Morning, Sabre Noise readers!
Last night I volunteered to provide tail-end coverage of the Buffalo Sabres – Pittsburgh Penguins tilt, and I knew what I was getting into when I spoke up. Even so, I had a tough time getting motivated to write once the game was over, mostly because I didn’t want to go on a negative rant about how bad the Sabres are right now.
Now that I’ve had some time to sleep on it, I have come to this conclusion: watching last night’s game should be the only thing newly-hired GM Tim Murray does today, since it both illustrates why the Sabres need to convince Ryan Miller to remain in Buffalo, as well as highlighting the reasons why the Sabres will fail to re-sign Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson once they become UFAs at the end of this season.
Let’s begin with the obvious: the Pittsburgh Penguins were the far better team on the ice last night. I’m pretty sure I let my son watch the first period, not because I felt the Sabres would win, but because I wanted to show him what a great offense does with the puck. For the first 20 minutes of the game, I felt like I was watching a scrimmage between an NHL team and an AHL one, and I even tweeted that:
Boy, this AHL team they call the Buffalo Sabres sure has a good goalie!
— Richard Spalding (@theamazingMrS) January 28, 2014
The Penguins simply had their way with the Sabres for that period, out shooting them 15-5 and consistently cycling the puck around the offensive zone until they got the shot they wanted. I understand that the stats and the final score imply that Buffalo put up a good fight, and I suppose as the game went on that statement is fairly true, but the only reason that game wasn’t 2-0 or even 3-0 after one period was because of Ryan Miller.
Seriously: I’m not exaggerating. The ONLY reason Pittsburgh didn’t score in the first was Miller.
The fact that the Penguins finally got through to Miller in the second shouldn’t bother anyone, especially since the first goal took a Pittsburgh bounce off of the post and practically landed on the tape of Chris Kunitz‘s stick. No one should expect Miller to shut-out a Pittsburgh team that is the fourth-highest scoring team in the NHL, not with Buffalo’s defense in front of him. Rather, every single person in the Sabres organization should have called, texted, or Tweeted Miller following the game to thank him for keeping his squad within striking distance. Tim Murray: your first job as GM of the Buffalo Sabres is to find a way to convince Ryan Miller to remain a Sabre.
Ah – but if last night’s game provides the most proof as to why Buffalo needs this man to remain their goaltender, it also illustrates precisely why you should be preparing yourself to kiss Miller and Moulson good-bye this summer. (I’m still on the fence about Ott.) There’s a phrase: “Money talks.” This phrase is oh-so true . . . to many young athletes. However, the history of sports has shown us time and time again that aging players (I use that word loosely with Moulson) who have spent their careers on sub-par teams often value an opportunity to succeed more than they value landing a max contract. Make no mistake about it: Matt Moulson and Ryan Miller will get paid a ton of money, and Steve Ott won’t go hungry. But I’m here to tell you, even if Buffalo offered all of these guys maximum value contracts, contracts that no other team in the NHL could match, it would not make a difference. No amount of money will convince any of these guys that the dollars are worth losing for 4-5 more years.
It’s not that Buffalo doesn’t have talent in its pipeline, because the Sabres clearly do. Rather, it’s that no amount of money is going to make Miller and Moulson forget how good teams like the Penguins, the Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks, etc., are. Each of these guys could wind up landing on, not just a playoff team, but a Stanley Cup-contending team, as early as next season. Why wouldn’t they want that? The Penguins are clearly a team that could represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals this year, and Ott, Moulson and Miller got a glimpse of that up-close and personal last night. The idea of being good “in a few years” won’t be enough for Moulson or Miller, so unless Buffalo plans on pulling off the trade-of-all-trades to land someone like Ryan O’Reilly or another young stud who will instantly make this team better, don’t be upset by all the trade talk.
I hope I’m not sounding negative – Miller has been spectacular in goal this season, and I like Matt Moulson a lot. I would love for the Sabres to be able to retain their services, but a game like the one we witnessed last night provides indisputable truth that the Buffalo Sabres have a long, long, long way to go before being able to contend for the Eastern Conference Championship. Tim Murray, I advise you to watch that game, over and over and over again. When you’re done, you either need to make a blockbuster trade that convinces one, both, or all three of your soon-to-be UFAs to stay in the 716, or you need to trade them while their value is high. The writing has never been more clearly on the wall, so get to work!