Friday, February 29, 2008

Poetry Corner

This game was awful. One of the worst games ever. The only way I could deal with it was by writing haiku. Why haiku? Because iambic pentameter is too demanding, of course. (Okay, it's actually because Pookie and Schnookie wrote a haiku post over at Interchangeable Parts yesterday and all the commenters there have been throwing around haikus ever since.)

The Sabres are dumb
Montreal’s powerplay, great
Stop taking stupid penalties you stupid morons

(My rhythm is off a little on that last line. I had to warm-up, okay?)

I hate Kotalik
He really pisses me off
Please trade him right now

Max is really fast
That’s all he’s really good for
Please trade him right now

Harry Neale is old
I think he’s going senile
Please trade him right now

Henrik Tallinder
At least he’s still real pretty
Unlike tonight’s game

Winning is big fun
But we’re better at losing
God hates Buffalo

Harry Neale is old
He thinks we should score goals
No shit, you old man

One more goal for Habs
Crunchy’s five hole was gaping
This game really blows

This game really blows
Haikus are a lot more fun
Like them more than hockey

Carey Price in goal
Looks really good there tonight
Sabres won't shoot the puck

This is not much fun
When does football season start
Bills can’t be much worse

Second goal for us
Price looked like a rookie there
Too little, too late

Sabres playing hard
Games are sixty minutes long
They just don’t get it

Habs are really good
I think they’ll win the conference
I hate them for it

Two-on-one again
Henrik breaks up the passing
Ryan muffs rebound

Game is really bad
Mark turned off television
Can't really blame him

Buffalo Sabres
are never winning again.
Wish I could quit them

Thursday, February 28, 2008

That Was an Awesome Game

I was supposed to be at that game! Jean-Pierre Dumont! The debut of Big Bear! In which he scored two goals and had one assist! Fights! Scraps! Dmitri Kalinin roughing people up! Four goalies! All getting scored on! Andrew Peters scoring a goal! I repeat, Andrew Peters scoring a goal! I can't believe I missed this game!

Okay, let me come back down to earth a little. The biggest knock on Steve Bernier that I've come across when peeking in on San Jose boards and blogs and talking to the few Sharks fans I know is that he's very inconsistent. He'll play the way he did last night for a few games and then go invisible for a while and then suddenly start playing well again. But a lot of people also thought that Ron Wilson was not really a very good coach for him, punishing him at the slightest sign of a drop in play even though that seemed to affect him even worse. I noticed that during both his pregame and postgame interviews (and what an adorable interview he is), Bernier said the word "confidence" a lot, giving the impression that that's been a problem for him in the past, something that he's maybe a little worried about. So I'm optimistic. He's so young - he's younger than most of our babies - so maybe the change of scenery and being in a more open system will help. It definitely sounds like Lindy Ruff will be good for him because if there's one thing Lindy has shown this year it's that he can coach young players. Maybe he'll be able to get Bernier through those rough spots better than Wilson did, protecting him and his confidence a little.

You know what though? I don't even care if Bernier scores as long as he plays as hard as he did last night. I mean, I was really into him scoring but this is the moment I really fell in love with him:




And it was contagious! Sabres were sticking up for each other all over the ice, in a way I've never seen from this particular group. There's no denying that mixing in guys like Bernier, Nolan Pratt, and Patrick Kaleta has changed the team attitude a little. Interesting to see the team slowly get a little bigger and a little tougher. Tim Connolly was flying into scrums! Dmitri Kalinin was jumping on people's backs! There was an adorable shot of Kalinin and Kaleta fist-bumping in the penalty box. That cracked us up at our house because those are not the two guys you expect to see celebrating a dust-up while sitting side-by-side in the box. (Anyone who has a screencap of that is my hero.)

I've heard a little criticism of the Sabres for almost giving up a three goal lead but I'll give them some slack there. The first goal was clearly helped along by the goalie lying in a heap on the ice. (I'm glad he's okay of course but that slow-motion replay of Ryan Miller faaaalllling over was hilarious.) The next two were on T-Bo and even one of them was just a beautiful shot (Arnott's, I think). When Ryan wasn't bleeding from the face he looked much better than he's looked during the last few games. And unlike against Philly, they never quite let go of the game. They put the foot back down on the pedal and took charge.

So while it's one game, it was a good one. But man, am I glad we don't have to face the Predators all the time. What a bunch of jackholes! Does Scott Nichol ever punch someone from the front? JP Dumont is too good for them!

And speaking of JP, I'm glad he was cheered last night. Why am I glad he got cheered when I was perfectly fine with Chris Drury and Daniel Briere being booed? Because I like him more. While I would argue that the circumstances of his departure were different than Drury and Briere's, it really is that simple. I liked him and I miss having him around. Of all the players we've lost over the last couple of years, the only one I miss more than JP is Jay McKee. He's the reason I bought tickets to last night's game in the first place.

I can't really think of a way to naturally work this into the rest of the game recap, but I do want to give a Top Shelf glove-tap to Henrik Tallinder for making the decision to wear a neck piece. They mentioned it on Versus but since they're sometimes stupid, I didn't entirely believe it. But Rob Ray talked about it on the broadcast last night (although he kept referring to Hank's underwear which made me giggle) so now I know it's correct and seriously, I think he should be applauded. Every single guy at the arena that day talked about how devastating and frightening it was but only one guy has actually done anything to guard against it? (On our side. I don't know what's going on in Florida.) I know it's only happened a couple of times in the last twenty years, but I don't think I'd take the chance - and I know I wouldn't want my husband taking the chance. So good for you, Hank. Just another reason you're my favorite player.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I Am In Love With Steve Bernier


(Read the post below if you haven't. More on tonight's game later.)

This Game's Going to a Shootout! (NOOOOOOOOOOOO!)

A few odds and ends here... but first! A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT FOR ALL OF BUFFALO!

BUFALLO! THE DETROIT RED WINGS HAVE A GOALIE IN THEIR SYSTEM BY THE NAME OF JIMMY HOWARD! THEY REALLY LIKE HIM! THEY THINK HE'S GOING TO BE REALLY GOOD! HE PLAYED IN A GAME ON NBC A COUPLE WEEKS AGO AND LOOKED REALLY GOOD! EVEN THOUGH PIERRE MCGUIRE ACTED LIKE THIS KID HAD APPEARED OUT OF THIN AIR, I ASSURE YOU HE DID NOT! THE WINGS HAVE KNOWN ABOUT HIM THE ENTIRE TIME! I REALLY DOUBT THAT THEY'LL BURY HIM BEHIND RYAN MILLER WHO IS GOING TO COST A LOT OF MONEY EVEN IF RYAN MILLER IS FROM MICHIGAN! THEY DON'T CARE! THEY JUST WANT A GOOD GOALIE! WHICH THEY HAVE! NO NEED TO FREAK OUT OVER SOMETHING THAT HASN'T HAPPENED AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, IS NOT VERY LIKELY TO HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE! PLEASE CEASE AND DESIST WITH THE FREAKING OUT!

ALSO, WHILE I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION! SABRES EDGE! I'M TRYING VERY HARD NOT TO INCLUDE YOU IN MY BUFFALO NEWS BAN BUT I COULDN'T HELP BUT NOTICE THAT BUCKY GLEASON POSTED THERE FOUR TIMES YESTERDAY, ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT DAYS IN THE HOCKEY SEASON! THAT IS NOT COOL! I NOTICED THAT HE WROTE, "GEE, I GUESS THEY SHOULD HAVE ACCEPTED THAT OFFER OF 25 MILLION FOR FIVE YEARS" WHICH IS 1) DUMB 2) SNOTTY AND 3) A DIRECT CUT AND PASTE OF WHAT HE WROTE LAST TIME HE SHOWED UP ON SABRES EDGE! I DID NOT ENJOY THAT! ALSO! YOUR COMMENTERS ARE WHACK-A-DOOS! I KNOW THERE'S NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO ABOUT THAT! I JUST WANTED TO GO ON THE RECORD!

(This has been a Top Shelf public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.)

Opinion seems to be divided on how the Brian Campbell trade is going to affect the Sabres. I can see both sides and I'm too wishy-washy on this one to commit to one way or the other. But I am interested to see which way it goes. Is it the final blow to a team that's shown itself to be pretty fragile for stretches of the season? Or will it be a load off their shoulders which will now enable them to really focus on hockey? Campbell was clearly distracted and it affected his play which in turn might have affected other people's play. And I think all the guys were probably distracted because while I can't fully jump on the media for doing its job, it was a total circus.

I fully approve of Dmitri Kalinin moving up to play with Jaroslav Spacek. I kind of hate to break up Kalinin and Nolan Pratt because they've found such a nice rhythm but a Spacek-Paetsch pairing sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen to me. I like Kalinin a lot and I think he'll do a fair job of sliding into Campbell's spot because while he's not the skater Campbell is, he can carry the puck and he does a decent job of getting his shot on net. I also think Paetsch is better off with a steadier defensive d-man like Pratt. So Lindy, if you're nosing around to see what I think, thumbs up, buddy!

