With 42 games gone, and 40 games remaining, the Sabres are wallowing in mediocrity with an 18-19-5 record. This places them 11th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, and 23rd out of 30 teams in the NHL.
Santy Claus did not bring the Sabres an Anaheim superstar for Xmas, and if Buffalo’s resolution for the New Year was to play harder and more determined, they have already broken that resolution.
With all that being said, let’s grade our current Sabres roster for how they have played at the halfway point this season.
#1 – Jhonas Enroth: B-
Statistically, Enroth was tearing it up earlier in the season. He made 44 saves in a shootout loss to Ottawa on New Years Eve. At one point, he had gone 14 games without a regulation loss, dating back to last season. The 23 year old Swede, still considered a rookie, has had up and down moments this season. He has neither been consistently outstanding, nor consistently terrible. Enroth is definitely an improvement over Patrick Lalime, and currently holds a 2.46 GAA and .923 SV%.
#3 – Jordan Leopold: B-
Leopold has performed decently on defense for the Sabres. He has defended fairly well, and chips in on offense. I think that a lot of fans continually overlook exactly how solid of a player Leopold is, and the contributions he provides. He rarely pinches in when he shouldn’t, and rarely gets caught out of position. If anything, he should be rushing up the ice more often. He is 2nd on the team in ice time, and leads the team in number of shifts taken. Leopold is also 2nd in blocked shots.
#6 – Mike Weber: C+
One of the positives about Mike Weber, is that sometimes, you do not notice that he has been on the ice. That means he is doing his job effectively. One of the negatives about Mike Weber, is that sometimes, you do not notice that he has not been on the ice. That is because Marc-Andre Gragnani has been out there instead. Weber was solid for the Sabres on defense in the playoffs against Philadelphia last season, and was one of the leaders in ice time. He showed last season that he could hit hard, and incorporate an aggressive style, while being a reliable stay-at-home defensemen. He has not been as aggressive this season, especially at a time when it is needed most. This could be due to the lack of getting consistent playing time. He was supposed to be getting groomed as the next Robyn Regehr.
#8 – Cody McCormick: D+
McCormick is expected to hit and fight. He played great against the Bruins in the playoffs 2 seasons ago. That is the McCormick that we need. That is not the McCormick that we have had recently. He began the season playing his style, but after suffering a concussion against Winnipeg, he has not been the same. The change in his play has come at a bad time, as the Sabres need to play with more physicality and aggression. He has 44 hits in 30 games. He is one of my personal favorites, so hopefully he is not still suffering from his concussion, and will return to his former self soon.
#9 – Derek Roy: F
Quite simply, Roy has not gotten it done this season. A member of the “core,” Roy is expected to be one of our leaders on the scoreboard. He is on pace for his worst statistical season, which is the result of playing with no emotion and no hustle on the ice. There isnt much to say, other than the fact that he has been terrible. If I was making 5.3 million dollars this year, I would be giving a hell of a lot more effort than Roy has. For just 1% of his pay ($53,000) I would give a better effort. He has only 24 points in 40 games – sadly, this is good enough for 3rd on the team.
#10 – Christian Ehrhoff: B-
When Ehrhoff arrived in Buffalo, he came with a very large signing bonus, and lengthy contract. I think that fans unfairly expected him to be Bobby Orr. Ehrhoff’s play this season has been consistent with his previous seasons in Vancouver. He leads our defensemen in scoring, rushes up the ice well, and is usually in the right places positionally. Sure, he could be getting more shots through from the point, and he has had a few defensive lapses, but he has been mostly fine. As a bonus, he has gotten physical a few times as well. He could be doing better, but that is not to say his play hasnt been satisfactory. Ehrhoff has been mostly dependable.
#17 – Marc-Andre Gragnani: D-
I am not an MAG fan. He does not hit, does not have the offensive prowess that Lindy Ruff thinks he has, he frequently blows defensive coverage, and makes errant passes. I do not expect him to be Zdeno Chara or Chris Pronger, but for crying out loud – the guy only has 10 hits in 36 games – dead last on the team. Despite all the opportunities that he has been given to quarterback our power play, Gragnani only has 11 points. Yes, he does lead the team in +/-, but that is only because he is usually defending the weaker lines of our opponents.
