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.