Sunday, November 23, 2008

Good Old-Fashioned Rambling

I admit, once it became clear that Bucky Gleason was going to be somewhat rational this season, I quit reading him. That was SO not what I read him for and the change in attitude had really made him a lot less entertaining. So when someone emailed me today and said, "I wonder what you think of Bucky's column today?" I kind of thought, "Hunh. He's still writing those, huh?" But I flounced off to read it and it was kind of interesting.

First I feel like I need to say a word about Maxim Afinogenov. I don't love Max like a fan loves a favorite player. He was never at the top of the pile for me and I'm not overly attached. But I feel the same way about him that I felt about Dmitri Kalinin last season: He's a scapegoat and Lindy Ruff has no idea how to handle him. Max is never going to produce in a defensive system. He's just not. That's not who he is. You do what you did with Daniel Briere and put him on a line with two players who are more responsible than him and you let them compensate for his deficiencies. Accept that he's going to make some mistakes and do what you can to minimize them while also putting him in a situation where his strengths can flourish. His strengths are not going to flourish on a line with Adam Mair, Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta and Andrew Peters. Putting him with those guys and then getting upset when he doesn't produce is akin to pulling Kalinin from Nolan Pratt, his established partner, after the trade deadline and bumping him up to tougher competition and expecting him to keep it together. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Max is Max is Max. As someone who loves and appreciates good defensive play he gives me a headache. But he's getting a bad rap. Max signed his current extension after the 2005-2006 season. He immediately went out and had a point plus per game season. He was well on his way to career bests before he got injured and actually came pretty close to his career high in points anyway. Last season he struggled but again, he was injured much of the season and it was an injury (groin) that's tough on a guy whose entire game rests on his skating and speed. It was last season that he also started playing with garbage linemates. Goose and Mair and those guys have their strengths but corraling Max is not one of them. He's been misused and when he plays for a coach who knows how to deal with him and linemates who can keep up with him, I think he'll go right back to being productive on the offensive side. Scratching him was the right choice - again, if you're not going to even try to put him with talented players why play him? - but it was also the easy choice. I'm not giving Lindy credit for that one. Scratching Derek Roy? That would've been a message-sender.

Before this season I was a proponent of keeping Max. We're obviously not going to get much for him since the Sabres couldn't dump him in the off-season, may as well keep him and hope he has a bounce back season while he's still here. But now I'm fully with Bucky. If you're not even going to ty to use him well, get rid of him and get whatever you can, even if it's a terribly low draft pick.

I agree with Bucky's overall premise actually. This isn't working. It's not. I don't know what the problem is but it's not working. Like Vanek's Hair said in the comments of the last post, "Get new players or get a new system." The system probably isn't changing as long as Lindy is coaching and as long as most of the league is playing a defensive system so it's the players who are going to have to change. Move Max, move Timmy, move another starter (yes, I noticed that Bucky mentioned Hank as no longer being untouchable and yes, I think he is an option - a heart-breaking and devastating option but an option nonetheless) and start bringing the Portland kids up. Start seeing how they're going to mesh with the guys already here, start figuring out lines and pairings and all that fun stuff. Let them get experience at the NHL level. Maybe it pays off next year and the next and hey, maybe if we're really lucky it makes a difference this year. It wasn't that long ago that a bunch of boys from Rochester came in and added just the right amount of youthful energy and talent to the veterans already in place. Remember those guys?

Where Bucky loses me a little is when he brings up Jay Bouwmeester. Dude, come on. We're not getting Jay Bouwmeester for our rejects, even if we package them together. All the players Bucky mentions are projects, players who are big maybes. MAYBE Max starts to flourish again under a new coach and system (like I said, I think he will), MAYBE Timmy quits shedding body parts (HA HA). Even if you throw in Hank, MABYE he returns to 2005-2006 form. You're not getting a difference maker for that pile of players even if that difference maker is a UFA who's made it clear he's not returning to his current team. Florida has to get better offers for Bouwmeester than that, don't they?

I think the more likely way to make room on the roster as far as Max and Timmy are concerned is waivers. Put them out of their miseries, spare us from having to listen to discussion about them for the rest of the season, leave Mark Mancari here and bring up Tim Kennedy. There, all done. Or just dump them for whatever picks you can get. Darcy Regier and Co. have certainly spun gold out of low draft picks before.

If you want to trade someone who might still have some value, trade Drew Stafford but please do it quickly before the other GMs figure out he sucks out loud. I never warmed up to him personally - Kate and I were discussing his Pralien interview during the "You Asked For It" segment of a recent Sabres Show and while, yes, I get that it was a joke I hate that whole ironic hipster thing. I prefer my athletes personable and sincere - like Patrick Lalime listening to Maria read the question from Carol in Lockport and then turning toward the camera, smiling and saying, "Well, Carol..." like he was actually talking to Carol. That was pretty cute. Where was I? Oh, right, Drew Stafford. He's still young, pretty talented, loads of potential but maybe not quite as untouchable now that some of the Portland guys are producing the way they are. He might actually get a little something in return.

