Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hank and Toni, Toni and Hank

Like all Henrik Tallinder fans (there are legions of us, I tell you!), I've been pondering this for a while, and reading Kate's blurb about it tonight has me thinking about it again: What do the Sabres do with Tallinder and Toni Lydman in the off-season?  Re-sign Hank, re-sign Toni, or let them both walk?

I said this in the comments of Kate's blog and I'll repeat it here.  Thinking practically, I can totally see re-signing Toni and letting Hank walk.  All told, Toni has been more consistent over the course of his contract.  His highs haven't been as high as Hank's highs, but his lows haven't been as low.  He's a little more physical which is something the team as currently assembled is short on.  He's a little more under the radar so he'll probably be a little cheaper although I think the money will be close enough that it's not going to be a huge determining factor when it comes to the two of him.  He's certainly been more durable.  Toni shows up and does what he's supposed to do, gives you a funny quote, and then goes home.  While he's good for a handful of mind-staggeringly bad turnovers a season, I think he's been unfairly abused by too many fans the last few seasons.

I think there are more question marks with Hank and I think some of the reasons to keep him are a little less concrete.  How much do you take into consideration his chemistry with Tyler Myers this past season?  Myers is probably good enough to learn to play with anyone, but I don't know, chemistry is a funny thing.  How many times in the last two years did Lindy Ruff try to split up Hank and Toni only to discover that neither one of them played as well with someone else as they did with each other?  Hank has said some interesting things in the aftermath of the playoffs about getting his head on straight, fixing himself mentally, finding a better balance between his personal life and work.  Now maybe fixing himself mentally means telling himself, "For the love of Pete, Hank, it's a contract year.  Get it together."  (Concern over this season being the result of a contract year is completely valid.)  But maybe it means more.  Did something finally kick in this season that he wasn't quite getting before?  Or did he just figure out something that was causing him problems last season?  I don't know.  I think re-signing Hank is arguably a bigger risk than re-signing Toni, but I think the potential reward is greater.  If he and Myers continue to play together the way they did this past season, the Sabres have a legitimate top pairing for the next couple of years while some of the baby d-men get some NHL experience.  I also think Hank at his best is better than Toni at his best, but now that I've written that I have to admit, I'm wondering if that's just the fan in me talking.

As sad as I would be to see Hank go somewhere else, I will admit that I'm more worried about the Sabres failing to re-sign either of them.  I think that would be a mistake.  It's 1:26 a.m. and I'm far too lazy to look this up right now (sorry, Mike - I'll look for it tomorrow, I promise) but during the Boston series Mike Harrington wrote a blog post about how both teams were relying heavily on two defensive pairings.  For the Sabres, Tallinder-Myers and Lydman-Montador were carrying a bulk of the minutes.  If you let Tallinder and Lydman both walk, you're losing two of your top four defensemen.  In that case, I think the Sabres have to sign or trade for a veteran d-man.  I'm excited about Mike Weber finally coming up but I think it's unfair and probably unwise to expect him to step right into that kind of playing time.  That would be fine except that the Sabres already need at least one good forward, preferably a couple, and a more offensive d-man to work on the power play.  How much are they going to have to pay or give up for all of those things?  I think it makes more sense to give the money to a guy who you already know works in your line-up (assuming that they're on the same page as far as money and years go which is, of course, not a given).  I'll be happiest if Hank stays - and yes, that statement is riddled with sentiment - but really I just want one of them to stay.

On a somewhat related note, in light of the possibility of Hank leaving, I've been having a lot of conversations with a variety of people about maybe having to choose a new favorite player.  I've been avoiding thinking about that too much until I have to so I've been surprised to discover that everyone seems to think they already know who my replacement favorite is.  I'd think they were crazy but everyone - and this is, I don't know, five or six different people - has named the same guy.  I had no idea that I'd been that obvious about anyone beyond Hank, and while I was a little taken aback at first, I have to admit this guy makes sense.

So let's get interactive.  I have two questions for you.  One, if you're the Sabres, what do you do with Hank and Toni?  (And don't worry about offending my senses.  I can take it, I promise.  As long as you don't call Hank ugly.  That's decidedly untrue so in that case, I'll know you're just starting with me.)  Two, if it comes to it, who do you think is in the running to be my next favorite Sabre?  Who's the next guy in the Top Shelf header?

