Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Buffalo Sabres: Only MOSTLY Dead

Here's the thing I find the most frustrating about the Sabres this year. They're NOT untalented and they were not often going out on the ice and getting overwhelmed by another team's talent. Even now when I look at the Eastern Conference I'm not bowled over by anyone except maybe Montreal and possibly Pittsburgh. There were enough games where we hung in with talented teams to show that it wasn't accidental and it wasn't just catching teams on nights when they were tired or playing poorly.

I'm always hesitant to suggest that a team isn't trying because I don't think that's usually the case. In fact, early on in the season I think the problem was often players trying too hard to do too much. But I just expected to see so much more obvious effort from these guys. I thought they were going to be fired up about proving to everyone that the team was much more than Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and too many nights they appeared to be coasting. They were so feisty in the shootout win against Ottawa but where was that the rest of the season? Why weren't they playing like that before it was too late to save the season? Some nights that heart just didn't seem to be there. And that's not on management or coaching, that's on the players and no one else. If they were playing all out and losing that would be another story. It's so irritating to me that it took them all season to figure out that a 40 minute effort wasn't going to be enough for them to win anymore especially since I'm still not sure they've really learned that. Hopefully having an extended off-season will help it sink in.

A few random notes:

- Let me state upfront that this has indeed been a pretty awful season for Maxim Afinogenov. I think as the team has slowly moved away from just playing a skilled game, Max has become the odd man out and I'm more than happy to have today's game be his last at HSBC in a Sabres uniform. But everyone passing judgement on his contract is using a massive dose of hindsight. Last season his contract looked good because he really produced (61 points in 56 games, 73 points the season before that) and if he had continued to produce at that clip his price would have been a bargain compared to some contracts out there now.

And I will at least say this for Max. He doesn't always turn his brain on but he always, always tries hard which is more than can be said for some of these numbskulls.

(For the record, this isn't in direct response to Bucky Gleason. I heard he wrote about Max in today's column but I didn't read it. I'm not going anywhere near TBN for the next year at least. Do I look crazy?)

- Brian Campbell is doing very well in San Jose but let's examine this a little closer, shall we? He went from a team scrambling to make the playoffs to a team that was pretty safely in. He went from a team that didn't really have a great partner for him to a team that can pair him with a more defensive d-man which allows him to wheel freely up and down the ice. He went from a city where everyone is in turmoil over the hockey team to a city where, outside of the arena, most people just don't really care. He went from playing on a slapdash powerplay to playing with Joe Thornton, one of the best hockey players in the world. The man could not negotiate a contract and play hockey at the same time. You remember that, right? He was a walking, talking, skating DISASTER in the few weeks leading up to his trade. I see no reason to expect that were he in Buffalo right now, he'd be producing the same way he is in San Jose. He's in a totally different world, one that I think is much more conducive to him playing well.

And seriously, people, Brian Campbell is almost 29-years-old. Steve Bernier is almost 23. It's a little unfair to compare them to each other.

- The defense has been pretty mediocre lately but I feel that they're also getting some of the blame for poor goaltending. In the last few games there have been times when the d-man has played the opposing player just right (cutting off the pass, keeping the shooter to the outside and cutting down the angle) and Ryan Miller has muffed what should have been an easily stopped shot. I'm really down on Miller right now. If he called me tonight and told me he was thinking about signing with the Red Wings, I might tell him to enjoy Detroit. I don't really want him to go away but he's driving me crazy.

- I do want Ales Kotalik to go away.

- The "Here's what needs to happen for the Sabres to make the playoffs" scenarios that MSG displayed and discussed during the second intermission were awesomely hilarious in a I-have-to-laugh-so-I-don't-cry kind of way. I have a better chance of making the Sabres out of training camp next season.

- Throughout the hockey game my Tivo kept trying to change the channel to baseball. I think it's trying to tell me something. HOCKEY IS OVER! THIS GAME IS ALSO OFFENSIVELY BORING! I THINK YOU SHOULD WATCH BASEBALL INSTEAD! I'M ONLY THINKING OF YOU!

