What Is Kaleta's Role?

Would you place Patrick Kaleta in the growing list of “expendable” Buffalo Sabres?

According to multiple fans, media, and blog sites, the list already includes the likes of Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad, and Ryan Miller, among others. Yet, Kaleta’s name seems to be excluded.     

After watching his last few games, I have begun to wonder, what exactly is Patrick Kaleta’s role with this team? He burst onto the scene, very visibly and vividly, back in February 2007. In his first NHL game, he notched a point and was part of an infamously wild altercation and fight with the Ottawa Senators and Chris Phillips. This might refresh your memory, if you forgot. It did not take Kaleta long to endear himself to the Buffalo faithful, and he quickly became a fan favorite.

In his initial seasons, it was always obvious when Kaleta was on the ice. Opponents were clearly weary when he was out there; you could sense the tension, and see them tighten up quite a bit. Kaleta was always a cannon flying around the ice, exhibiting bursts of high energy, and delivering quality hits. His role was that of pest and agitator, and he was always on top of the leagues most hated player lists.

What is his role now, in 2012?

Cleary, he is not a lamp-lighter. He is not expected to provide the secondary scoring that we so desperately need. He is also not a heavyweight fighter. Although he is willing to drop the gloves, he is not considered the Sabres top enforcer. In 25 games, Kaleta only has 2 points – making him the lowest scoring Sabre this season among players with 25 or more games played. He has 56 hits in those games – slightly more than 2 hits per game. Is that sufficient, or should we expect more?

In the most recent games, Kaleta was fairly invisible. Other than taking useless penalties, I did not notice him throwing the body around much, agitating the other teams, or goading them into taking penalties.

His play has likely been affected by a few things:

1. The emergence of the newest NHL sheriff in town, Brendan Shanahan.

2. The rash of injuries that have plagued him since entering the league, which were mostly suffered due to his role.

3. He has lost the will and desire to give 100% – which appears to apply to multiple players on the roster.

4. Lindy Ruff has pulled the reigns back on Kaleta – which he seemed to do to Zack Kassian.

5. All of the above.

I am a huge fan of the wild version of Kaleta, the one that skates hard, finishes his checks, and pisses the opponent off to no end. His style of play can change the tempo of games. His hitting and ability to coax the opponent into taking dumb penalties can swing the momentum of a game. His feisty attitude can sometimes rub off onto his teammates, and give them more motivation to play a harder game. If these facets of his game are fading, is he still needed? The current contract for the 25-year old Kaleta, paying him $955,000, expires at the end of this season.

Being a Buffalo native, I would hope that Patrick Kaleta can take a step back, and reassess his situation. He is playing for his favorite childhood team, in front of his hometown fans. That fact alone should be motivation enough. An aggressive Kaleta will be a necessity for the grueling home-and-home games this week against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and against rugged Eastern Division teams such as the Flyers, Bruins, and Rangers as we enter the 2nd half of the season. A non-aggressive Kaleta will just be useless.

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Tags: Agitator Buffalo Sabres Derek Roy Drew Stafford Enforcer Fighter NHL Patrick Kaleta Paul Gaustad Ryan Miller Trade

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