I've started the much-promised post on the shootout a few times now and it turns out I just don't have much to say that's very insightful. I hate them. I do think they're fun to watch and I do enjoy seeing the occasional unexpected hero pop up, but I can't get behind it being a good way to decide the winner of a game. It's a skills competition and it's such a weird, specific skill. Some goalies who are very good in-game goalies - even on breakaways - are terrible at the shootout and vice versa. Some forwards who are great offensive players in-game - again, even on breakaways - are terrible in shootouts. Some teams who are not good have great shootout records - Tampa Bay was one of the league leaders last season - and some good teams are terrible in shootouts. (I would've pointed to Ottawa here a few weeks ago but I have no idea what's going on with them right now. Man.) There's absolutely no relationship between how that particular game has gone and how the shootout turns out. Does the best team win every game? No, not always. Does the best team on a given night win every game? Not every time but I'd say usually. But not necessarily in a shootout.

I also hate the third point, which I know was around before the shootout. But I hate that some games are worth more than other games and I hate that for every shootout loss the Sabres handed over an extra point to a team they're fighting with for a playoff spot and only because that team happened to be better at a very specific skill than us. (And yes, I'm not going to deny that I'm partly bitter because we stink in shootouts this year.) And really, as much as I hate the shootout as a game decider, it was installed to guarantee a winner and a loser. Why is the loser of a shootout more worthy of a point than the loser of a regulation game? Because they played good defensive hockey for an extra five minutes? I would probably be more cranky if the Sabres lost in a shootout and got nothing for it but theoretically, if we have a winner and a loser, why does the loser get anything. They lost!

But really my main beef with the shootout is this: Everyone - even the people who like them - say, "I don't ever want to see them in the playoffs." Well, if we all agree that they're not a fitting way to decide who wins a playoff game, why is it okay for them to decide games that determine who makes the playoffs in the first place? Let's use the Buffalo-Philly game as an example. (I know, I know, I said we should pretend it didn't happen. Work with me, people!) That game was between the eighth seed and the ninth seed and the winner was going to finish as the eighth seed a.k.a. in the final playoff spot. If that game had been the final game of the season, who moved on to the postseason would have come down to who has the best shootout shooters/goalie and that, my friends, is a blemish on hockey as we know it! I mean, yes, you could justifiably say, "If the Sabres had won more games during the season, it wouldn't have come down to that." And you'd be right. But you could also justifiably say, "If those other teams hadn't picked up so many extra points because they were good at shootouts, they might not be in the picture at all." If the Buffalo-Philly game had ended in a tie - as it should have because both teams were equally good and horrible, I think - then the playoff spot would've been determined by stuff that actually matters like who won more games and how the two teams fared against each other during the season. Am I making sense here? Because I'm feeling a little muddled.

I'm not a big fan of ties. I grew up watching baseball where there's a winner in the end even if two teams have to play all night and into the next morning. But I understand why hockey doesn't have endless overtimes during the regular seasons and if I've learned anything this year it's that well, some games should end in ties. If you're not going to play real hockey until there's a winner, some games should end in ties. Every Buffalo-New Jersey game this season should have ended in a tie. They were hard-fought, evenly matched games. Both sides should have taken its point and moved on to the next game with the knowledge that if necessary, they'd settle the matter of a winner and loser in the playoffs.

If we must keep shootouts, I'd make overtime 4-on-4 for ten minutes and I'd take away the guaranteed point for making it to overtime. Guaranteed points are for wussies. If there's no guaranteed point, maybe teams would push a little harder to get that goal in overtime, especially if they're not good at shootouts and risk leaving the game with no points and ten minutes would give them more time to do it. Winner, whether it's OT or the shootout, gets two points, loser gets nada. If I had my druthers though I'd do the above and at the end of the OT, call it a tie and send both teams off with one point.

Thirty-seven of you said you have no problem with the shootout. Thirty-nine of you said you hate ties and the shootout. Anyone want to throw out a different idea on what you'd like to see happen and why?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

One Last Spin-O-Rama

Brian Campbell and a seventh round pick for Steve Bernier and a first round pick.

The hockey talk first: A lot of people seem to be a little disappointed but while it's not a great trade, I don't think it's a terrible one either. There are a few factors you have to keep in mind. One, I think GMs maybe finally learned a lesson after so many of last year's rentals were a bust and came into this season willing to give up less for them. (Yes, of course they learn a lesson right as it would have benefited Buffalo.) Two, a huge part of the league is still in the playoff hunt so while teams want to pick up pieces, they don't want to give up a lot of roster players for them. And three, everyone knew Buffalo needed to move Campbell or risk losing him from nothing.

Those things considered, I think we did okay. We got a kid who, while inconsistent up to this point, is definitely talented, has size, uses his size, and is still young and cheap. He has a nice accent, I love the way he pronounces "Pominville," and people call him "Big Bear." What's not to like? And while San Jose's first round pick is not likely to be high, I think the first round is supposed to be fairly deep this year (I might be making that up) and Rochester is getting fairly thin so any pick is a good pick, especially a first rounder.

Now that the madness is over - I'm ignoring all the "WAY TO GO DARCY YOU SUCK AND NO ONE SHOULD BE CHEERING FOR THIS TEAM EVER AGAIN" crazies - I find myself feeling both happy and sad. Happy because now that I know the Sabres aren't going to give Soupy a ridiculous contract I suddenly remember all the things I really liked about him. It's been a rough year for me and ol' Soup so I am glad about that. Sad because well... it's sad.

I don't think there's really a bad guy here. For me this is very much like the Jay McKee situation. There was such a large difference in money and/or terms between what the Sabres were offering and what others will offer that it's tough to blame Campbell for going. But what other teams will offer is so out-of-whack for what Campbell's really worth, that it's tough to blame the Sabres for not matching. If you put Campbell on an island all by himself I don't think he's worth that kind of money. If you look at him as part of a puzzle that involves a lot of different pieces and contracts, it's even more questionable.

But I'm sad because I think everyone on both sides was sincere. I think Soupy did love his time here and loved the fans and loves his teammates and respects Darcy and Lindy. I think Darcy (and Lindy) do like Soupy and do feel invested in his career and are proud of how much he's grown as a player since he was drafted. I think if they could've waved a magic wand and come to an agreement that made both sides happy, they would have and I think they're all genuinely sad that it doesn't work that way.

So here, in honor of Brian Campbell, is a portion of a post I wrote about him last summer (6/17/07) back when things weren't all crazy and riled up. Some of the sentiment has changed - you might want to strike that last line - but when I wrote it, I absolutely meant it. And I mean a lot of it still.

Why I Love Hockey #5 - Brian Campbell
I'll admit I was first drawn to Brian Campbell for a ridiculous reason - he's a red-head. But over the past few years I've found more defensible reasons to love Brian Campbell although most of them still don't really have much to do with hockey. Don't get me wrong - I do enjoy watching him play. He's quick and creative and there are times I actually mistake him for Maxim Afinogenov of all people before realizing what I thought was a 61 is actually a 51. It's been fun watching him really begin to put things together over the past couple of seaons, just as fans in Buffalo - and probably more than a few people within the organization - were beginning to think he was never going to stick at the NHL level.

But that's all secondary. I really just like Brian Campbell the person. In a league full of humble, down-to-earth guys, Brian still manages to stick out as particularly down-to-earth. I love watching him interviewed because he's very laid-back and really funny. And not funny in the desperate, trying-too-hard, overly prepared kind of way that many pro athletes are - just easily and naturally funny. I love watching him play because he looks like he's having so much fun. I adore Chris Drury and I hope he stays in Buffalo but he's so somber all the time. While it's a little unfair because I know that's just Drury's personality, he often looks like he's working in a coal mine instead of getting paid millions of dollars to play a game. Atleast once a game there's a shot of Brian on the ice or the bench with a huge "I can't believe I'm getting PAID for this" grin on his face. A fantasic, ear-to-ear, face splitting grin. I was thrilled when he made the All-Star game because there was no doubt in my mind that a) he really never did think that he'd be an All-Star starter unlike some guys who say that but don't mean it and b) he would have a blast. Miller, Vanek, Tallinder, and Lydman are on my "Cannot be traded because they're too important" list. Brian is on my "Cannot be traded because I'd miss him too darn much" list.

Soupy sounds his barbaric yawp.

Soupy, I'll kinda miss you, you know? Back when I was first trying to understand hockey, you were one of the things I loved most about it and for that I'll always owe you one.

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Game Never Happened

Raise your hand if you knew the second that delay of game penalty was called on Jason Pominville that the Sabres were going to lose this game. Yep. Me too.

