Monday, September 28, 2009

TBN and the B. Family

Sunday morning I received an email from my favorite TBNer (consider the competition before you get too excited, Mike) asking if I was related to Julian Bermingham of Eden. "Full color photo in today's paper." As it turns out, I am related to Julian Bermingham of Eden and in addition to being pictured, he was quoted a few times in the story about Eden moving into first place in their division.

Run, Julian, run! (Photo by John Hickey/TBN)

I was pretty annoyed with a Jerry Sullivan column a few weeks back - so annoyed that I wrote an old-fashioned snail mail letter to the editor - and I've been on a bit of a TBN boycott since then (with a few weak moments mixed in). For Ju however, I made an exception, and Mark picked up a paper and ink copy of the paper. Unbeknowst to me, I must have passed my TBN issues on to the pooch because in the middle of the Bills game, Marlowe suddenly started eating the newspaper.


Yuck! Bucky!


Let's go on with the real hockey, shall we? I'm calling the Sabres for fifth in the conference.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Went to a Hockey Game!

I thought I was excited about hockey season already, but when I turned onto Washington Street yesterday and suddenly saw swarms of people in hockey jerseys headed towards the arena, I thought my heart was going to float right out of my chest. Even the sight of Leafs fans made me happy. When I think about how I didn't even know hockey existed for most of my life and then think about how much I really and truly love it now, I almost want to cry. If that sounds pathetic, well, I guess I'm pathetic. And proudly pathetic at that.

Just as I was taking this picture, that kid in the bottom corner came literally skipping into view. That's exactly how I felt.

Some thoughts:

- I will admit that Tyler Myers looked pretty darn good. As everyone has said at this point, he skates really well for someone who's so tall. And he looked remarkably comfortable for someone who was playing in just his fourth preseason game. But it's still preseason hockey. He's still playing against some people who won't be on a NHL roster in games that don't really matter. It's still 4 games which is a far cry from 82. I've seen Lindy Ruff say in a few places now that he thinks Myers has the skills to play in Buffalo but that the team is still debating whether he can handle an entire NHL season. As impressive as Myers was, if there's any doubt he's not going to be ready for full-time play this year, I'd still prefer he stay in juniors another season. He's 19, the Sabres are actually probably not going to be in contention for the Stanley Cup this season, and while I'm in the minority, I think there are plenty of things he can get out of another season in Kelowna both tangible (working on positioning and decision making, increasing his weight) and intangible (more experience as the top dog in his defensive corp and on his team, potentially more serious playoff experience). And the second he plays that 10th NHL game, the clock to RFA/UFA status starts ticking. If he turns out to be half of what people are expecting, he's going to cost a small fortune when that time comes. Why start that clock until you know Myers is absolutely ready? Why rush it? After seeing him in person, I'm really excited about his future. I want him to be awesome and maybe he will be. But he has time to get there.

- The Mike Grier-Paul Gaustad-Jochen Hecht line was awesome. I'm not exaggerating when I say they were the best line out there Wednesday night. They were working hard and creating lots of chances. I could see them sometimes being frustrating because they might create chances none of them can finish, but the way they work is going to result in a lot of ugly goals. We haven't gotten nearly enough of those the last couple of years. Jochen looked much more like his old self than he did all of last season which is a very good thing. I so want him to have a good year.

- If you've ever wondered what it's like to go to a game with Kate from The Willful Caboose, well, it's pretty much like reading her blog. We had almost this exact discussion during the game.

- Using the special Twitter code, Kate and I got $20 each and got seats in the fancy 200 level. Kate sat in that section during a game last season and has not stopped talking about it since. She often referred to them as the Hot Fudge Sundae seats because the section has servers who will deliver your refreshments, including hot fudge sundaes, to your seats. I was really, really looking forward to this. Unfortunately, the servers were evidently in preseason mode too because while I did eventually find a menu (on the floor), a waitress never appeared. By the time I finally gave up and went to get something myself, everything in the 200 section was closed. Outrage! As Kate said, "We paid twenty American dollars for these seats!"

