Thursday, January 31, 2008

Soupy vs. Hank: Only One Can Survive

All right, kids, pull up a chair, turn on your brains, and bring a calculator. This post is going to be wordy - okay, they're all wordy but this one's gonna be way worse - and filled to the brim with numbers. Today we shall prove once and for all that Brian Campbell is not that much more valuable than Henrik Tallinder if he is indeed more valuable at all. If you get bored and/or confused, scroll down to the bottom where I will summarize our findings in few short, easy-to-read bullet points

Now most people compare two players at the same position in one way: point totals. Brian Campbell has a robust 33 points so far this season (4 goals, 29 assists) while Henrik Tallinder has a measly 6 points (0 goals, 6 assists). Campbell must be better, right? Not so fast. I really don't think simply looking at point totals works in this case and not just because it works against my favorite player (although that's definitely a strike against it). Here are my problems with just comparing points in this situation: One, it favors Campbell's strength as a player (offense) while disregarding Tallinder's strength (defense). Two, you're not looking at defense at all which is at least a little bit important when you're talking about defensemen. (I know, it's crazy.) So we're gonna bust out some other numbers up in here.

First a few disclaimers. All numbers were taken from BehindTheNet.ca which is an absolutely amazing website. It's a gold mine of statistics and it boggles my mind what you can find there. I also have to give a huge shout-out to reader, commenter, and fellow blogger Meg. She did all the foot work in parsing the following numbers. All I'm doing is writing it up in blog form. (I did ask for her permission which she kindly granted.) Finally all numbers are based on defensemen who have played at least 30 games this season and who play at least 15 minutes at even strength per 60 minutes of game time. That eliminates any outliers - guys who have great numbers but have only played 3 shifts all season due to injuries or whatever. Meg just looked at even strength numbers because she was laaaa-zy (just kidding, Meg!) but I think that's okay with these two players anyway. I would consider special teams kind of a wash. Most people aren't going to argue that Tallinder isn't more valuable on the penalty kill and most people aren't going to argue that Campbell isn't more valuable on the powerplay. And if you are going to argue either of those things, well, you'll have to do it somewhere else. Ha! So all that said, let's get ready to rumble!

The first stat we'll look at is Quality of Competition. This takes into consideration who the players in question are playing against. I think this is pretty important because to me, for a guy to be considered a top pairing defenseman, he needs to play his share of time against the opposing teams' top lines. Even against a team like Ottawa where the third line still has talent, the top line is well, the top line. No other line on the Sens team is as good as the Heatley-Alfredsson-Spezza line. And on teams that don't have as much talent as Ottawa, let's say, Tampa Bay for example, there's an even bigger difference between playing against the top line and playing against a lower line.

Tallinder's Quality of Competition rating is .15, the highest on the Sabres and good for 13th out of the defensemen who met our criteria. I won't bore you with all the names above him but it's a very solid group that includes Nick Lidstrom and Anton Volchenkov just as a couple of examples.

Campbell's Quality of Competition rating is .01 which puts him below Tallinder as well as in the lower half of the defensemen we're looking at here.

So that shows us that Tallinder is playing against tougher players but it doesn't tell us how he's handling them. To judge that we move on to a stat called Goals Against On/60 which tallies how many goals the opposing teams scores while the player in question is on the ice. Just to be clear, the lower the number, the better.

Tallinder's GA ON/60 is 1.82 good for 10th best in the league out of the players who met our criteria. Above Tallinder are players such as Nick Lidstrom (really, the man is not human), Mathieu Schneider, Chris Pronger, and Paul Martin.

Campbell's GA ON/60 is 3.03, 10th worst out of the group we're looking at. That means that Campbell is facing a lower level of competition than Tallinder - considerably lower, I'd say - but allowing more goals per 60 minutes. Out of all the Sabres defensemen, Tallinder is facing the hardest competition while also allowing the fewest goals per 60 minutes of ice time.

Great, Heather, but what about the offense? Hold on, I'm getting there. The next stat we'll look at is the opposite - Goals For On/60 or how many goals the Sabres score while the defenseman in question is on the ice. In this case, the higher the number, the better.

Tallinder's GF ON/60 is 2.82 which is right in the middle of the pack. Not great, not terrible. It is important to note however that, as average as it is, it is a good bit higher than his GA ON/60. For every 60 minutes Tallinder spends on the ice, the Sabres score one more goal than they allow.

Campbell does have Tallinder beat in this category. His GF ON/60 is 3.17, putting him at 12th best among the defensemen we're looking at. (I don't have a list of the guys ahead of him but I'm sure Lidstrom is one of them. Seriously, he's a freak of nature.) So you could definitely make a case that Campbell does bring a lot to the table offensively. However his GF ON/60 is negated somewhat by his high GA ON/60. The Sabres score .35 more goals when Campbell is on the ice than when he's not but they also allow 1.21 goals more when he's on the ice.

One thing Meg pointed out that is in Campbell's favor is that he's lower than Tallinder in Quality of Teammates, meaning Tallinder plays with either a higher rated defensive partner or with higher rated forwards or some mixture of both. Tallinder's rating is a .10 while Campbell's is a -.09. So that could account for some of the difference in their overall numbers but their rankings are close enough here that I don't think it accounts for everything.

So let's summarize:

- Campbell averages about a minute and a half more in ice-time than Tallinder per 60 minutes but Tallinder is facing a much higher level of competition, almost always taking on the opponent's first line.

- Despite playing a higher level of competition, Tallinder is on the ice for fewer goals against than Campbell. For every 60 minutes Tallinder is on the ice, the Sabres score one more goal than they allow.

- Campbell is on the ice for more goals for the Sabres but also on the ice for more goals against the Sabres. In fact, his goals for number (3.17) is almost completely wiped out by his goals against number (3.03).

So while you could say that Campbell is more valuable than Tallinder offensively, you could also say that Tallinder's defensive ability is, in the long-run, more valuable to the Sabres because of how often Campbell's defensive lapses hurt his offensive contributions and again, this is despite Campbell playing against lesser skilled lines. I know I'm really pounding that but these are defensemen. I think it's important to take defense into consideration. And let's not forget that this is all based on a season that most everyone would agree has been pretty uneven for Tallinder.

In other words, I win! Brian Campbell is NOT worth 5 million dollars plus per season and the Sabres are NOT going to fall apart without him. I win! Tell all your friends!

(Thanks again, Meg! You're awesome!)

Hank Tallinder FTW!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Let's Go Streaking!

Thomas Vanek scored the game-winning goal.
It was also a powerplay goal.
Ryan Miller played lights-out.
And got a shutout!
The forwards were forechecking and creating chances.
The defense was good enough to make a one goal lead stick.
And Hank swooped in handsomely to sweep a loose puck out from an open net.
We beat another team that we should absolutely be beating.
And we have a three game winning streak!

Mr. Henrik Tall Indian (Getty Images)

Sports fans, I'd call that game just about perfect! If Drew Stafford's injury turns out to be not as serious as it looked - my ankle started throbbing after that slow motion replay - this can officially be called A Good Night to be a Sabres Fan. I'm not going to ruin it with any in-depth analysis. (Or I'm just feeling lazy, take your pick.)
But be sure to tune in tomorrow for an exciting, stat-filled post that will prove once and for all that Brian Campbell is NOT more valuable than Henrik Tallinder. And bring your brains because there will be numbers involved!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I Think There Was a Game Tonight?

I slept through parts of the Tampa Bay game - I went through a week or so where I hardly slept at all and have now entered a period where I can hardly stay awake - so please take all game-related thoughts with a grain of salt.

- It's hard to say how well we played because Tampa Bay is a bad team. Still, it's nice that we pretty handily beat a bad team instead of floundering against them and it's nice that we made a bad goalie look like a bad goalie instead of a future Hall-of-Famer.

- Is there any way we can trade the whole team to the Southeast division at the trade deadline? Wow, they are not good. I think it's a little unfair that any of them get to be in the playoffs at this point.

- It's goals like the first goal that make me miss Jim Lorentz. If he'd been doing the game he would've rolled back the video tape and made it a point to applaud Jochen Hecht for keeping possession of the puck long enough to get the pass off to Jason Pominville even while being sandwiched between two opposing players. (Lightnings?) No one pointed that out tonight. Of course, I was watching the Versus feed so I'm probably lucky they were looking at the ice at all and not giving me an update on Sidney Crosby's injury status instead.

- I do like to watch the occasional game on Versus just because I like to hear what people who aren't watching every Sabres game think about the team. Obviously I think we see some things that people who are only watching the scoreboard miss, but I think we're also sometimes too close to the team and get mired in all of the off-ice stuff, some of which affects the team but some of which is just noise. I would agree with Versus' assessment that our defense has been inconsistent and I would definitely agree with Keith Jones's observation that a lot of the defensive lapses have really been due to forwards not getting back and doing their part. But I think the offensive stats he cited are deceiving. I was originally stunned that we have the 6th rated offense in the league - geez, goals really are down - but after I thought about it I decided that stat is seriously knocked out of whack by the handful of games we have where the team just went crazy: 6 goals here, 8 goals there, 10 goals here. If I'm doing my addition right - a questionable thing at any time of day much less this late - the Sabres have scored 2 goals or less in 23 games and what do you know, almost all of them were losses. Most nights in the NHL, you aren't going to win with only 2 goals unless the rest of your game is absolutely stellar which, as we've established, the Sabres' game has not been.