Even I, the eternal optimist, cannot deny that that game sucked and blew in so many ways that it's tough to quantify. Choking away a three goal lead? To a team that's missing something like 18 forwards? And on a ten game losing streak? Loose play in the defensive zone? Again? Soft goaltending when it mattered? Letting Danny Briere be the hero? Sweet moses that game was pretty much my hockey nightmare come to life.

- Versus was making my head spin. One moment they'd say something that was actually kind of insightful and right on the nose for people who probably don't watch every Sabres game (Jochen Hecht has been the team's best all-around player, Jason Pominville has developed into a mature, responsible player, Roy is becoming a good playmaker) and then they'd say stuff that was not so right (Campbell and Spacek are the top guys (at certain things yes, but "top guys" with no qualifier is not acceptable), Campbell is an amazing open ice hitter, and I know there was another one but I can't remember it. Trust me though, it was there.)

- I was very wishy-washy on the little turtleneck thing Henrik Tallinder was wearing tonight until someone mentioned it was a neck protector. It may look a little silly but by golly, if it means I'll never have to watch Hank hustle to the bench with blood gushing from his throat, I'm all for it.

- Ryan Miller was not good tonight. He didn't get a lot of help most of the night and there were some great saves mixed in but he has to be better, especially in games that are so important. Sometimes I hate how much fans put on the goalie's shoulders but it comes with the position. I know he has a little stretch every season where he seems to wear down a bit before finally snapping out of it but he needs to snap out of sooner this year.

- I was going to shoot my TV if I had to watch that Alexander Ovechkin 60 Goals commercial one. more. time. Mark pointed out to me that when the player names pop up all over the ice, HULL pops up in the crease which was very amusing... but only the first 37 times. After that I hated Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Captials, the NHL, and Gary Bettman.

- Also, Versus was killing me with the Umberger "poetic justice" bit. Nothing they were calling "poetic justice" was actually "poetic justice." And scoring on a power play is not really scoring in an "unusual circumstance." I hate you, Versus.

- While I certainly will not blame this loss on injuries - that would be ridiculous, especially considering the Flyers were even worse off than us in that regard - I will say again that I don't think Jochen Hecht's absence can be underestimated even though it totally will be. Taking him out means losing our best defensive forward, one of our most responsible players, and one of the guys who never seems to hit panic mode and it means shuffling two lines that have been playing really well together (Roy-Connolly-Vanek, Pominville-Hecht-Player X). I think Jochen is one of the cards on the bottom of the house of cards that is the Sabres roster. Pull him out and the whole thing tumbles down or at least starts teetering an awful lot.

- Some good things: Derek Roy was a beast on the first goal, Timmy made a gorgeous pass on Pommers' goal, Pommers continues to be his steady, reliable self, ummmm... Henrik Tallinder was wearing a neck guard... Timmy was really funny yapping at the Flyers bench... let's see... Oh! Andrew Peters threw a punch! Lindy was screaming and that always amuses me... That's pretty good, right?

- This game was so bad that I can't even fully enjoy the Sens 5-0 loss to the Leafs and that is just not right. Let's forget this game happened and move on, okay?

Tomorrow is trade deadline day and all I can say is thank the Lord. I can't wait for this to be over. I don't think it'll surprise anyone to hear me say I'm firmly on the side of trading Brian Campbell. I think the Sabres are absolutely right to not budge on their most recent offer because Campbell is simply not worth a big money contract. And considering how clearly unfocused he's been for the past few weeks, I have to wonder how well he'll handle the expectations that come with a big contract. Get something for him and then let's all move on and, Darcy, don't even think about calling one of your "Everything is under control!" press conferences because you don't owe anyone an apology for trading an overrated, overpriced d-man. Oh, I know there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth from some quarters about how he's gone and how the Sabres were stupid to let him go and how they should have paid him but I feel pretty good about ignoring those quarters because they are, quite simply, wrong. (As always, feel free to disagree. But you're not changing my mind on this one.) Also I totally want to re-sign Dmitri Kalinin. I would like for Darcy to announce Kalinin's re-signing and Campbell's trade at the same time. It would send some people over the edge but I? I would be very happy.

Dan Boyle's contract? Ridiculous. One, it's awfully close to Nicklas Lidstrom money and while I know Lidstrom probably gave the Red Wings a little bit of a discount, that still ain't right. Two, he got ridiculous money AND a no-trade clause. Really? After all the guys refusing to waive NTCs, GMs are still giving those out? And they're not going to ask the guy to take a little less money if they're included? Three, did I mention that it's ridiculous? Because I don't know if you guys remember but we just had a lockout and part of the justification of the lockout was the need to institute cost control. Which is HI-larious considering that Brian Campbell is probably going to be making Brad Boyle money come July.

Tomorrow - today by the time most of you read this - I'll be strapped to the laptop. Mark has elected me to update him and his co-workers on any breaking trades. Next up: My sparkling commentary on said trades and finally - finally! - my thoughts (and yours) on the shootout.

In Defense of Mats Sundin

Yeah, never thought I'd be writing that.

Let's get this clear up front. I do not enjoy Mats Sundin. Against the Sabres at least, he's a punk, constantly cross-checking or punching players behind the play and after the whistle. I would be more than happy to never, ever play him again.

That said, I find the idea that he owes it to the Leafs to waive his no-trade clause to be really ridiculous. Let's put aside the obvious - he negotiated the NTC so he couldn't be traded - and focus on this: Mats Sundin has repeatedly chosen to stay with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Due to horrible mismanagement the team has wasted a huge chunk of the prime of his career and he STILL wants to play there. He accepted a contract that was under market value so the Leafs had money to play with and they wasted it and he STILL wants to play there. If he wins a Cup he wants it to be with teammates he's played with all season for the franchise he - for whatever reason - loves. He's given his heart, soul, and body to the Leafs and their fans for more than the past decade and he's placing more importance on emotional ties to a team and a city than on a token championship with teammates he barely knows and fans who couldn't really care less about him. Good for him. He doesn't owe the Leafs a gosh darn thing. They owe him. First they owe him a big fat apology for the wasted years and then they owe him a huge retirement party when the time comes along with eternal thanks for how much he's given the franchise over the years. God forbid a player actually shows fans (and owners) the loyalty they're always crying doesn't exist in pro sports anymore. If there's a bad guy in this situation it's the Leafs ownership and management. It sure as heck is not Mats Sundin.

I really did mean to post something about the Rangers game but I got distracted by Bucky (see yesterday's post) and now pretty much everything has been said somewhere. I will say this: Don't underestimate the importance of Jochen Hecht being out of the line-up. His presence probably wouldn't have eliminated Ales Kotalik's blind backhanded pass to the middle of the ice right in front of his goalie - when is that ever a good idea, Al? - but he's so responsible with the puck that it might have helped our turnover issues. I also think he brings some of the zen calmness to the team that certain other guys provided in the past.

Still... I have to say that while that game was not exactly encouraging - we kind of need to beat good(ish) teams eventually - it didn't exactly put a deep, dark fear of the Rangers in me. They looked as sloppy as we did, we just made the last major mistake before time ran out. If we don't beat the Flyers tonight however, I will cry.

One last note to Jaromir Jagr for accusing Thomas Vanek of goalhanging. This is ridiculous for a few reasons: A) It's not true B) Jagr had two turnovers lead directly to goals so he wasn't exactly great out there C) Jagr lost all right to criticize someone else's effort a good long while ago and D) Jagr's a dick.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The End of the Road

Starting tomorrow, Top Shelf is a Buffalo News-free zone, excluding Sabres Edge as long as I can read it while avoiding Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan. I did this once before and it was so nice that I'm not sure why I went back to reading TBN in the first place. I've completely had my fill. But let's go out with a bang, shall we?

Today we were treated to the Chris Drury column that was so effin' predictable that Kevin at Bfloblog called it last night. I'm going to do this the Fire Joe Morgan way because there's a whole lot of stupid in this column.

Drury received a mix between cheers and jeers when he was introduced before the Rangers’ 4-3 victory, confirming certain fans comprehended the impact Drury had in Buffalo while many others didn’t have a clue. Then again, the same divide exists between the dressing room and the owner’s suite.

One group gets it, and the other never will.


First of all, enough with the "fans who boo don't understand what Chris Drury meant" garbage. We get it, Bucky, and you are such a condescending little prick to suggest that we, the fans of Buffalo, do not get or appreciate Chris Drury. We cheered for him every single night he wore a Buffalo uniform. We loved him and embraced him and wanted desperately for him to be the guy to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. We made his jersey one of the best-selling jerseys in the NHL. We appreciated all the little things he did on the ice to contribute to wins. We understand how he influenced the players who are still here. We know he's a nice guy. But we also understand that he was here for three years and that he now plays for another team. Fans are not obligated to cheer for players on the other side. Fans are not obligated to think logically and objectively. Fans can cheer or boo as they see fit and for many, many fans it really only comes down to, "What jersey is he wearing? Oh, right, not ours."