The view was definitely good.

- I don't remember exactly what the circumstances were now, but there was one point in the game where I absolutely would have punched Derek Roy in the face if he'd just skated a little closer. Too much dipsy doodle, too much passing. If Hank had left two years ago, the odds are good I would have bought a Derek Roy jersey. Thank god I was saved from that fate. I probably would have burned it in effigy by this point. Ride his ass, Griersy. I want him to be awesome.

- This isn't related to the game, but for the record, I hate the potential forward lines of MacArthur-Connolly-Pominville and Vanek-Roy-Stafford. I think Vanek and Connolly have to play together. Don't try to hide Vanek from the other team. Put your best set-up man with your best goal scorer and let them go. Expect them to produce no matter who's defending them.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Preseason Prognosticating

It's foolhardy to read too much into preseason, good or bad, I think. A lot of teams are giving kids long looks, lines and pairings are being shifted around in an effort to find the best chemistry, players have to be at least somewhat cautious about getting hurt. I think it's wise to keep all that in mind when thinking about preseason outcomes.

That said, I'm pretty sure last night's victory means the Sabres are officially better than the Washington Capitals AND the Detroit Red Wings. In addition, lots of Sabres fans at the game seemed to feel Henrik Tallinder played really well in his first preseason action. I think only two rational conclusions can be drawn: the Sabres are winning the Stanley Cup and Hank is winning the Norris.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Preseason is Hard

I always forget how hard it is to really tell anything from the preseason so I'm afraid I'm low on insight so far. I did find a link to an internet stream of the Detroit game but I bailed on it. The picture wasn't good enough to trade in Rick and Harry for another broadcasting team.

I'm a little discouraged to see the Sabres once again falling into the trap of not playing a complete game. The whole "Hey, it's the third period, maybe we should start playing now!" routine was tiresome last season. But I am an optimist by nature so for now I'm going to pretend this is just a preseason thing, the result of playing a lot of kids.

Two quick things.

First, I am intrigued by Tyler Ennis. For all the talk about Tyler Myers tearing up juniors, little Tyler's numbers are pretty darn good. I'm going strictly on what other people have said at this point, but it would appear that he's looked pretty good in the preseason so far. He has more talent ahead of him than big Tyler, at least for now, but I'm really interested to see how he does in Portland this year and how fast he works his way up the ladder.

I saw the Tylers drafted live and in person so I want them both to be really, really good. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

Second, I am slightly concerned about Henrik Tallinder not playing in a preseason game yet. When I made a crack about it on Twitter last night ("Hank isn't playing again so I can only assume that means he has his top 6 spot all wrapped up. Right? Riiiiiight?") I wasn't really at all concerned but then a certain journalist broke it down all journalisty and told me if he didn't play Monday night something might be up. So now I am slightly concerned (Mike). I mean, I want Hank to be happy and successful (and I want the Sabres to be good) and if that means a trade, it means a trade. But I also do not want to pick a new favorite player or buy a new jersey right now. And I definitely don't want to have to create a new blog header.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things I Want From This Season

I can't even tell you how happy I was when I cued up WGR's website and heard Doug Allen singing O, Canada. Pretty sure I let out a long sigh of contentment. During the latter half of the 2006-2007 season I was working part-time in the evenings and I would often go sit in my car during my break and tune in the Sabres radio broadcast. Sometimes I really paid attention and sometimes I leaned my seat back a bit, closed my eyes, and just let the sound of Rick Jeanneret's voice wash over me. Very few things are warm and comforting as that, I have to say.

While I sit here and try to separate what's actually exciting from what Rick is merely making appear to be exciting, I'm going to share some thoughts on what I want to see this season:

-- I want to see at least one or two of the kids stick with the big team. Last year some of the regulars played like guys who have gotten a little too comfortable with themselves and their place on the team. I wouldn't mind some fresh blood with something to prove in the line-up. Now we have a million d-men and a million and two forwards so I'm not exactly sure how to squeeze kids into the line-up but hey, that's what the hockey people are for.

