Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Viva la Youth!

I'm too lazy to research this and honestly, I'm not sure how I would research it even if I had the energy, but I feel like Derek Roy plays a thousand times better when a Portland kid is in the line-up.  He's had more bounce in his step in the last two games than the rest of the season combined.  (Okay, that might be slight hyperbole.  Slight.)  I don't know why that is - he's showing off, he realizes he needs to fight for his time a little, he feels a boost of energy - but it was definitely there.

I've been thinking about this a lot since the trade deadline and the numerous interviews Darcy Regier gave around that time in which he talked about the kids in Portland.  Part of the reason that 2005-2006 team was such a surprise was because of the number of young players on the roster.  There was definitely some veteran presence in place with Chris Drury, Danny Briere, and Teppo Numminen, but a huge chunk of the team was young and unknown, and maybe that's a piece of the puzzle that's really been overlooked since then. 

There's been a lot written about how there's a youth movement in the NHL, but most of it has centered around the financial advantages of relying on young players.  If you can pull together a group of players on their entry level contracts you have a cheap core you can actually keep together for a few years and you have a little flexibility to make some moves if you need to.  But I don't know, maybe there's more to it than that.  If I can cross sports for a moment, this photo is my current wallpaper and part of the reason I love it is because it's been a long time since there's been such a spontaneous display of joy in a Pirates uniform.  For years the Pirates tried to get by by bringing in past-their-prime veterans and it didn't work for anyone.  It didn't work for the Pirates because well, the players were past their prime and it didn't work for the players because they knew Pittsburgh being their best option was not a positive.  For a veteran, Pittsburgh was baseball purgatory.  But to get a kid like Andrew McCutchen in the line-up, someone who's really talented and more importantly, really, really excited about being on a Major League team - ANY Major League team - well, that's awesome.  He's re-energized what's left of the Pirates fan base and he's re-energized a lot of the players around him.  It's obvious.

I know it's kind of weird to think of Jason Pominville and Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek as veterans but they are really.  And maybe it is normal for being a professional athlete to become well, normal.  You got your big paycheck, being on the road all the time isn't as exciting anymore, it's tougher to be away from girlfriends, wives, and kids, you start to feel beat up all the time.  It starts to feel like a real job.  But to guys like Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe it's still fresh and new and totally awesome to be in the NHL.  Maybe there's some value in that.  It has, in one way or another, seemed to spur on Roy.  In the last couple of games he's looked like the player he should be every night.

I admit, this post has completely gotten away from me.  I started off with a good idea and have totally meandered since then.  But it's like someone on Twitter said last night (and I apologize to whomever it was because I took a quick look back but couldn't spot it so I can't give you credit): The Sabres didn't look particularly organized but they did look enthusiastic and that was kind of fun and also kind of effective.  I'm certainly not advocating that all of the Portland kids stick around after all the starters are healthy but one or two of them?  It might not be a bad idea.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Introducting Captain Fuck This Shit

Two of the dearest friends I've made through hockey blogging are Pookie and Schnookie of Interchangeable Parts.  Once upon a time they wrote about Jamie Langenbrunner, and how they used to call him - and excuse my language for a moment - "Captain Fuck This Shit" in honor of a couple of clutch goals he scored.  They've tied that name forever with Langenbrunner - Zach Parise, for example, can't take over the title - but as a non-Devils fan I've always found the concept of Captain Fuck This Shit pretty interesting.  I mean, when you hear that name don't you just automatically know who that guy is?

I don't think the Sabres have had a CFTS since Danny Briere left town.  For all the talk about the Sabres missing Chris Drury, I think on the ice, the team has really missed Briere.  They've missed that guy who will decide, "I'm sick of this.  I'm scoring," and then swagger down the ice and do just that.  Vanek has showed flashes of that, especially last season, but he hasn't done it consistently, and honestly I'm not sure he's that kind of player.  For the most part I'm down with Sabres management's idea of building more of a team, a group of players that works well together, but sometimes you just need that guy who can say, "Fuck this shit," and take over the game.

The reason I bring this up now is because Tyler Ennis had shades of that Saturday night.  Now I know, he's played in exactly two NHL games.  And I know it's waaaaay too early to be thinking long-term.  But seriously, there is talent bouncing off that kid.  I don't think it's a coincidence that he was in the middle of almost every scoring opportunity.  I don't think it's a coincidence that the power play looked better than it has in months if not all season.  I don't think it's coincidence that players who haven't looked good consistently suddenly looked really, really good.