Second of all, enough with the "managment doesn't get it" garbage. Larry Quinn said it was a mistake to let Chris Drury go. Darcy Regier said it was a mistake to let Chris Drury go, looked devastated when it happened, and admitted that the team wouldn't be as competitive without him. Management signed Jochen Hecht to a long-term deal during the season. Management started negotiating with Brian Campbell when they could and did so right up until he brought a halt to talks and have since started negotiating with him again. I'm not even going to touch how stupid it is to put Brian Campbell's ridiculous contract demands in the same grouping as Drury and Daniel Briere.

But because he didn’t bow to management after they mishandled his contract last season, a good many fans roasted him every time he touched the puck.

That is probably why some people booed him. And you know what? That's their right as a fan. That is not however why everyone booed him. Some people booed him because he's not a Sabre. Some people booed him because he's a Ranger. Some people booed him because he's overpaid and - whether you like it or not - underachieving. Some people booed him because they think he didn't appreciate how much his teammates in Buffalo contributed to his game. Some people booed because they felt like he didn't love us the way we loved him. Some people booed him because they like to boo. I feel pretty safe in suggesting that most people's booing did not have anything to do with player vs. management.

To review, again, Drury agreed to a four-year contract worth $21.5 million, splitting the difference between the Sabres’ offer and his proposal. He grew tired of waiting for management to finalize the deal, the market changed and he decided to hit the road. Basically, the Sabres could have had him at a discount and let him get away.

To review, we don't really need the review because you haven't let us forget this yet. To review, everyone agrees that it was a mistake to let Chris Drury go. What's your point?

If fans wanted to boo someone, they should have started with owner Tom Golisano and managing partner Larry Quinn. They created the Drury mess, and they spent months manipulating the truth. It’w amazing how people continue swallowing the company line.

It's not swallowing the company line. It's moving on. It's realizing that no matter how many times you write this article, Chris Drury is not going to magically reappear in a Sabres uniform. It's choosing to cheer for the team on the ice in front of us even though it lost important pieces. It's waiting to see if management handles the next important piece - that would be Ryan Miller, not Brian Campbell - differently.

Golisano confirmed his ignorance on the radio recently when he referenced Drury’s plus-minus rating this season, a subtle hint the center was struggling. If he had a shred of hockey knowledge, he have known Drury spent half the year shuffling between lines, switching positions and trying to appease high-maintenance winger Jaromir Jagr.

I cannot believe this. I cannot believe that the columnist who has refused to make any excuses for the Sabres - age, new roles, different responsibilities, line changes, injuries - is making excuses for a guy who is not even on the team anymore. Are you fucking kidding me? Bucky, let me break this down for you. CHRIS DRURY HAS STRUGGLED! CHRIS DRURY HAS NOT LIVED UP TO A 7 MILLION DOLLAR CONTRACT! Jaromir Jagr being high-maintenance is not exactly news. This is not a surprise. I'm pretty sure Drury should have factored this into his decision to play for the Rangers. I'm pretty sure that's not a good excuse. If Derek Roy said, "It's tough to play with Max because he's hard to predict and all over the place," what would you say?

I also cannot believe that Bucky Gleason - who last year said that Derek Roy had maxed out at age 23 and wouldn't be worth his contract and had him being re-signed for under a million dollars in his "How I Would Handle the Team" article (real good understanding of the NHL market, Buckster) - is calling into question the hockey knowledge of someone who has admitted time and time again that he doesn't really know that much about hockey. I don't know about you guys, but I'm reeeeally impressed.

Drury is a minus-9. Funny, it never bothered Golisano when he was minus-11 two years ago while leading the Sabres into the conference finals and filling the owner’s pockets.

Right. Because then he was a Sabre. Now he's not. Owner likes player better when he's making him money! Whoa, somebody alert the media because that is some breaking news right there!

Drury and Campbell had dinner Friday night at Tempo, an upscale restaurant in Allentown. They didn’t discuss how Campbell’s persistent contract problems, but you can bet Campbell learned a thing or two while watching Drury’s situation unfold last season.

Hopefully he learned that it's really hard to live up to an insane contract. That sometimes your teammates make you as much as you make them. That the love of a city is fickle and not based on things like logic and objectivity. That big market teams with lots of big names are not necessarily more competitive than smaller market teams with a bunch of complementary pieces. That there is some value in playing with guys you know inside and out on the ice and off.

Probably he just learned that MANAGEMENT IS EVIL FOR NOT MEETING HIS DEMANDS.

We’ll see what happens. Don’t be surprised if you see Campbell follow his former captain one more time, right out the door.

Great. Because Campbell is not worth a penny over five million dollars and the Sabres defense will probably be okay without him in the end. We could use that money to insure that Miller, Jason Pominville, and Paul Gaustad stick around for a while. What? That wasn't your point? Oh, right. THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE STUPID!

P.S. to Bucky: Jay Pandolfo, Selke nominee and one of the most important interchangeable parts of the New Jersey Devils, is a UFA at the end of this season and currently unsigned - along with three other guys - so maybe you should do a quick internet search before you make loud declarations like THE DEVILS HAVE SIGNED EVERYONE EVER.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Tried to Ignore This, I Swear

Here, in a nutshell, is the difference between what I consider to be the good writers and the bad writers at the Buffalo News.

Yesterday John Vogl posted a short entry at Sabres Edge about whether Chris Drury should be booed or cheered upon his return to Buffalo. In it he said, "For the record, I hope it's overwhelming applause."

Yesterday Jerry Sullivan posted a short entry about whether Chris Drury should be booed or cheered upon his return to Buffalo. In it he said, "It's more convenient for fans to turn on a guy once he's out of town. It's easier than having to grapple with the reality of the situation. Just keep one thing in mind. If you boo Drury, you're cheering for Tom Golisano."

Vogl: This is what I think, how about you?

Sullivan: This is what I think and you're an ignorant idiot if you think otherwise.

Seriously, Jerry, could you be any more condescending? The reality of the situation is that Chris Drury no longer plays for the Sabres. If you read the comments on Vogl's blog, you'd see that while some of them do mention Drury misleading management, a fair amount of them say, "Drury's on the other team, why should I cheer for him and why shouldn't I boo him?" which is, to me, a pretty fair point. For a lot of people this is simply a former Sabre going to play for the Rangers, a conference rival. Can we please stop trying to turn how these guys are greeted into a commentary on truth, justice, and the American way?

The idea that booing Drury is supporting management is ludicrous. Why can't people be upset with Drury for leaving AND be upset with management for mishandling things? Why can't people boo against an opposing player AND dislike Larry Quinn and Tom Golisano? Why the insistence that this is a black and white, good and bad issue that requires taking one side or the other? Golisano screwed up. We get it. He won't answer your phone calls. We get it. I wouldn't answer your phone calls either.

I know that Jerry Sullivan is a columnist and that that means his writing is going to include his opinion. If he thinks Drury shouldn't be booed that's just fine by me. I'm old enough and mature enough to understand that everyone is not going to agree with me. But I really resent how clearly he thinks everyone who doesn't agree with him is not only wrong but stupid. John Vogl may very well think I'm an idiot but at least he's capable of making his opinion clear without calling into question the intelligence of everyone on the other side of the fence.

In closing, Jerry also said this: "If you think Bucky Gleason goes overboard on Drury, think back to his days in Buffalo, when fans gushed about his competitive character at every turn. At least Bucky is consistent and objective about the situation."

Consistent in the sense that he's been writing the same article for the last eight months ("Drury! Briere! 25/5! Sabres suck! Except when they don't and in that case I'll just ignore them and write about something else until they lose again! Or point out all the ways they will lose in the future!"), yes. But objective?


When this season is over, we'll stop hearing about how the Sabres screwed up Drury and Briere, right? Right? Please tell me I'm right.

Friday, February 22, 2008

This Post is Pretty Lame

I don't really have too much to say about the Toronto game. It was good to see the Sabres handily beat a team they should beat but I don't know, I almost felt a little bad for the Leafs' fans. Can you imagine watching a team that just looks like it wants the season to be over as soon as possible every night?

So as has been my habit lately, here are some quick hit thoughts:

- Want to know what I think about Chris Drury returning to Buffalo? Too bad. I'm sick of this story and he's not even here yet. Here's what I said before the first Sabres-Rangers game. It all still applies.

- Advertising on goalie's jerseys? No, thanks. I know there are ads all over the arena including along the boards but that's not the same thing as putting ads in the field of play. No, no, no. This is one of those things where I understand every single point brought up in favor, namely increased revenues, but I will refuse this until my dying day no matter how much sense it makes. This article from the Toronto Star features one of the proposed looks and it is awful. Anything that shrinks the team logo that much should be avoided at all costs. Anyone who thinks this is going to start and stop with ads on the goalies is kidding themselves. Also, Dwayne Roloson had this to say: "They have (uniform ads) in Europe and it doesn't take away from the true jersey look." Uh, Dwayne? Are we looking at the same jerseys, you and I?

Ad? What ad? I don't see anything!

