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)
TOUCHABLE BUT YOU POOR PEOPLE WON'T HEAR THE END OF IT FOR A VERY LONG TIME
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.