Saturday, February 28, 2009

You Know What?

I hate the Sabres.

Blow it up, baby.

Blogger Ate My Homework

So I had a really long but insightful (heh) post written about the trade deadline, what the Sabres need to do, Jerry Sullivan and Henrik Tallinder. But Blogger and Firefox teamed up to eat it and I'm cranky and still under the weather and really not interested in writing it all again. So here's a summary:

I hate the time leading up to the trade deadline because it makes people crazy.

I do not want Bill Guerin or Ryan Smyth ever.

Current Sabres team is not good enough to go all-in on rentals or old guys.

I've gone back and forth many times but I'm currently feeling the Sabres should not trade Tim Connolly.

Jerry Sullivan's column about Henrik Tallinder got lost in the week-long debate about the Sabres being soft but it was a good read.

Tonight might be Hank's last game in a Sabres jersey. Lots of very good reasons this might happen but for me, total bummer.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Flu-Like Symptoms Are Not Fun

Sorry to have kind of dropped off the face of the earth this week. I'm not handling my flu-like symptoms as well as Patrick Lalime. I slept through much of the game last night but based on what I saw, it would be pretty tough to hang that loss on him. He's not the one who's supposed to be scoring goals.

More later today or tomorrow about the trade deadline. I think.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This Is My Fault

Around 3:30 or so Tuesday morning I woke up with flu-like symptoms. I spent the next number of hours stumbling between the bedroom and the bathroom. I then sat six rows from the ice at the Sabres-Ducks game Tuesday night (because not even flu-like symptoms override the fact that I paid a lot of dough for that seat). I was trying to breath on Chris Pronger but I must have hit Patrick Lalime instead. Clearly I am to blame for this whole goalie debacle we have going on here right now so Darcy, if you get really desperate I can be in Carolina tomorrow night. Just say the word.

My instinct is to panic a little after that loss but I didn't see much of the game, not really. As I mentioned, Kate and I were in the sixth row. I've never been able to get Mark to agree to sit that close so when Kate suggested it back at the beginning of the season I jumped at the chance. Mark's primary complaint - "You can't see anything from up there" - is pretty accurate. We were sitting almost right beside the Duck's tunnel so the other end of the ice was tough to see and if the puck was in the corner on our side down there we could see anything at all. We were also too close to the jumbotron for that to be a natural place to look so I often forgot it was there. I still haven't see the Paul Gaustad-Ryan Getzlaf collision because it was in our blind spot although I did get an excellent view of Getzlaf dripping blood all over himself as he left the ice. I could've patted him on the head, he was so close.

Still, from what I saw, the Sabres weren't that bad at first. They made a couple of big defensive mistakes that hurt them but those mistakes aside, they did a really nice job of tightening up in front of Patrick Lalime and limiting Anaheim's chances, at least at the beginning of the game. The wheels started to come off after they allowed the short-handed goal and it wasn't great after that but we probably should give it a few games before we all throw in the towel. Lalime does have to get into a rhythm, and the team does have to get used to playing in front of a goalie that probably isn't going to save their skins every time they make a mistake. The only thing that did worry me was how rarely Lalime seemed to make a stop without giving up a rebound - it felt like he didn't make a clean save all night - but I've never really noticed if that's the case with him all the time or if it was just bad last night. I guess the question is not only if they pull it together but how quickly they pull it together. Time is not on our side here.

But like I said, it's hard to judge based on watching half the ice. What I did notice is what amazing skaters even the average NHL players are. I know that seems obvious, but when you watching 2,3, 4 games a week, I think it's really easy to start taking that for granted. Every once in a while I remember, "Holy crap, these guys are on ice-skates!" Sitting up that close and seeing how quickly they're moving and cutting and stopping and starting and how their feet just move so easily, as if it's the most natural thing in the world, is really something to see. I'm especially taken with the defensemen. I could watch them do that move where they skate back a couple of lengths, swooooop around in a little half circle and then start charging forward all night long. I've said it before but I really think one of the main reasons I was taken with Henrik Tallinder is because he's such a graceful skater. Everyone thinks of hockey as kind of a rough and tumble game but there really are such beautiful things tucked inside it. And no, I do not mean Hank's dimples. Although they are quite appealing from that distance.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why Does Scott Gomez Still Have All His Teeth?

I hate the Sabres. Right now I should be writing a big celebratory post about how we beat a really rotten Rangers team that's clearly in a tail-spin. I should be laughing at all the the maroons in Buffalo who heralded Glen Sather as a smart, daring GM while complaining that Darcy Regier is dumb and ignorant and not splashy enough in his signings. I should be delighting in Chris Drury having yet another quiet night. Instead I have to sit here and complain about how ridiculously soft the Sabres are. Way to COMPLETELY RUIN MY NIGHT, GUYS!