- While I kind of understand why people would say a three year contract is an insult compared to contracts being handed out right now, I also hate that the NHL has gotten to the point where three years is looked down upon. I love the idea of players potentially being in one city for a long time, but I also love the idea of teams having some flexibility with their roster. If you're going to sign the entire team to long-term contracts, you'd better be sure you really, really, really like your team.

- Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Jochen Hecht, and Paul Gaustad all missed practice today and Lindy Ruff seemed pretty concerned about some of them. Ummm... Yeah. If you said to me, "Hey, Heather, name four players the Sabres have to have come playoff time," you'd get a pretty similar list. Ryan Miller is the most important and I'd throw a defenseman (probably a Swedish one) on the pile, but the above list is not a good one. I have my fingers crossed that any and all x-rays are negative. IR isn't fun, guys! You don't want to join me here!

- I don't know how many of you read non-Sabres blogs but if you haven't read Pensblog's Fleury vs. Conklin trial, you're missing out on one of the best things I've ever read on these here interwebs. It is both ridiculous and smart and screamingly funny, the highlight being the meeting between Judge Charlie and the Daniel Alfredsson line in judge's chambers. I don't know how these guys pulled off this post but I can tell you this: Heather B = stunned.

- We all know that Sabres fans in visitor's arenas seem to have a pretty bad reputation. This photo, taken at the Florida-Boston game last night, shows Sabres fans at their very worst:


I mean, honestly, people. How could you mock Richard Zednik like that? That is so classless!

(Seriously, I'm sure there are people who've had truly dreadful experiences with Sabres fans but if all you got is, "They tried to drown out our cheering," "They booed our star player," or "They stepped on the promotional poster," spare me. That's called "Going to a hockey game.")

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thomas Freakin' Vanek

We hadn't turned the TV off - we've only done that three times ever that I can remember - but we had moved out of the living room. Mark was in the kitchen making tonight's dinner, I was stretched across the bed in the dark. I turned the TV up before I left the room so that I could still hear so we weren't really trying to ignore the game so much as get some space from it. I don't know, maybe it would be easier to take the loss if we couldn't actually see it. Maybe it would be easier not seeing Tampa Bay huddle around Johan Holmqvist, yet another average goalie who looked like a champ against the Sabres. Maybe it would be easier not seeing the sad, confused Sabres coast off the ice. Maybe it would be easier not seeing postgame interviews with a frustrated Ryan Miller and a sad, distracted Brian Campbell.

When Toni Lydman put his shot on net and someone - at that point it was up in the air who - tipped it in net, I didn't cheer and neither did Mark. But things went silent in the kitchen for a long moment and my whole body stiffened up and my ears perked up and zeroed in on the game even more than they already were. It still seemed like a stretch - I mean, there was what, two something left in the game? I wasn't sure - but maybe...

When Vanek's second goal went in to tie the game, our place went ballistic. Screaming, whooping, high-fives. I hobbled back into the other room as quickly as I could maneuver my crutches and Mark joined me. We then had the obligatory "Should we stay where we were? Are we going to ruin the mojo?" conversation for a few seconds before we finally decided, screw it, when the Sabres win this game we want to see it.

I don't want to take any credit away from the players who got the assists here because there were some beautiful passes involved on the game-tying and game-winning goals but holy crow, Thomas Vanek. Thomas Vanek who has almost as many goals in the last ten or so games as he had in the first half of the season. Thomas Vanek who has nine of the Sabres' last fourteen goals. Thomas Vanek who stood up in the dressing room after a loss and said the Sabres would be in the playoffs and that's all that mattered. It had to be Thomas Vanek. It had to be Thomas Vanek who scored two goals in the third period and then finished off the natural hat-trick in overtime. It had to be Thomas Vanek, the player who much of Buffalo wanted to toss over the side of the Peace Bridge as recently as a couple of months ago, who put the Sabres on his back and carried them through a must-win game. How great is it to see this much-maligned kid slowly take steps forward in maturity and confidence? Seriously, unless you're a Tampa Bay fan (in which case, I salute you), games like tonight are part of why we watch sports, aren't they? If all you can see in last night's game is all the stuff that should have been different, well, I feel a little sorry for you.

Should the game have even been this close? No.

Did some important players look bad tonight? At times, absolutely.

Should the Sabres have won this game considering how they played for the first 40 minutes? Probably not.

But they won it anyway. And I'll take that.

Thomas Freakin' Vanek (Photo: Bill Wippert)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I Hate Trade Deadline Day

Remember how I said yesterday that I wasn't going to talk about Brian Campbell again until after the trade deadline? Forget that ever happened, okay?

I need trade deadline day to be over and I need it to be over now. It's totally messing with my head! I first saw the Brian Campbell quote, "It’s not easy, and I can’t sit here and say I’m having fun with it. I wish it wasn’t me, to be honest with you," in the Buffalo News yesterday and I'll admit, when I read that I totally rolled my eyes and grumbled about him being a baby. Seriously, this is life as an in-demand free agent. If you don't want to be part of trade rumors, sign a contract. If you're intent on holding out for more money, then deal with it and all the ramifications like an adult.

But then I actually saw the interview on the local news and you guys... it made me so sad. It partly made me sad because to me it seems so obvious that if he's really that unhappy about the prospect of being traded or leaving Buffalo, there's a simple solution - sacrifice some of the money you want for the opportunity to stay in an organization and city that you know you love with teammates who you're already attached to. You're still going to be pretty fairly paid and you're still going to be extremely wealthy. Seriously, I do not understand why more athletes aren't more willing to do this. I can't wrap my brain around it.

But it also made me sad because I like Brian Campbell. I know I've mentioned this in passing in a couple of posts about him but I also know it was a half-hearted throwaway at best, something to temper the angry rantings about his contract demands. But watching him, lip all trembly, looking down at the ground, I remembered that yes, I really, really do like him. I don't like everything about how he's handled this season but when I first started watching hockey, he was one of the guys I attached to the quickest and it was because he was totally a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy. I loved that you could tell exactly how he was feeling - happy, excited, bummed, frustrated. As recently as the beginning of this season I listed him as my third favorite Sabre. Third! This year I was annoyed when he made the All-Star team because I knew certain people were never going to quit crowing about how that made him the awesomemest but last year? I was freaking thrilled for him. I sat at my computer and voted for him over and over and over during entire movies or TV shows. I loved how openly tickled he was to be there and how genuinely humbled he seemed that fans (and his mom) had voted him in.

Listen, I still don't think he's worth a penny over 5.5 million a year - and honestly I think that's a bit of an overpayment - and I have no desire to see the Sabres sink that kind of money into him long-term. I don't like a lot of things about how he's handled this season and I think he's lost some of his fun, happy shininess, but I did realize that if and when Brian Campbell leaves Buffalo... I'll be sad. He's been a Sabre as long as I've been a Sabres fan and I'll be really sad to see him in another jersey.

So I was already dealing with that this morning when Mark emailed me a rumor he'd read about the Sabres wanting to shake up the defense by trading Campbell, Dmitri Kalinin, and Henrik Tallinder. I made a list of all the reasons this rumor is ridiculous:

1. It was posted on a message board by a guy who claims to have sources in Tampa. Could he be for real? Sure. Could he be full of it? Absolutely.

2. Henrik Tallinder is currently the best defensive d-man on the team and one of the best bargains. He has an extremely reasonable contract with two years left on it. For an organization that is often caught up in the financial aspect of things, his contract is a gem.

3. Hank, Tri, and Soupy are all former Sabres draft picks and Darcy has often shown some attachment to players he drafted and raised. Is he really going to trade all the homegrown talent and keep all the guys who came in from somewhere else?

4. Rarely have I heard rumors about a Sabres trade that then actually takes place. Darcy Regier holds his cards close to his chest. Paul Hamilton was saying this on WGR yesterday and even went as far as to say that if a deal gets out, Darcy will pull back on it because he doesn't want any rumors out about it.

So as you can see, there are many, many reasons to completely ignore this rumor. I mean, it's totally ridiculous, right? Right? It is, right?

Geez, being a fan is so hard sometimes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Random Thoughts

Unrelated thoughts starting.... now!

- A small part of the reason I was so cranky Sunday night was because I was supposed to be at that game and I was really bummed to miss it. We bought tickets to two Penguins games because I wanted so desperately to see Sidney Crosby and I've now missed both of them. I had comforted myself with the fact that, in a show of solidarity, Sid injured his own ankle and missed this game but then Mark came home and said, "Hey, you know how our seats are right in front of the press box? Sidney Crosby was sitting right behind us! I could see him and everything!" Don't ever break your ankle, people. It'll suck the fun right out of your life.