-- That said, I want Tyler Myers to spend another year in juniors. I wrote a whole post about this during training camp that you should read if you didn't, but here's the short version: My primary concern is whether he's physically ready to battle night in and out with NHL veterans but really the whole tenor of the Myers conversation has bugged me from the beginning. I hate the "He has nothing left to prove in juniors" argument. Being really good in juniors doesn't mean he's automatically going to be good in the NHL. That's a huge jump to make. I hate the "What's it gonna hurt?" argument. For every kid who's jumped to the NHL and succeeded there are numerous kids who struggled and whose struggles set them back. While yes, numerous teenagers have been successful in the NHL the last few years, almost all of them were forwards. It's easier to hide a young forward's weaknesses and if he makes a mistake, there might be someone there to cover. If a young defenseman makes a mistake, it's probably leading to a scoring chance. At best, I think he's a serviceable NHL defenseman this season and we have a million of those right now. He's 19, he's a friggin' bean pole, defense is a tough position, and he's probably not going to be the difference between this particular Sabres team winning a Cup or not winning a Cup. I understand that with the cap system and earlier free agency you want to get kids in the line-up as soon as possible, but I also think if the Sabres are serious about Myers being a guy they can build around for years to come, it might be worth taking their time with him. At least let the kid fill out some.

(For those of you thinking this is about protecting Hank's spot, it isn't. Well, okay, it kind of is. But it's really more about Mike Weber. If any defenseman sticks in Buffalo, I think it should be him especially if you want to make the defensive corp more physical. There's no way Myers is more NHL-ready than Weber. And yes, I confidently say this having seen not one second of preseason hockey. Because that's what bloggers do.)

(Also, if anyone can explain the NHL or WHL rule, I'd love to hear it. I don't really understand why a kid who can play in the NHL can't play in the AHL.)

-- If Tyler Myers does play in Buffalo this year, I want to be wrong about him. I hope he's a stud from day one.

-- I want to see the Sabres play in another city. While my trip to D.C. ended up changing quite a bit from the initial plan, I had a blast. I really enjoyed seeing a different building and a different crowd and a little bit of a different city. And with no intended offesne to Kate, who was going to be my travel partner when the trip was first hatched, or Mark, who is usually my travel partner, I actually really enjoyed traveling by myself. I've found over the years that I travel at a much more leisurely pace than just about everyone in the world and I liked being able to indulge that. I was leaning toward Boston as my first choice but the Boston dates kind of suck for my schedule. Plus I started actually looking at things to do and see in Boston and dude, it's kinda awesome. I might have to push Boston to the summer when I have more time and make it a baseball trip instead. Whoops. We seem to have slipped into stream of conciousness. My bad.

-- I want to see Paul Gaustad, Mike Grier, and Jochen Hecht on a line together. Next to Hank having a great season, the thing I want to see most is Jochen pulling himself together. Even after the long off-season, I'm stunned when I think about the way Jochen played last year. In 2007-2008 he was one of the few guys who went out and played hard every night. He had arguably the best season of his career. And he did all that after signing his extension so this is not as simple as "Guy gets his money and relaxes." I have no idea what happened. I really like the idea of putting him on a line with Goose and Grier and letting him take a few baby steps back and focus on what was his one time strength: solid two-way hockey, emphasis on the defensive side. Outside of a few playoff games I haven't seen Grier play since he left Buffalo so I guess I don't really know how this line would work in reality. But in theory I am quite attached to it.

-- I want to see an honest-to-goodness effort every single night from puck drop to the final buzzer. Please. I am on my knees begging and pleading.

-- I want real hockey to start immediately.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wooooooooo, Hockey!