The most impressive thing to me was that Ennis was showing absolutely no fear.  He carried and shot the puck like someone who's been in the league for years.  He was going to the net no matter who was in front of him.  He was making cross-ice passes that some guys on our team wouldn't even attempt.  Yes, we were playing a bad team and yes, it was a blow-out, but I don't know, I don't have a hard time see that fearlessness coming through in pressure situations either.  I mean, if a kid is ever going to be nervous and tentative, isn't he going to be nervous and tentative when he first comes up to the NHL?  Ennis looked ready and willing to take over the game and he looked capable of doing so.

Honestly, I'm pretty relieved.  I've been telling everyone around me for months that Tyler Ennis was going to be special and while that was partly based on his AHL numbers, it was partly just a weird gut feeling too.  I don't know about anyone else but when I hear Darcy Regier talk about the talent in Portland and some of it being close to playing at the NHL level and then I see Ennis?  I feel pretty good about the future.  In his case, let's hope the future is now.  I mean, fuck this shit.  Let's keep that kid up here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Sabres?

Part of the reason I've been so quiet lately is that I'm just not sure what to make of the Sabres these days.  Are they really that good?  Are they really that bad?  Are they really somewhere in between really good and really bad?

I know a lot of people are concerned about their effort, and while I totally get that, I think they'll be fine when the playoffs roll around.  It's easy to forget because of the two year layoff, but this team has a lot of playoff experience.  I think they get it.  They get what it takes to win in the playoffs (and what it takes to lose in the playoffs), they get how jacked up Buffalo gets about the playoffs, and I think they get how awesome it would be for them if they were part of the first championship team here.  I really don't doubt that the effort will be there even from Derek Roy.  Maybe that's me being optimistic, but that's me.

What I do worry about is some of the bad habits that have crept into their game over the last couple months, particularly on the defensive side of things.  We all get tired of hearing about The System, but I think we've seen this season that when the players are committed to it, it works.  But not always committed to it.  Even the wins here lately  have been sloppy.  Effort is important and with some talent it'll take you a long way.  But I think you really have to execution too, and I'm not sure sure how easy it's going to be suddenly start playing disciplined hockey again after not doing it for a while. Right now they feel to me kind of like the 06-07 team.  They're coming into the playoffs with a very good record and some definite talent, but they're not playing their best hockey and haven't for a while.  The 06-07 team went to the Eastern Conference Finals yes, but that was mostly on the back of great goaltending.  While that could happen this season as well - there's only one team in the Eastern Conference that really, really makes me nervous - wouldn't it be more fun, not to mention easier, to play awesome hockey?  Yes?

For now I'll settle for a decisive win against Ottawa.  (Pleeeease!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Good Grief!

"I love hockey again!" was not some kind of weird challenge, Sabres.  Ease up on the dramatics.

More in-depth thoughts this evening.  These guys just aren't going to make it easy to get a handle on them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Canceled My Hockey Game?

I was sure - SURE - there was a Sabres game tonight.  I came racing out from my babysitting gig, turned on the car radio, and heard a repeat of that morning's Whiner Line.  (And believe me, I try to avoid the Whiner Line at ALL COSTS.)  Here's the good news: I was really disappointed!  I think my hockey exhaustion might be wearing off.  The playoffs are around the corner, there are barely 10 games left, it's late enough in the season to start watching for playoff match-ups.  Hockey is fun again!  Thank goodness.

It probably helps that the Sabres are finally starting to resemble a winning hockey team again.  I get that there are peaks and valleys in every season, but those valleys are still pretty darn annoying.  It doesn't help that, speaking in very general terms, the Buffalo fan community kind of freaks the second the Sabres start sliding.   Any time I hear anyone talk about the peaks and valleys of the season, I think of what might be my favorite Andy Van Slyke quote: "Every season has its peaks and valleys.  What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon."  Grand Canyon eliminated!  Wooooo! 

It also  helps that two of my very favorite guys to see do well are Toni Lydman and Jochen Hecht.  I like when those underappreciated, unlikely guys come through.  A game like that last one where Jochen looked like a goal scorer - until he got to the bench and dissolved into sheepish and embarrased half-smiles - and Toni fakes out the goalie?  That's like a soothing balm to my hockey-tired soul

So while I know it's been quiet around here lately, I'm feeling re-energized.  When I get my dates right and the Sabres actually do play, I'm gonna be ready.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Gift of Thanks for Ryan Miller

Dear Ryan Miller,

I think you're pretty awesome. You were awesome in the first half of the season, and you were awesome in the Olympics. I'm awfully proud of you and the attention you've brought to the the NHL, the Sabres, and Buffalo. I can't wait to see you lead your teammates into the playoffs because I know when push comes to shove, you'll make sure everyone's heads are right even if that means banging a few of them together.