Monday, May 17, 2010

We're Now Entering a Sabres-Free Zone

The semester is over and I have my life back!  Wooooooooo!

Before the playoffs started I just wanted one thing: the Sabres to win the Stanley Cup.  Once the Sabres were eliminated I only wanted one thing: a Stanley Cup Finals that consisted of two teams that weren't the Red Wings or the Penguins.  No matter what happens from here, that's going to happen and I'm pretty happy about it.  As long as it's not the Flyers.  I'm pulling for San Jose first, Montreal second, Chicago third, and Philly never.  Now that there's a little space from the Sabres' elimination and now that we're left with teams that I mostly don't hate, I'm looking forward to the rest of the playoffs.

But here's the deal: I don't really want to think about the Sabres too hard during the playoffs.  One of the things I do hate about sports is everyone's desire to look at everything that's happening now through a Sabres prism or tie everything that happens in the league to the Sabres.  A certain columnist wrote a column about the Bruins and the Sharks and while I disagreed with the fundament idea of the column anyway (The Bruins in no way won that trade.  The trade made them bad enough to get a lottery pick and enough time has passed that they've recovered.  That's totally different.) I also thought it was a stretch to connect the situations those two teams were in to the Sabres.  They were different for a number of reasons.  Some things don't correlate especially now before anything's really been decided.  There are still four teams left.

Don't get me wrong, I totally get the inclination to look at the winning team and see how what they did or have compares to the Sabres.  I understand that local media guys are doing that as part of their job function, and I'd be lying if I said I'm never going to do that myself.  I'm sure when all is said and done, I will at least to some extent.  But I also feel like that path leads to madness and I'm not ready for madness yet.  Right now I just want to enjoy some hockey.  No angst, no strife, no if onlys or what ifs.  If the Sabres do something personnel-wise (yay for re-signing Mike Grier!), I'll probably talk about it (and if that something involves re-signing Henrik Tallinder, I'll bring confetti), but other than that, I'm going to attempt to be Sabres-free for the next few weeks. 

After someone's hoisted the Stanley Cup, all bets are off.

Coming Soon!

I was blogging last night but then I got caught up in a very long, convoluted Twitter conversation.  But the college semester is over and I WILL blog tonight, I promise!  Don't you forget about me!  (Too late?)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Checking In

I have actually been meaning to blog but it's the end of the semester and I have one more final to study for and a uh, a few essays to write.  (At one point I had an entire semester to write fifteen one-page essays.  I now have seven days to write fourteen of them.  Whoops.)

I will say this: I seem to be cheering for the Sharks.  I was not anticipating that, and I'm not entirely sure when it happened.  I've actually always really enjoyed the Sharks as chokers even as recently as Dan Boyle's own goal in the first round.  But I don't know, I think it's them.  It helps immensely that I hate pretty much everyone else.  More on that later.

But yeah, how's it going?  Who ya got in the playoffs?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Sabres Will Probably NOT Suck Forever

A few weeks back, an otherwise positive Jerry Sullivan column contained the following line: "In Buffalo, people are conditioned to expect the worst — from their elected officials, from their weather and from their professional sports teams."  That started a conversation among some of my Twitter friends (Paul from Hockey Rhetoric, Kate from The Willful Caboose, and Joe from Joe from NYC are the ones I remember chiming in but if I've forgotten you, I apologize) about whether or not that was true.  All of us had slightly different opinions, but the one thing some of us did agree on was that people like Jerry Sullivan, whether he'd admit it or not, play a large part in that conditioning.

I read somewhere that dogs who are home alone for long periods like to have the TV or talk radio on.  They're comforted by the sound of human voices.  Mark turned on WGR for Marlowe before he left for work this morning so I happened to catch part of Sullivan's appearance on Howard Simon while I was getting ready.  I'm admitting up front that I didn't hear his entire segment so it's possible I missed the build up to this but in the portion I did hear, here are some of the things Sullivan said, paraphrased because I'm too lazy to listen to the segment again: "Who's going to play defense next season?", "It's possible no one will pick them to win their division again," and "They might not even make the playoffs next season."

