Saturday, February 6, 2010

Some Thoughts on Kovalchuk and the Sabres vs. the Devils

This post is dedicated to everyone who thinks I'm the biggest Sabres apologist in the world. Enjoy! :P

I think passing on Ilya Kovalchuk was the right thing for the Sabres to do. The one thing I haven't seen anyone mention in the whole "THE DEVILS DID IT WHY CAN'T WE?!?!" argument is that the Sabres and Devils are in very different places as organizations right now. With all due respect to Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, both of whom I would gladly steal, the heart of the Devils right now is still Martin Brodeur. When he plays well, the Devils win. When his play dips, the Devils lose. (See his numbers in the first round of the playoffs the last few years for proof of that.) By the time this year's Stanley Cup is awarded, Brodeur will be 38-years-old. If the Devils play it cautious and give any prospects in their system two or three years to develop, Brodeur is now 40 or older. While it certainly seems sometimes that the Devils could roll him into net in a wheelchair well into his 80s, the window for the Brodeur-led Devils is probably closing.

The Sabres are in a completely different place. Putting the top six aside for now (I'll get to those d-bags in a few minutes, I promise), the Sabres have a lot of young talent on the roster or just about ready to make the roster AND they have a goalie who's arguably just entering the best years of his career. Tim Kennedy, Chris Butler, Tyler Myers, and Andrej Sekera* are already up and should continue to improve and Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, and Mike Weber are all close with Luke Adam and Zack Kassian making some noise. Even if it takes those guys let's say three years to all get to the Sabres and make an impact (and I realize the odds of all of them staying in the system and making an impact are slim but I think a number of them will), Ryan is still in his early 30s. The window for the Miller-led Sabres is still open and should be open for a while yet.

So I think the Devils were probably right to make a play for Kovalchuk. But I think the Sabres were also probably right not to. The right move for one team is not automatically the right thing for another team.

Here's the thing. I understand wanting to feel like the Sabres are in it to win it. I wouldn't mind a little less caution at all. There are players on the team who I would definitely be okay moving out. But the bottom line is not every team has a real chance to win every season and sometimes an organization is smart to look at the lay of the land for the next couple of years. I'm not convinced this year's Sabres team is good enough to win it all even with the addition of a big rental, and I'd be uncomfortable with them giving up too much of the near future for something that probably won't work. If the Sabres brass is looking at the current roster and coming to the same conclusion, well, they're being realistic. It sucks but there it is. I get the feeling they think the Sabres are still a couple years away from putting together their best team.

So I'm fine with passing on Kovalchuk. And I'm fine on passing on any other rental out there. And I'm excited about some of the young talent in the Sabres organization. But the one thing I will scrap with the Sabres about is the top six. When Darcy Regier talks about improvements coming from within maybe he's talking about Gerbe and/or Ennis pushing some bodies out, but anyone who thinks the top six as it is right now is going to magically improve is crazy. That was a fine attitude three years ago when they were in their early-to-mid twenties and hadn't been in the NHL for very long, but now I think they are what they are. This is them for better or for worse. I'm pretty disappointed in that because I thought they'd be better, but I think that's the only conclusion you can come to at this point. They are what they are right now. And that's not good enough.

* I missed a lot of the game last night but Sekera's defensive play was getting criticized pretty hard in some places. He needs to be playing and playing regularly. No young d-man ever got better sitting in the press box and it's driving me crazy that he's spending so much time there.

Okay, back the history essay I told Mark I was writing. Heh.


Katebits said...

