan Miller’s RELIABLE (I’m being ecstatically serious, there) backup, the Sabres should really do David Leggio the favor of resigning him back to the Pirates.

Leggio did phenomenal for the Pirates this season, posting a 22-12-3 record across 36 games, with a 2.8 GAA and a .911 save %. Those are solid numbers for a goalie who is probably going to be a career AHLer. That is, of course, if a coach like Peter Laviolette doesn’t come across him, because we all know Pete loves his mediocre Stanley Cup caliber goalies!

That leaves us short another new up-and-comer to at least give one of our goalies some trade value if and when the time comes that we’ll need to go that right (and come on, the way the Sabres draft/acquire goalies, I don’t understand why this never happens.) Take a guy with a 6th or 7th rounder a la Ryan Miller. It can’t hurt.

So… who should Buffalo take when pick #16 comes along? Well, first of all… a center.

But really, if Buffalo really wants to find a good center, what good prospects are available?

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is almost assuredly going #1 overall to the Edmonton Oilers, who are eventually going to be amazing, by the way. Stock up enough Top 10 picks, and yeah, you’re on the fast track to at least getting closer. Look at the Penguins.

Mark McNeill is the first player I see that has a chance of lasting until #16. McNeill had a nice year for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, scoring 32 goals to go along with 49 assists, good for an 81 point season in 70 games. McNeill stands at a height of 6’2″ and weighs 210 pounds.

I would mention Victor Rask (does that count as a mention), but he’s European and plays in Europe, who we know the Sabres don’t go near nowadays. But, let’s humor Darcy Regier just for a second. Rask, who has no relation to the Bruins’ Tuukka, by the way, is a Swedish J20 SuperElit center from the Leksand J20 team. Rask scored 41 points in 39 games and added another 5 points in 5 playoff games. Rask is 6’2″, 194 pounds.

That leaves us with Daniel Cantenacci from the OHL’s S.S. Marie Greyhounds. Cantenacci scored 71 points across 67 games for the Greyhounds this past year. The only thing that turns me off about him is his size: 5’10”, 180 pounds. Yikes. Just what the Sabres need. Another small fry center.

All that said, the Sabres options are thin at center, and they’ll have to hope Mark McNeill falls to them. He seems like the big, powerful scoring center they’ve been looking for for a while. If not, my gut is that they’ll still at least go with a forward. One can only hope, at least.

Odds are, though, that the player the Sabres draft will be at the very least productive. The Sabres have had a very good decade of first rounders come through. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Myers lead the charge, followed closely behind by Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. The jury’s still out on a few, but hey! One of them just won a Stanley Cup (Dan Paille).

We can only hope the next first rounder follows suit in the beginning of this new decade.


Smaller Players Stepping Up

 

Despite his size, Nathan Gerbe has show he isn't afraid to get physical.

Sometimes, size doesn’t matter.  That’s the mantra of the duo of the Buffalo Sabres’ small-sized forwards, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe.

While the pair of forwards struggled early on in the season, Ennis and Gerbe seem to have found their niche with the club.  With Ennis standing at 5’9″, and Gerbe measuring in at a mere 5’5″, it’s conceivable to believe that many people thought that they were outmatched for their roles in the NHL.

Ennis started the season slowly, netting only 9 goals and 18 points in 37 games.  Finding the right place is what needed to happen.  Ennis has been tossed from the 1st line to the 4th line, depending on how coach Lindy Ruff felt about his play, but seems to have found his home playing with proven scorers.  Ennis’s small size hasn’t hampered what he can do with the puck.

The small forward has great puck control, and speed reminiscent of the days Maxim Afinogenov raced up the ice with the puck.  Ennis’s puck control and decision making are what set him and Max apart.

Since the beginning of January, Ennis found the on switch for his production, scoring 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games, putting him on pace to finish with 22 goals and 30 assists, good for 52 points.

Gerbe traveled a different path to late season success.  Like Ennis, Gerbe was bounced around from line to line.  After a failed opportunity on the top two lines, Gerbe was put back with the checking line, primarily with Paul Gaustad and Rob Niedermayer.  He was often a healthy scratch in favor of players like Matt Ellis, or even a seventh defenseman.

Gerbe’s started the season slowly, not even scoring his first goal until his 21st game in the lineup against the Anaheim Ducks.  He had only 7 points in his first 24 games.

While it’s been said that the only way Gerbe can succeed is on the top two lines, the forward has found his way on the third line.  Gerbe’s tenacity to score goals in front of the net, along with some pretty goals, is what defines his play.  It is because of this that Gerbe has found his home on the third line with the big guys.

Since mid-January, Gerbe has added 18 points in his last 30 games.  This puts him on pace to score 13 goals and 28 points in a possible 64 games.  If he continues on the pace he’s had since January, he could end up with as many as 31 points.

It’s no secret that these guys use their size to their advantage.  Even Lindy Ruff agrees that their size may be what keeps some plays going.

“I think when he’s in tight…especially down low where you think he should be trapped and he’s not,” said Ruff, who was comparing his small forward’s play to Maxim Afinogenov.

It’s all happening at a good time.  The Sabres control their destiny when it comes to their playoff push.  They hold the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference right now, with a legitimate shot to grab 7th place.  Only time will tell from this point.


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