- Tonight was good though. Four goals, good goaltending, and no glaring mistakes... That'll win you some games.

- Tim Conolly has bone spurs, huh? At this point I'm not going to be the least bit surprised when his head just pops off his body and rolls into traffic. Pretty mean of God to put that much talent in a body that's so freakin' fragile.

This came up in the comment thread a few days ago so I just want to make it very clear that I have no problem with anyone out there disagreeing with my opinions and I certainly have no problem with people letting me know that. I think the interaction and back-and-forth is one of the most fun parts of blogging. I like that despite my established Tallinder blinders, brian s. came right out and said, "Hey, you know what, I think Hank is overrated," and I appreciate that he felt comfortable saying that despite knowing that I'm never, ever going to publicly agree. All I ask is that you disagree without personally insulting the person you're disagreeing with and if you're up for it, tell me why you're disagreeing, not because you have to defend yourself but because I just really like knowing how other fans are feeling and thinking and why they're thinking and feeling that way. And just fyi, in my world, "I just hate that guy" is a perfectly good argument :-) I haven't really had any problems with any of this - so far all my commenters have been great - but I wanted to put this out there for the record.

In closing, check this out. It made me laugh.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Get Your Game On, Go Play

So that All-Star game was pretty entertaining for the last five minutes or so, eh? Good job, NHL! A few - very few - random thoughts:

- Those uniforms were terrible. Seriously, what is so hard about designing a good-looking uniform? The Eastern Conference looked particularly putrid with the white paneling along the sides of the jerseys and down the pants. Also, we know these are All-Star jerseys, okay? You really don't have to cover the entire thing in stars.

- I don't think mic'd up Manny was quite up there with mic'd up Marty Turco but he came close with this exchange with Gary Bettman about the NHL "picking on goalies."

Manny: You've got to stop taking away inches!
Gary: You've got to stop being so big!
Manny: I'm 5'9"!

Next year I'm voting for Marty Biron no matter how his season is going because I need to hear him mic'd up for a game. Doc Emrick mentioned a couple of times that it was tough for the mic'd up players to hear him because of the noise level. Marty B. would not care! He would just keep talking about whatever popped into his head and it would all be worth listening to. Heck, we could just give Doc and Edzo the night off. They could put that game on pay-per-view and I'd order it without hesitation.

- The one thing I do like about the All-Star weekend is that there are always a few players who I either don't see or haven't paid much attention to who I find myself really noticing and liking. This usually happens in the playoffs too. Here's this year's list:

Zdeno Chara - He actually seems really smart and maybe kind of interesting to talk to. According to Sherry (of the wonderful Scarlett Ice), he was working toward a business degree during his time in Ottawa. I like that.

Rick Nash - Rick Nash looks a lot like my little brother Lee, right down to the sloppy, patchy beard which I adore. Also, thinking about how he was considered a pretty big disappointment last year gives me hope for Thomas Vanek.

Ilya Kovalchuk - I loved him playfully falling over in disbelief after whichever goalie was in at the time (Nabokov, I think) robbed him and then skating over and hugging him. I loved how much fun he seemed to be having all weekend. (I also loved Edzo confusing him with Alexander Ovechkin even though they look nothing alike because enjoying hockey is Ovechkin's shtick. No one else should be doing that!) I loved him pretty much admitting that his division is not very good. And he has a great head of hair.

Jarome Iginla - I hardly ever see him play so I always forget how much I love watching him on the ice. He also seems so personable and smiley off the ice. Why isn't the NHL marketing him more?

- I was not happy about Versus wasting time during intermission interviewing Chris Pronger. Ugh. I can think of five guys off the top of my head in that dressing room who would've been a more fun, entertaining interview.

- I've always assumed that Tomas Kaberle is Canadian, I guess because he plays for the Maple Leafs. I was shocked - shocked - when he started talking in an accent that was clearly not French-Canadian. He's Czech! How have I watched a billion Sabres-Leafs games and not realized this? I feel pretty dumb.

- Last week I finally saw the commercial with the new dad banging on the glass at the hospital nursery. I emailed a link to Mark because I thought he'd get a kick out of it and was disappointed that he didn't seem that impressed with it. It came on tonight, I started laughing hysterically as always, and he suddenly burst out with, "OHHHHHHHH! He's banging on the glass! Like a hockey fan! I GET IT! Hey, that is funny!" Next time I send him a link I'll be sure to carefully explain the joke. (I'm writing this was loving affection, dear.)

- Still not enough Joe Thornton! Seriously, people! He's talented, he's funny and oh so jolly, and he's cute as a (very large) button. What's the problem here?

More Joe, plz!

On a total side-note, who let Bucky Gleason write on Sabres Edge? My safe haven is ruined! I don't know if it was John Vogl or Mike Harrington who gave him the keys, but I am not happy. I am not happy at all. I actually left a comment which I swore I would never ever do again after this summer when some ass-wipe kept accusing me of being a 16-year-old puckbunny who loves Jason Pominville and doesn't understand anything about hockey while addressing nothing that I was actually saying. I hate myself right now! Oh, and Bucky, you left out the fact that Brian Campbell is now the FASTEST SKATER IN THE ENTIRE EASTERN CONFERENCE. Surely, that's worth another half million or so?

Gee, maybe the Sabres should have accepted his five-year, $25 million offer.

Gee, maybe some of us don't agree with you. Gee, maybe that would've been really stupid and short-sighted. Gee, maybe the fact that someone is going to give Campbell that much money doesn't make it a good deal. Gee, maybe the Sabres feel like Campbell isn't a good investment of five million a year in light of other contracts coming up. Gee, maybe I'm going to KICK SOMEONE'S TEETH IN if I EVER hear the numbers "5" and "25" again in my ENTIRE LIFE. Those numbers are RUINED FOREVER!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hey, Now, You're an All-Star!

Some thoughts on Saturday's All-Star events:

- The new relay race was kind of cool but Versus clearly had no idea how to film it. The first round was over before they really caught up with the action. Liked it but I think I'd prefer if it was a timed event. Instead of each guying getting four passes/shots and scoring for each one that's successful they should have to attempt it until they're successful - or maybe successful a certain amount of times if that's too easy - before moving on to the next part. I don't know, it definitely needs to be longer though.

- I'm so disappointed the fastest man race isn't a full lap this year. Watching guys try desperately not to wipe out in the corners was the best part! The races were way too short this year. This is an all-star travesty!

- I'm still not sure how Brian Campbell won his heat even though he finished way behind the guy he was racing. Either the timers screwed up or they were timing from the blue line or some other point to give the players a running start. If the latter is the case, that's lame. Acceleration is part of speed in the NHL. A guy who can get to full speed faster deserves the leg up that gives him. Clearly the NHL is screwing with me because now I'm sure Campbell's agent and Bucky Gleason will be sure to work in that Campbell is the FASTEST SKATER IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE! (Versus probably explained how the timing was working but I wasn't paying attention and evidently no one I was watching with was either.)

There are maybe three or four people who will get why this photo cracked me up but I'm posting it anyway. Click on it for the full effect:

- The target shooting is probably my favorite event to watch. I had no idea Thomas Kaberle could shoot like that but I found myself really happy that he won. A Buffalo fan cheering for a Maple Leaf! Behold the power of All-Star Weekend!

- The Young Stars game was still a snooze though I do appreciate the NHL making it shorter. A lot of discussion amongst my group about whether Patrick Kane introduced himself as "P. Kane" or "Pete Kane" but during the game Manny Legace clearly said, "Go, Peter!" while Patrick was charging up the ice with the puck. I know Kane is a local kid so if anyone out there knows him or his family or has access to him or his family, please, please, please find out what's up with this whole "Peter" thing. I need to understand this. There's a free official Top Shelf t-shirt in it for you.* I lost track of the final score but I think it was 118-112.

- The camera angle on the first shootout event was terrible. Versus, when the camera man is behind the shooter I can't see the guy's stick and I can't see if the puck goes in the net. Those are kind of important to a shootout. I suppose I appreciate the attempt at something new but sometimes things are the way they are for a reason. No need to break the mold here, guys. Also, not every fan loves the shootout. I'm pretty sure I hate it now.

- I don't know if mic'd Manny Legace is quite up there with mic'd Marty Turco, but he was pretty good. My favorite moment was when he made a beautiful poke-check and then flailed helplessly at the rebound shot which went in for a goal and then exulted, "Did you see that awesome poke-check?!"

- I'm impressed that guys can hit the puck as hard as they do, but the hardest shot competition is a total snooze to watch on TV. Also, I don't think I'd ever heard Zdeno Chara interviewed until tonight. He's extremely well-spoken. I admit, I was a touch disappointed to learn that he doesn't talk in a mixture of caveman grunts and chimpanzee noises.

