Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Sabres in Microcosm

If Chris Drury personified everything right about the post-lockout Sabres, who personifies everything wrong about them this season?
-- Bucky Gleason

This question was buried in the middle of one of Bucky's columns last week and I thought it was a really interesting one. Bucky made some good suggestions with Jochen Hecht and Maxim Afinogenov. (Although I do completely disagree with his nomination of Tim Connolly who had 47 points in 48 games, never shied away from contact, and was consistently one of the few Sabres to defend his teammates on the ice. Yeah, he seems like kind of prick, he has not a lick of leadership in him, he's overpaid and he probably hates talking to media. Whatever. Not everyone is leadership material and half the NHL is overpaid. Doesn't make him a bad hockey player. I'm already weary of Bucky's never-ending Tim Connolly watch. Believe it or not, Bucky, I really don't need you to point out every four game stretch where Connolly has no points. No, really. But I digress...) What I really thought was the most interesting thing though was that when I read that question, one person came to mind immediately, no thought at all.

"Who me?"

When Derek Roy first came up permanently, I loved him. Loved him. I understood people complaining about the diving and the whining and the temper tantrums but underneath all that he was a talented, scrappy little spark plug. Even when he wasn't necessarily playing smart, he was playing hard and a guy with that much talent who plays hard will most likely be just fine. When he signed his extension I knew right away that it would be a bargain (you can check the archives if you don't believe me). Great move by the Sabres.

That all went off the rails this season. The diving and whining have lessened considerably but other things popped up. I can't even count how many times I watched Derek Roy coast into the zone when he should have been backchecking. We could add up the fingers and toes of everyone who reads this blog and we still wouldn't have enough digits to count the number of passes Derek made this season that were stupid, too cute or some combination of both or how many times he tried to carry the puck through five opposing players. He rarely, if ever, accepts responsibility for his play and he never seems overly concerned about how the team is performing. I don't know if it's his size or his style of play but Derek's success relies almost entirely on how hard he's working. He can motor up and down the ice all night. He can battle for pucks even against guys much larger than him. He can play with passion and fire. But it seems like he spent an awful lot of the season not doing those things and when he doesn't, it's so obvious. His game drops off completely. He goes from a player who can energize an entire team to a guy who's barely noticeable. I don't understand it at all. I don't understand why a player who could be so much better is seemingly satisfied with just being pretty good. I don't know much about coach-killing - if anyone's ever tried to kill Lindy Ruff in the past, they've failed - and I hate to speculate on the relationship between Derek and Lindy (actually, I totally think he hates Lindy but I won't get into why right now because that's a much larger digression) but there were times when Derek looked an awful lot like a player who really wanted to get his coach fired. He's absolutely capable of playing the way Lindy tried to get them to play all season. So why refuse to do it?

I don't know but I do think most of what I said above could apply to the Sabres as a group this season. Maybe they're not built to win a Cup right now but they are capable of being better than they showed. They seemed content most nights to coast on talent even after it should have been clear that talent without work wasn't going to get them very far. With the exception of a few, they didn't give an honest effort on most nights and they chafed when someone tried to hold them accountable for poor play. They seemed to disregard what their very good coach was telling them even though when they did play his way, they were usually more successful. It's maddening.

So there you go, Buckster. Derek Roy = Buffalo Sabres. And not in a good way.


James W said...

I would have to agree.

Roy was also 3rd in the NHL in Giveaways this season and was a team worst -48 with 100 Giveaways and 52 Takeaways.

Vanek's Hair said...

Oh no, you just sparked a topic I can gasbag on.

Derek Roy has a tremendous skill set. When he came up for a few brief stints before the lockout, I watched and thought, Wow! This guy has the goods to be something special. There is so much about his game to like. Fast, skilled skater. Underrated shot power and accuracy. I even noticed it during the lockout when I watched the Amerks to cure my hockey withdrawal. I was very excited about the future with him and Vanek as cornerstones of the franchise.

He was very good during the 2005-2006 playoffs. I even put up with his diving, because he was productive, and the diving really set off his opponents. But that diving reputation got stuck on him and that has hurt him.

It was 2006-2007 that I began to get frustrated with him. He switched from a talented, agitating little punk. To a tempermental, inconsistent, agitating little punk. The first one is a compliment, I am serious.

After two more seasons, I have had it. His antics have worn thin on me. I still see a lot of diving. I know a lot of people disagree with me on that, but I don't think it has been significantly eliminated from his game. Also, when he is the victim of a legitimate penalty, he complains so much to the officials he can talk them out of calling the penalty. He has earned a reputation, at least it appears to me, with officials and he gets absolutely zero benefit of the doubt. And he coasts through significant portions of a game.

What makes it supremely frustrating is his unique skill set. Few players are as talented as Roy. He doesn't need the side show antics. I always understood clowns like Avery and Barnaby and the like who do all the non-hockey crap in the course of a game, because talent wise, they fall short of NHL caliber. They need to set themselves apart with garbage. Roy doesn't. He could just come to the rink, play fairly hard and be a tremendous asset.

Finally (I know, Thank you), I heard his locker room clean out interview. I like to read between what people say, because, well, I don't have much of a life. He said, of playing on Team Canada (paraphrase) "I am looking forward to getting to know Lindy better and seeing another side of him" That spoke volumes to me. After however many years in the organization together, Roy feels like he needs to get to know Lindy. I am far from being able to point to which party is at fault, but it, at least in my mind verified that for whatever reason, Lindy Ruff is not reaching certain players. Derek Roy is at the top of that list.

