It’s tough times in Buffalo right now.
With the season nearly halfway done, the Sabres find themselves in an undesirable position. For starters, they have lost four in a row. They are in last place in the Northeast Division, tied for last place in the entire Eastern Conference, and only one point ahead of lowly Columbus for last place in the entire NHL. Their head coach has been relieved of his duties, and rumors are swirling that the GM could be the next to go. Talk of gutting the roster is everywhere. Aside from the price of beer in First Niagara Center, nothing positive is coming out of Buffalo this week.
Almost makes you feel sorry for the Sabres, doesn’t it?
Hey – I said almost. This group of players is not playing good hockey, and what is worse, since Lindy Ruff’s firing the Sabres have looked uninterested in playing at all, which has prompted many fans to share with me their desire to see some of the AHL prospects be given the chance to skate at the NHL level. The logic at work is that the product on the ice cannot get any worse, and at least with the AHL guys you’ll see some fire and energy, as they’ll be fighting to earn the right to come up. Sounds like a great theory, but it’s not gonna happen. Sure, we’ll see some of the Rochester Americans called up, just like Adam Pardy was on Monday. For the most part, though, the roster you see now is the roster you’re going to be cheering (or booing, depending on your preference) for the remainder of the season . . . unless . . .
Storyline #1: Will the Sabres Clean House This Season?
Even the most optimistic fan of the Buffalo Sabres has to admit: barring a total collapse by three or four teams of the teams sitting above them in the standings, the playoffs are not in the cards for the boys in blue and gold this year. Will the Sabres organization, then, try to ship some players elsewhere during this season, or will they wait until the season ends before examining their current roster and deciding upon a course of action? Teams that are in the playoff hunt may come looking for extra parts – will the Sabres part ways with players who just aren’t fitting in, clearing space for an off-season of acquisitions? I hate it when a team throws in the towel before the season is over – I have tickets to two games late in the season, and would prefer not to watch a team made up of 50% NHL players and 50% AHL players – but the reality is, when a franchise has nothing left to play for, they begin looking ahead to next season, and having a fire sale isn’t out of the question. Don’t forget, too, the fact that Ryan Miller only has one year left on his contract after this one, and he has made it pretty clear he would like to play out west in order to be closer to his wife. Would the Sabres trade him this year for a player they could hope to rebuild around next year? Depending on how well the Sabres play, this is a storyline to which I will paying close attention.
Storyline #2: Will Ron Rolston have any discernible impact on the play of the Sabres?
Poor Ron Rolston. He’s inherited an absolute mess, and there’s very little doubt that he will be back in Rochester next year coaching the Americans, so basically the Sabres organization has left this man out to dry. This is about as clear cut an example of a “no-win” situation that I have ever seen. Will he be able to do anything to inspire this crew to play determined, fundamentally and mentally sound hockey? Working for him is the fact that he coached Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, T.J. Brennan, and Adam Pardy in Rochester. Working against him? The fact that Lindy Ruff was the only NHL coach most of the current Sabres roster ever knew, and asking them to change their game now, and in the midst of a season rapidly spinning out of control, is an awful lot to ask. That, and the fact that the players probably know he won’t even be on the ice with them next year. How many players are willing to play 1/3 of a season the way their old coach asked them to play, then shift gears for the remaining 2/3 of the season for the interim coach, knowing all the while that they will just have to make another shift come next season when a “real” head coach is named by the team? I don’t know what the success rates of interim coaches are – I really don’t have time to dig through the research – but I have followed sports enough to know that these types of situations rarely result in drastic improvement. I wish Ron Rolston the best of luck, but wonder how much better he can get this team to play.
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