You can’t reason with your heart; it has its own laws, and thumps about things which the intellect scorns.
Mark Twain, 1889

Which leads us pretty perfectly into the 2009-2010 Buffalo Sabres, I think. I know they've missed the playoffs in back-to-back years. I know the players are telling us things they've been telling us for a couple of years now (I'm ready to take over, I'll play like a champ, we know now how much it sucks to lose) and yet, here I am, watching the Bills hang in there with the Patriots, but really mostly excited because football means hockey is officially almost here.

I think we're going to get one of two things this season. Either the previous starters are finally going to pull it together and play like they mean it every night with the kids coming in and adding some spark and we'll be watching a solid playoff team while some of the suits get to say a little bit of I told you so (deep breath) OR the starters will continue to play when they feel like it, the kids will struggle, and things will get very, very bad and hopefully lead to someone somewhere getting fired. I don't think it's going to be another middle-of-the-road, on the edge of the playoffs season. I could be wrong, it's just a weird feeling I have.

I have a number of things to say about the upcoming season - I know, you're shocked - and those things will start coming in the next couple days. For now I just wanted to kind of shake off the dust and welcome back those of you who wander away during the off-season. Despite the feeling that it'll be a really good season or a really bad one, I'm here hoping fervently for the former just like always. Even I'm a little surprised at the level of excitement and hopeful for the upcoming season. Really, I'm completely pathetic.

One last quote from Mark Twain before I go:

Woooooooooooooo, hockey!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Quick Note

This photo series is about three steps too far in the very literal direction for my taste. Also, scary.

For those of you wondering when I'm going to start up again on a regular basis, I'm thinking next week. Please come back.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Important Tallinder Update

All right, it's been kind of heavy around here this week. Since it's the weekend, and a holiday weekend at that, let's lighten the mood.

One of my very favorite things in the world is when people send me emails. I'm not kidding, I'm an email addict. I can't even tell you how many times a day I check my email because I pretty much always have it open in a tab in my browser.

Yesterday I received a delightful email from Tamara of Robbing Him Blind. Those of you who remember my Puck Drop post from last season will remember that my pleasure upon meeting Hank was dampened only by the revelation that he'd recently gotten a buzz cut. Hank was, in the end, handsome enough to carry off the look but even he was cutting it close. (Ha! Buzz cut? Cutting it close? That's funny, right? No?)

Well, Tamara and Shelby of Puck Over the Glass went to practice at the Pepsi Center this week. Obviously the issue of the buzz cut bothered them as much as it did me because when Hank stopped to sign an autograph after practice, Tamara asked him if he had any hair these days. Not only did Hank answer, he took off his helmet, tousled his hair, and then agreed to pose for photographic proof.

Two things. One, I love, love, love Hank for good-naturedly answering what is a silly, if very important, inquiry. I like players who don't mind a little silliness. Two, I love, love, love Tamara for thinking to asking this question. I doubt Mike Harrington or John Vogl would think of that, and that's a strike against them as far as I'm concerned.

Tamara assures me that there's even more hair than appears in this photo. The sweat was working against him.

I think that's the face of a d-man about to have a great season, Buffalo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What I Want Sully to Write About: A Treatise on Fandom

A few days ago, I wrote a post about Jerry Sullivan's most recent Sunday column. Someone (hi, Joe!) asked me in the comment section, "What do you want Sully to write?" I think the comment I wrote in response to Joe was actually much, much better than the initial post. I don't know if everyone who reads this blog reads the comments (for the record, I would love for you to because I think we get some really neat discussions going there sometimes) so I'm going to post the comment here with a few tweaks and additions. I know that some of you are probably tired of reading me criticize the Buffalo News and honestly, I'm getting pretty tired of doing it so I'm hoping this will be my last word about it for the season.

So, what do I want Sully (and Bucky) to write?

I want Sully and Bucky to write whatever they want about the Sabres but I want them to stop dragging fans into it. Fans have one job: Cheer for the team whenever and however they choose. If the owner doesn't care about winning, that's on the owner. If the GM is an idiot, that's on the GM. If the team signed the wrong players, that's on the guys who evaluate talent. If management is happy to just make money, that's on management. If Larry Quinn and Tom Golisano are businessmen who don't care about anything but business that's on.

