So we’re all feeling good again, yes? After the 3-1 loss in Boston on Thursday night against the Bruins, the Sabres limped into – and out of – Ottawa to face the Senators on Saturday night. Buffalo was missing Thomas Vanek and Andrej Sekera, and had to finish the game without Patrick Kaleta and Matt Ellis, who told trainer Tim Macre, “I felt my knee pop”.
Yet, the Sabres clawed their way back from a one-goal deficit three different times, enroute to a 4-3 shootout victory.
Monday night, in overtime, against a Montreal Canadiens team basically playing for pride at this point, the Sabres again needed an extra session to bid Le bleu blanc et rouge “adieu”, with a 2-1 overtime victory, to keep pace with the Washington Capitals and remain two points out of 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
As a fan, I’m torn. Of course I want the Sabres in the playoffs this season. Nothing can touch playoff hockey, so it’s the best time of year in sports, bar none. And if nothing else, it extends Buffalo’s season by at least a week or two.
But I don’t want management to get this false sense of security when it comes to this roster, if it happens to claw it’s way into the playoffs. It’s still missing some pieces, while some other pieces (Derek Roy, possibly Drew Stafford and Sekera) need to go.
It really shouldn’t be any wonder why they’re in this dog-fight for 8th place at this point, given everything that’s gone on this season (injuries, lack of effort, emotion and/or heart). I didn’t expect them to be here, however. Yet, now that they’re here, I do see what we have, and I believe I know what we need.
The physical dimensions, proportions, magnitude, or extent of an object.
Indomitable spirit, courage, toughness or resolution.
Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience.
A professional ice-hockey team from the United States of America that may have one or the other of the above mentioned qualities or characteristics as a singularly distinguishing feature amongst each of it’s players, but not as a complete unit or package with regard to individual said player(s).
The proof of that last definition – which I pulled from the Elardo Encyclopedia of Hockey – has been on display in some of the best arenas around the continent for four years running.
In both 2007-08 and 2008-09, the Sabres failed to make the playoffs at all. Losing their top two centermen to free agency – and failing miserably to replace them since – all but derailed a franchise that was on the cusp of what may have been a championship caliber team.
Two years ago – and which has been a common theme since – the Bruins man-handled a soft, disinterested Sabres team in round one of the spring dance, which led to calls for change, both on the ice and off.
Last year, momentum of new, inspired ownership carried the Sabres into the playoffs to face the bigger, tougher, more skilled Philadelphia Flyers, who dispatched the Sabres in a fun seven-game series. Yes, the Sabres had the Flyers on the ropes heading into game 6, but lost in overtime of that game, prompting them to quit playing any semblance of real hockey in a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of the Flyers in game 7.
This year? More of the same old song and dance. Changes were made to the on-ice product in the form of Robyn Regehr (who, despite a team second-worst -21 rating, has helped a bit with some of the size and grit issues), Christian Ehrhoff (an uber-skilled, offense-first rearguard who had a slow start to the season for various reasons, but has since come on to show why he was deserving of the $40 million the Sabres threw his way last summer) and Ville Leino (A tale of two seasons). Yet, the team with the NHL’s highest payroll – and even higher summertime expectations – is barely holding on to a .500 record (32-29-8) with 13 games left in the regular season.
Can injuries – of which the Sabres have lost 278 man-games to thus far this season – be at the forefront of some of the team’s woes on the ice? I’ll buy into that…somewhat. 69 games into the season, coach Lindy Ruff has had less than 40 games in which he could say that six of his top seven defensemen were healthy enough to play. The Pittsburgh Penguins, by contrast, have lost as many, if not more, man-games to injury thus far, and sit happily in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. They’re also missing arguably the best player in the world to injury, and have been for 59 of their 67 games this year.
On many nights this season for the Sabres, the team has looked sloppy, physically outmatched, and disinterested. Worse yet, on some nights, they looked like a team that felt sorry for itself. Since the trade deadline, though, when management necessarily dispatched two of it’s bigger-framed players (and fan favorites), the team has seemingly banded together as survivors. Now, we’re all caught up in the team’s (futile) push for a playoff spot, and it’s inspired play of late. However, at some point (most likely in early-April), ownership and management are going to have to (finally) come to grips with what this hockey club is lacking, and formulate a plan heading into this summer’s draft and free-agency, and finally make the proper alterations to a team that does actually have some good parts.
THE SIZE, GRIT & SKILL COMBO
The roster, as it stands right now, has some decent elements of each.
It has some skill (Leino, Ehrhoff, Vanek, Tyler Ennis, Jason Pominville, Cody Hodgson, Nathan Gerbe), grit (Regehr, Gerbe, Kaleta, Corey Tropp, Mike Weber) and a bit of size (Regehr and Weber again, Tyler Myers, Marcus Foligno).
What it lacks are players with a nice blend of all three.
I’m talking about the Scott Hartnell‘s, Ryan Kesler‘s, David Backes‘s, Milan Lucic‘s, Dustin Brown‘s and Andrew Ladd‘s of the league. I’m talking about the 30/30/100 guys. 30 goals, 30 assists and 100 penalty minutes. Now, obviously the above players don’t hit these exact totals every year, but bring what I believe to be a needed element to their respective teams. They all play hard, whistle to whistle, and never let you off the hook when it comes to finishing their checks. Each of them has enough skill and defensive awareness to slide in on either a scoring line or a checking line seamlessly. These players give an honest effort each, and every night, and it’s no wonder why most of these guys have either a “C” or an “A” stitched on their jerseys. Bottom line: they play. to. win.
Of course getting these types of players is never easy, but that’s not my job. That falls to Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier to make this into a championship caliber team.
Put any two of these guys on the Sabres this season, and we’d see different results. Put any two of these guys on the Sabres this season, and you’d get instant credibility. Put any two of these guys on the Sabres this season, and you have a nice mix of forwards. Put any two of these guys on the Sabres this season,
and your dressing room is a totally different place.
Put any two of these guys on the Sabres next season, and the days of being pushed around by the Boston’s, Philadelphia’s, and the like, are over.
And, when that day finally comes, it’s going to feel so damn good.
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