Anne M said...

Attention Top Shelf readers: Vanek's Hair is an attorney. Just in case you couldn't figure that out. :)

Anyway, I can't add much to his gasbaggery, but I will say that every time I see Roy half ass it back to the bench on a shift change, I want to punch him in the face. It's so infuriating because to me it is the perfect demonstration of his attitude--I'm so important and I can just get to the bench when I get there. Never mind that another player needs to get on the ice!

Those Giveaway/Takeaway numbers are interesting and give a nice comeback to everyone who says, "But Roy puts up a lot of points!" But he gives the puck away a lot too!

Heather B. said...

James, very interesting stats, thank you! That's a ton of giveaways but you know, it doesn't surprise me at all. At times this season I would've told you it was three times that many.

Vanek's Hair, I also thought Derek's comments about Team Canada were interesting. I thought his, "I'm looking forward to playing for Lindy under more relaxed circumstances," had a whiff of "I don't like when he yells at me and tries to tell me what to do, he needs to chill out" about them. I admit that's totally my interpretation but I think he's a brat.

I don't think there's any question that he has a reputation with the refs. And even back when I loved him I had to admit it was well-deserved.

What makes it supremely frustrating is his unique skill set. Few players are as talented as Roy... He could just come to the rink, play fairly hard and be a tremendous asset.Yep. Definitely.

Heather B. said...

Anne, I would definitely agree that Derek seems to feel very entitled. Normmentioned in the comments a few posts ago that he thought shipping out Roy would make a huge difference for the team and there are days when I totally agree with that. I'm not ready to do it yet - he's so talented and his contract is potentially such a good value - but I am definitely questioning his attitude.

dave in Rocha said...

"He's absolutely capable of playing the way Lindy tried to get them to play all season. So why refuse to do it?"

To me this sums it up best. When he plays the way Lindy wants him to both he and the team succeed. When he doesn't, his stats fall off and the team loses. Why doesn't he always do what he's told? I think it's because he's lazy and doesn't want to work hard.

It's hard to keep your emotions in check. It's hard to backcheck your ass off. It's hard to go into the corners with guys 6 inches taller than you and dig for the puck. It's hard to do smart things with the puck when you have it. And it's hard to hustle back to the bench when you're tired. Most guys do it anyway. Derek doesn't want to, and I'm at the end of my leash with him.

"If Chris Drury personified everything right about the post-lockout Sabres, who personifies everything wrong about them this season? -- Bucky Gleason"

If you ask me, Mike Grier, not Chris Drury, personified everything right with that team. Note how much they coasted through the playoffs when Grier wasn't around but Drury still was. Also note how lazy the Rangers have looked at times the past couple years, while San Jose has been elite. In fact, the only time the Sharks struggled much this season was when Grier was hurt.

I'm not going to pretend to know who spoke up in the dressing room or who held whom accountable on that team, but from what I can observe, Mikey was the true leader.

Caroline said...

Heather, I don't have much else to add to your post other than I basically agree with everything you said. Over the years I've developed a love/hate relationship with Derek. Sometimes I find myself just shaking my head and rolling my eyes at his decisions, and then other times he's fantastic to watch. I thought last year he did a better job at controlling his whining and diving, but he still needs a little more maturity.

He's got the potential to be a great asset to the team, but he also has potential to be a great disappointment and problem.

Jonathan said...


When I read the title to this thread, the first words I thought of were "Derek Roy." Then the lyrics of U2's "magnificent" popped into my head, because that is what I am listening to on iTunes.

But yeah, it's kinda sad how badly he sticks out like a sore thumb.

Norm said...

YES!!! YES!!!! YES!!!!!!

A group of people who won't call me crazy for saying the exact same thing!!!
Like I said here, among other things.....LOL

Heather B. said...

If you ask me, Mike Grier, not Chris Drury, personified everything right with that team.Dave, I never equated the swoon halfway through '06-'07 with Grier's absence but that is a very interesting observation. As is the idea that SJ's only really swoon was while Grier was out. At the very least, Grier probably is being overlooked in favor of Drury and Briere.

He's got the potential to be a great asset to the team, but he also has potential to be a great disappointment and problem.I hate to keep pounding this but for me this is the most frustrating thing about Derek. He has the potential to be the best all-around player on the current roster and that makes watching him coast around, doing stupid things even more difficult.

Jonathan, excellent musical taste :) The album is still growing on me a bit but "Magnificent" is one of my favorite tracks definitely.

Norm, I have to admit, I'm really surprised that not a single person commented in Derek's defense. Unless there's a silent majority out there - which is possible - it sounds like Derek is wearing everyone out a little.

RITBeast said...

Between the opening article and the comments following, I think this may be the best blog entry I've read in a year and a half. Thanks Heather B., Vanek's Hair, and James W. for nailing the main topic.

Dave in Rocha - AWESOME point as an addendum. I've never made that connection, but if you put some thought into it, it's dead-on. When he, Dumont and McKee left is when we started to see the Lindy Revolt taking shape, and the softer style of play that this team has become famous for. You should definitely post something to that effect on Bfloblog.

Ebscer said...

I can't defend Derek Roy (honestly -48? I never thought it was that bad), but I am willing to get on Pominville's case about soft play as well...