Would me not buying tickets send them a message? I don't know, maybe. But I shouldn't have to do that if I don't want to. It's not my job to make the team better, it's not my job to change the talent, it's not my job to make trades and sign free agents. If there are fans out there who want to pull all their financial support from the team, great, I think that's fine. I'm completely sick of the local paper making me a bad guy for choosing not to do that. I don't want to do that. I want to go to as many games as I can, I want to watch the rest on TV, I want to go to Puck Drop and get autographs, I want to buy a new Sabres hoodie, a car flag for my car, and a new jersey. And yes, I absolutely want to do all that AND complain about the team. I'm a fan so I can do that because there are no rules on how to be a fan. None of that makes me culpable in the team's mediocrity. Sully and Bucky are right about some things. (Some.) They are not right about the fans. They are so far off on the fans that I'm pretty close to never touching another copy of the Buffalo News.

I understand people getting to a point where they feel like a franchise is jerking them around and just throwing in the towel. I do. But I'm not there. I haven't gotten there with the Pirates (and that's 17 years of losing seasons and counting) and it'll be a long while before I get there with the Sabres. I don't think I should be lectured for that.

Please understand that I'm only speaking for myself here, but as much as I would love to see one of my teams win a major championship, my fandom is about so much more than winning and losing. When I watch the current Pirates squad, I'm remembering Andy Van Slyke and Jay Bell and Doug Drabek and falling head over heels in love with a sports team for the first time. I'm thinking about family vacations to Pittsburgh and how one of the clearest memories of my childhood is driving out of the Fort Pitt tunnel and seeing the bridges and buildings explode seemingly out of nowhere, lights reflecting off the rivers. I'm seeing my mom, exhausted from a long week of work and night classes, loading me and Lee in the car and driving from Birmingham to Atlanta because I really, really, really wanted to see the Pirates play in person and I'm seeing John Smiley warming up just below our seats and remembering how I thought that was surely the greatest night of my life. I'm thinking about my dad and how much I miss him and how much I wish I could go see a game at PNC Park with him. I'm watching Andrew McCutchen and hoping that he's the future we've been waiting for, finally arrived.

And while my connection to the Sabres doesn't go back as far, it's very similar. When I watch the Sabres, I'm falling in love with Buffalo again and remembering how I finally felt at home here. I'm remembering good times out with friends and family. I'm thinking about how awesome it was to find myself completely taken with a team and a sport that I barely knew existed for most of my life.

Even when the team you're watching isn't very good - and come on, give us some credit, we know when our teams aren't good - if you're paying attention you still catch the beautiful things about sports. The bare-handed grab and the perfectly turned double play, the throw from the wall in center field to home plate, the pitch that breaks so suddenly and sharply that the batter is frozen in place even after the catcher has jogged off the field, the screaming puck being tipped into the net at just the right angle, a desperate 5-on-3 penalty kill.

I don't say all this to say, "Look at me, I'm such a great fan!" because I'm willing to bet that just about everyone reading this right now could write their own version of the above paragraphs. I say it all to make the point that fandom is emotional and sentimental and because of those things, it's often irrational. It's, as John Updike wrote, rational people feeling indefensible hope. It's not a political statement, it's not a chip to be slapped down on the table, it's not something you shut on and off at will. For me, my fandom is too personal and deep-seated for that and Sully and Bucky continuously talking to me as if I should just toss all that aside to make a point is insulting and I think it shows a glaring lack of respect and understanding for the people - fans - who are reading what they're writing.

So there you go. I want Sully and Bucky to write whatever they want to write about the Sabres and the Bills, whether it's concerning the players or the people in the front office. But I want them to leave me and everyone who still feels an irrational, emotional connection to those teams out of it. I really don't think that's asking too much.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On Henrik Tallinder

This post has no real direction, flow, or possibly point and I can't quite figure out how to address any of those things. But I'm trying to get back in hockey mode and I did want to say a few (thousand) words about Hank so it's going up anyway. Please just remember that this is the preseason for hockey bloggers too. I just need to work out some kinks, get back in game shape, get back in the rhythm. By October, everything will be fine.