- The new breakaway challenge was kind of a disappointment at first - seriously, Pavel, that was not impressive - but it did get better as it went along. It would've been nice to see someone actually score but the creativity and effort were there at times. Even though he completely whiffed on the shot, I was pretty impressed with Ovechkin tossing the puck up in the air and then doing a 360 before swinging at the puck. Evidently he didn't play enough baseball growing up. I liked Ryan Getzlaf's moves but I think Marion Gaborik was robbed in the WC. I know there are people who hate Sidney Crosby being pushed so hard to the forefront but this event probably would've been better if he'd been here. I'd also like to see some kind of audition process behind the scenes because I'm sure there's a d-man on the All-Star squad somewhere who's not necessarily an offensive power in games who plays around with this stupid, showy stuff in practice and could pull off something wild.

- Scott Mellanby kept turning his scorecard around like he expected there to be a different number on the other side. I did like his response to how he would've handled this event though: "Not very well. I would've dumped it in and made the change."

- Some of the Sabres fans I was hanging with at Interchangeable Parts decided we would've liked to have seen two Sabres participate in the breakaway. We wanted to see Brian Campbell do a string of spin-o-ramas from center ice to the net and then wobble off the ice dizzily and we wanted to see Jochen Hecht take the puck down the ice, circle around the net, shoot from the worst angle on the ice, and bounce the puck off the goalie's back and both posts before it finally went in. I'm pretty sure he's actually done that before. Jochen would be so much better at this anything-goes shootout than the real thing.

- I have to give the NHL and NHL Network two thumbs up for the morning skate and red carpet coverage and also for streaming it all online for those of us who don't have NHL Network. It's true that one of the NHL's best assets is how likable and down-to-earth even the star players are and getting to see them in a more casual setting is fun. Jarome Iginla looked extremely dapper - guys, maybe more of you could wear ties next year? - and he has the best smile in professional sports. My favorite part of the red carpet though was probably Ilya Kovalchuk more or less admitting that the Thrashers are lucky their division sucks out loud.

- Not nearly enough Joe Thornton for my taste.

*Official Top Shelf t-shirts don't really exist. Sorry.

Friday, January 25, 2008

All-Star Weekend Ahoy!

So the All-Star break is upon us. I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of the All-Star Game. No defense, no hitting, and no real emotion? No thanks. I keep hearing about how great it is to see guys having fun but I'm not convinced most of them even want to be there. And despite the tweaking this year, you couldn't pay me good money to watch the Young Stars Game again. That was painful. I've seen more entertaining games in my gym class with my kids. But I am a total sucker for the skills competitions. In fact, let's call this...

Why I Love Hockey #35 - The All-Star Skills Competition

I've mentioned many, many times that I grew up in hockey no man's land (a.k.a. Birmingham, AL). Hockey was occasionally on TV but not enough that I ever really got hooked on a particular team. However I have very clear memories of watching the skills competitions. Before I knew anything about hockey, I knew that Ray Bourque had a scarily accurate shot. I knew Pavel Bure was really, really fast. Even before I was really a hockey fan, I was amazed at how much skill and athleticism the players involved in the various competitions had. I'd never been ice-skating in my life. Watching guys fly around the ice, legs pumping, jerseys flapping behind them, like it was the most natural thing in the world took my breath away. Watching people wind up and hit little tiny targets with a little tiny puck fascinated me. I was a pretty athletic kid and I just couldn't wrap my brain around some of the stuff I was seeing. And I feel the same way now. I don't know, I might be even more impressed now that I actually follow hockey. Watching game after game after game I think it's easy for fans to forget what exactly the guys are doing over and over through the course of a season. They're incredible athletes using a crazy variety of skills - strength, speed, balance, hand-eye coordination, hand-foot coordination, quick, soft hands - and they're doing it all ON ICE SKATES. That will never not amaze me. I think it's pretty cool for a bunch of NHLers to have the chance to get together and show off once a year. I also think this is where you really see the fun. You see the guys cracking up and laughing at and with each other. You see players who aren't on the same team during the season chat and hang out. It's really cool. I think it's the real celebration of how awesome these guys really are.

Listen, I'll unashamedly admit that I'm posting the video below for free swag from Versus - hey, it's a magnetic playoff tracker and a PUCK SHAPED ICE CUBE TRAY! That's awesome. But I would've written the above anyway because the skills competition is sweet. (Watch it on Versus, Saturday 1/26 at 7 p.m. Eastern!) And actually you know what? Despite what I said about the All-Star Game, it was probably worth it for mic'd up Marty Turco who was totally hilarious. So maybe you should watch that too after all.



Mic'd Up Marty Turco:

Just When I Think I'm Out....

Well, despite the days and days of hate mail from me to the Sabres, it turns out I really do love them. I know this because a) all those days off made me miss the little brats and b) one win has me thinking, "Hey, we're not mathematically eliminated yet!" I have a sickness, people. A deep, dark sickness.

A few thoughts:

- Wow, Dallas was... not impressive. After all the hullabaloo from the Buffalo News and Lindy Ruff (They're so big! So physical! So athletic! So beautifully led!) I was expecting more. I've often wondered about the teams who have a powerplay worse than ours (okay, in fairness to Dallas, they're ranked one above us). I guess our powerplay really isn't the worst in the history of man. Who knew?

- Nice to see good goaltending make a difference. Ryan Miller was definitely looking a little cranky last night - loved the reenactment of the tripping penalty for the ref and the spearing of the guy who was hacking away at his glove. I was a little worried because a couple of times he started to do the "Hey, look at that other goalie! Me too! Me too!" routine he likes to do when he plays a goalie who handles the puck a lot but he kept it reined in pretty well. Overall I'd say he did a pretty good job of responding to Lindy's recent remarks about the guy between the pipes needing to be good.

- Lindy was not kidding about Marty Turco's puck handling abilities though. Some of his passes were pretty impressive. I really like Marty. He's one of my favorite non-Sabres in the league and I do wish we saw him more often. He makes me laugh.

- Top Shelf glove taps to Toni Lydman for blocking what seemed like eighteen shots on one powerplay and Jochen Hecht for more or less saving the game with his poke check at the end. Defense is sexy!

- Speaking of defense, I hate to get into the habit of pointing out every little thing Brian Campbell does wrong but come on, Buffalo. He totally forgot what position he was playing on the Dallas goal. (I did let out a good "STUUUUUUUUUUUUU," just for old time's sake.)

- Okay, let's talk about Derek Roy. A couple of days ago I mentioned that Derek Roy was the Sabre that has disappointed me the most this season. The Dallas game (along with the Toronto game) is a perfect example of what I've been expecting from Derek. He was buzzing, he was involved in the play, he was making his linemates better. You noticed him almost every time he was on the ice. He's had spurts like that all season, a string of games when he's had multiple points. But he's also had long stretches of games where he was either damaging the team with irresponsible play or just not there at all. In one of my hate letters I think I mentioned that I expected this year's team to be, at the very least, hard-working, determined, playing with a little bit of a chip on its shoulder. What I didn't say was that I expected a lot of that to come from the team taking on a bit of Derek Roy because when he's playing well, that's how he plays and as we saw tonight, it makes a difference. Of all the guys in that little Rochester core, I really expected Derek to be the one who stepped up to fill in some of the leadership gap. He's been the leader before - he captained the Kitchener Rangers to the Memorial Cup - and in the preseason he seemed eager to be the guy.

In fairness to him however, I probably had my expectations a touch too high for this season, especially since I even admitted in a preseason post that he had a lot of growing up to do on the ice. Between the excessive diving and the never-ending whining about every single call/no call he didn't like, he could be a total baby. It was probably too much to expect him to go from Whiny Baby to Leader of Men in one season. But that's what makes this whole "most disappointing player" debate interesting because it really depends on who you were expecting the most out of.

The good news is, I think Derek has made some progress in the whiny department this year. I can't remember the last time I screamed at him about yapping at the refs. And while I think he'll always be willing to go down for a call, I think that's gotten a little better too. And he has shown flashes of how he's capable of taking over a game and feeding energy into his team. I fully expect his new contract to be good for both him and the Sabres in the long-run. You hear, "He'll be a bargain by the time his contract is up" a lot, but I think Derek really will have been a bargain when all is said and done. (Wake me up when Alexander Ovechkin's contract is even in the same neighborhood as a bargain.)

And on a total side note, those amped up shoulder pads Derek is wearing lately completely crack me up. They make him look even smaller than he already is. He looks like a little kid wearing full gear for the first time.

So yeah, Derek Roy. Disappointing and encouraging all at the same time. It's like the guy behind us at a game last season said. "Derek Roy... Man, I love that little bastard."

Little Roy-Z, 2003

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hockey Players Are Not Smart

Today I was put in the very uncomfortable position of agreeing with Jerry Sullivan. On his blog, Jerry informed us that one of the players approached John Vogl, one of the Sabres beat writers, and requested some positive, morale-building stories. (Thanks to Amy over at Shots Off the Crossbar for the link because I might have missed it otherwise. Hey, Amy, did you know shots off the crossbar were going to be a theme this season when you named your blog?)