- I've come to an important decision. I'm not going to say another word about Brian Campbell until the trade deadline. While I do think the Rangers game was somewhat indicative of his play as a defenseman and while I am not a big fan of his "there were system breakdowns" and "the team didn't play well" excuses - if you think enough of yourself that you want to be the second highest paid player on the team and the highest paid defensemen, you'd better be big enough to admit when you play like garbage - that was the game from hell and not just for Campbell. At this point I think everyone who stops by here knows how I feel about him. For the next seven days I'm going to leave it alone. If he screws up between now and then I'm going to ignore it. This could be his last week in Buffalo and I'm going to try desperately to enjoy it. If this isn't his last week in Buffalo... well, we'll talk about that when it happens.

- I don't know much about saving the environment but I'm having a hard time taking any NHL player who has signed up to buy carbon credits while also driving a two ton SUV very seriously.

- Red Wing fans can blame their team's recent collapse on me. I have both goalies and Nicklas Lidstrom on my fantasy team and my fantasy teams are infamous for self-destructing in the home stretch of the season. I've been floating along in second place almost all year and have recently plummeted to sixth (out of twelve). The league I joined this year with a bunch of online pals had a gimmick. Fans of Eastern Conference teams had to draft solely out of the Western Conference, fans of Western Conference teams had to draft solely out of the Eastern Conference. The idea was that it would force us into learning more about teams and players in the other conference but all I've learned is that a) the Western Conference seems to hardly ever play at least on days when I actually remember to check my line-up and b) I hate the Western Conference, Joe Thornton and Lidstrom excluded.

- Fun fact of the day: Until his injury yesterday, Nicklas Lidstrom has missed 22 games in fifteen and a half seasons. Can you even imagine? How many Sabres have missed that many games just in the last year or two? I've said it before and I'll say it again, Lidstrom is a freak of nature.

- Dmitri Kalinin and Nolan Pratt have been a really solid, dependable pairing overall the past few weeks. Kalinin saved two goals this weekend and for two years running has been one of our best d-men in the postseason. He self-destructed against Ottawa last year but in the first two rounds he was the only guy not named Miller to show up and play hard every night. His diving poke check on a Ryan Smyth breakaway in the Islanders series was one of the best defensive plays in the postseason. I would much rather pay Kalinin whatever he's going to get get on the UFA market than pay Campbell whatever he's going to get.

- Whoops. Nothing else about Campbell starting now!

- I am a huge fan of Thomas Vanek guaranteeing a spot in the playoffs. I think most of us would agree that his biggest problem all season has been struggles with his confidence. No way the Vanek of a couple of months ago opens his mouth and says something like that so I think this is a good sign of how he's feeling right now. All season fans in Buffalo have wanted someone to verbally step up and take charge. Well, here you go. If they are going to make the playoffs, the Sabres need Van going on all cylinders. I like it.

- It was disappointing to watch the Sabres lose two games that were pretty important - I found that Pittsburgh game to be particularly frustrating - but I'm a little surprised at how wildly some fans have crashed. Did anyone really expect that the team wasn't going to lose again? While it would've been nice to gain some ground, the Sabres didn't lose too much ground either. The conference is officially wide open and maybe I'm crazy, but no one on our side really terrifies me. I don't think there's a front runner in the EC any more and I still like the Sabres chances to make the playoffs and surprise some people once they're there.

That said, they really need to beat Tampa Bay and the Leafs. Beating the Rangers would be nice.

- One of my favorite recently discovered websites - I forget who pointed it out to me so sorry for not giving you credit - is Sports Clubs Stats. It's regularly updated to give you your team's current chances at making the playoffs and what spot they'll likely finish in. My favorite feature however is that it also lists every game taking place that day and tells you which team's victory would benefit your team the most. It's pretty nifty.

- I didn't forget about the shootout poll but I'm not feeling up to thinking about that too hard at 8:11 in the morning. Maybe later today I'll get around to that.

- For no reason other than that it still makes me giggle:

video

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Night Sucked. Yours?

Okay, so I had a diary of last night's game planned but I ended up having problems with my laptop (among many other things) and had a totally disastrous evening and didn't even watch most of the game. I got up to record the adorable pregame interview with Henrik Tallinder ("Thank you, Robert" - awwww) which seems like it might have been the highlight of the game and I closed my laptop which put it to sleep. When I lifted the top and woke it back up, the screen was all enlarged and stretched out and half the pages I look at now require scrolling from side to side. I tried to restore it to earlier settings - because that's how I fix everything - and it wouldn't restore. Someone please tell me how to fix this because I hate looking at it and if it remains this way I'll probably never blog again. (And don't think I can't see you wiping your brow and saying, "Whew! Thank god!" Because I totally can!)

Basically my night sucked. Yours?

span style="font-style: italic;"> Heather B's soul, Sunday night.

(I realize the caption is screwed up but I've "fixed" it 8 times and gotten nowhere so you're all going to have to deal. I do not have the patience or the mental fortitude to deal with it right now.)

video
(Henrik Tallinder. The balm that soothes my aching soul. I love how he always responds to questions about specific opponents with some variation of, "Gosh, he's really good! We'll do our best!" It's very charming.)

ETA: Laptop crisis averted, I think. Carry on.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

He IS the Suck!

If anyone tries to say, "See! This is why we have to keep Brian Campbell! The Sabres would suck without him!" I'm kicking them in the head. He IS the suck! Why can't everyone see this? Am I crazy? He was on the ice for all four first period goals and desperately ineffective on every one of them. The second two were totally stoppable shots but still, a little bit of defense never hurt anyone. Six million dollars? SIX MILLION DOLLARS?! Kiss my grits, Brian Campbell.

Seriously, in my opinion, this game is a perfect example of why the Sabres aren't leaping to sign Campbell for the money he's demanding. When you have Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, Drew Stafford, Paul Gaustad, Daniel Paille, Ales Kotali, Tim Connolly, and Maxim Afinogenov coming up in the next couple of years, you have to use your brain. And that's not to say all of the above should be re-signed, just that you can't deal with one player without thinking about all the rest. Six million dollars is a huge amount of money to sink into a defensemen who, despite his reputation, is simply not an elite defensemen.

On a totally different note, I love that when it was reported that Richard Zednik had chicken wings, half of the Buffalo internet presence went nuts that he got wings from Picasso's and not Anchor Bar, Duffs, or La Nova. Only in Buffalo!

Geez, this game really sucked. And it had to be the Rangers. Ugh. More later when I'm not so disgusted.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Buffalo Valentine's

Valentine's Day is almost over as I write this, but what the heck, it's never too late for a little love, right? My "I Hate" post was written in love - you'll just have to trust me - but maybe it's time for some less subtle affection. Let's get things started with a quote from Ryan Miller about a terrific play made in the Toronto game by a certain defensemen:

"You've got to love Hank," Miller said, referring to Tallinder. "I got lucky."

I do love Hank, Ryan, I do! We are lucky, aren't we? Speaking of which, breaking news courtesy of commenter twoeightnine! A few months ago I linked to a post at Mirtle's in which Mirtle came up with a new formula to rank defensemen based on defensive play. At the time, Hank was just outside the top ten at number eleven. This morning Mirtle posted an updated ranking and not only has Hank moved into the top ten, he's number one, baby! His partner in crime, Toni Lydman, is in at number nine. Number one! You know what's coming, right?

Hank Tallinder FTW!

Here's the official love list:

I love Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman for stepping up their game and shutting teams down. Any night Ottawa's top line goes pointless is a good one.

I love Ryan Miller for taking the team on his back on the ice and becoming its beating heart off the ice.

I love Derek Roy for showing some maturity by responding to his coach's challenge to be better and playing the way I knew he could.

I love Daniel Paille for doing all the dirty work in the corners and along the boards.

I love Patrick Kaleta for bringing energy and fierceness to the ice every single night.

I love Nolan Pratt and Dmitri Kalinin for becoming a steady, dependable pairing and for doing it so quietly that you might not have even noticed.

I love Thomas Vanek for sticking it out and finally looking like he knows he's one of the best hockey players on the ice on any given night.

I love Paul Gaustad for snapping that the media and fans might have given up on the team but the team never gave up on itself.

Heck, I even love Brian Campbell a little for saying he wants to remain a Sabre and I think saying it with sincerity.

I love Jaroslav Spacek for playing hard and making all of last year's complaints about his contract disappear. I also love him for being honest about his performance and the performance of the team even when they stunk.

I love Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville for being the unsung heroes of the team this season. While all eyes were on the players who were really struggling, Pommers and Yo-Yo showed up every night, played hard every night, and hung in there until the rest of the team caught up with them.

I love Lindy Ruff for, as usual, knowing his team. I love him for protecting them, pushing them, comforting them, and challenging them and doing it all at exactly the right time.

I love the Sabres for refusing to give up the season for dead even when a lot of us were ready to. (But not me, of course.)

10 Things I Think I Think

I'm not a huge football fan but I do occasionally read Peter King's "Ten Things I Think I Think" column. I have a few things bouncing around in my head that don't really seem worthy of entire posts but I wanted to throw them out there anyway. Just so you're forewarned, one of my favorite things about King's columns is that every thing he thinks ends up with at least 18 subpoints so instead of 10 things, you actually end up with 180. In case you haven't noticed, I can be long-winded so I wouldn't expect that to be any different here.