To be completely honest, I was sure that by this point in the year, I'd be putting together a new header for Top Shelf. It seemed a foregone conclusion that Henrik Tallinder had played his last game in a Sabres jersey, and I know that many of you out there are disappointed that, so far at least, that doesn't appear to be the case. Well, guess what? I'm disappointed too.

Let me be clear about this upfront. While I do sometimes try to step back and look at the Sabres from a slightly more rational point-of-view than maybe some people, this is not one of those times. This post is definitely being written as a fan (Kevin :P). These are strictly my opinions, my feelings and I don't expect very many people - if any - to agree with them.

Okay, where were we? Yes. Hank.

A couple weeks ago when I wrote about Maxim Afinogenov, I talked about how, for me, there are just certain players that, for whatever reason, I get really attached to. When their situation sours, even if they play a part in it, I feel bad for them in a way that I don't for other players. An anonymous commenter got on me for defending Max while slamming Derek Roy because Roy is a better hockey player but my feelings here don't necessarily have anything to do with the players' on-ice peformance. It makes me feel bad to see some players struggle, it gets on my nerves to see other players struggle. That's all there is to it.

Needles to say, last season was a hard year to be a Henrik Tallinder fan. Again, let me stress, that I know why people - coaches, fans, and media - were down on him. He definitely struggled. He definitely started playing much softer after his string of injuries, shying away from contact. He was scattered and sloppy and inconsistent and he deserved it the first time he was a healthy scratch.

But after that I think he ended up being a bit of a scapegoat. While he deserved the first scratching, I don't think he deserved the second one or the third one. I think Hank pulled it together a bit but he kept taking the hit for the entire defensive corp. Teppo Numminen struggled to keep up in many games and by the end of the season, I think Toni Lydman was playing much worse than Hank. While I know some people don't agree with my assertion that Lindy Ruff buries people once he's given up on them, I think that's what's happened with Hank. Jochen Hecht struggled as much as Hank - I'd say even more so - but the worst reprimand he ever got was not playing for the first 10 minutes of a game. Ruff seem frustrated and concerned about him but it was always expressed in a supportive, "Well, we're all hoping he pushes through it. He's trying to get through it" way which is a far cry from the very blunt, very public assessment that Hank was not the player he was two years ago and might never be that guy again.

While Ruff is correct that Hank was not playing the way he was two years ago and is probably correct to be concerned about whether Hank will ever play at that level again, I was pretty stunned to hear him come right out with it like that. If I were Hank, I'd be hurt and pissed at being singled out that sharply especially since the whole team was playing like garbage for most of the season. Again, I'm a fan and I'm admittedly overly sensitive but I felt like that was a different level of criticism and that that, along with Hank's admission that a change in scenery can be good for a player, was probably indicative of a serious breakdown between player and coach and possibly between player and franchise.

So part of me was hoping to see Hank get dealt because while I would prefer to see him play well in Buffalo, I really just want to see him play well somewhere. If that means he needs a new coach and new teammates in a new city, well, that's what it means. Because I really like him and it bums me out to see him in a dysfunctional situation. I hope that he's able to put the last couple of years behind him and play more like he played in 2005-2007. I hope Ruff is really willing to give Hank a chance to get out of the doghouse rather than just handing his spot over to one of the babies (especially Tyler Myers who I will continue to insist is not necessarily ready for the NHL just because he tore up juniors). I hope the power of the contract year goes into effect here because jeez, with the market probably being even worse next season when the cap goes down, another poor year could very easily mean Hank's not playing in the NHL anywhere in 2010-2011.

But regardless of the past, I will show up at HSBC in October, proudly wearing my TALLINDER 10 jersey. Because I like him. Just in case I'd never made that clear.