First of all, why are you guys even looking at the media for encouragement? Are you crazy? Have you read the Buffalo News? I know this is my bias showing, but I haven't found them to be particularly positive even in the best of times. You really expect that to change now?

Second of all, are you kidding me? John Vogl is a REPORTER. He REPORTS what's happening in front of him. You're not really giving him a lot of good stuff to work with. If you want some positive press maybe you should try winning more than one game in a row. Maybe you could start by atleast looking like you care that you're not winning. Maybe you could try playing really, really hard for an entire sixty minutes. I'm a fan who desperately wants to be positive and I can't think of anything nice to say about you as a group. Not a single, solitary thing.

Third of all (watch out, I'm on a roll!), the Buffalo News has been pretty damn generous considering how crappy you're playing. They're (rightfully) criticizing Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn and letting you guys slide on a ton o' crap. They're harping on how much the losses of Chris Drury and Danny Briere have hurt you. They're giving the Sabres grief for getting backed into a corner on Thomas Vanek's contract and not completely ripping Vanek for signing a contract he clearly wasn't ready to handle mentally much less hockey-wise. They seem to just be getting around to you guys and you turning into whiny little boys is not very becoming.

Seriously, you guys are professional athletes. This is your job, it's what you're paid to do. (And quite well I might add. I'd love to see any of you do my job for my pay.) You're supposed to play for pride and your teammates and yourself and all that rah-rah crap. If you really need the local media to boost your morale, well, you're just not very good at this professional athlete thing. Time to grow up, boys. You said you could handle new roles and expectations. Stop talking and do it.

Gah! Do you guys have any idea how painful it is for me to side with THE BUFFALO NEWS?! It burns!

All that said, I'm dying to know who it was that approached Vogl because even if you are pissed off at negative attention, that just seems completely stupid. Even I know better. I've discussed this with quite a few people today and heard a few different opinions, but my money is on Brian Campbell. I don't know, he just strikes me as the type for some reason.

Jerry Sullivan is also running a Most Overrated Sabre poll. The five choices he gives us are Tim Connolly, Maxim Afinogenov, Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and A Defenseman That Heather Is Choosing to Eliminate From Said Poll. When I voted at 2:12 a.m. Wednesday night/Thursday morning, Ryan Miller was leading with 30.5% of the vote which is harsh, man. I have to agree with Jerry (AGAIN!) that some of that is just the nature of his position. I know a lot of people who pretty much blame the goalie for everything. Ryan and Thomas have had rough seasons but I think they'll both be fine so I wouldn't call them overrated - underachieving maybe is a better word. Max drives me crazy but I think he does bring some positives, even when he's not scoring. There's no doubt that his speed does scare a lot of teams into backing off. He probably came into this season with a little too much hype considering that last year was the first year he's consistently finished. But no, I have to go with Tim Connolly. I like Timmy as a player. I really, really wanted him to be great this year. I believe that somewhere on this blog I made a prediction for his points output that would be pretty darn embarrassing now but at the time, I really believed it. I still think he has a lot of talent but it's looking more and more like the 2005-2006 season where he was both productive and reasonably healthy (until the playoffs) was an anomaly. Too bad.

My most disappointing Sabre of this season though is Derek Roy, but I'll save that for another because it's late and I'm tired. How about you guys? Who's your most overrated and/or disappointing Sabre?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lindy Ruff 4-Eva

I think most fans have atleast one blind spot. One issue or person that they will never ever see in any way but their way. A lot of fans are like this about their favorite player. If they like a guy enough, he could be playing like garbage but they'll never, ever admit it. I don't think I'm like that about Henrik Tallinder. I do kind of ignore it when he's not playing well - rarely will I actually say here, "Boy, Hank looks terrible!" - but I am seeing it and when other people point it out I don't get irrationally defensive. I'll admit, "Yeah, he and Toni need to be better," and then just kind of shrug and add, "They'll get it together."

I'm beginning to realize that I am pretty irrational about one person however and that person is Lindy Ruff. I've written about my affection for Lindy before and I don't think I'm alone here. In most cities, if the team was struggling as badly as the Sabres are struggling right now, the coach would be on the hot seat. Fans would be running him out of town. Granted, I am shielding myself from the more uh, zealous fans on sports radio and message boards, but there doesn't seem to be any kind of "FIRE LINDY!" uprising forming, atleast not yet. I hope it stays that way.

Here's the thing: I understand if people are critical of Lindy. I've been more perplexed by him this year than any other year in the past. I've spent most of my days on IR hanging out over at Interchangeable Parts and Pookie has suggested more than once that it's time for Lindy to move on, if for no other reason than just to shake things up. And my brain gets it. My brain understands that yeah, maybe a new face coming in and saying, "I don't know you and I don't care about whatever garbage is going on here, this is how it's gonna be" would wake the team up. (Though my brain also gets that the Interchangeable Parts girls are Devils fans and therefore barely have coaches long enough to remember their names much less fall in love with them :P)

But at the mere mention of Lindy going somewhere else - especially if it comes about because of a firing! - my heart freaks out and my fingers start typing every defense I can think of, some that make sense, some that don't. Lindy can't make the goal scorers score goals. He can't make the defense more consistent and he can't make the goalies steal games. He can't take players who aren't physical by nature and turn them into grinders. He can't make spoiled professional athletes work hard and play like they want to win. Any lack of effort is on the players. I don't care if teams usually fire coaches because it's easier than firing the players. In fact, I've now stated in more than one place that if it's between firing Lindy and firing the team, I'd gladly say a fond farewell to every guy on the roster. And while that's the kind of hyperbolic statement someone would usually make just to get a point across, I think I might actually mean it. Take that albatross of a contract somewhere else, Thomas. Go get your 6 million in another city, Brian. Let someone else worry about your groins, Timmy and Max. Goose and Mairsy, I hope you find somewhere soft to land. Jochen, it's been a blast. Hank... Hank, I think I'll miss you most of all. But seriously, I don't care if Rob Ray and James Patrick have to come out of retirement so that we can field a full team - heck, let Lindy play - just do whatever needs to be done to keep Lindy Ruff in Buffalo until I die.

So I just wanted to give you all fair warning that if it comes to a point where people really do start talking about firing Lindy I'm going to squeeze my eyes shut and wish the whole conversation away. I won't defend him because my arguments will be irrational and desperate but I won't take part either and I'll never, ever, ever agree as long as there's still breath left in my body.


Okay, now to go totally off-topic...

I had a week or so of zen, but I really need to get this cast off and I need to do it ASAP. If I had a saw, I'd just do it myself. I'm enjoying the sitting around and reading and watching DVDs etc, I would just like to be able to carry a plate of food from the kitchen to another room. Is that asking so much?

Books I've read since being disabled: Rayzor's Edge: Rob Ray's Tough Life on the Ice (pretty good), Searching for Bobby Orr (excellent), Breaking the Ice: My Journey to Olympic Hockey, the Ivy League, and Beyond (okay), The Parting (good), and On Chesil Beach (overrated :::clap, clap, clapclapclap)
Currently reading: Home to Holly Springs and Brodeur: Beyond the Crease

DVDs I've watched since being disabled: Once (awesome - the best movie I've seen from last year and one of the best movies I've seen in the past few years), Knocked Up (pretty good but not great), Superbad (totally overrated but not really my thing), Stardust (liked it more than I expected to), Veronica Mars: Season One (very good), 3:10 to Yuma (very, very good), and Waitress (sweet and funny and geez, why hasn't Hollywood made a star out of Nathan Fillion - weak-chinned or not - yet?)
Currently watching: 30 Rock: Season One with Battlestar Galactica on deck

Heather B's favorite Oscar nominee: Falling Slowly for Best Original Song

Warning: Really Boring, Pointless Post Ahead

I'm going into survival mode here at Top Shelf. It's been a rough couple of months. With the upcoming trade deadline, the Brian Campbell drama, and the all-around unhappiness, it's probably going to get worse. Here are my survival tips for you, the Sabres fan.

1. DO NOT LISTEN TO WGR
Just don't do it. It's not worth the time or trouble. Lackawanna Lou isn't going to tell you anything you don't already know. He's either going to passionately agree with you or vehemently disagree with you and either way, it's not good for your soul. The radio hosts don't care about truth, justice, or the American way, they just want the most entertaining show they can have which means whipping everyone into a total frenzy.

2. DO NOT VISIT INTERNET MESSAGE BOARDS
All of the above applies here just minus the radio hosts. Instead you have emotional panicky fans egging each other on which is quite possibly even more dangerous. Even the good boards are crazy by now. I used to occasionally wander over to various boards to see what others were thinking but it's not worth it. I feel the way I feel, you feel the way you feel, we're not going to change each other's minds, but that's not going to stop us from trying anyway.