Despite my grumbling, I actually pretty much agree that the Sabres were right to pass on Kovalchuk (if you can call "never even considering it for one tiny teeny second" "passing"), and I also agree that this probably isn't their year. But, I also think that there is a LOT of middle ground between betting the farm on Kovelchuk-level rental, and Darcy's method. I think a lot of the frustration we're hearing from blogs and media is the sense that the Sabres will barely even tiptoe into the middle ground. Sabres fans aren't totally bonkers, we know that the Sabres are just one of 29 teams that didn't get Kovalchuk. The only reason to compare the Sabres to the Devils (in my opinion) is to recognize that LOU LAMORIELLO changed course. (Lou!) If he can do, anyone can do it, Darcy. :P

And I'll go ahead and say it- Just from a pie-in-the-sky perspective, I think the Sabres minus Butler, Ennis and Kennedy/Stafford and plus Kovelchuk would be AWESOME. How much worse off would they really be next year without those guys, even assuming they didn't win the Cup? I feel like Sabres have too many players. We've got guys like Sekera are sitting in the press box! We've got too many prospects and decent players, and no terrifying offensive threats.

I dunno. Darcy probably takes a lot of heat just for his demeanor. He's so drab.

The timing of the Kovelchuk trade is a real drag. If Miller was playing well, and Sens weren't breathing down our necks, no one would care about this at all.

Heather B. said...

Kate, I understand what you're saying about middle ground. That's definitely true. This was really more in response to the "Why'd the Devils get Kovalchuk and we didn't?" and the "If the Sabres don't make a trade deadline deal, they're not serious about winning" crowds. And while I see what you're saying about Lou changing courses - because you're right that going big rental is a serious departure for him - I don't think that's how most people are coming at it. I think they're strictly looking at it as the Devils got Kovlachuk and we didn't.

But again, I get what you're saying about the overall caution. There's not a guy in the top six I wouldn't trade and, despite my bitching about WGR trying to move him all the time, I could probably be persuaded to trade Butler in the right deal. (I'd be more reluctant about Ennis because that little dude is crazy talented and unlike a rental, he's ours for a long time.) In this particular case, I think caution was warranted, that's all.

Darcy's personality doesn't help. I think he feels confident in what he's doing but that confidence doesn't translate at all. He's such a sad sack.

joe said...

Look, my biggest problem with Reiger and the Sabres isn't about getting Kovalchuk, it's that we have heard them say the same thing over and over again. It's all about looking from within. Really? They said this crap 4 years ago and what was from within then? Max and Kotalik?

How young are the Sabres really? Besides Stafford, the top 6 forwards have been on this club since 2005. They are who they are 20-25 goals at max. I'm just sick and tired of Darcy and his stupid cliches...oh we don't rent players...oh I can name a bunch of stars who haven't won a cup. Seriously? I guess Gretzky, Super Mario, Crosby, Brett Hull, Yzerman, Joke Sakic weren't superstars. It's just crap, Heather. The Sabres don't want to have stars here because they don't want to pay them.

I know you've been watching the Sabres since 2006, but you have to understand the history of buffalo sports. They are all about brainwashing fans. Darcy said the same crap 10 years ago and the team still hasn't won a cup.

The franchise sits here and markets all these young players as second comings. How good is Tim Kennedy? Honestly, he's kind of average, but because he's from Buffalo we have to waship him and make him out to be something he's not

Look, I know I make Jerry Sullivan look like a homer, but I'm over this crap. This team isn't going to go past round 2 of the playoffs. Darcy has been on the job for 13 years and besides a two year stretch, he's kind of been average at best.

PS-Your not a appoligist...your just really nice, while I'm evil :)~

Heather said...
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Heather said...

Joe, a few things:

One, in fairness, building from within worked four years ago. Almost all of the 05-07 team came from within the system and no one who came from outside was a big name transaction except, I guess, Drury. I realize it's annoying to hear it over and over, and when it comes to the top six, I think it's wrong. But let's not pretend it's the stupidest strategy anyone's ever used. Building from within is largely what the Penguins and the Red Wings, just to name a few recent Cup winners, have done. Their best players all came from their own drafts.

Two, I think I made it more than clear that I agree with you on the top six. They're not that young, they're probably not getting better. I said all that, Joe!