As a show of my thanks, I've written the NHL and asked them to approve the Ryan Miller Trapezoid. That's right! Because of all you've done for the league this season, you'll be getting your very own trapezoid for the remainder of the season and the post-season! You won't be boxed in the way those other goalies are. These dimensions were worked up to favor your specific brand of puck-handling. You think Marty Brodeur wouldn't kill to have a trapezoid that works in his favor? Of course he would! This is a tremendous honor, and don't be humble, Ryan. You've earned it.

Presenting The Ryan Miller Trapezoid!

Let's play some playoff hockey!


Heather B.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hank, the Straw that Stirs the Drink

I think it's pretty clear that the key to Jason Pominville's hat trick was that beauty of a pass from Henrik Tallinder. Clearly.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Just so you know, I've been thinking about blogging a lot. I've even opened up an empty post page a few times and then sat staring at it. The sad, sorry truth is, as much as I want to blog right now, I just don't have anything to say.

I know, I can't believe it either.

I mean, I could talk about the fans booing Patrick Lalime, or Patrick Kaleta calling out the crowd, or Matt Cooke's hit on Marc Savard, or Alexander Ovechkin's hit on Brian Campbell but I don't have a ton to say on any of those subjects. (The Lalime booing was a little mean-spirited but it was weird that everyone was acting like he needed protecting from the big, mean fans. I'm fine with Kaleta calling for more noise but hey, you might get booing. Matt Cooke's hit was ridiculous and for all the NHL's talk about how they can't suspend someone based on next year's rules, they sure as heck would have found justification to suspend him if he'd hit someone a little higher on the name recognition chart. Also, why can't we just make that rule change effectively immediately? You know, for safety and stuff. Alexander Ovechkin's an extremely talented reckless douchebag, the Caps organization is a bunch of crazy enablers from the owner right on down the chain, and I was surprised at how badly I felt for poor Soupy. Aw.)

In addition to being kind of overwhelmed with midterms the last week or so, I'm just ready for the regular season to be over. I am. I was astonished to look at the schedule a few days ago and realize there's still 15 or so games to go. That's too many!

I will say this. It seems to be the general consensus that the Sabres are going to be one and done this postseason. I don't see that. If they finish in the top 4 - and I think they will - I don't see why they shouldn't beat anyone in the lower half of the EC playoffs. After that it gets dicier but one round? Yeah, I think we got that.

Despite my temptation to delete this, I'm putting it up just so you know I'm alive. After this week I won't be so crushed at school and will start paying attention to the Sabres again. The regular season will be over then, right?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Algebra, TV, Music, Books, Twitter (i.e. Not Much About the Sabres)

So I have been watching the Sabres, I promise, but I've been either only catching partial games or not entirely paying attention. In addition to really just being ready for the regular season to end and the playoffs to begin, I've been battling my own foe.


I failed the only previous college math class I took so I had to take another one in order to complete my undergrad degree. It's called Algebra in the Real World and let me tell you, that is a lie. I'm 32-years-old. I got married at almost 22 and starting working full-time before that so I've been in the real world for at least 10 years. I've never run into this kind of math before. If this was truly real world math, I would have seen it by now, I know it.

I've been trying to stifle my inner Derek Roy ("Dude, this is too much work, I'm going to Chippewa.") and channel my inner Goose ("I'm going to skate as hard as I can and eventually I know I'll get there!") but it's this graphing calculator or me. We are not both going to make it through this semester in one piece.

So I can't tell you much about the Sabres beyond the fact that Tyler Myers is totally awesome and should walk away with the Calder and be in Norris talks within a few seasons. Seriously, he just turned 20! He could get better!

I can tell you this:

Terry O'Quinn is the best actor on TV. Michael Emerson is a close second. If ABC did a spin-off sitcom of Locke and Linus working at the sideways universe high school, I'd probably watch it. Here's hoping they both find great post-Lost work.

I really, really hope Desmond is on that boat, too.

I hate all the judges on American Idol. The show is not about you. Shut up. And Kara, you are not endearing or funny at all. You're trying too hard. The talent this season is, beyond a few people, really suspect. And depsite hating the judges and most of the contestants, I am still watching. Yeah, I don't get it either.

I hate when contestants on Project Runway get uppity about using unconventional materials (Emilio). Haven't you ever seen the show before, fella? That's the most fun part! Who wants to watch a bunch of people make pretty dresses out of boring ol' fabric and stuff? I think my favorites so far are Amy and Seth Aaron.