1. I THINK THE IDEA THAT ALEXANDER OVECHKIN'S DEAL WILL EVER BE A BARGAIN IS RIDICULOUS.

Yeah, I don't understand this at all. Just because there is a maximum salary in the league doesn't mean there's anyone in the league who should be making it. Ovechkin will be eating up a huge amount of his team's salary cap by himself. How do you build a team around that, especially when a lot of his current teammates are young and going to be in line for raises of their own eventually?

And that's just the money. Thirteen years is crazy. Maybe I'm cautious because I've been raised by Darcy Regier but I can't imagine signing anyone for ten years or more. There's so much that can go wrong. How many players start out great and peter out after a few years? And what about injuries? If Eric Lindros were in his first few years now he'd get a similar contract and yeah, that would've worked out really well for the Flyers. Ovechkin is an amazing talent for sure and he hasn't had injury problems yet but he plays a very tough, physical style. On top of the regular wear and tear of hockey, that can add up to be trouble. Look at Peter Forsberg. He was considered a force of nature right up until the moment he started falling apart and he's never been healthy since. If Ovechkin gets hurt in the latter part of his contract, after the insurance coverage runs out, the Caps are on the hook for his salary and they're screwed big time. Somewhere along the way one of these contracts is going to go bad and it's going to completely cripple a franchise for a very long time.

Also, on a side note, I think Alexander Ovechkin is probably not the only guy in the NHL who loves playing hockey. He's happy and exuberant, I get it. I hope Caps fans are happy that Ovechkin is getting so much attention right now because I'm officially as tired of him as I was of Sidney Crosby two years ago. Shut up and let me watch the kid play. I have two eyes that, with a little help, see perfectly well. I can see that he's really, really good. I can see that he's really, really happy. I can see that he really, really likes playing hockey. Now leave me alone.

2. I THINK IT'S STUPID TO THINK THE SALARY CAP IS GOING TO GO UP FOREVER.

Okay, maybe it's not stupid. But I really don't understand it. I know there were things built into the CBA to insure that the cap goes up the first few years, but is it really going to keep climbing? And if it does, what's that going to mean for the league? There are a handful of teams, including Buffalo, that are already spending more money on player salaries under the cap system than they were pre-lockout. It's my understanding that at least a few teams are increasing their gates, not by attracting more fans but by raising ticket prices. If that continues and teams have to keep raising ticket prices to keep up their revenues, aren't they eventually going to price themselves out of the local market? Aren't we already seeing that in places like Detroit? They have one of the best teams in the league - if not THE best team - and they're not drawing, largely because tickets are too expensive for the local economy. And if fans stop going to games are they really going to drive out to the arena to pay marked up prices for a t-shirt they can buy at the mall instead? And if revenues start dropping, what's that going to do to the financial health of the league?

I will admit that all of this stuff is totally over my head so if anyone out there can explain this to me, please do. For now however I don't believe the salary cap will ever go up enough that Ovechkin is a deal and if it does, I think the league is going to have big problems.

3. I THINK MOST GENERAL MANAGERS ARE STUPID.

Seriously. Players are getting life-time contracts. Young guys are being paid for what they might be some day instead of what they are right now. RFAs are making as much money as UFAs used to make which makes free agency fairly pointless and gives teams very little time to develop their young talent before having to decide whether they're worth a decade long commitment. When guys do get to UFA they're getting ridiculous contracts. I love Danny Briere but seven million dollars? Come on. And instead of responding by saying, "Man, that guy is an idiot," most GMs rush out and make equally stupid offers. Or even worse, they make it a mission to top the previous guy and make an even stupider offer. So then the stupid GMs stand around and pat each other on the back about how they've shown their fanbase that they're serious about winning even though all they did was throw money at the first big name they saw and the smart GMs (Darcy and Lou Lamoriello) sit around wondering what the heck is going on.

Yeah, I'm real glad we did that whole lockout thing, guys. Dion Phaneuf should totally be within a million dollars of Nicklas Lidstrom and Thomas Vanek should absolutely be making ten million in his third year in the league.

(I'd completely forgotten this until I saw I already had a "GMs are stupid" tag but I've written about this a little before.)

4. I THINK WADE REDDEN IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT TO REFUSE TO WAIVE HIS NO TRADE CLAUSE.

Well, gee, if you didn't want him to use the no trade clause, maybe you shouldn't have given it to him. The guy actually wants to stay in one place and he's willing to take less money to do it and we're gonna crucify him for it? I get that he's been a disappointment and Wade, if you suck in the playoffs everyone in Ottawa will hate you forever, but I give him a lot of credit for knowing what he wants and sticking to it. I'm curious to see if a) more players start refusing to waive the no trade and if b) GMs respond to that by refusing to hand them out. Do any Sabres have no trade clauses? I don't know but I'd be surprised if any of them did.

5. I THINK THESE NUMBERS ARE PRETTY INTERESTING.

Daniel Briere: 21 G, 33 A, 54 points, -20... 6.5 million cap hit
Jason Pominville: 16 G, 35 A, 51 points, +11... 1 million cap hit

Chris Drury: 18 G, 22 A, 40 points, -11... 7 million cap hit
Derek Roy: 21 G, 25 A, 46 points, +9... 4 million cap hit

Briere and Pommers aren't really comparable since one's a wing and one's a center. I just matched them up because of all the talk about how Pommers was going to be lost without Briere. Maybe Briere is lost without Jason and Yo-Yo? If nothing else, I think it's pretty fair to say that Jochen was doing the defensive work on that line. Ouch.

Roy-Z should probably be compared to Briere since he's moved into his place as top line center but that comparison turns out pretty well too. I'm certainly not going to pretend that we don't miss Danny and Chris in some regards but right now at least, their salaries are ridiculous.

6. I THINK GOOGLE ANALYTICS IS THE MOST ENTERTAINING THING EVER.

Google Analytics is a tool that allows a blogger to see what kind of traffic he (or she) is getting and how that traffic is being directed to his (or her) blog. My favorite thing is looking at the various internet searches that have brought people to Top Shelf. Usually there's some fluctuation - recently "Brian Campbell negotiations" has been number one but that wouldn't have been the case six months ago - but there's one search that is always, always in my top five: "Rod Brind'Amour's girlfriend." And I get two or three variations on spelling. This is... perplexing. I can only recall talking about Rod a few times and I don't think his significant other was involved in any of those discussions. But for the record, internet searchers of the world, I have no idea if Rod Brind'Amour has a girlfriend or not. There seems to be a lot of you wondering however so you might want to make your move quickly.

7. I THINK LINDY RUFF HAS DONE THE BEST COACHING OF HIS CAREER THIS SEASON.

I admit it, as much as I love Lindy there were times this season when I questioned how he was handling the team. I wanted so badly for bad-ass Lindy to rear his head and knock some sense into a struggling, seemingly uncaring team. But you know what? He was right. As fragile and shaky as they were even a month ago, he was right to gather his players up under his wing and protect them from the negative media and the increasingly desperate fans. He was right to assure them, "You're still good, you're still good, don't listen to them." And now that they're playing better and looking more confident, he has been a little more critical like when he called them out for playing stupid a few games ago. He knew when to protect, when to criticize, he knew who to call out and when to do it. Basically, Lindy Ruff rocks. He should get a lifetime contract.

8. I THINK JOHN BUCCIGROSS IS AN IDIOT.

I have a love/hate relationship with Buccigross - I think his annual "Here's how I think your team is going to do and here's a cool, hip song to go with it!" column is one of the dumbest, most pretentious things ever - and this week's column pushed me more toward hate.

Which means a highly competitive team probably would go to eight years, $50 million. This is the reality the Sabres have to deal with. This is why this should have been dealt with a year or two ago. If they aren't prepared to pay that or can't stomach that kind of contract, they will need to trade Campbell before the Feb. 26 deadline, then get out of the NHL business.

Here is what I have to say to John Buccigross:

a) Read point 3 above, John. Just because some idiot out there is willing to give Brian Campbell between six and seven million dollars doesn't make it a good deal.

b) The reality the Sabres have to deal with is re-signing a number of upcoming UFAs and RFAs while staying under the salary cap. The reality is having to prioritize players and deciding who's replaceable and who isn't. You can't give everyone six million dollars especially with Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy already making a lot of money. I think if the Sabres do refuse to re-sign Campbell it's not because they're cheap or stupid, it's because a fella named Ryan Miller is coming up for renewal next and HE'S the must-sign player. He's the heart of the team on and off the ice.

c) The Sabres couldn't deal with Campbell "a year or two ago" because the current CBA doesn't allow teams to negotiate with players until the summer before the last year of a player's contract. (Gee, shouldn't the leading hockey mind at ESPN know that?) All sides have acknowledged that negotiations have been going on all season. So... what exactly were the Sabres supposed to do differently here? I suppose talks have been mishandled because the Sabres didn't just give Campbell what he wanted, right?

d) In a league that consists of the Kings, the Oilers, the Leafs, and the Rangers, the Sabres are the ones who need to get out of the league? Really? Because that's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. Has Sabres management made some mistakes over the past couple of years? Sure. Are they the worst run team in the league? Are you serious?

e) Hey, have you noticed which Eastern Conference team is playing the most consistent hockey at exactly the right time of the season?

f) Put your man crush on Chris Drury away and get over yourself. By the way, did you get a look at point number 5? Sure hope the Rangers are enjoying their seven million dollars worth of intangibles.