- Speaking of defense, the d-men ruled the day. Toni Lydman kept the puck in on the powerplay and then crashed the net to pick up a rebound for a goal. And then in overtime Mike Weber made a great play to keep the puck in the zone and Andrej Sekera ripped a pretty shot in for the game-winner. Go, defense, go!

- Yes, yes, yes. The '92-'93 Rangers were the last team to miss the playoffs after winning the President's Trophy the previous year. But you know what they did in '93-'94? They won the Stanley Cup. Now I'm not saying the Sabres are winning the Cup next season (or am I?) but I am saying that bad seasons happen, sometimes even in between two really good seasons.


TheSharpie said...

Go ahead and say the Sabres will win the cup in '08-'09. I've been saying it since the play-offs.

S.A.M. said...

Hey man, they are still in it. Somehow, they are still in it. Woooohoooo!

I thought they played well tonight. (except that shortie. Dammit Miller, you HAVE to have those!) But he redeemed it by some really stellar play later, and the D was just on tonight.

The last part of the game was hardcore intense. I thought I was going to have a heart attack or thow up or both. Yeeeesh.

and I fully agree with the sentiments on Brian Campbell (he's GONE, can we shut up about him already?) and Kotalik - WHY oh WHY is he still playing?!

With Max, I see some effort (more than AL at least) but I dunno.. the frustrating thing about him is that he seems to have a one-track mind, he's not good at thinking on his feet. When he gets the puck it's GO GO GO GO GO and if something happens and he loses it or someone gets in his way he seems lost. It's weird, but I think that's what is causing this roadblock for him. He's fast, but not exactly crafty with the puck. (which is why he will never be the goal scorer that Pavel Bure was, even though he's the closest I've ever seen to Bure's speed)

The Sabres have a team that could be very good down the line. They are learning some hard lessons and with a little tweaking, they could become a serious contender in the future.

Meg said...

With Max [ . . . ] he's not good at thinking on his feet.

I think this is very true. He just doesn't have that mind for the game that the really good players have. Physically he has all the tools but it just doesn't seem to come naturally to him on a mental level.

LeeAndrew said...

I think for the first week of Fantasy Hockey my entire team is going to be all ex-Sabres. Muahaha!

Meg said...

Are we supposed to select our teams now? Or do we wait for the regular season to be over?

I should probably read the instructions, huh? (rhetorical question)

Heather B. said...

I think for the first week of Fantasy Hockey my entire team is going to be all ex-Sabres.

Hermano, great idea! I recommend Jay McKee, Rory Fitzpatrick, and Alexander Mogilny. No need to check the stats. Just trust your big sis.

Meg, you can set your line-up now but it doesn't have to be done until... uh... April 9th, I believe if you want to wait and see who's in. (It's in the middle of the day on the 9th so you might want to do it by the 8th.)

Sharpie, I was going to save my Cup run prediction for opening day :-D

Jennifer said...

I know they really don't deserve it, but I think it would be so funny if Buffalo not only slid into a playoff spot, but managed to win the cup.

I know it's not gonna happen, but I think it would be FUNNY!!!

Jennifer said...

Well, I've picked my line-up, but I've never done the fantasy hockey thing before, so this will be a learning experience for me. Please don't laugh at my line-up. :(

shelli said...

I know I said Kotalik is hot. It's true, he is (and I am not that easily impressed). Unfortunately for the Sabres, the only good thing about his game is that he can fire off a freaking blazing shot when he WANTS to but mostly Kotalik seems either too lazy or too slow. I've also noticed that he isn't much of a team player. When everyone on the team was laughing and jumping on Sekera like a pile of puppies, Ales was practically the last one to skate over and even then, he just sort of stood on the outside of the group. Really sad. I've been telling my husband for the last few weeks that the team needs to trade him. How disappointing....

Vanek's Hair said...

Nice to see the kid have a nice moment with the GWG last night. Fun way to send the home fans away until OCtober. Well fun ending. The rest of the game was eye-gougingly boring. I am glad the NHL has consistently devolved back to the neutral zone/dump no chase game. Ugh.

I liked how the MSG postgame showed the possible scenarios. It looked like an exam question: If a train leaves Boston going 50 mph, another leaves Philly going 65 mph, how many bad goals can Miller give up and the Sabres still make the playoffs?

