Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why I Have Hope: Youth

In retrospect, I probably should have filed that first post about Darcy Regier under "Why I Have Hope" - even if it would disgust some people - so let's pretend I did, okay?

A few months ago - I think it was March, Kevin Sylvester's blog on featured the chart below:

Now granted, this was in March so the final numbers and placements might have changed a bit. A professional would probably re-crunch the numbers but a tired, overworked blogger with no editor who isn't getting paid for this will just go with the above. Sylvester pulled some interesting observations from this chart. I'll also add a couple of my own.

1. Buffalo was the youngest team in the top five at the time - actually they were the youngest team in the top fifteen - and although it wasn't in the chart, he also mentioned that the Sabres are younger than the Capitals and the Blackhawks, both teams that are often mentioned as talented young teams on the rise.

2. Ottawa, Detroit and Carolina - especially Carolina - got huge chunks of their offense from players 26 and older with Carolina especially skewing old. The only team in the same neighborhood as Buffalo for scoring from players 25 and younger was Montreal but their second highest percentage by a pretty good margin came from players 30 and older. Buffalo's goals are more evenly spread out.

3. Most of the under 25 goals for Buffalo were scored by Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Danny Paille, and Drew Stafford. I'm not sure what's going on with Stafford at this point but Vanek and Roy are locked up long -term, discussions have begun with Paille, and talks will move to Pominville after something is hammered out with Ryan Miller. The offense that was near the top of the league last year will remain intact for a number of years to come and these players are just moving into their peak years. They should continue to match their output from last season if not improve upon it.

4. Most of the players listed above - Vanek, Roy, and Pominville - already have a ton of playoff experience, something that's pretty nice considering how young they are.

I know there are a lot of fans who hate the idea that we should just leave the team alone because they're young and they'll get better as they get older and I agree that the team needs some tweaking but... they're young and they'll get better. We saw it with Montreal last season. Two years ago they finished out of the playoffs with 90 points (hmmm... that sounds familiar...) and last season they won the Eastern Conference and they did it without any huge changes to their line-up. Heck, we saw the same thing here not that long ago. The 2003-2004 Sabres team made a last minute grab at a playoff spot and missed. They broke for the lockout, got some experience in Europe, and came back in 2005 with a couple of seemingly minor additions (Toni Lydman, Teppo Numminen) and a couple of kids (Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller) and they had a pretty darn good season. Some of it was an infusion of youth from Rochester through the season but some of it was players like Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, J.P. Dumont and Jay McKee getting more comfortable with playing with each other and getting more experience in their roles on the ice and in the dressing room. The team that gave up a lot of leads in 2003-2004 was suddenly playing till the end, sometimes making miraculous comebacks themselves. The captaincy that rotated in 2003-2004 finally found permanent homes on the chests of Drury and Briere. Or did we forget that they didn't show up in Buffalo as fully formed leaders of men?

Vanek and Roy initially struggled on the first line and really only had one good half last season. Stafford was up and down throughout the year. Miller put a lot of pressure on himself and played a lot more minutes than he's used to playing. Pominville took on more responsibility defensively. Paille played twice as many games in Buffalo as he ever had before. But most of them got noticeably better and more comfortable as the season went on and I don't see any reason not to expect that to continue. They're babies and babies need time to learn and develop. Additions like Craig Rivet will make a difference by bringing in some new energy and leadership but time will make a difference too.


Mark B said...

Weird. I was thinking yesterday about some of these parallels between the 03-04 and last year's team. Let's hope for a similar types season without the Buffalo curse grabbing a hold of our D corp.

Vanek's Hair said...

What's this talk of a team with Drury, Briere, McKee and Dumont not winning a Stanley Cup? I thought a team with said players was infallable.

Heather B. said...

Vanek's Hair, I didn't believe it myself but according to every website on the internet it's true. They were all there in 2003-2004 and we STILL didn't win a friggin' Cup!

Vanek's Hair said...

Well damn it they didn't sign Brooks Orpik so I have no hope.

Myra said...

I'm still stuck on the Sabres being younger than the Blackhawks. Wow, would never have guessed that.