After watching replay after replay (after replay after replay), I really do think the slew foot was accidental. Scott Gomez completely lost his footing and happened to be in the right spot to upend Ryan Miller. That said, Gomez was clearly looking to make some kind of contact with Ryan - no way he was pulling up moving as fast as he was - and someone should've put his teeth in the back of his head on principle. I don't understand how that wasn't a penalty - I can't remember the last time someone made contact with a goalie outside of the crease and didn't get called for something - but guys, COME ON! YOUR GOALIE IS KIND OF IMPORTANT!

I do get what Lindy Ruff was saying in his postgame presser. They needed the win. The Sabres are in a spot where the two points they won tonight could be the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs especially since they're now looking at a stretch of games played without their starting goalie or their biggest offensive contributor. I understand the idea of beating the opponent on the scoreboard where it really counts.

But I also agree with what Jerry Sullivan (pretty sure it was him) said to Lindy in that same presser: There are some things more important than winning the game. Ryan Miller is the goalie. He's the one person on the ice who can win or lose a game all by himself. He's also, just for the record, a scrawny little dude. His ankle is probably only a couple of inches in diameter. You have to protect him. You HAVE to protect him.

I do think if Craig Rivet had been on the ice instead of in the penalty box, Gomez would've found his face in the glass pretty quickly but Rivet should not be the only person on the team willing to step up on Ryan's behalf. This has been an ongoing problem with this team and Rob Ray was right when he said during the game that this is something that should've been dealt with 20, 30 games ago. When you look at how much contact there is between opposing teams and Ryan, I don't think you can deny that the Sabres have developed a reputation for being a team that will let people knock their goalie around and we saw the worst possible outcome of that tonight: A guy comes in to make contact and intentionally or not, does some real damage.

The Sabres have taken a lot of lumps for not fighting enough or playing physically enough and I've been slow to jump on them for that because some people just aren't fighters and some people just aren't physical players. A player can't be something he's not. But to me this is something different. This is sticking up for a teammate. This is defending one of the most important players on your team. This is battling for a guy who battles for you. There's a lot of talk amongst certain players on this team about how close they are and how much they love each other. Where was that tonight? Where has that been all season? Ryan Miller crawled back to the crease and repeatedly tried to stand up despite being in a lot of pain and you repay that by... doing nothing? Not only is that soft, it's heartless.

(Since I kept quoting his question here and in the comments, I'll mention that Jerry Sullivan repeated his opinion in a story that's definitely worth reading if you haven't already.)

(Since a few people have asked, yes, I saw Sully's column about trading Hank. Some thoughts about it later tonight, I think.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Seriously Now...

What the holy heck is wrong with Jochen Hecht this season? I don't even care about the goals but where did my responsible, hard-working defensive forward go? I'm completely befuddled.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let's Go On With It

Can I be honest with you? I'm really not into hockey that much right now. Every season I hit what my friend Schnookie has sometimes referred to as the February swoon. It's not that I want the season to end really but I would like to just get on with it. Let's drop the puck on the playoffs already. Not even a playoff race is holding my interest very well. As long as the Sabres are in it, I don't really care where they stand and actually considering that they play better against better teams and on the road, I'm not sure I really want them to move up too far. This mood never lasts too long but if I seem kind of scattered for the next couple of weeks, that's why.

That said, I spent part of my day off yesterday going through the audio vault on WGR's website and you know, people are starting to scare me a little with all the Tim Connolly talk and how much the Sabres need to re-sign him. I'm very charmed by the way Buffalo repeatedly puts aside years of heartbreak and disappointment the second something good comes along - we talk about being bitter and cynical but I think it's just to cover our hopeful cores - but people, we're talking about Tim Connolly! Tiny Tim! Tim "The Tin Man" Connolly! If we hang on too long, this story is sure to end in tears, Buffalo, and not the feel-good "The catcher is Ray's dead, estranged father!" kind of tears, no. This way lies tragedy. Just a warning.

And now for something completely different... A few people have emailed me to ask me what I think about Alex Rodriguez and the steroids revelations. I've been reluctant to say too much, mostly because just about everyone has weighed in and I think most baseball fans are weary of the whole thing at this point.. but for the record, I think Rodriguez is ridiculous. It was incredibly stupid of him to go out of his way to insist years ago that he'd never even considered using performance enhancing drugs when he knew that wasn't true. It was ridiculous for him to claim he injected something in himself without having any idea what it was, what kind of effect it would have on his body and if it was wrong. It was and is incredibly misleading for him to continue to insist that he was young and ignorant when he was a 25/26 year old player who had been in the league for 5 years when he allegedly first started injecting himself and not a snot-nosed 18-year-old rookie. The long, dramatic pause when he addressed his teammates (and oh, how I would've loved his teammates to say, "I want nothing to do with this dog and pony show") was so carefully planned that I can't believe a single person would believe he was sincere. You could practically hear him counting it out, hitting all his marks: wistful half smile, sad head shake, long sip of water, lean back, deep sigh. Gimme a break.