3. DO NOT READ THE SPORTS COLUMNS IN THE BUFFALO NEWS
They're just trying to upset you. They are, I know it! Or maybe they're just trying to upset me. Sabres Edge is safe. You can read game summaries if you must but I'd be careful of them because from there you can usually see the title of the columns and then you're only one short click away from disaster.

I do really well with the first two - I have a natural hate for sports radio already and I've mostly moved past my desire to try and convince anyone on message boards of anything especially since I often get a response along the lines of "UR JUST A GRL WHO WANTZ TO SLEEP WITH RYAN MILLER AND U PROBLY SLEEP IN A POMMMINVILLLLE JERZEE WAT DO U KNOW NEWAY!" (You have no idea how long it took me to decipher "neway." I'm clearly not up on my internet speak.) I've really slipped on number three though. There was a long stretch where I didn't touch the Buffalo News at all unless someone pointed out an article or column to me and I was pretty happy. I blame John Vogl and Mike Harrington for making me feel too safe with their excellent work on Sabres Edge. Listen, I know I get too worked up about these things. I totally do. But I can't change that about myself so I just have to avoid the issue all together. (That's very healthy, isn't it?) And really this is the one thing I dislike about Buffalo which I otherwise love and adore. Fans are nuts. Completely nuts. And even though I know how I feel about let's say Brian Campbell, if I listen to other people go crazy about it long enough, I start to... I don't know, not change my mind... but get a little paranoid that maybe I'm missing something even though I know I'm not. Which is really annoying.

I'm bored so let's talk about some non-Sabres stuff.

- I'm kind of disappointed that the Packers didn't win because I do really like Brett Favre but I'm okay with the Giants winning just because I'm sure it bothers Tiki Barber that the Giants are going to the Super Bowl a) with Eli and b) without him. Take that, Tiki! Hope you're enjoying The Today Show.

- My favorite Manning brother is Cooper. He seems really sweet and funny and appears to be pretty good-natured about health issues keeping him from pursuing football. And he's really cute. He looks like a Manning but he seems to have missed out on the dopey gene that Peyton and Eli both inherited. (Don't get me wrong, I love Peyton. I grew up smack in the middle of SEC football and I was in college at Alabama part of the time he was at Tennessee so I have a soft spot for him. But he and Eli both look like dopes even though I know they're allegedly both very smart.)

- Dude, it looked like you could've peeled Tom Couglin's face right off by the end of the Giants game.

- I've been watching the "Chicks Dig the Longball" commercial I posted a few days ago a lot because it really amuses me, but man, there is a lot of irony in that 30 second commercial. It's like Greg and Tom knew all along that Mark McGwire was jacked up on steroids and they were just waiting for the rest of us to catch up. Also, if steroids do end up taking down Roger Clemens, I think that makes Greg Maddux the best pitcher of his generation. (You can disagree, but you'll be wrong.) I grew up hating the Braves but I always had a secret affection for Maddux and John Smoltz.

- My favorite current non-NHL athlete is Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros. He's like a big, funny, sweet teddy bear who also happens to be a really, really great hitter. I just want to give him a big hug. If by any chance you've met him and he's a total jackass, please don't tell me. I want to live with my illusions.

Man, I have got to get this cast off. I'm going crazy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I Don't Hate ALL the Sabres COMPLETELY

Hey, guess what? The Sabres are on and I'm not watching or listening to the game. A friend of mine dropped by for a visit - human companionship during the day! - and for some reason I had it in my head that the Sabres game started at 5 so it was already under way when she left. I turned the TV on, saw 3 straight Phoenix goals, two of them on Hank and Toni, two of the Sabres I couldn't work up TOO much hate for in my "I Hate" post so I thought I'd better turn the TV off before it was too late.

Even in light of today's ugly loss however, I am going to be positive! That's right! I took a couple of days, got all the hate out of my system, and I'm ready to move on. To combat all the (much deserved) negativity floating around here, I'm going to write about the one player on the team who I actually still feel pretty good about.



SOME REASONS WHY I, HEATHER B, STILL MOSTLY LOVE JOCHEN "Yo-Yo" HECHT

- He quietly re-signed with the Sabres toward the beginning of the season. Not a word from him about it until it was a done deal.

- Despite signing a long-term deal, he's still continued to play really well. Whether purposely or subconsciously, there's something to the idea of players working extra hard in a contract year and then letting up a little once they're locked up. Too many players have had career years in contract years for the idea to be totally dismissed. I think you could almost argue that Jochen has played better since signing which is awesome.

- He's one of the few Sabres who seems to understand the idea of working hard for 60 minutes. Jochen obviously isn't as skilled as some of his teammates but he rarely, rarely coasts.

- He's the only Sabres who's on track to have a career season. Now I'll grant you that Jochen doesn't have the career numbers that some of the others have to match, but still... goal-scoring is not really Jochen's game and he's doing more than his share. Bonus points for his understanding of how important it is to sometimes just throw the puck on the net instead of trying to be all pretty about it.

- He's done very little excuse making. I remember the occasional, "We're not getting the bounces," but for the most part Jochen's line has been, "We have to be better." Which is pretty true, you know?

- He has a swoon-worthy backhand.

God bless you, Jochen Hecht. Even if the remainder of this season completely bites, I'll be really happy to see you get to twenty goals. At this point, I'm totally willing to grab on to the little things.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Hate the Sabres, Part 3

I hate the Sabres.

I hate all of them but here are the specifics:

I hate Thomas Vanek for signing a ridiculous contract that he was clearly mentally and emotionally not ready to handle.

I hate Derek Roy for busting ass one night and looking totally disinterested the next.

I hate Ryan Miller for not being great when his team really needs him to be.

I hate Brian Campbell for spinoramo-ing right in front of his net, convincing Buffalo that he's insanely valuable, drifting toward the shooter instead of cutting off the pass, backing into his goalie, and making every thought about his contract negotiations public.

I hate Tim Connolly for dipsy-doodling until he's out of room to shoot or pass, insisting that yes, he can stickhandle through an entire team, refusing to wear a visor, actually saying aloud that sometimes visors make injuries worse, and spending as much time in bars as he does on IR. Which is a lot in case you're not paying attention.

I hate Andrew Peters for taking up room on the roster, repeatedly taking stupid penalties, and circling round and round instead of just throwing a friggin' punch already.

I hate Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder for being so inconsistent that people actually started talking about Soupy and Spacek being the number one defensive pairing. (I don't really hate either of these guys.)

I also don't hate Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair, Nolan Pratt, or Daniel Paille.

I do hate Jaroslav Spacek but only for getting hurt. Otherwise we're cool.

I do kind of sort of hate Jason Pominiville for whiffing on every single one-timer in the last year. (That seems harsh. Maybe strongly dislike?)

I hate Ales Kotalik for being so inconsistent that it makes my head spin and for continuing to shoot slapshot after slapshot after slapshot even though the defender has caught on and is standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM.

I hate Darcy Regier for calling stupid press conferences that don't do anything but stir crap up. Good grief, don't pander to the crazies, Darcy. You really should know better. I'm gonna go ahead and hate Darcy in advance for not trading Soupy before the deadline.

I hate Larry Quinn for being a jackass. I also hate him for seeming to enjoy being a jackass. Geez, what a jackass!

I hate Lindy Ruff for starting the season off in a negative manner, benching Daniel Paille that one time, repeatedly scratching Nolan Pratt, continuing to foist Andrew Peters on the good people of Buffalo, and going all soft and cuddly on a team that clearly needs a boot shoved up its collective ass. They're not babies, Lindy.

I hate the Sabres for consistently playing hard for 20 minutes or less even though you and I have both noticed that IT DOESN'T WORK! I also hate them for pointing out after EVERY SINGLE GAME that they only skated for the last half of the game, saying all the right things about changing that, and then... NOT CHANGING THAT!

I hate the Sabres for all of the following statements: The effort was there, We didn't get the bounces, and Most nights if we play like that, we have a chance to win. Shut up! You sucked! We just watched the game and you sucked! JUST SAY YOU SUCKED!

I hate the Sabres for completely wasting the talent they have. You didn't score 10 goals by accident, guys. You are perfectly capable of playing hockey.

I hate the Sabres for proving all the naysayers right. Everyone said you'd be nothing without Chris and Danny and I can't believe you're proving them right. That is so disappointing. Maybe the most disappointing.

I hate the Sabres for the fact that I'm going to have to spend all summer listening to Bucky Gleason crow about being right. That is not a world I want to live in. The chance of that happening should be enough by itself to make you play hard. Geez louise.

I don't hate Mark at all, but I am kind of wishing he'd grown up in Detroit or Ottawa.

In closing, I hate the Sabres.

I Hate the Sabres, Part 2

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Hate The Sabres

Tonight I'm going to put the same amount of effort into my blog entry that the Sabres put into the Leafs game. Whoops, I think I've overdone it.

I can't even talk about this game right now but I will say this: At one point in the game I would've traded the entire team - including Hank and Lindy - for Mats Sundin. And you know what? Even John Ferguson, Jr. would've said, "I ain't that stupid."