#21 – Drew Stafford: F
Stafford, a man gifted with size and talent, has been cursed with inconsistencyso far in his career. This season is no exception. At a time when Stafford was expected to be entering his prime, following a 31-goal season, he has a pitiful 7 goals in 41 games. What gives? Stafford appears to take nights off. The nights that he gives a decent effort, he is either not shooting the puck when he should, or he is taking low-quality shots. Stafford was expected to be another leader for the Sabres this season, and, like Roy, has been a flop. If Darcy had a deal set up to give Stafford to Anaheim for Bobby Ryan, and did not pull the trigger, that is an ultimate FAIL.
#22 – Brad Boyes: C+
When Boyes was acquired at the trade deadline last season, he was not playing the same way that he was as a former 40-goal scorer. Both the Sabres and Boyes held hope that the change would invigorate and restimulate his offensive prowess. This has not been the case. Like a majority of the players on this team, he has been dogged by inconsistent play. Most nights, Boyes is visibly working hard and putting forth an honest effort, but he only has 10 points in 29 games to show for it. Boyes is also another member of this team that is a victim of having a lack of identity – Ruff has Boyes frequently playing different positions, with different linemates. Kind of hard to forge an identity with that going on.
#23 – Ville Leino: C-
See: Brad Boyes. Leino came to the Sabres, like Ehrhoff, with a sizeable contract. He was expected to be giving us more than 10 points in 31 games. Leino is suffering from the same identity crisis that is affecting Boyes and other Sabres. How much of this is the players faults, and how much of it is the coaching staffs fault? Leino was playing harder and doing much more for his former Flyers team.
#24 – Robyn Regehr: A
Regehr leads the team in shifts with 1,030 and hits with 102 – in 41 games. Want a frightening stat? The other top 5 defensemen (Myers, MAG, Ehrhoff, Leopold, Sekera) have a combined 107 hits. That is sad. Regehr routinely plays sound defense, and has rarely been caught out of position. The puck comes into his zone, and within seconds, the puck is back out of the zone. He has been one of the very few bright spots on this team.
#26 – Thomas Vanek: A-
Like Regehr, Vanek has been one of the only bright spots for the Sabres this season. He is one of only 3 players on the team to play in all 42 games, and he has stayed among the league leaders in goals. Despite not having a reliable center on his line, Vanek still has an outside chance of hitting the 40 goal plateau. His play has been consistent, and his confidence has grown, unlike in the past when he would get frustrated far too easily. His 2-way play has also improved tremendously since he first came into the NHL.
#28 – Paul Gaustad: D+
Goose has also been lost in the mix this season. He may be one of the top faceoff men in the NHL, but he hasn’t contributed much else to this team this season. Dreams of Milan Lucic laughing might be dancing in his head at night.
#29 – Jason Pominville: B-
Pominville is among the league leaders with 43 points in 42 games. The newly annointed Sabres captain has been quietly having a nice season, showing great chemistry with Vanek. It is unfortunate that he, like Vanek, hasnt had a solid center to skate with. I am not convinced that Pominville has captain-like qualities or abilities. With the Sabres struggling, Pominville needs to be holding more players accountable, and displaying more emotion on the ice. Scream at someone and get angry, will ya?
#30 – Ryan Miller: C-
With only 10 wins in 25 starts, a 3.01 GAA, and .902 SV%, Miller has been mediocre. He ranks 38th among NHL goalies. This guy won a Vezina at one point you say? He was an Olympic star? He had his own cereal? No kidding. Could have fooled me.
#36 – Patrick Kaleta: D-
Kaleta has been a game-changer for the Sabres in the past. Hitting, fighting, agitating the other team, skating with high energy, and chipping in some points. Not this year. He has 2 points in 26 games, and averages 2 hits a game. He has not been the difference maker that he was in previous seasons. He has seemed to be as equally unmotivated as a number of other Sabres this season.
#37 – Matt Ellis: B-
Some would argue that Ellis lacks enough talent to justify an NHL roster spot. No one could argue his heart, attitude, and hard work. A team full of Matt Ellises would not have enough skill to win games, but it would be a more fun team to watch than this Sabres squad. It doesn’t hurt as much when you give it your best and lose; it is painful to watch when you don’t try at all and lose.