The one thing that Alex Rodriguez did say that's true however is that baseball is bigger than him. I know there are many, many people who are so turned off by the steroids stuff that baseball is losing its hold on them but come on, baseball will survive. It's survived everything before this and it'll survive this too. I know baseball has always held its numbers more sacred than any other sport and as a baseball loving kid, I knew all those numbers: 714, 755, 61, 56, 3000, 2130. But it wasn't those numbers that made me love baseball. It was a ragtag bunch of overachievers who really probably had no business being as good as they were. It was a short, chunky catcher who took longer to get to first base than some people took to get around all the bases. It was a happy-go-lucky, leapfrogging second baseman who had a career batting average of .254. It was a handsome shortstop best known for sacrifice bunts. It was a high-flying, hard throwing center fielder who always looked like he was having more fun than any one person had the right to have. Those teams, those players, they're still there. You may have to search a little harder for them right now but they're still there. For a much more eloquent post about this very thing, I highly recommend reading this recent entry on Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Around the League

-- I paid about as much attention to the Carolina game as the Sabres did - i.e. not very much - so I don't really have much to say about it. (I know. Bad blogger!) I will say that despite the disappointment that they didn't drop the hammer on the Hurricanes when they had the chance, I'm still not overly concerned with the Sabres missing the playoffs. The Eastern Conference is just too weak for them to miss out without completely falling apart. I am slightly concerned about how they'll play once they make the playoffs but I figure that's a post for another day.

-- The wretched Carolina game was really almost balanced out by the absolutely delightful Rangers game on NBC Sunday afternoon. I've complained before about how Versus/NBC seem to decide ahead of time what the storyline is going to be but when the storyline is "The Rangers SUCK!" I'm all for it. Please understand that I'm sure Chris Drury is a very nice man but I'll be honest, watching him and the Rangers flail around after people declared that the Sabres were going to implode and the Rangers were going to win it all when he first departed has been absolutely delightful. The entire thrust of the Chris Drury Flashback and intermission report was that he was really, really good in Buffalo and really, really not good in New York City. Again, we've missed him but he's missed us just as much. I mean, good grief. As Kate said when we were talking about this yesterday, the Rangers are allegedly talking about solving their problems by signing Sean Avery. That's how screwed up things are in Ranger Land right now: Sean Avery might be their solution. Ahahahahahahahahaha!

-- Michel Therrien probably deserved to be fired but let's give it up to Ray Shero for screwing up the Penguins in the off-season. It was only last year that a certain contingency of Sabres fans were lauding the Penguins organization and how they were doing things the right way (by, I guess, really sucking for many years and earning a lot of number one picks) and set-up to be good for a really long time. Turns out Miroslav Satan is not the same thing as Marion Hossa and that's just the most glaring of a number of poor choices.

-- The point? Being a GM is not easy. While Darcy Regier is certainly not perfect - yeah, even I admit that - sometimes caution and responsibility are smart, especially in a cap system. The Sabres are not a juggernaut by any means but compared to some of the teams around them in the standings, they're in a decent position: lots of young talent still maturing, no outrageous and unmovable cap-killing contracts, a pipeline of talent in the AHL, and a scouting system that seems to be working pretty will despite rumors of its demise. No, the current roster is not going to win a Stanley Cup without a lot of intervention from the Hockey Gods... but they're not an embarrassment either. Or maybe I'm just a fan happy to watch mediocrity. (Enter sarcastic eyerolling here.) At any rate, it is interesting how suddenly there's no one clamoring for the Sabres to be more like the Penguins, the Rangers or the Lightning.

-- First big trade before the deadline was Mathieu Schneider to Montreal for second and third round draft picks. Seems a touch steep for an old guy with a handful of power play points especially since that seems to be what the Canadiens picked him up for although there's certainly more talent in Montreal than Atlanta. Even prorated, Schneider's cap hit is a little on the high side too. Seems like this might be a case of slapping a jersey on the nearest old guy and hoping he can step in and help right the ship. Still, like I've said numerous times, the Eastern Conference is very average and Bob Gainey is probably right to not wave the white flag just yet. If I'm a Canadiens fan however, I'm not holding my breath that Schneider is going to be the answer.