The only good thing about this game was that Mats Sundin always makes me think of one of my all-time favorite commercials (second only to Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in "Chicks Dig the Longball"), the French-Canadian Goalie Cab Driver.

Here, watch 'em. They're way more entertaining than anything you saw from the Sabres tonight, I promise.





Well, it's been fun. I think I'm going to start up an American Idol blog or something because hockey? Totally blows.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Vanek!


Unfortunately, at the ripe old age of 24 you're officially considered washed-up and hopeless. Now that you've passed this benchmark birthday in year one of a seven year contract, I think it's safe to say that you're a failure and signing you was a HUGE mistake. It's all downhill from here. After all, you're practically in your mid-twenties! Every other hockey player in the history of the world had played his best hockey by now.

Oh, well. Try and have a good day anyway, buddy!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sweet Relief!

This morning I got the following email from Mark.

If Derek plays tonight, he will have a huge game. When I came in this morning and turned on my adding machine, the number 9 appeared! Okay, I must have bumped the 9 key, but still!!

Monday we're going to see if he can accidentally punch in 26.

In a season when a couple of my favorites have fallen hard (Spinorama on outta here, Soupy! Dipsy-doodle your way to a new city, Timmy!), I'm a little relieved to report that I've really missed having Derek Roy in the line-up the last few games. He hasn't had a very good season and he can be completely exasperating - we have a very intense love/hate relationship - but dang, when I love him, I love him. It sure looks like he took Lindy's words about certain players needing to step up to heart because he had a great game. He was buzzing everywhere, he was involved in a handful of the goals and I admit it, I'm totally tickled at the goalie - I think it was Kari Lehtonen at that point - shooting the puck at him. Hee. Even though he was kind of tripped into the crease, I do think little Roy-Z is at his best when he's bugging other people. I'm a little disappointed that his hat-trick was awarded after the game though. I hate when that happens! Here's a hat from me to you, Roy-Z! You were my first star of the game.



Other observations:

- Despite the fact that he keeps hitting crossbars, I think Thomas Vanek looked pretty good tonight. He was going to the net more often than not and made some really nice passes to the front of the net. I fully expect the message board denizens to pick everything he did apart to pieces and fault him for not earning $70 million in one game but for tonight, they should really give it a rest.

- That was one of the most complete games they've played all season. They'd start to cool off just for a couple of minutes and I'd start getting a little worried but they always pulled it together quickly. The Sabres definitely got some bounces but they also worked really hard for sixty minutes. It's a cliche that you create your own bounces but it's a cliche because it's true.

- I try to not let the girlie side of me come out here too often because I don't want to be accused of being a puckbunny - seriously, try it and see what happens - but that backhand by Smokin' Jochen Hecht was seriously sexy. You can keep your showy slapshots, backhands make me swoon. (Of course, I also have a terrible, terrible slapshot so maybe I'm just pretending to not be impressed with them. I do, however, have a pretty good backhand if I do say so myself. Yo-Yo and I are hockey soul mates because I'd be all about ugly goals, I think.)

- I admit, I tend to kind of ignore it when Henrik Tallinder isn't playing well - he's my favorite player so that earns him a little slack - but he really has looked a ton better the last handful or so of games, even in some of the losses. Good job, Hank. It's nice to be able to actually say, "Hey, my guy is playing really well!" instead of just closing my eyes and pretending I'm not seeing you.

- If I were nice, I wouldn't point out that a clean giveaway by Brian "Six Million Dollar Man" Campbell led directly to the Thrashers only goal. But hey, if you guys want to give him that much money... Okay, seriously, it's just as likely that was Ryan Miller's fault. I mean, the poor guy had a FOUR GOAL LEAD. He was probably panicky and confused. And hey, atleast we didn't have to hold our breaths waiting for the last second goal to ruin the potential shutout.

- Two gorgeous passes from Dmitri Kalinin. Oh, geez. That pass/shot over to Vanek on the side of the net was so, so nice.

- Loved the mic'd up segment when Adam Mair hollers for a piece of gum and somebody brought out a little tupperware dish full of sticks of gum. I don't know, for some reason that little dish cracked me up. I can't believe they chew gum while skating and getting knocked around though. Seems dangerous.

- Nice to see some bumping and scrapping from a lot of different guys. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get full-blown fights out of Hecht and Toni Lydman though. They're not very good fighters and it doesn't happen very often but I love the way they go from mild-mannered to total flip out and they didn't quite get there tonight. And geez, Jason Pominville got nailed by Eric Boulton. I think I heard him whimpering from my living room.

- All in all, a much needed victory for both the team and the fans, I think. Part of my brain is whispering that it doesn't mean anything until we string a bunch of wins together but the other half of my brain is telling that half to shut up. For tonight, I'm happy. At the very least, it was nice to see some smiles on the bench again.

I Need Some Sleep

I can't sleep so you guys are getting a half-assed, meandering post while I wait for the sleep medication to kick in. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Botched talks will again cost Sabres

I don't disagree with the basic gist of the column - Tom Golisano is in it to make a profit and isn't as interested as winning a championship as the fans are - but I do disagree that the Brian Campbell negotiations are a direct result of the bungled Chris Drury and Daniel Briere negotiations. The only thing they have in common is that they all involve popular free agents. From what we've heard, I just don't see that talks have stalled because management is twiddling its thumbs or being cheap or because Campbell is questioning where the franchise is going. It looks very much to me like two sides disagreeing on the value of the player involved. Campbell and his agent are rightfully looking to get a good market price. The Sabres are balking. Maybe the hockey people are trying to make a deal and Golisano is squashing it. But maybe - maybe! - the hockey people are questioning whether Brian Campbell is worth that much of the cap. I hate to beat a dead-horse but what the heck, everyone else is doing it. In my opinion, the Sabres are absolutely right to be questioning whether Campbell is the best use of six million dollars especially with other important players due for a raise in the next couple of seasons. Campbell is a good hockey player and on the right team in the right situation, he can certainly make a difference. But he's not a game-changer by himself. He's just not. I suppose it's possible that all the columnists at the News disagree with me but I'd love for one of them to mention the possibility that Campbell is overpriced instead of stirring up the crazies with LOOK OUT ANOTHER PLAYER YOU LOVE IS LEAVING BECAUSE MANAGEMENT BLOWS AND ISN'T BEING A SABRES FAN LIKE BEARING THE BURDENS OF ALL HUMANITY WHY DO YOU EVEN BOTHER.

I think Ryan Miller is the test. From comments Darcy Regier has made in the past it sure sounds like the Sabres intend to start talking to Ryan as soon as they can and despite his up and down season, I think they're going to make him a very good offer. It seems like he's really a guy they plan on building the team around for the next handful or so of years. If Ryan halts negotiations and/or walks away from a good offer, then I think you might have a case for arguing that previous negotiations are having a negative effect or that players are questioning what's going on around them.

I appreciate that its part of the local paper's job to question management - really, I do. It certainly sounds like there is some conflict between what the hockey people want and what the money men are willing to do and that's unfortunate, especially since I think there are some pretty smart hockey people in the organization. And let's face it, Tom Golisano swooped in like a white knight, buying the team when a lot of people were starting to worry that it was going to end up moving out of Buffalo. I'm sure many fans will have a hard time putting that aside and looking at him critically. But all negotiations are not interchangeable and it really bothers me that people are lumping them all together. Campbell's contract situation is different from Drury's and Briere's just like Drury's and Briere's were different from Mike Grier's and JP Dumont's. Some of them were arguably management's fault, some of them involved circumstances beyond management's control. Isn't it also part of the local paper's job to point out that kind of thing? During the first intermission of the Rangers game, Mike Robitaille pointed out that there is a salary cap to be considered - something I haven't seen mentioned in the paper anywhere in conjunction with Brian Campbell - and that once money is spent, it's spent and that that means thinking and being careful instead of throwing money around "like a drunken sailor." (God bless you, Robi!) I know Robi is employed by the Sabres (maybe?) and no one who writes for TBN is, but he's right that team budgets, salary caps, and prioritizing the players on the roster are all part of running a hockey team. The fact that, in my opinion, TBN consistently ignores that and repeatedly makes it sound like keeping a team together is as easy as showing every player where to sign on the contract drives me crazy. It drives me crazy! I don't want them to bow to management and I do want them to point out mistakes... but I also wouldn't mind a little acknowledgement that running a hockey team involves a lot of hard work and making it successful is even harder.

I guess my main problem with TBN's columnists as a whole is that they're very much the same. I think it's fun to read one guy saying one thing ("The Ice Bowl was awesome!") and then read another guying saying the exact opposite ("The Ice Bowl was lame!"), but that doesn't happen very often. They almost always all beat the same drum. Don't get me wrong, I don't want guys taking stances on things just because they think that's what will get the most reaction. I hate that. I hate when it's clear that a guy is arguing something even though it's a) ridiculous and b) clearly not something they really believe. I think that's ruined half the shows on ESPN. I just wish there was a little more variety from day to day.

Basically I want Bob DiCesare's job. Can that be arranged? I'm pretty sure Bucky and I would often be taking opposing viewpoints.