Next to Lost, Fringe might be the best thing on TV. Can't wait for it to come back. If O'Quinn and Emerson are the Gold and Silver winning TV actors, John Noble has the Bronze. On some days I'd bump him over Emerson. When the showed first started I had a very hard time shaking the image of him as mean ol' Denethor. Now I have kind of a hard time watching him play Denethor.

Lately I've been listening to a lot of Ray LaMontagne, Tom Petty, and Paul Simon. I need some more good instrumental music to study by however. Any suggestions? Genre isn't really as important here. Classical, jazz, movie soundtracks, whatever. The only important thing is that there are no - or very limited - lyrics.

The worst thing about being back in school is that I haven't had nearly enough time to read for fun. That makes for a very, very sad Heather B. I'm trying to carefully decide what few books I want to tackle during spring break, but there are so many to choose from. I'm thinking The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds by Joe Posnanski, U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton, and maybe the next in Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. Not sure yet though. Any good reading recommendations?

A few people have mentioned this lately - I know the Goose's Roost just did - but if you're looking for someone good to follow on Twitter, I highly recommend Roger Ebert. I'm also a big fan of Nathan Fillion, Craig Ferguson, and Neil Gaiman. (The best Neil Gaiman goodness though is probably still his blog which is always a fun, interesting read.)

Finally, one of my goals for spring break is to finally update my blogroll which I probably haven't touched since I started Top Shelf in 2007. I have a little list going, but if you have a Sabres blog that you update regularly and you're at all interested in being added, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.

More Sabres stuff next time, I promise.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Good Thing About Bucky Gleason

Someone said this on Twitter today (and I would credit you but I don't remember at all who it was so feel free to claim it), but if you're hating Darcy Regier today, you're trying too hard. He turned Nathan Paetsch, a guy who barely plays for us, into one of the best rentals available. While any guy named Raffi will always make me think of baby beluga whales, Raffi Torres should chip in some offense (very excited to see a lot of his points are on special teams), add some grit, and maybe most importantly, play hard every singe shift. We didn't get our power play quarterback, but who did? And don't come up on me with Joe Corvo. There was a lot of movement but there wasn't a lot of good movement, I don't think.

I know I've always been a Darcy Regier apologist, but I listened to his comments this afternoon - you can hear them here at Sabres Edge (to hear the whole thing, go with the audio because the video is just an excerpt) - and I think they all make sense. If you agree or disagree, please feel free to chime in below.

For now all I really want to say is that for all my complaints about Bucky Gleason, I actually really love the Bucky-Darcy Regier dynamic. They are hilarious in a press conference. Bucky is such a grandstanding blowhard, taking five minutes to ask a question that should really only take a few seconds to spit out. And then Darcy responds with barely concealed disdain, sometimes explaining things in the same patient-but-not-really tone of voice that I use with my 8 and 9-year-olds when I'm repeating something for the 15th time. It's extremely entertaining.

On an unrelated note, we missed the pregame tonight at our house. I heard it wasn't anything super awesome special, but I really want to see Ryan's ovation. If anyone YouTubes it or comes across it, please, please, PLEASE let me know.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


For those wanting to keep up on all the crazy goings-on, the Goose's Roost boys and a bunch of other Buffalo bloggers will be chatting all day. In addition to their glorious commentary, they'll also be aggregating all the must read Twitter feeds from people like Mirtle, Puck Daddy, the TSN guys, and Bucky Gleason. Just kidding, Bucky's Twitter will probably never ever be used again. If you want to jump in and check it out, you can enter below. I won't be contributing for most of the day because of this little job I have to go to, but I'll be excitedly trying to catch up when I get home.

A few quick words about the trade deadline. Despite my crankiness on Twitter during the game tonight, I have to admit that when I read this little blurb on Sabres Edge about Darcy Regier, I came away thinking he's mostly right. There aren't a lot of players other than rentals being offered and none of the rentals are particularly exciting. We can all agree that the Sabres need a sure-thing goal scorer and a power play QB, but where are those guys? Not on the block it seems. There are few sellers and a lot of buyers and while Darcy doesn't say this, that means players are probably going to cost more than they should. There will be better players available in the off-season (Tomas Kaberle, for example, can be traded anywhere if the Leafs don't make the playoffs) and those players are more likely to make an impact beyond June.