I signed up my team for the fantasy league, mostly guys with good hair. But what is up with that league not having a smack talk board? How can I participate in fantasy sports without being able to needle my opponents via the internet?

Heather B. said...

Vanek's Hair, at one point I said to Mark, "This game is so boring it's offending me." Terrible.

I thought about the lack of a smack talk board too. Guess you'll just have to do all your ugly talk here. I have to say, I'm not at all impressed with's set-up or interface. I should have done some investigating before I signed up there.

(When we did our podcast I realized just how much I say "I have to say" or "I will say this.")

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I fully endorse TSN's fantasy hockey boards. We used them last year for all 5 of my leagues and didn't have a single problem.

Oddly enough, at work today no less than 4 Rangers fans told me they were a bit scared of what the Sabres would look like next year. There were a couple Devils fans that did it too. And every one of them pointed out the 93-94 team. Crazy...

ElmaGolf said...

"and I fully agree with the sentiments on Brian Campbell (he's GONE, can we shut up about him already?)"

Sorry, Sam, we still have people obsessing on Dumont. Campbell's going to be on the menu until at least 2010.

Heather B. said...

Matt, I didn't even think of TSN having fantasy games. I'll remember that for next year.

You've also hit on one of the things about Buffalo that amuses me the most: Other fans are always way more hopeful about our teams than we are.

Sam, sadly, Elma is probably right. But at least I can understand missing JP Dumont.

ElmaGolf said...

"The rest of the game was eye-gougingly boring. I am glad the NHL has consistently devolved back to the neutral zone/dump no chase game. Ugh. "

Hair - Yeah, last night was pretty god-awful. The "devolution" (is that a word?) of the game probably has quite a bit more to do with the Sabres' decline than most of the "Presidents Trophy to Missed Playoffs" trumpeters would acknowledge.

I saw that Miller is on the Competition Committee. I want to e-mail him to see if he can suggest that the league adopt a larger ice surface. The players have swelled, the equipment has swelled - why shouldn't the playing area? Since the Refs can't be trusted to enforce the rules, I say "give spatial physics a chance."

ElmaGolf said...

"For the record, this isn't in direct response to Bucky Gleason. I heard he wrote about Max in today's column but I didn't read it. I'm not going anywhere near TBN for the next year at least. Do I look crazy?)"

It was as you'd expect - including the "Gee, maybe the Sabres placed their bets on the wrong guy" quote.

I don't have your resolve to stay away, so I used Bucky's own words in 2006 to show what a freakin' myopic, bitter, hind-sight loving hypocrite he is over on the Edge (sorry to use your blog to vent - but like I've written you before, Bucky gives me Tourette's).

After the Arbitration hearing, Bucky wrote in July 2006:

"Briere was the first player in the league to navigate the arbitration process under the new collective bargaining agreement. Buffalo had seven players remaining after Ales Kotalik signed Sunday. Judging from the opening hearing, the Sabres best get talking with the others. After all, if Briere is worth $5 million, what's the cost of doing business with leading scorer Maxim Afinogenov or Chris Drury when their contracts roll around. A boatload."

When Bucky said they "best get talking" with Max, did he mean so they could TRADE HIM?

So when Bucky says crap today like "Gee, maybe they placed their bets on the wrong guy" in talking about Max's re-signing, I wonder if he's either:

A) Incredibly ignorant of his own opinions

B) Delusional and blinded by his pettiness towards management

or even worse:
C) Fully aware of his past comments, and assuming we're too stupid to understand that you make decisions based on information available at the time, not with the benefit of hindsight

That article in 2006 gets even better:

Bucky also wrote "No doubt he (Briere) deserved a hefty raise from the $1.9 million he pocketed last season. Doubling his salary seemed fair."

Yes, but I'm sure Bucky gladly would have taken $25MM / 5 years prior to the arbitration hearing. I mean, if he thought $3.8MM per year was a "fair price" it's only logical that he would have paid $5MM/year (especially when there were 7 other players heading to arbitration).


(sorry, I love that "term" I picked up from you).

Heather B. said...

Elma, first of all, feel free to vent. I don't mind at all.