-- I need some help. I'm in the mood to read a good baseball book but nothing at the library today struck my fancy. Anyone out there have any recommendations? I'm not picky. It can be fiction, nonfiction, about a certain period, certain team, certain player. Whatever. As long as it's good and baseball related, I'll be a happy camper. If it helps at all, the last baseball book I read was David Maraniss' Clemente and I loved it. Please leave any suggestions in the comments. Or if you're comment shy, feel free to email me at the address in the top right hand corner of this here blog. (Clemente in paperback is on clearance at Amazon right now and I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who hasn't read it.)

-- In memory of Michel Therrien, here's what I consider the greatest postgame performance by a head coach ever in the history of the world:

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Oh, You Look So Beautiful Tonight

I'm hesitant to bring up Flight 3407. Partly because, at this point, everyone has said their piece and I'm not sure I have anything new to add, partly because if you're at all like me, you're getting close to hitting your saturation point and partly because I know my words are inadequate.

But the truth is, you really can't separate this game from the tragedy that happened in Clarence last night. You can't do it. From the moment of silence at the beginning of the night - which was amazing in its perfect stillness - to the unabashed celebration at the end, the game was clearly a distraction from a day of grief. As someone who didn't grow up in Buffalo, I can say that I know most outsiders have no idea what a small town Buffalo really is. It's true that many, many people will either be affected by the crash or know someone who was and that's made for a long, sad 24 hours for all of us.

For all the grief I give the Buffalo News, I have to give them some major credit today. I was home from work today and when I signed on the computer there was already a really wonderful Mike Harrington story about the Sabres and Flight 3407 up on the website. As someone who doesn't have family or friends in Clarence, I'll admit that my first thought when I saw the breaking news last night was, "Holy cow, Lindy Ruff lives in Clarence!" You should follow the link and read the story if you haven't already but there are some amazing stories and quotes from the players, many of whom live in the Clarence area. Teppo Numminen talked about hearing the plane's engines, hearing them go quiet and then looking out his bedroom window and seeing flames. It was sad, of course, but also a really lovely reminder that in Buffalo, our athletes are really a part of our community. I think in a lot of larger markets, pro athletes are in the city but not of it. There's a separation between players and fans. As annoying as it may sometimes be to the players, that's not the case here and many of the players are mourning for friends and families who are suffering right now, just like we are.

Moment of silence. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

One of my favorite moments of last season, a moment I was lucky enough to be in the building for, was when Ryan Miller got a shutout in one of his first starts - maybe the first start - after his cousin Matt died. He skated out as the first star and raised his helmet to the crowd before pointing at the "Matt Man" decoration on the back. The crowd rose to its feet and roared its approval and I cried like a friggin' baby. It was just such a special moment. A moment that was so much more than a player receiving the first star after a stellar performance on the ice. It was an athlete and his city embracing each other, us saying, "We know you're heart-broken, we love you and we're here for you" and him saying, "Thank you for everything." Tonight was exactly like that except maybe the other way around. It was the team saying, "We know you're heart-broken, we love you and we're here for you" and us saying, "Thank you for everything." As Derek Roy said in his postgame interview, "Nobody was not going to let us come back and tie this game for these people." They needed the points against a tough opponent but they won for us. I really believe that.

The hockey itself, wasn't always beautiful. Some of it was pretty awful for a while there. But everything else, the stuff that mattered? For tonight, it was beautiful.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Deep Breathing

After the Ottawa game I was feeling pretty bummed but after reading some blogs and other reports today, I think everyone might need to take a chill pill. Don't get me wrong, that was definitely one of the worst games I've ever paid money to see. It's right up there with the dreadful Canadiens game I saw earlier this year (although that might have seemed worse since it was followed the next day by an afternoon at Ralph Wilson stadium for the absolutely abysmal Bills-49ers game). Yes, the Sabres miss and will continue to miss Thomas Vanek. Yes, it would be nice if someone else :::coughpominvillecough::: would pick up some of the slack while Van is out. No, the Sabres are probably not winning the Stanley Cup this season.

But missing the playoffs? Come on, they're not missing the playoffs. The Eastern Conference is way too bad for that. I'd be more concerned if I was a Canadiens or Rangers fan because from what I've seen of them lately, they're a friggin' mess and they're getting worse in the stretch. The Sabres have played really well for a month and lost one game while missing numerous players, some of them pretty important. It's one game. If the team plays like that for the next couple of games, then maybe I'll worry. For now it's one game. It's a little too early to sound the alarms.

A few things:

-- I think I would've preferred it if Lindy had tried just dropping Nathan Gerbe in Thomas Vanek's spot with Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly. Then he's with the best set-up man on the team in Timmy and if it works, Lindy doesn't have to monkey with any of the other lines. I'm far too lazy to look this up right now - it's 2:08 a.m. and I'm a blogger not a journalist - but the only acceptable explanation is if Gerbe doesn't play on the same side as Vanek. As smart as I like to pretend I am about hockey, I can never remember who plays on what side and often willfully ignore that information.