And now for something completely different because I'm tired of talking about the Sabres. Back at the beginning of the season, when recapping the first couple of games, I mentioned that Mike Comrie was on the top of my That Guy List, That Guy being short for "If someone has to beat us, just don't let it be that guy." Because you've all been clamoring for it (oh, stop, I know you have!) here's a more complete list:

IF SOMEONE HAS TO BEAT US, PLEASE GOD, DON'T LET IT BE THAT GUY

Mike Comrie, New York Islanders - There's no real reason that I hate Mike Comrie. I just do. He's whiny. He never seems to stick with one team for very long but he's always lurking around somewhere, refusing to just go away. He always has a smug expression on that little face and I just want to punch him.

Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa Senators - I used to really like Alfredsson but boy, once he landed on this list he just cruised right on up to the top. I admit, my dislike is largely based on his boarding of Henrik Tallinder during the playoffs last year along with his postgame assertions that Hank was just faking and looking for a call. Is it slightly irrational to hold that kind of thing against a player forever? Maybe. But hey, sometimes being a sports fan is about complete irrationality! There was also the puck shot at Scott Niedermayer after the end of the period in the finals last year along with the cheapshot punch in the scrum that followed. And finally there's the constant, never-ending droning about the magic and wonder of the Spezza-Alfredsson-Heatley line. Yes, they're very good. I get it!

Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators - I'm partly annoyed by all the hype around him even though much of it is deserved. But there's also something I can't place my finger on about him that bugs me.

Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators - I swear he's the last Senator. I hate Ray Emery. He's a punk and he's NOT GOOD. (Note to Sens fans: You can tell me Ray is actually good. I will refuse to believe you.) I hate when we lose to him because it almost always means the Sabres just flat refused to shoot on the net at all. I HATE THAT.

Chris Drury, New York Rangers and Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers - I like both of these guys enough that they'll probably drop off the list with time. But for now, I'd like to be spared all the overly sarcastic, "Gee, too bad we don't have HIM on OUR team anymore!" talk.

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes - I'm beginning to see why I've never written a complete list before. Reading "I just don't like him" over and over isn't very enlightening, is it? Well, I just don't like him. And it cuts me deep every time I hear someone say how cute he is because dude, he's SO not cute. He looks like a serial killer.

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning - Yeah, I don't know. Usually I like those pesky little guys, but I've never warmed up to him.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers - His piss-poor first half single-handedly killed my fantasy team last season. He was also was kind enough to cut the Rangers a little bit of slack on his salary for this season to help keep them under the cap. That would be admirable if it weren't for the fact that a) the team was so stupid with its money that I still can't believe it and b) it's the RANGERS! And he has a stupid haircut.

On the flip side we have, WELL, IF WE HAD TO LOSE, ATLEAST IT WAS THAT GUY WHO BEAT US

Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators - I don't know why Heater escapes the wrath I have for the rest of his linemates but he does. I love him. He's a total Sabres killer and I love him. He just pops up out of nowhere at the worst times and strikes. I love him.

Mike Fisher, Ottawa Senators - Chances are good that if Fish got a goal on us, he worked his ass off to get it. I can dig that. Also a good Christian boy which I can dig as well. Hey, us goody-two shoes have to stick together.

Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning - I've loved watching Vinny finally put it all together the last few years. I'm amazed at how, on certain nights, he can just take over an entire game, imposing his will on everyone on the ice.

Marty Brodeur, New Jersey Devils - I know, I know. The Devils are boring and they've killed hockey as we know it. I really, really like to watch Marty though and I get a kick out of him off the ice too.

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins - If you're gonna get beat, get beat by the best. I wish the NHL would turn the hype machine down a few hundred notches, but geez, he's really good.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks - This doesn't apply much anymore since we hardly ever play the Sharks, but I adore Joe. He's probably my favorite non-Sabre in the league right now. If Mark happens to die young - not that I'm hoping for that by any means - I plan on moving to San Jose and marrying Joe.

Seriously, how do you not love this guy?

And just to top things off, GUYS MUCH OF BUFFALO HATES WHO I'M PRETTY NEUTRAL ON

Rod Brind'Amour, Carolina Hurricanes - I didn't enjoy him celebrating the Canes Conference Finals victory over us by whining about Lindy Ruff's behavior, but I don't know, I kinda like ol' bird nose. I'd take him, you know? (Totally didn't deserve last year's Selke though.)

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Captials - We're still booing him, huh? Hey, knock yourselves out.

Dominik Hasek, Detroit Red Wings - Dom's time in Buffalo was starting to wrap up by the time I moved here so I missed a lot of the drama surrounding him, but I'll admit, it makes me a little sad how vicious Buffalo fans are about him even now. Seems like the guy carried the team for a lot of years. That's not worth a little love?

Wow, this is really, really long. Sorry, dudes. If you made it this far, well, I applaud you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Our Powerplay Blows

I believe whole-heartedly that four of my sixth grade students and I - maybe even with the busted ankle - could put together a better powerplay than the Sabres. What the heck? I know Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek, and Derek Roy are all out, but seriously, is it really that hard? I can't believe they just kept taking slapshot after slapshot after slapshot on the almost full two minute 5 on 3. Guys, they keep blocking the shots... I THINK THEY'RE ON TO YOU! Try something else. Flip a wrister in there. Try to pass the puck in to the net. Attempt to bull your way in and see what happens. I don't know. Something! ANYTHING! All I know is when you find yourself sincerely saying, "Well, atleast we didn't give up a goal!" at the end of a powerplay, things are, as RJ said tonight, "NOT GOOD!"

In the battle of underachievers, we're the winners. Or is that the losers? I don't know. I do know the Sabres just didn't look like they wanted to win that much. Of course, I quit paying close attention about halfway through the third period so maybe I missed something. I didn't? Yeah, I'm not surprised.

Clarke MacArthur going into the crossbar at the end of the game was just the perfect topper. I know he skated off the ice but I'm expecting to see him back in time for the 2010-2011 season. It was just one of those nights.

The best part of my night? Seeing Kate of The Willful Caboose playing her viola behind Drew Stafford in tonight's "Drew Plays the BPO!" feature. You guys, I think she was totally checking him out.

We Have to Talk About Chris Drury, Huh?

(Programming note: This is the second entry I've posted in the last 12 hours or so so make sure you read both of them. The first one was just odds and ends but there's some interesting stuff in there, I think.)

“All that [contract talk] is in the past. It’s almost February now. I’ve moved on. Danny [Briere] has moved on. The Sabres have moved on. And I think that’s how it should be. There’s not much of a story there anymore and no reason for me to bring up the past.”
- Chris Drury in the Buffalo News

Chris, we are in complete and total agreement. I don't think there's anything left to say about Chris Drury that hasn't already been said a bajillion times. I was tired of Chris Drury by July 3rd. It's 11:19 a.m. as I write this and I'm tired of him today. I have nothing to say about his rumored contract, his halt to negotiations, and what happened that fateful day he decided to become a Ranger. A handful of people were involved and I don't think any of those people, as much as I respect some of them, are above making themselves look a little better in the re-telling of events. It's human nature. Nobody on the outside really knows what happened and at this point, we're all saying the same things over and over and over.

I will say this: I'm a little surprised at how much backlash Chris has gotten about the whole "I always wanted to play for the Rangers" thing. A recent article in Boston University's alumni magazine seems to have really pushed some people over the edge. Message board dwellers - I know, always a calm and rational group - are going crazy about how Chris misled Sabres management and turned his back on Buffalo fans. I get the idea of feeling discarded and I know it's disappointing to feel like Chris Drury never really fell in love with us the way we fell in love with him, but come on, what do you really expect the guy to do? Walk into Darcy Regier's office and say, "I really like it here but if the Rangers come calling I'm gone?" What happens if the Rangers don't make him an offer? He's damaged his relationship with the team he plays for. I don't know. As I said, I'm tired of Chris Drury, but the childhood dream is the one thing that actually makes the whole thing a little bearable for me. I mean, it's the Rangers and they're totally disgusting, but I get it. Until I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I would've told you that I was going to catch for the Pittsburgh Pirates. (That's right, not only was I going to be a woman in the Majors, I was going to play the toughest position on the field.) Even though I grew up in Birmingham, I had (and have) quite an emotional attachment to Pittsburgh. I was born there, my parents were both born and raised there. Most of my extended family lived there. Ninety-eight percent of our out-of-town trips were to Pittsburgh. One of the most clear childhood memories I have is coming over the bridge into Pittsburgh late at night and seeing all the bridges and stadiums and buildings lit up. Andy Van Slyke was my childhood hero and I know I'll never love another athlete the way I loved him. There's something sweet and magical about the team and players you loved as a kid and even if you understand the sport better as an adult, you'll never feel the same way. The Pirates are one of the most poorly run sports franchises right now - Sabres fans, you got nothing on Pirates fans - but there's still a little piece of attachment, an eternal hope that they'll turn things around, a part of me that looks at the current disaster of a team and still sees the 1992 team that I adored. Even now at age 30, totally out-of-shape, fast-pitch days long behind me, thinking about that little girl who just knew she was going to wear black and gold some day makes me grin and feel all warm and gooey inside. If I were actually in the position to make that dream come true? Heck, yeah, I'd take it. I also know that even though he wasn't really in Buffalo that long, Chris Drury will be many Buffalo kids' Andy Van Slyke. He'll be the athlete they always love in a special, untouchable way and he'll be the reason they fell in love with hockey and the Sabres. And for that, I have to be grateful.