Second of all, it's definitely the self-righteous tone in Bucky's writing that drives me crazy more than anything else. If he had just said, "Max has been terrible this year and it might be time to trade him," I would say, "Heck yeah, I agree 100%." But when he goes off on management for making the wrong decision - a decision that made sense at the time - and acts like he knew what was going to happen all along - even though sometimes his past writings say otherwise - well, he can put a sock in it. I'm not interested in reading that from anyone.

"Whack-a-doo" really is a great turn of phrase. I picked that up from someone else so I have no problem with you using it :-D

ElmaGolf said...

"If he had just said, "Max has been terrible this year and it might be time to trade him," I would say, "Heck yeah, I agree 100%." But when he goes off on management for making the wrong decision "

EXACTLY - unfortunately, when you try to criticize him for the "hindsight judgment" element of his article, people assume you're discrediting the valid part of the article as well.

In case anyone wants to see the "Bucky Article" from 2006, here's the link. I found it on a "Capitals" forum of all places. It's near the bottom of the page (or search on "Gleason").

There is NO indication in this article that Bucky thinks it would have beeen a "no-brainer to have signed him to $25 million before it even came to arbitration."

Listening to Bucky talk recently about "what could have been" you'd think you'd find SOME reference in his article that the Sabres should build around this guy. No, what you actually hear from Bucky sounds an awful lot like the same thing management gets criticized for:

"The Sabres have the lowest ticket prices in the league, but they can't raise them much higher because they'll become too expensive for this market."

Wow, this guy 2006 Bucky Gleason sounds like a pretty rational, level-headed guy. Is he any relation to the "2007/8 Bucky"?

ElmaGolf said...

Sorry, looks like the link was truncated.

The Title of the article was
"Sabres' future grim based on Briere ruling" - if you put that into Google, it's one of the first few results.

Mark B said...

I understand that Teppo, Tri, and Spock could possibly return before the end of the year.

While I haven't been as much of a Tri hater as most of WNY, if they take Sekera and Weber out for him, I will freak. But Lindy does have a propensity to take out the young guys for players he's more comfortable with (IE: the benching of Paille). And as much as I wanted Teppo to see action a few weeks ago, right now is not going to work. It's just too intense.

But Spock? The PP needs him badly.

The hopeful guy I am, I keep fantasizing about the Sabres winning out and making it in, and the Flyers and Rangers losing out and missing the playoffs, and watching Bucky cry.

Meg said...

I saw that Miller is on the Competition Committee. I want to e-mail him to see if he can suggest that the league adopt a larger ice surface. The players have swelled, the equipment has swelled - why shouldn't the playing area?

The problem with this is that it would create a slower offensive game with more neutral zone trapping. In international competitions with an incredibly high level of skill present a large ice surface can be entertaining. In regular leagues though? It tends to result in even more defensive play than there is in the NHL, combined with less opportunity for hitting and the entertaining kind of physical play.

As a sidenote, the trap was first used in Sweden in the 80s.

The idea of the larger ice surface is treated like a silver bullet but I really think it would have the opposite effect from the one people hope for--creating a slower and less physical game that allows defensive teams to shut things down even more.

Jennifer said...

mark b: I'm a hopeful sucker, too! After all the talk about Buffalo not having what it takes since Drury and Briere left, I just think it would be hilarious for them to not only make the playoffs, but to walk away with the cup. Not gonna happen, but a girl can dream, right?!?!?

Heather B. said...

I know Spacek would be more helpful but at this point I'm willing to give into sentiment over logic. Let it be Teppo!

S.A.M. said...

okay I am obviously in the minority but I liked last night's game. (I also enjoy the NJ Devils.) Defensive games can be exciting! There were many chances on both sides, and the goaltending and D was pretty exciting to me. The whole third period had me on my toes (mostly cuz I was worried but still..) it was very close and close games can be very interesting.

as for the fixation on former players, it is just weird to me on such a broad level. Sure, everybody has their favorites, and likes to know what's going on with those guys but the whole town? Must be because I've watched too much minor league hockey where you're lucky to get 2 years out of a guy before he moves on or falls off the face of the planet or something.

it's just a different view.

Heather B. said...

Sam, I agree that close games CAN be interesting. I just don't think this particular close game qualifies :-D