9. I THINK PATRICK KALETA HAS TO STAY IN THE STARTING LINE-UP EVEN WHEN EVERYONE IS HEALTHY.

Does that even need an explanation? Really?

10. I THINK I CAN'T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE TO TALK ABOUT SO I'LL LEAVE YOU WITH SOME RANDOM FACTS

Movies I've recently watched: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (seen it before but I really like it), The Great Escape (my second all-time favorite movie), Meet John Doe (pretty good), The Apartment (good), Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries (good enough that I'm moving onto the series next)

Books I've recently read: Boy: Tales of Childhood and The Witches (read them both before but you can't go wrong re-reading Roald Dahl, How Doctors Think (a little disconcerting to read while undergoing medical care but very interesting), Born Standing Up: A Comics Life (Steven Martin's autobiography and a great read) and T is for Trespass (the latest Sue Grafton - I love this series unashamedly)

The last 15 songs that played in my iTunes: Life Ain't Always Beautiful (Gary Allan), Poor Little Fool (Ricky Nelson), Listen to the Band (The Monkees), Step by Step (New Kids on the Block), Just What I Needed (The Cars), Under Pressure (Queen), Somebody to Love (Queen), Thirteen (Big Star), Right on the Money (Alan Jackson), I Will Follow (U2), Lullaby (The Dixie Chicks), So Happy Together (The Turtles), Papa Gene's Blues (The Monkees), Don't Worry Baby (The Beach Boys), Bring it on Home to Me (Sam Cooke)

Holy smokes, this is long. Sorry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

We're Number 8! We're Number 8!

I feel very strongly that Sabres fans got to see something really amazing and special tonight. Something that is far too awesome for words. Something we may never see again:

That old Mike Robitaille Hockey Night in Canada feature.

Seriously, that thing was incredible. I wanted to change the channel but Mark wouldn't let me and I'm so glad he didn't. That house? Those clothes? That hair-do? And my personal favorite, that kickin' reel-to-reel stereo? Totally sweet. I hope somebody YouTube's that baby. Anybody who watched the game outside of the Buffalo feed really missed out.

Okay, okay, the game...

- How about Thomas Vanek, eh? He's been so strong over the past few games that I wasn't the least bit surprised to see him explode like that. The way he's slowly moved toward this makes me feel like he really is finally starting to get his head on straight, starting to get more comfortable in his role on the team this year. It's probably too soon to say, "I told you so," but it's ridiculous that so many people have been so ready to declare him a bust at just-turned 24, in year one of a seven year contract. In the past few season there have been a fair number of very young players who have come in and made a difference immediately - Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews - but most stars need time to figure things out. Joe Thornton, Vincent Lecavalier, and Daniel Alfredsson, just to name a few, took a few seasons to pull it all together. I know Vanek's contract puts him in a tough spot but let's not forget how young he is and how much talent we've already seen from him. Anyone who can watch him and Derek Roy over the past couple of weeks and say it was a mistake to keep them is crazy.

- One of the little things about hockey that bothers me: Why doesn't a shot that hits the crossbar count as a shot on goal? It hits the goal! It's an inch from being in the goal! I don't get it.

- Ottawa was definitely a little flat but I think this was also what Ottawa looks like without their top line clicking - a good but not great hockey team. Rob and Roby said all this in the postgame show so I know I'm repeating them but you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that I said the same things to Mark during the game. (I did!) If Ottawa runs into a team that can contain their top line OR if their top line goes cold, they're going to struggle. They're capable of rolling over every team in the conference but I certainly don't see it as a given especially with their unpredictable goaltending.

- Ottawa's flatness has to be credited at least a little bit to the Sabres because they played a very good defensive game. The Senators scare me and while I was definitely nervous about going into the third period with just a one goal lead, there weren't a lot of scoring chances that really made me groan. Big glove taps to Henrik Tallinder (yay!) and Toni Lydman in particular.

- What the heck is Tim Connolly doing with his facial hair? I told him last year that the fu manchu was a bad idea. Seriously, do you think that looks good, Tim?

- My list of Sabres who are better than Brian Campbell:
Ryan Miller (this one seems obvious)
Derek Roy (this one too)
Thomas Vanek (even while struggling Vanek has put up some points and been much improved in the defensive end)
Jason Pominville (developing into a very good two-way player)

Players who might be considered less skilled than Campbell but who are more valuable to the Sabres:
Jochen Hecht (good defensive forward, always works hard, so consistent)
Henrik Tallinder (the best defensive d-man on the team and for me, that will always be more valuable than offense in a d-man)

Players who might be considered less skilled than Campbell but who have been more valuable to the Sabres recently:
Daniel Paille
Patrick Kaleta

Brian Campbell is fine but the more people blow him up, the more I find myself disliking him and picking apart his game. Please, please let's settle this one way or the other as soon as possible so we can stop talking about him.

- Is it completely naive of me to think we could move up at least two or three more sports in the standings? Too optimistic?

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

Yay!

I think someone didn't like reading that Brian Campbell is the Sabres' best player. Poor TV getting his first hat trick on the road. This is for you, Thomas!



More later!

A Little Levity

When I pulled up the Buffalo News website this morning, I was intrigued by Bucky Gleason's headline, Sabres have the chips to retool. That seemed somewhat promising since "retool" suggests that the team has some talent and just needs a little tweaking which is much better than the usual, "This team blows without Chris and Danny!" chatter. And then I got to this:

The Sabres would like to keep Campbell. He’s their best player.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA!

:::deep breaths, wiping tears streaming from my eyes:::

I don't even know what to say other than that might be one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read in the paper. And I've read quite a few ridiculous things there. I can think of three guys off the top of my head who should be offended by that statement.

Oh, Bucky... I needed a good laugh this morning. Thanks, man.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Little Relief

First things first. While I've seen this mentioned a couple of other places, I'd just like to add how thankful I am for how delicately MSG handled Richard Zednik's injury. Rather than showing the video footage over and over, they only showed it a couple of times and even then it was carefully edited so that the worst of it wasn't seen. There were no lingering shots of the blood trail and the cameras seemed to be carefully directed away from the ice while the Zambonis were cleaning the surface. I'm also thankful that the Sabres website has avoided using any of the more graphic photos out there. I happened to stumble across a photo of Jaroslav Spacek alongside the long trail of blood from the corner to the bench and it made my stomach turn. The sight of Zednik going limp as he was carried off the ice was more than enough for me.

Okay, moving on...

While trying to be mostly serious last night I overlooked what was actually my favorite part of the game and I wanted to mention it before I forgot again: Patrick Kaleta's first NHL goal! Poor kid got completely overshadowed.

I'll admit, I wasn't a huge fan of Kaleta's during his call-up last season. He was so one-dimensional and I thought his hitting was often borderline. While he still makes me a little nervous sometimes, I've enjoyed him much more this time around. For the most part he's more controlled, he's not taking himself out of the play quite so much, and his overall play seems better. He chalked his goal up to being in the right place at the right time but it's no accident that he was in front of the net ready for a tip-in. I keep hearing it's Andrew Peters job to bring energy to the team and I don't see it. But with Kaleta I don't know how you don't see it. He still have some developing to do but I definitely see his potential now.

After his goal he was so lost in the excitement of the moment that it was totally adorable. He could not stop grinning. Not only did he score his first goal in the NHL, he scored his first goal in the NHL while playing for the local team that he grew up cheering for. And not only did he score his first goal in the NHL while playing for the local team that he grew up cheering for, he scored his first goal while playing for the local team he grew up cheering for in front of a hometown crowd with his family in the building. After watching all the solemn and subdued postgame interviews on the Sabres website, it was a bit of a relief to get to Kaleta's interview. I understand why everyone else was so serious, of course, but Patrick's young, innocent joy was a nice break from the near tragic events of the game. Also, Pat, while you are far too young for me, the little trickle of dried blood on your face was definitely a nice touch.

Seriously, how happy does he look?

Some really great comments about the shootout so far. (See the previous post if you want to check them out.) There are some I definitely want to respond to but I'm going to wait a few days and see how the vote shakes out. I can't believe there are thirty votes so far. I had no idea there were so many of you out there. If the shootout wasn't winning I'd accuse someone of stuffing the ballot box. The poll's up near the top of the page to the right if you haven't voted yet.