-- Note to the Sabres: If someone touches your goalie, punch him in the head immediately. It's not hard and I really think everyone in the arena would applaud you taking that penalty. Also, people not named Tim Connolly are allowed to shoot the puck.

-- Note to the goalie: Dude, what the heck. That Daniel Alfredsson shot that trickled in between your legs? That puck was moving so slowly that I'm sure I could've run down from my seat and stopped it before it crossed the goal line. Look alive there, pal.

-- I wore my Tim Connolly jersey to the Ottawa game. I had retired it after his brief fling as my favorite ended but since Hank is hurt and Timmy has been playing so well, I dug it out of the depths of my closet. Even though it's a size larger, I spent the entire night pulling at it and readjusting it and just being generally uncomfortable. It felt all wrong. I think that was partly because it's a goat head so I felt weird in a sea of blue and gold but I'm pretty sure it's also because I really should've been wearing my Hank jersey, injured or no. (Speaking of Hank, I had a great view of him in the box where scratched players sit. He spent the entire evening with 3 blonde women sitting on one side of him and three different blonde women sitting on the other side of him. He did not seem particularly broken up about not being on the ice.) Anyway, tonight it's back to #10 for me.

-- I've written many, many times before about how watching and blogging about the Sabres really helped me feel settled in Buffalo, leading me a lot of the people I now consider really good friends. The girls I went to the game with last night definitely fall into that category. Monica and I worked in the same classroom for a few years - she was the teacher, I was the aide - so we would've been friends anyway but I was more or less just acquaintances with Sue and Kathy until we realized we were all Sabres fans. This is the third season we've bought a few games together and we always have a blast regardless of the game's outcome. Sue and Monica in particular really held my hand through the worst of the infertility trial a few years ago and in a weird kind of way, I can thank the Sabres for having that support system in my life.

This is not Monica, Sue or Kathy but the only picture I could find of them didn't include me and gosh darn it, I want to be on my own blog. Sorry, ladies.

-- Not a huge fan of the new opening video. I would agree that City of Blinding Lights isn't a particularly good fit for Buffalo but I love the song and I love the big, sweeping joyous sound to it. I think that makes it a good fit for a video like this. I couldn't quite put my finger on what I didn't like about the new video but I think Kevin nailed it. While it's a good idea, it comes across as very, very stagey. The more candid shots of fans really are a lot more fun.

-- Here's to hoping we don't get killed by the Sharks tonight. I don't know why but I have a pretty decent feeling about it. For all the complaints that can be made about the current Sabres team, they do seem to get up pretty well for tough opponents.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Quickie II

In restrospect, I kind of wish I had gotten lost on the way to the arena last night.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I'm going to a Sabres game tonight! At HSBC! It feels like it's been years so I hope I remember how to get there and how to behave once I arrive.

I got nothing right now outside of "Vanek got hurt? Bummer!" and "Please, Jason Pominville, start scoring some friggin' goals" so enjoy a couple of photos of Marlowe. She's 15 weeks now but was probably 14 here. We broke out the PS2 for the first time since we moved into the house and she really enjoyed playing Guitar Hero with us.

Playing Jimi Hendrix style. She's a big fan of the whammy bar.

Right before this she did the Pete Townshend windmill and then slammed the guitar on the stage. (You'll just have to trust me.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Tim Connolly?

Suddenly everyone is talking about what to do with Tim Connolly. And by everyone I mean, of course, Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan. You can follow the links to read the columns but in a nutshell, Bucky is in favor of holding on to Timmy and attempting to re-sign him at a cheap price while Sully is all in favor of trading Timmy now while his value is high.

I hate to say it, but I agree with Bucky more than I agree with Sully. Sully and I had a debate during his Sabres Edge chat a few nights ago about this very subject and I think I made it very clear why the Sabres should not trade Timmy so I was a little disappointed to see him sticking with that opinion in his column. He's a slower learner, that guy. (Kidding, Sully.)

Sully mentioned in the chat and his column how many players have walked away the last few years and while I don't want to get into a deep conversation about that - lord knows we've covered that ground - I do want to reiterate that I think that's a silly argument. Yes, it stinks to watch great assets walk away but are you really going to trade one of your best players in the middle of a season where you have a legitimate shot at winning a championship? I have no doubt that the Sabres decided pretty early on that they weren't interested in re-signing 48 but I have no doubt they also knew that with him on the roster they had a good shot at winning the whole shebang. No way you trade one of your best players in that situation. If they had traded him and then the team had lost, people - including Sully - would've been roasting them alive for not having the guts to go all in. Last year, when it made sense to part with a player they weren't going to re-sign, the Sabres pulled the trigger and got a pretty decent return. And that's the thing. Sometimes it makes sense to deal a guy and sometimes it makes sense to let him walk. It depends on the player and it depends on where the team is. What do we get if we let Timmy walk at the end of the year? We get a point per game player through the rest of the season and the playoffs. We get someone to set up our very talented goal scorer during that period. We get someone to transform the power play during that period. That's not too shabby.