Sentimentality aside however, Chris Drury is no longer a Sabre. No matter how much people harp on what did or did not happen, he's not going to be a Sabre again. He's making an absurd amount of money for someone who puts up the points he does. (I know, I know.. Intangibles!) The Buffalo Sabres won exactly zero Stanley Cups while he was here. Last year's Drury-led team - him included - desperately underachieved in the playoffs and only got as far as it did because of Ryan Miller. I hope the Rangers lose and lose miserably. I wish Chris no serious bodily harm tonight but I do hope he gets hit (legally) and hit hard. I hope he gets no points and finishes with a negative plus/minus. I hope Chris looks at Jaromir Jagr and Sean Avery and wonders what the heck he was thinking. And I hope he's really enjoying playing on a team that spent all its money on second line centers and none of its money on defense. Thanks for the memories, Dru!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Odds and Ends

Odds and ends ahoy!

As much as I love Darcy Regier, I really hate his tendency to respond to building hysteria by calling press gatherings where he gives some variance on "EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL! PLEASE REMAIN CALM!" They don't work. It just feeds into the panic. It's like poking a sleepy but awakening bear with a really pointy stick. I suppose I can understand responding to the masses, but I don't know, I think he'd be better off just leaving it alone. Pick up the phone when the newspaper calls and leave it at that especially since, last I saw, Brian Campbell is still here. I understand fans getting nervous, but geez, nothing has even happened yet. (Note: I actually do NOT understand getting nervous because Brian Campbell is not Chris Drury or Daniel Briere.)

More than a few people have pointed out to me that, regardless of how I feel about Brian Campbell, the market is the market and the Sabres can't expect to pay an offensive defensman less than everyone else is. To them I say... you're right! Ha! Wasn't expecting that, were you? I'll admit that part of my problem on this issue is an overall frustration with how quickly the GM's and owners have let the market spiral out of control post-lockout. Brian Campbell shouldn't be within spitting distance of making what Nicklas Lidstrom makes and he might be when all is said and done. I'm amazed that a group of people with so much knowledge can - time after time - shoot themselves in the collective foot. I give Darcy a lot of credit in this area. He may be cautious, sometimes overly so, but atleast he's attempting to use his brain. Too often I think that puts him in the minority.

For the record, however, I'm not changing my tune on Soupy. Six million plus is too much of the team's cap to sink into a player like him. So there! I am not, however, looking forward to the sure-to-come city-wide freak-out if Soupy moves on.

Quick injury update. I had my first post-op appointment a week or so ago. The doctor said everything looks okay - which was mildly amusing because my foot looked pretty disgusting - but I still can't put any weight on it until the next appointment which is at the beginning of February and that's only if everything still looks good. The staples were taken out and I got a shiny new plaster cast (white - I was so disappointed that I didn't get to choose a color) and I'm getting a little better on the crutches but it's still pretty darn boring sitting around all day which is why I've posted something almost every single day. Apologies in advance if you get tired of me. This isn't my personal x-ray but this is the surgery I had done and pretty much what mine looks like:


Pretty snazzy, eh?

And finally, a few days ago I wondered about Paul Hamilton generally being the only person who speaks in the media scrums after Sabres games. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News happened to see that and he emailed and elaborated on it a little more. A few of you commented when I mentioned it so I thought you might like to read what Mike had to say because it's pretty interesting. (This is fully with Mike's permission, just in case you're wondering.) I cut out a few sections just so it wasn't quite as long so if it seems to flows funny, that's all on me.

He is very knowledgeable (played in college at Iowa State FYI) and well-respected in the media. When you see a gaggle of microphones around a guy after the game, Paul is usually the only REPORTER there. The local TVs, in what I think is just a ridiculous decision, often do NOT send a reporter into the locker room after a game and just have a cameraman so that guy isn't a journalist and for the most part couldn't ask a question if his life depended on it.

Furthermore, the print guys very rarely go to the same guy Hamilton and the cameras go to. I don't mind Paul using one of my questions but when a station just sends a camera, they're sponging off me and I don't like that. So if Paul goes to say Pommer, the cameras tend to follow and I'll go to maybe Kotalik. Then switch off, etc. So you'll almost NEVER see or hear us on those interviews.

On the road, it might be a little different cuz there's usually no one in the locker room except Paul, me or John Vogl and maybe a local AP guy. You might hear us once in a while there.

At the end of an interview, you'll hear Paul say, "That's Jason Pominville on the postgame show, back up to you." But that's not the end of the interview. Paul is off to the next guy but after that, the player usually talks for another few minutes to us ink-stained print wretches.

Something else to consider: Paul is a rights-holder collecting comments for a live postgame show on the station that broadcasts the game. Professional courtesy dictates you try not to step over his questions too much, especially since his stuff has to get to air within 10 minutes or so. You let him get the first 2-3 questions before you jump in if you're with the same player.

And on the road, Paul is in a major time jam. He flies home on the team charter (because he's on the flagship station). We do not. He has to be on the plane within an hour after the final horn so he has to email his MP3s to the station for air. You gotta let him get done and go.

So as you can see, there are a lot more dynamics to the situation than just people letting Paul ask all the questions.


I had no idea Paul Hamilton played in college. That's totally awesome. Also, I'm really surprised that the TV stations don't send reporters into the dressing room if for no other reason than to build some kind of relationship with the players. Crazy.

(Thanks, Mike! Tell Bucky I said hi!)

Monday, January 14, 2008

On Brian Campbell

In a post written in the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning, I said this:

And yes, I am partly complaining about this because I know fans and some media are going to use the All-Star selection as ammo in the on-going "WE MUST SIGN CAMPBELL NOW!" arguments and that's ridiculous. Yes, it's very nice that he was selected by the players (Note: I know now that he was actually selected by a committee of GM's etc. and not players - sorry!) and I'm glad everyone knows who he is but that said, All-Star games mean nothing and don't belong in a discussion about how valuable a player is or isn't.

In his column Sunday morning, Bucky Gleason said this:

And that brings us to Campbell, who is one of several players who personified the Sabres’ direction in the post-lockout NHL. His price tag increased again Friday when he was named an All-Star for the second straight season.

It's so cute how predictable he is, isn't it?

Seriously, maybe it does drive Campbell's asking price up, I don't know. But it shouldn't. All-Star games are popularity contests. They're based on name recognition and reputation. They have very little to do with how a player is currently playing, what he's bringing to his team, or how much money he's worth. When you start a selection process with "We have to pick atleast one player from every team" it seems you could immediately deduce that this isn't entirely based on merit.

That said, I do agree with Bucky's main point: By now the Sabres should have a good idea of whether they can/want to re-sign Campbell and if they can't/won't, they need to try and get something for him in a trade. I'll cut management some slack on the Grier/McKee/Dumont off-season because that was a tough off-season. Most of the roster was up for negotiation/arbitration. I don't think anyone predicted McKee going for so much money and I know no one predicted the absurd arbitration awards. (I know Daniel Briere's $5 million award looks good now but let's try and keep some perspective and remember that at the time, it was frakkin' ridiculous.) But here and now, Darcy Regier and company should know where they stand and do whatever they need to do to get something out of the deal.

I'm so tired of the Brian Campbell saga and I really hate that if he's not a Sabre next season, he's going to get lumped in with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. From what I've heard, the Sabres have handled this pretty well. They have been talking to him and his agent and they just haven't been able to come to an agreement. Let me remind everyone once again that negotiating a contract is not as simple as handing a guy a piece of paper and asking him to sign on the dotted line. In my opinion, five million plus per year for Campbell is too much money. He's a good offensive defenseman but not an elite one and he's an average defensive defenseman at best. I have no doubt that he'll do very well on the open market if it comes to that, but I also firmly believe that if he does sign a large contract he's going to get weighed down by the expectations that come along with it and his new team and fanbase are going to be in for a disappointment. I like Brian Campbell just fine, but I would much rather the big money go to Ryan Miller or Jason Pominville or Paul Gaustad and I'm glad that, unlike most GMs, Darcy is using his brain and not just doing the splashy or popular thing.

I personally think that out of this year's free agent class - Brian Campbell, Jochen Hecht, Dmitri Kalinin - the Sabres have already re-signed the player they absolutely could not afford to let go.

Also, doesn't Brian Campbell bringing negotiations to a halt because he wants to focus on the team support management's long-held assertion that negotiating during the season is a distraction? How come no one's laughing at Campbell for saying that but management got crucified for it? Am I the only fan in the world who repeatedly takes the side of management over players? Probably. Up with The Man!