For the record, here's my breakdown:

Jason Pominville (one of the few players that seems comfortable in the current defense-is-as-important-as-offense system)
Jochen Hecht (ditto)
Ryan Miller (I'm down on Ryan right now but unless you can come up with a valid idea for getting a comparable or better goalie, he's ours)
Derek Roy (he sucks but I think he'll come out of it and we're not replacing his production at his salary)
Thomas Vanek (I'm pretty sure he's the only Sabre with a goal)

Everybody else (back and forth on Danny Paille though)

Henrik Tallinder (obviously)

Thoughts? What do the Sabres need to do? Agree that the line-up needs a shake-up? More benchings or should we lose some players? Who are your untouchables? Do you think Ken Holland will take Timmy, Max, Al and Staffy for Nicklas Lidstrom? I mean, they are getting WAY more players than us in that deal.


Becky said...

On what a difference the line makes in playing results: Ol' buddy Zubrus scored 4 goals last night and my son said "He always scores when he plays with the best players". This is a problem?

Same thing could be said about Max. And did you catch Bucky near the end of the column throwing Kotalik under the bus too? He was playing well and it's still not good enough.

Heather B. said...

Becky, I agree with you about how Al's playing this season. He's been very good even when he isn't scoring goals and I'm not a fan of his at all. But his problem has always been playing that way over the course of an entire season. In the past he's played well for stretches and completely disappeared the rest of the time. Loathe as I am to defend Bucky, I think wondering if Al's current play and his play over the last two years is enough to keep him here in Buffalo is completely valid. If Bucky was saying, "Al sucks right now," I'd disagree. But I'm okay with, "Has Al done enough that he's worth holding on to?"

amy said...

I would put Gaustad in the purgatory between untouchable and touchable. Sure, teams would kill to have a guy like him on the roster, and I'm sure Darcy has gotten offers for him. But at the same time, Darcy said he wouldn't trade a guy like Gaustad away. He brings too much to the team. Look at how both Paille and MacArthur said that he's helped them with both on and off ice stuff. And from a PR perspective, he's one of the more visible guys in the community, both on the charity side and the promotional/marketing end.

Vanek's Hair said...

Kotalik is not playing to stay here. His play is raising his salary level on his next team next season. I am definitely in favor of some kind of player movement. I love the idea of Jay Boumeester (or however you spell it). I have for about his entire career. It is a bit of long shot, but remember that Florida traded Robert Luongo for Todd Bertuzzi straight up.

Meg said...

Drew Stafford comes off as such a douche when he's interviewed.

(And I haven't actually seen any hockey in weeks so that's about all I can contribute right now.)

Mark B said...

I too was with Bucky until he mentioned JaBow and then I wondered when Bucky became Eklund.

My plan: trade Timmy, Max and maybe Al for a bag of pucks, keep Mancari up here and call up Gerbe and Kennedy. Put Paetsch on waivers, call up Weber and make Teppo your 7th emergency D-Man. As much as I love him, he is really showing his age. Regarding Hank - I'm tempted to unload him (sorry!) and also bring up Butler, but then our D might be too young.

I really wanted to fight back about Staffy, but as much as I like him, you're right on all points. I might have made a bad decision re: favorite player/jersey in my rebound choice after Drury.

Erin said...

Nice post. This is what I needed.

Ebscer said...

I actually think all of our defensive players are rather safe (including Tallinder), as I feel we don't really have much depth there at all past Weber.

As for Jay Bouwmeester, one I know I don't want to overpay to get him, and I'm not even sure he would fit well with the team at a reasonable price.

Stafford is the guy to trade. He still has huge potential, while not showing the effort that made him good when he first came into the league. Throw Max and Stafford into a trade together and I think we could get a decent return, as well as freeing up a roster spot for Gerbe.

Anne M said...

I am fine with trades or moving people, but I'm against bringing up multiple players from the AHL as a long-term solution. Mancari is a good choice because he has done some serious time in the AHL and has been able to develop not just his physical skills, but also his brain. I don't want Gerbe and Kennedy coming up permanently only to become liabilities to their linemates because they're clueless about how to play in the NHL. There is a difference between carrying the load in college hockey and then trying to do the same thing at the NHL level (Exhibit A: Thomas Vanek).

