What is wrong with the 2013 Buffalo Sabres? Your guess is probably as good as mine. If you have watched the team, from even the greatest of distances, your guess would probably be fairly accurate.
These Buffalo Sabres have no identity.
Even casual fans have noticed the lack of effort, the lack of emotion, the errant passing, the lack of battling back, the culture of losing battles, the lack of taking initiative, the losses. Is there an easy fix? What can be done to make these Sabres winners?
On Sunday, the Sabres lost to a struggling Philadelphia Flyers club, one coming off an embarrassing loss to the Boston Bruins the night prior. The Flyers were playing 6 periods in 2 nights; the Sabres had the advantage of a few days rest. In that game, the Sabres looked like a team that came out with no game plan whatsoever, that they were just…there. The game plan should have been to hit, hit, hit, and wear down the Flyers and dominate the game. That was not the case, and the Sabres lost.
On Tuesday, the Sabres defeated the New York Rangers, winners of 5 of their last 6 games. Yet, the victory does not tell the story. In the game, the Sabres were by no means dominant. Buffalo was still dismal at times in their own zone, put on a display of horrible passing, lost battles (including all the ones that they shied away from), and continued on the path of having the worst power-play of any team since the last lockout in 2005. They only won because Jhonas Enroth stood on his head, and because the Rangers played a completely lousy game.
In case you missed it: the Sabres are on pace to have the worst power-play of any team since the last lockout. Not going to win many games without an effective man-advantage. To make matters worse, the Sabres have given up more shorthanded goals this season in the NHL. So, it might actually benefit the Sabres if they had the ability to decline penalties. Ain’t that something!
In the last 2 games, the Sabres “Amerks” line, comprised of rookies Brian Flynn, Kevin Porter, and Marcus Foligno has been their best line. This is quite a statement, considering the amount of money that is skating on the other 3 lines.
Most of the Sabres, aside from Drew Stafford, have been playing their assigned roles. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have put up their points, Steve Ott has laid out his hits and been a pest, Christian Ehrhoff takes his shots from the point, Nathan Gerbe works his butt off, Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson and Foligno continue on their developmental paths, John Scott fights when needed. The Sabres, individually, do their parts. When it comes to being a team, they are not on the same page at all.
Buffalo has no chemistry. No drive. Little will.
Where do we go from here? Watching this team, it does not look like one or two trades will do the trick. We are more moves from that from being a real contender. The firing of longtime coach Lindy Ruff did nothing to invigorate this team. Is it time for a fire-sale? Are we, as fans, ready to endure a rebuilding process if it means moving towards the goal of a Stanley Cup? More importantly, are Terry Pegula and his associates ready for this?
As much as I hate to admit it, this might be the time for a fire-sale.
With Vanek, Pominville, and Ryan Miller having contracts ending after next season, their trade values are at their highest right now. Tyler Ennis holds great value right now. There is a plethora of defensemen on the team that can be moved, such as veterans Robyn Regehr and Jordan Leopold. There may not be many others that hold any trade value.
Is it time to make some moves? Should we start building around Hodgson, Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia, Foligno, Corey Tropp, Tyler Myers, Ehrhoff, and the younger defensemen in the system? Are we ready to trade the stars for a crop of prospects and draft picks? The farm system is slim pickens when it comes to forwards and goalies, so if moves are made, it is mission critical that the right ones are made. This brings into question the competency and future of Darcy Regier.
As much as it pains me to say it, I think yes, it is time to make the big moves. This team needs an overhaul, a new culture, a new team. We started shedding the core by getting rid of Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, and Paul Gaustad, and it is time to complete the makeover. Now is the time to get the greatest possible rewards for the rest of the core; waiting until next season will deplete the values of Vanek, Pominville, and Miller.
The boos that rained down on the Sabres last night at First Niagara Center, despite the win, convinced me. We have waited since 1970 for a team that could consistently compete with the best. If the Buffalo Sabres can make the right moves to finally make this happen, I am more than willing to wait a few more years. Give these Sabres an identity.