Three, I think the problem is, the Sabres want a star that comes from their own system which is annoying, but not the same thing as what you're complaining about. If they could draft a Sidney Crosby, I'm sure they would. But to go out and take someone else's Sidney Crosby is a) crazy expensive and 2) really hard because WHO WANTS TO GIVE UP SIDNEY CROSBY? Look at the names you listed, Joe. Almost all of those guys played their whole careers with the team that drafted them. You can't just decide one day that you're going to trade for someone like Mario Lemieux. You don't generally get players of that caliber that way. Also, you're ignoring the fact that they have one of the best goalies in the league in net AND they've paid him very well to stay here. They chose paying a goalie over paying a couple of forwards. You don't have to agree with that, but you can't ignore it either.

Four, come ON. WHO is marketing TIM KENNEDY as the second-coming? No one is. The only young player being hyped that hard is Tyler Myers and even that is mostly being down by outsiders. The Sabres have made it clear that they like a lot of their young talent. They're not claiming anyone, again other than Myers, is a future All-Star, not yet at least. A lot of fans liking Kennedy because he's a local kid does not equal the Sabres pushing him as the next Evgeni Malkin. Get a grip.

And finally, enough with the "the Sabres are brainwashing everyone!" bit. People bitch and moan that the Bills have no plan or blueprint and here that's exactly what the Sabres have. This is their plan. Draft well and build from within as much as possible, get what you can from a player while he's at his least expensive, don't give up assets you really like for rentals. You don't like the plan, that's fine, you can complain and argue all you want. I wouldn't mind seeing a little more flexibility in it either. But it's not brainwashing people. The implication that people who dare to ever agree with the Sabres are being brainwashed is tired and a little insulting. Your beloved Bucky has been saying since last year that the Sabres have a lot of talent in the system and could potentially be very good in a couple of years. Is he being brainwashed? Harrington has said the Sabres were right to pass on Kovalchuk. Is he being brainwashed? Some people disagree with you and agree with the Sabres sometimes. It doesn't mean they're not using their brains and coming up with their own opinion.

Vanek's Hair said...

An often overlooked portion of the "Sabres not getting Kovalchuk fiasco" is how little cap room the Sabres have as compared to what New Jersey had available. The Devils had more cap room and were able to fit him in quite easily in exchange for really very little.

But most importantly, does anyone who follows the Sabres really think that Lindy Ruff and Ilya Kovalchuk ever could have peacably co-existed? Ruff HATES player like Kovalchuk. And, early in the season, when complimenting Max, Kovalchuk made reference to how Max is better now that he doesn't have to play for a coach who handcuffs him. Lindy Ruff does not like one-way offensive players. He loves lots of one-way defensive players, but will never be able to work well with a pure goal scorer.

I am not all that upset about them not getting Kovalchuk for those two reasons. Bigger picture, I would LOVE if the Sabres could somehow land a prolific goal scorer.

joe said...

Heather, how many times do we have to hear that a team gave up the farm for star power? Like I said countless times, Atlanta didn't become a powerhouse after trading Hossa, neither did the Oilers when they traded Pronger. Do you think the Devils fans are going crazy because they gave up 3 guys that their scouting system will more than likely replace? How many times do we have to hear the Sabres put down free angency and the trade deadline?

How many times do I have to hear that the Chicago Blackhawks are on the verge of armageddon because they gave up long term deals?

Free agency has only been around for what? 13 years? I guess Free agency didn't work for the Yankees or Drew Brees and the Saints.

For Darcy to insult my intelligence and say that a bunch of star players have never won the Stanley Cup, is like me saying "well, the Bills don't need a starting quarterback because Trent Dilfer won the Super Bowl." This isn't about getting Kovalchuk for the 20th time, it's about being bold and trading guys who just can't cut it as first liners.

As for 05-07, the two best players on the team, drury and briere, were a part of trades. Something Darcy has done what? twice since the lockout. I don't want to open up old wounds, but no one, and I mean no one, has come close to eclipising those players numbers.