In the chat, Sully also argued that Sabres fans want it both ways. We want management to make decisions for the long-term AND the short-term. All I can say to that is... well, yeah. Every good organization, every good business has to think about both views, I think. Long-term I definitely want management to be looking at the best way to build on the young core that's signed long-term and the players in Portland who should be coming up in the next few years. But they need to look at the short-term too. I don't think there's anything hypocritical about that. Yeah, it would be nice to win the Stanley Cup but even if that's not going to happen this season, the team needs to make the playoffs. Management needs that so that the franchise continues to make money and remains a viable franchise in tough economic times. Parts of the fan base that have started to lose hope need that. Players need it too. I'm not sure how a second season of disappointment would effect them exactly but I don't think it'd be a pretty scene. The longer the team makes noise in the playoffs, the better and I think it's pretty clear that the Sabres have a much better chance of doing that with Timmy than without.

I have no doubt that there's a team out there that would take a chance on Timmy for a playoff run but what I do doubt is that they'd be willing to give much up for him. Rental players commanded a lot less last season than they did the season before that and as talented as Timmy is, everyone knows he's a UFA at the end of the year and everyone knows he's been riddled with injuries over the last three years including a pretty scary concussion history. The Sabres are not getting a valuable starter in exchange for him. They're not getting a talented prospect. They're not getting a high draft pick. Each player is different. I think what Timmy would bring to the Sabres in the short-term (the rest of the season, the playoffs) far outweighs what he could bring to them long-term via trade. Plus if he walks away at the end of the season, so what? He's barely played in the last few years. Removing him from the equation is hardly pulling out the cornerstone. And it clears his salary from the books. Get your veteran or whatever you decide you want that way instead.

See, Sully? It all makes perfect sense.

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down (without concussing it or injuring it in some other way)?

The one thing I have to disagree with Bucky on (and thank goodness there's something because I still feel a little awkward agreeing with Bucky) is that Tim Connolly does not owe the Sabres a gosh darn thing. The idea that the only way he can show he cares about hockey is to return the faith the Sabres showed to him by signing for the hockey equivalent of the low, low price of $19.95 is ridiculous. The Sabres knew exactly who and what they were dealing with when they signed Timmy to his current contract. It didn't work out but how exactly is that Timmy's fault? It's not. Yeah, it would be nice if he would do a solid for the organization but come on, this is pro sports not Montessori school. If I'm Tim Connolly, despite how much I love Buffalo and my teammates, I also know that my career is one good shot to the noggin away from being over. I'm seriously thinking about taking advantage of any team stupid enough to give me a billion dollars over the next five years.

As I was writing this post - yeah, blame Harrington for making this even longer - word came out that Darcy Regier is planning on talking to Timmy about re-signing with the Sabres so I guess it's not just idle speculation at this point. I have such mixed feelings about this. I can certainly understand falling in love with him again over the last few weeks. I've done just like a lot of other Sabres fans have done. But I'm not the GM of a hockey team. I'm not the one who's supposed to be thinking somewhat rationally. At what point does the amount of time Timmy's spent on IR override his obvious talent? At what point does him bouncing in and out of the line-up, changing the lines up all the time, hurt the team more than it helps? Are the Sabres wanting to re-sign him in hopes that he's turned a corner and will now stay somewhat healthy? Or are they feeling that any time he spends on IR is justified by how he transforms the team when he's playing?

The sentimental part of me that watches sports to see beautiful things would love to have Timmy back in a Sabres jersey next season. But I don't know, the logical side of me feels like maybe that ship has sailed. I'm not going to give the Sabres hell for signing Timmy to his current contract. The price would've been favorable if he'd produced like he has for a full three years and he was so good in 2005-2006 that I think they had to take a chance on him coming back strong. But do you take that chance again? There are a lot of quotes in Bucky's column from Ryan Miller in which Ryan talks about how much Timmy loves hockey and cares about being in the line-up but you know, all the love in the world doesn't change the fact that he's only played 70 games in the last three seasons. In the end, hockey players don't get paid for caring. They get paid for playing and producing. I'm not sure he's done enough of either to justify another contract.

So how do you solve a problem like Tim Connolly? Get everything out of him you can for the remainder of this contract and then go your separate ways.