#42 – Nathan Gerbe: A-
Gerbe has been solid statistically, with 14 points in 31 games for the little guy. More importantly, he has continually skated hard and given a great effort every night. He hits, agitates opponents, and is not afraid of anyone. If only we could replicate his heart and give it to everyone else on the team, we might be on par with the top teams like the Bruins and Rangers.
#44 – Andrej Sekera: B-
Sekera has quietly gone out and done his job with consistency most nights. I think the Sabres expected more out of him on the scoresheet, but aside from that, his positional play and coverage has vastly improved.
#54 – Zack Kassian: B
Why did they send Kassian back to Rochester? Who knows. He was one of the only guys working hard most shifts. There are other guys on the team doing a lot less and providing poor efforts still out there.
#55 – Jochen Hecht: B
Hecht has been Hecht in his limited 16 games played. He knows his roles, and he plays them well. He is very sound defensively, and knows when to capitalize on his scoring chances.
#57 – Tyler Myers: Incomplete
Myers has been plaqued with injuries most of the season. He was awful in the beginning of the year, and would have had a very low grade. When he came back for a few games, he was playing stellar, and would have had a higher grade.
#63 – Tyler Ennis: Incomplete
Ennis has been plaqued with injuries most of the season. He was awful in the beginning of the year, and would have had a very low grade. When he came back for a few games, he was playing stellar, and would have had a higher grade.
#72 – Luke Adam: C+
Adam has 20 points in 42 games. He was playing very, very good early in the season, when he was paired with Vanek and Pominville. He was among the rookie scoring leaders for awhile. Then, one day, he was inexplicably removed from that line, and has not been back since. Why did that happen again? Was there a reason? Since the change, he has been suffering from the same identity crisis as players like Boyes and Leino. If it is a tough thing for the veteran players to handle, it must be even tougher for the 21-year old Adam.
#81 – Brayden McNabb: A-
McNabb has played very well after being thrown right into the fire in his first season. He skates well, and hits very hard. For a rookie, he has played well defensively, and has shown glimpses of some offensive abilites. With time, it looks like he could become an excellent d-man.
Coach – Lindy Ruff: F
As much as I like Ruff, and appreciate his tenure and everything that he has endured and done for Buffalo, it appears to be time to make a change. The players do not seem to listen or respond to him anymore. The either do not play his systems, or the systems do not work. The “core” has remained intact for years now, and if anything, most of them are getting worse, rather than better. Ruff also juggles his lines, WAYYYYYYYY too often. Let them play together a little, see if there is chemistry. Show them that you have faith and confidence in them. I would still like to know why the Vanek-Pominville-Adam line was split up, and I would also like to know why they have not been reunited.
GM – Darcy Regier: F
Regier had excuses in the past. Namely, that previous owners were concerned about payroll. Pegula came in, and opened the pocketbooks. What is the excuse now? Oh right, injuries. That still doesnt explain the lackluster play of “core” players such as Gaustad, Roy, and Stafford; nor does it explain why they are still on the roster. We couldnt win with them in the past, and cannot win with them now. At a time when things need to change, Regier sits idly by. If anything, he has proclaimed that nothing will change. The St. Louis Blues made a coaching change this season, and it has worked wonders for them. Toronto made moves for players like Kessel, Lupul, and Phaneuf, and it seems to be working out well. Hell, they even took Regiers garbage (MacArthur) and he has been a contributor for the Leafs.
Owner – Terry Pegula: D-
I love Pegula as much as other Sabres fans for saving this team, raising our spirits, and renewing our Stanley Cup hopes and dreams. Other than having just a few billion dollars more than the rest of us, he showed that he is a down-to-earth, passionate Sabres fan. I respect his wishes to not be the image or voice of the team, and his desire to stay quietly in the background. Despite this, he is STILL the owner. He is someone we still look to for direction. He still has decisions to make. If it is clear to everyone in our fanbase and around the league that the Buffalo Sabres are struggling and need changes, why are there no changes? Come on Terry, you built a highly successful business, and I am sure part of the success included making changes and decisions. For the Sabres to become highly successful, the same applications will hold true.
Mascot – Sabretooth: A+
Sabretooth has been the most consistent member of the Sabres. No matter how the rest of the team is playing, he still displays a high energy and works hard. He also gets onto the scoreboard more often than most of the current Sabres do.