Really?  Next season?  We're already burying next season's team?  That's ludicrous.  You know why?  BECAUSE NEXT YEAR'S TEAM DOESN'T EVEN EXIST YET!  That's just pessimism for the sake of pessimism.  Is it really that hard to try and be positive about something that hasn't even happened yet?  Can't we save the complaining and criticism for stuff that's already happened (so we can all use our finely tuned hindsight)?  Sullivan and Simon were discussing the parity in the Eastern Conference and how the postseason has shown that there's not a ton of difference between the top playoff teams and the bottom playoff teams, but why does that have to be a negative thing?  I'll give Simon credit for addressing that.  He made the suggestion that since everything is so equal, a couple of upgrades could make the Sabres one of the better teams in the conference but Sullivan couldn't deal with that suggestion.  Why?  BECAUSE EVERYTHING HAS TO BE BAD ALL THE TIME.  EVEN IN THE FUTURE.

Bucky Gleason spent all of last season telling us that the Sabres were two years away from having what they felt would be their best team.  That's still a year off.  Isn't going from being a non-playoff team to being a division-winning playoff team improvement?  Aren't they still, in fact, on track for being good next season?  Why can't Bucky say that?  It works with what he's been saying all along.  What's so hard about saying "They're still on track and there's reason to be optimistic" instead of "This season was a disappointment."  Or why can't it be a disappointment and progress?  Things do work that way sometimes.  Why the need for black and white?

I'm just, I don't know, I'm sick of it.  I don't want puppies and rainbows all the time.  If Sullivan had been saying he was worried about next year's team because he didn't quite believe the Sabres were going to make the needed changes well, that would be a valid criticism based on pass actions (or inaction) of Darcy Regier.  I'm fine with valid criticism.  I absolutely agree that there are changes that need to be made to the team, and I hope they get made.  But the Sabres were just eliminated a week ago.  No one's even won the Stanley Cup yet.  I'm willing to give the Sabres brass, oh, a FEW DAYS OF THE OFF-SEASON before I decide next year's team isn't going to win the division or make the playoffs.  And you know what, before the implosion at the end, which yes, is important, it was a good season.  Here are ten good things about the Sabres 2009-2010 season:

1. Ryan Miller showed that he can be an elite goalie and for a few weeks, was the toast of the entire country.
2. Tyler Myers not only met but exceeded what were very high expectations.
3. Henrik Tallinder and Jochen Hecht returned to form and were both important, if lesser noticed, parts of the Sabres success.
4.The Sabres had one of the best penalty killing units in the league.  Only a pulled goalie in the final game of the season kept them from being THE best.
5. Mike Grier surprised a lot of people who thought he was washed up by being a big contributer to the team on the ice and off.
6. Patrick Kaleta became a better hockey player.
7. The Sabres won the Northeast Division.
8. The Sabres made the playoffs.
9. Ryan Miller was nominated for the Vezina.
10. Tyler Myers was nominated for the Calder.
11. Tyler Ennis came up from Portland at the end of the season and was one of the best forwards on the ice.  (Try this idea on for size, people complaining that Ennis should have been up in January:  Maybe he was so good in April because the Sabres let him play top line minutes all season in Portland.  Maybe he wouldn't have been ready in January.  What about that, HINDSIGHTERS?)

I wrote that list without even thinking about it!  And I actually came up with 11 things because I accidentally had two number 4s.  It's not that hard to occasionally, just to switch things up, look on the bright side.

Going back to the first paragraph of this post - I know it seems like a very distant memory - I fell somewhere in the middle of the "Is Buffalo negative?" discussion.  I think there's definitely a streak of negativity here.  I think there is a fair share of Buffalonians who protect themselves from being disappointed by trying not to get their hopes up too high in the first place.  But one thing I love about Buffalo, maybe the thing I love most about it, is that I think Buffalo wants to hope and dream and have the best.  I do wonder sometimes if the suggestions that we're people who expect the worst, influence us more than we realize.  Does the negativity become a self-fulfilling prophecy?  That's who we're told we are so that's what we become?

I don't know.  What I do know is that I think I'll find something else to leave Marlowe with than WGR.  I mean, look at the poor thing.  This is how I found her when I came home.

"I hate the Sabres AND myself.  Kill me now."