I think.

(Get back to me if he wins the Conn Smythe though.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Indefensible Hope

So is it just me, or are the Sabres suddenly kinda fun to watch again? It seems like years ago that I was complaining loudly about how much I hated everyone and it was actually only a few weeks ago. If it's even been that long. Suddenly everything is clicking. Passes are connecting, shots are going in, goaltending has improved and by some miracle of the Hockey Gods, the patchwork defense has held up.

I think the biggest difference is that this group of players is finally - FINALLY - showing some signs of maturity. Early in the season these Sabres probably would've gone down 3-1 to Anaheim and decided you know, it's the end of a long road trip, our brains are all scrambled from the time zone changes, we've already met the coach's stated goal of a .500 performance and then packed it in for the night, eventually losing 5-1. Instead they made a real effort to come back and even though it wasn't successful, they didn't let the game get away from them either. Early in the season, these Sabres would've rolled back home after a trip out West and phoned it in against an opponent they really should be beating. Instead they came charging out of the gate like they had something to prove and handily beat a team below them. Early in the season these Sabres would've jumped out to 2-0 lead and decided that was all the hockey they needed to play, coughing up the lead and possibly the game. Instead they put the boot to the neck of Toronto and won handily.

Like a naive, hopeless fool, I've spent the last few days examining the standings, studying potential playoff match-up and yes, totally convincing myself that this team might have some kind of playoff run in them after all. After the recent death of John Updike, references to some of his sports writing started popping up in different places with his piece about Ted Williams' final game ("Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," absolutely worth following the link and reading if you're not familiar with it) seeming to get the most mentions. In it, Updike talks about how sports can sometimes make otherwise rational people wish and hope for unlikely things. "... there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope." That pretty much sums up how I'm feeling these days. I know it's crazy to think that this time the Sabres have finally had a real breakthrough. I know that in the grand scheme of the season, six games is six games, a teeny tiny sample. I know that the team, even as well as its playing, has some weaknesses that could cause problems in the postseason. I know continued success relies heavily on things like Ryan Miller continuing to play well and Tim Connolly remaining healthy. I know that mere weeks ago I was convinced this was the worst team in the world.

And yet... I keep pushing those thoughts aside and thinking about things like how no one in the Eastern Conference is an elite team, how the Sabres have matched up very well with some of the teams in the upper half of the conference, how Tim Connolly is looking eerily like the Timmy who dominated the 2005-2006 playoffs, how the team finally seems to be growing up and listening to their coach once in a while, how they seem to play so much better when the expectations around them are lower, how when it comes to the NHL postseason you just never know.

Now I know what Red meant when he said hope will drive a man insane. But in the end I'm still siding with Andy: Hope is a good thing. (I hope the Sabres can make the playoffs. I hope to see Tim Connolly carry this team all the way. I hope the Stanley Cup is as sweet as it has been in my dreams. I hope.) Anyone else feeling this way or am I all alone in my delusions?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Ode to Rob Ray

I'm pretty sure I've gone on record with how much I dislike the Sabres road game presentation this season. I understand that the organization is trying to save some bucks but man, am I tired of looking at Kevin Sylvester all the time. He is perfectly fine at what he does but I think he needs other people around him. He's a moderator and when he's on the road by himself, there's no one to moderate. Add in the fact that we've been watching the other teams' broadcasts for the last week or so and I was really excited to have the Sabres back at HSBC. Do you know how weird it is to watch a bunch of games done by someone other than Rick Jeanneret? But when I sat down in front of the TV, you know who I was really, really excited to see?

Rob Ray.

I was totally caught off-guard by how happy it made me to see and hear Rob Ray again. It turns out I really, really love him and it makes total sense. Two people have been Sabres all of, or almost all of, my tenure as a Sabres fan: Lindy Ruff and Rob Ray. Both guys are burrowed deep in my fan consciousness. They're Sabres through and through to the point where it's hard to separate them from the blue and gold.

I think it's really easy to take what Rob does for granted. He stands beside the bench and says goofy things, occasionally chipping in with an observation from ice level. It seems easy. A brief shot of him standing next to Pierre McGuire however was enough to remind me that not everyone can do that job well. (I was kind of hoping we'd cut back to the bench at some point and find Pierre with his jacket pulled over his head, Rob pounding away at him.) Rob, unlike say, Pierre actually points out things going on down there between players or players and coaches that are somewhat interesting. He picks his spots as far as jumping into the conversation goes, he never steps on the play-by-play or the interaction in the booth and when he says something funny it's actually funny. When a Toronto player slipped in front of him and he immediately threw out, "Careful, it's icy down here," it was hilarious. I thought about and laughed at that the rest of the night. His job is a fine line between saying too much and saying too little and being overly serious and being too ridiculous and I think he straddles the line perfectly.