Max has long been my favorite player, but I'm not fooling myself about seeing him a Sabres uniform for much longer. I do NOT think the Sabres should be waiving anyone right now, particularly players like Max and Kotalik. Those are both players who came up through the system and the team has invested a lot in them. I am not on board with just throwing that away because of a slump. The Sabres need to figure out something besides blaming Max and Al (and Hank) for all their troubles. It's not like the record improved with Max and Hank on the bench, so I have a hard time dumping all the blame on them.

amy said...

Drew Stafford comes off as such a douche when he's interviewed.

I have to wonder how much of that is because he actually is a douche as opposed to just not knowing how to conduct himself in interviews? The former can't be fixed, but the latter can easily be remedied with media training from the PR staff.

Heather B. said...

This is a long one....

I would put Gaustad in the purgatory between untouchable and touchable.

I could see that. I think Goose has a lower ceiling than some people seem to think but he's definitely a hard-worker and we certainly shouldn't be giving up size. I think it gets a little dicey when you start bringing in PR and fan favorite status and that sort of thing - ultimately that doesn't have anything to do with the on-ice product - but I wouldn't surprised if some teams do take that into consideration especially if they're on the fence about a guy.

Vanek's Hair, I certainly don't mean to imply that Al is playing to stay here. I agree that he's playing for the best contract he can get and that's something else that should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to keep him around or pass on him. And I'd completely forgotten about Luongo for Bertuzzi. Maybe we can convince Flordia that Al, Timmy, Max and Staffy combine to make one whole quality hockey player.

Drew Stafford comes off as such a douche when he's interviewed.

Meg, I agree. Again, I get that he's joking but I don't know, it's just not my thing, I guess. (I've watched every game and I haven't seen much hockey the last couple of weeks either.)

I might have made a bad decision re: favorite player/jersey in my rebound choice after Drury.

A lot of us have poor rebound choices in our pasts. I have a Connolly jersey in the closet, remember?

Ebscer, I think you are right that our defense depth light with the prospects there being further away from being ready for the NHL with the exception of probably Mike Weber. We would almost have to get a d-man back in a trade.

And you know what, I have to admit, I know very little about Bouwmeester. I wondered how good he actually is. I don't even really know what kind of d-man he is. While I didn't mention it in the post, I am a little cautious about trading for a guy who's a UFA at the end of the season too. Unless he signs an extension before moving, that's a pretty big risk.

Anne M, I'm torn on the Portland players coming up. Up until a few days ago I was against it. I've always liked the way the Sabres bring players along slowly. Leave them there, let them experience being successful at that level and build relationships (on-ice and off) with each other and let the players in Buffalo figure out what's going on. But I'm just at a total loss now and if it's a matter of players choosing not to listen to coaching (which it seems to be at least partly), I think it could be beneficial to bring up players who will be quicker to do that. I don't know... It's definitely the one thing I brought where I can see both sides of the argument. I think there's pros and cons either way.

As far as waiving Max goes, I definitely understand the idea of not wanting to give up a player for nothing especially one the Sabres drafted and developed. I wouldn't be surprised if that's how Darcy feels too. But at this point, I'm really thinking of it more as letting him move on to a place where he can be successful. He's not producing here and he's not going to produce here the way he's being handled. He clearly doesn'tm fit into the plan. For me it's less, "It's Max's fault so let's dump his ass," and more, "This relationship isn't working anymore, let's part ways now before we're all completely sick of looking at each other." I really think moving Max would be doing him a favor. He can't be very happy right now. Free Max! :P

I have to wonder how much of that is because he actually is a douche as opposed to just not knowing how to conduct himself in interviews?

With apologies to the Stafford lovers - I know there are still some of you out there - I think he's just a douche. I think he's perfectly capable of giving a normal interview but he likes being the cool, ironic guy. Blech.

Heather B. said...

Wow, some of that barely reads like English. Sorry, guys.

Anne said...

Yeah I wrote about a trade not long ago and declared Staffy was my vote for mover. I can't see Lindy being ok with moving Paille. He thinks very highly of him and his two way play. We don't have much room for too many purely offensive players. We can basically shoulder a couple but that's all. With Vanek really beefing up his defensive game and Gerbe waiting in the wings ready to emerge as a new offensive talent, long term for Max doesn't look good.

Katebits said...

I actually think the kindest thing that could do for Max is put him on waivers. I'm with Heather- FREE MAX!

dave in Rocha said...

I have to agree that you either put Max out there on a line with scoring talent, or you don't put him out there at all. And if we're not going to use him, deal him.

Other than that, I'm wait-and-see on the rest of the team. If some GM makes a great offer for Stafford, then sure I'd take it. But this team has shown it can be good for as long as it's shown it can be bad. Maybe one of those two trends wins out by February and you adjust then accordingly. If not, then make your decisions about the UFA guys and act accordingly at the deadline.