Look, I know building your team from within works out. It worked for Detriot. But..this isn't Detriot. The sabres have had this strategy since the beginning of time. Has it worked? No. What makes you think Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis are going to be great? Fans thought the same thing when Max, Kotalik and Kalinin came into the NHL. There's been dozens of guys like those. Darcy's track record when it comes to drafting guys and flourishing isn't that remarkable.

If Regier just came on the job 4 years ago, I'd be more patient. But we've heard this for 13 years and it's the same crap about looking from within. How many exceptional players has the team produced? Check the records, it's not that many.

All I'm saying is if the top six forwards are what they are (like you said), why not trade some of those guys and get new blood in?

As for Tim Kennedy, come on. You know that there's a number of fans who love the guy because he's from south Buffalo. Hell, that's why people go crazy when fans boo Patrick Kane.

Anyways, I always enjoy your blogs (along with Katebits) and I really do hope I'm wrong...but they haven't proven it to me yet.

Heather B. said...

As for Tim Kennedy, come on. You know that there's a number of fans who love the guy because he's from south Buffalo.

Of COURSE there are fans who love Kennedy because he's from Buffalo. I SAID THAT EXACT THING. But that's NOT the same thing as the Sabres thinking he's going to be the next superstar which is what YOU said. The Sabres have never given me the impression that they think Kennedy is a superstar in the making.

Like I said countless times, Atlanta didn't become a powerhouse after trading Hossa, neither did the Oilers when they traded Pronger.

I'm not sure what your point here is. Atlanta and Edmonton traded huge assets and didn't become powerhouses? Isn't that what I said? Teams don't trade away assets and then get better. You're arguing my point for me.

Do you think the Devils fans are going crazy because they gave up 3 guys that their scouting system will more than likely replace?

Probably not, but again, the Devils are in a totally different position than the Sabres. They have no plans in goal post-Brodeur. If they're going to win, they need to do it soon or they're going to have to do it with a huge hole in their roster.

How many times do we have to hear the Sabres put down free angency and the trade deadline?

Maybe until they work on a consistent basis? The Blackhawks, since you brought them up, would be better off having not signed Brian Campbell because he's killing their cap and is more or less untradeable because of his contract, and they don't even really need him because of the talent they had in their system. How many teams are trying to dump or have already dumped large free agent contracts that ended up crippling them? And you can't bring other leagues into this argument. There's no cap in MLB and the NFL's financial situation and structure is completely different than the NHL. No team in any sport can spend the way the Yankees do and get away with it. Even if you hate hearing about it, the Sabres have to - and are smart to - think about things like dollars and sense and cap space. It's the reality.

Darcy's track record when it comes to drafting guys and flourishing isn't that remarkable.

I suppose it depends on what you mean by flourish. At one point recently the Sabres had more draftees playing somewhere in the NHL than any other club. I get what you're saying here though although it has hurt them to not have very many top ten picks in the last decade or so.

I'm not arguing that things have worked out in Buffalo as well as they have in say, Detroit. But I am saying that it's a plan that has been much more successful in this league than relying on free agency and trade deadline deals. You don't throw out a plan that isn't working so you can try a plan that's never or very rarely worked. That's crazy. You tweak the plan yes, which is admittedly something the Sabres have not always been good at. But you don't trash it and try something that we've seen is likely to NOT work.

All I'm saying is if the top six forwards are what they are (like you said), why not trade some of those guys and get new blood in?

And I'm saying that's fine. There's not a guy in the top six I wouldn't trade. But not for a rental, not this year at least.

I'm not saying the Sabres are right about everything all the time. I think, like Kate said in her comment, there's a LOT of middle ground between what they're doing and what teams like the Rangers and Montreal are doing, and it wouldn't kill the Sabres to try some of that middle ground. I totally get and agree with that. But I am saying the Sabres are right about a lot of things - and I came to that conclusion on my own and not because Darcy Regier told me so.