My favorite thing about Rob is that he's not the least bit afraid to be a goofball. He jokes around with everyone around him and appears to be having a ball. He knows exactly what he is - a guy who made his name with his fists and not his skill - and he's perfectly okay with that. He comes across as someone who is genuinely thrilled to still be making money in hockey. I find that all very endearing.

In closing, I would like to offer Rob Ray's take on fighting in the NHL. As commenter mcguffers pointed out in the IPB comment thread, taken out of context, it's pretty amazing:

“If two guys wanna do it, and they know how to do it, then let them do it while 18,000 watch and cheer.”

If Rob was reading the above, I'm sure he'd be giggling like a 12-year-old, just like we were. Long live, Rob Ray!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Catching Up

Odds and ends:

- Who do we petition to make the rest of our games road games? The Sabres should never, ever play in HSBC again. I remember when everyone was all, "They have so many roads on the game in January! Whatever will they do!" What were we thinking? We suck at home! I hope we don't get home ice advantage in the playoffs. And then I hope we offer to play all the games at the other team's arena you know, just to be nice.

- I wasn't really looking forward to hearing other team's broadcasts on this trip but I have to admit, for the most part they've been pretty okay. A few head-scratchers here and there - I'm wondering what Buffalo defense these guys have been watching - but no one was completely unlistenable. I particularly enjoyed Phoenix's team of Dave Strader and Darren Pang. Knowledgeable, nice chemistry and very easy to listen to. When Rick retires (many, many, many years from now), I think we should just steal them. Surely they don't actually enjoy talking about the Coyotes for 82 games?

- That said, I cannot listen to this guy say "Coat-a-lick" too many more times before I lose it.

- There was a lot of stunned disbelief regarding the crazy throwbacks Montreal wore a couple nights ago but I kind of love them. I wouldn't want to look at them every night or anything but as far as one-time throwbacks go, I thought they were kind of fun. I don't think they're any worse than those gross powder blue Penguins throwbacks that everyone seems to love.

- Oddly enough, a couple of days after we were debating Maria Genero, there was little interview with her in the Buffalo News. Nothing earth-shattering there but if, like me, you're not familiar with her, there is a little background information. As far as I can tell she has more experience with weather than sports. Which makes her perfect as the co-host of the Sabres Show, doesn't it? Note to Maria: If you think you come across as a real person, well, just read the comments on the previous blog entry.

- That same day the Buffalo News had a big feature story on Ryan Miller and the online version included a video. As Jill pointed out in the comments on the Sabres Show entry, the video was miles better than anything the Sabres Show has put together. It goes over some familiar territory - Steadfast, Matt, photography - and it probably helps that Ryan Miller is, in my opinion, one of the best interviews on the Sabres team. He's interesting and he's always been very open to sharing his thought process and feelings on various things but it's still an interesting interview involving a subject who looks very relaxed and sounds very conversational. There were some serious questions but there was also a dose of light-hearted questions especially with the lightning round (tacos or fish? etc.) which is exactly the kind of little fun thing I'd love to see more of.

The interview also did two things I forgot to mention in my many comments about what I'd do differently if I were in charge of the Sabres Show. One, it gave Ryan a chance to talk about Michigan and what he loves about it. I'd love to hear some of the European players elaborate more on their home countries. Something more than, "Yeah, it was really hard to leave there." I've never been to Sweden or Finland or the Czech Republic. Give me a little something about those places, what the players loved most about growing up there, what they still miss the most about it. Something. (Personally, I'd also make them say something in their native tongue but that might just be me. I love hearing foreign languages.

Second, the interview gets past the generic, "I love Buffalo, the fans are great" and gets Ryan to elaborate on what he loves about Buffalo, not just as a hockey city, but as a home. Ask these guys what their favorite non-hockey thing about this area is. Where do they like to eat? Where do they go for fun? If they have kids, what do their kids love to do? The only other time I can recall hearing a player talk about specifics is a video that was on the website a couple seasons ago in which Henrik Tallinder talked about taking his kids to Delaware Park. I love hearing that kind of stuff.

I have a few more thoughts on this I'll get to later but for now I'll just say, I thought the story was very well-done in both the print and video presentations.

- Would've been nice to go 4-2 on that trip but I'll take 3-3. The Sabres seemed to suddenly lose steam in the middle of the game tonight and I'll give them a little bit of credit for not just falling apart completely. But note to the d-men: I get that you're rough and tumble hockey players and all that but perhaps it's not the best time to be taking numerous 5 minute penalties. We're just about ready to pull people out of the stands to play defense, you know?