I also think that Darcy is right when he implies that this isn't the year to go big. Ryan Miller is having a great season, and everyone's high from the Olympics, but he's 29 and just entering his prime. He should have more great seasons. (Though don't get me wrong, I have worried all season that this is going to be his career best year. If there's any major worry I have, it's that one.) Tyler Myers is a just-turned 20 rookie. There really is a lot of talent in - yes, I'm going to say it - Portland. Darcy doesn't come out and say this, but I get the feeling management is surprised the Sabres are sitting in such a good spot right now. I think they expected this to happen next season. While on one hand, it really makes sense to take advantage of that spot, on the other hand I'm still struggling with whether this team is really good enough for one of the rental players being bandied about to make that much difference. There's no Hossa out there right now.

Don't get me wrong, I want a shake-up. I want at least one of the top 6 forwards switched out, and I'll gladly exchange more than that. But I don't need it to happen right this second. I want Derek Roy outta town, but I don't want him out for a non-playoff team's spare parts. If something happens today, fabulous, I'll probably be excited. It's always fun when there's something to talk about. But I share the feeling that today is not necessarily the best day to continue building a team which is what, like it or not, the Sabres are still doing. If we start next season look at the same mugs in the top 6 well, then check in with me again.

All right, here's the chat box. No matter how I re-size it the words are still all off-centered, but when I open the box everything looks okay. If you jump in and it doesn't work, check out The Goose's Roost instead. That link should take you right to the chat.

Monday, March 1, 2010

How the Olympics Made Me Hate Roy-Z Even More Than I Already Did

One of the most fun things about Olympic hockey is having a fling with players whom I either don't see that often or players I do see but am now seeing in a different way.  In the former group would go guys like Ryan Kesler and Bobby Ryan.  In the latter group would go, above anyone else, Zach Parise.  I've seen Parise play plenty of times of course, and I'm more than familiar with him thanks to being buddies with Devils fans Pookie and Schnookie of Interchangeable Parts.  If you'd asked me three weeks ago how good Parise was, I would have said very good.  But I don't know, he was still a total revelation to me.  Above all else, I'm amazed at how hard he plays.  He plays hard every single second of every single shift and I'm sure he'd take double the amount of shifts it was up to him. 

I'm not sure what exactly it was about Zach Parise that made me think of Derek Roy.  It could be that they're both pretty small in stature.  It could be that they both wear number 9.  But watching Parise made me think of Roy and let's just say Roy comes up pretty darn short (short! ha!) in that comparison.

More than almost any other player on the roster right now, I wanted Roy to be good.  I really thought that of the core forwards (Roy, Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad, Thomas Vanek), he was going to be the heart of the team, the little spark plug that kept everyone going.  I cut him a lot of slack even when other people were really starting to come down on him because I really, really felt he was going to be something special.  I was excited we had him locked up, and I was even more excited we had him locked up at the price we did. 

But he is so freaking lazy.  I'm reluctant to criticize guys for not playing hard because I think it's easy for us to say that from the outside, but I'm sorry, he does not play hard.  I think I've mentioned this before, but at one of the last game Kates and I were at, there was a brief fifteen seconds or so when Roy suddenly zipped across the ice.  Those fifteen seconds were so noticeable because he hadn't hit that gear before in the game and he didn't hit that gear again the rest of the night.  If he'd skate as hard as he did in that fifteen seconds for sixty minutes, we'd have Zach Parise because he has the talent.  Instead we have well, Derek Roy.

Every second I spent watching Parise play like medals were going to be awarded at the end of his shift, I could feel myself getting more and more infuriated with Roy.  Gaustad, Pominville, and Vanek all have their weaknesses, and maybe some of them aren't going to turn out to be what we thought they might be, but I really don't have an issue with their effort.  I think they want to be the best they can, and I think it genuinely bothers them when they aren't.  I think Roy is perfectly content to be pretty good at hockey and that's so frustrating because I think he could be very good at hockey, some nights maybe even great at hockey.  I've said before, mostly in jest, that I'd like to punch Roy in the face, but I'm positive that had he walked through my living room during a U.S. hockey game, I would have tackled him to the ground and beat him to a pulp.  How frustrating to watch a guy who could be one thing settle for being something else, something lesser.  Why in the world would you want to be Derek Roy when you could be Zach Parise?  Derek Roy's a punk ass bitch and Zach Parise is totally awesome!

I kid you not, last night I had a dream about Parise.  He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, given two weeks to live, and hooked up to a respirator.  But he still suited up for the Devils and he still busted his ass.  Clearly even my subconscious is being eaten alive by this.  For a long time I would have included Roy on the list of Sabres untouchables.  Now he's the guy I hope is traded most.  Preferably for Zach Parise.  Hey, like I said, they're both small, they both wear number 9.  I'll bet the Devils wouldn't even notice.