Is It Too Early To Admit the Buffalo Sabres Lack A True Captain?


All right, Buffalo Sabres fans: with three weeks in the books for the 2013-2014 NHL season, the Sabres have compiled a record of 1-8-1 and have

Oct 19, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing

Thomas Vanek

(26) in play during the game against the Colorado Avalanche at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

accumulated a total of 3 points in the standings.  Mind you, that’s only three more points than my son’s mite red hockey team has earned – but never mind that!  They do have one more point than the Philadelphia Flyers, so we’ve got that going for us!

All kidding aside (temporarily), one of the things that have doomed the Sabres so far this season (aside from a lack of talent – okay, I’ll stop!) has been their inability to establish any type of competitive game play in the first periods of games.  Buffalo is stuck in a very dangerous rut: the team comes out flat in the first, gets overwhelmed with shots and relies far too heavily on its goaltenders to save the day, and then gradually puts some good hockey together as the game goes on (and as opponents occasionally let their guard down).

It’s easy to blame a lot of this team’s deficiencies on the average age of the players on the roster – yes, they are young; we get it! – but as Ron Rolston pointed out during Saturday’s pasting at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche

"Well we’ve got to a better job with obviously preparation and in terms of being prepared and again we have, a lot of our vets are out there."

Yep – he did it: he called out the vets.  Now, this wasn’t a “throw them under the bus” sort of call out, but it was a nice reminder: we do have veteran players on this team, you know, and right now, none of them are stepping up.  When your first two lines consist entirely of players with at least 3 years of NHL playing time under their belts, and the team is still getting sucker-punched practically from the minute that the puck is dropped, it becomes evident that some problems cannot simply be chalked up to the inexperience of the rookies.

When the Sabres announced that they were going to move forward with two captains,Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott, this season, I was quick to reserve judgment, saying that it was unfair to criticize the decision until we saw some results.  Well, we’ve seen some results, and I’m telling you it’s not the fact that the Buffalo Sabres have two different guys wearing the C, depending on whether it is a home game or an away game, that is confounding this team.

It’s true: neither Vanek nor Ott are providing leadership so far this season.  They might as well continue wearing the Cs, though, because when it comes to this team, NO ONE is capable of providing leadership, or so it seems.

Oct 15, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center

Steve Ott

(9) and New York Islanders center

John Tavares

(91) fight during the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Buffalo won 4-3 in shootout. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Most fans unconvinced that Vanek had what it takes to be a captain, and so far those fans have been proven right . . . but the people’s choice, Steve Ott, has not come through with any discernible on-ice leadership, either.  Unless you call trying to sucker New York Islanders stars John Tavares into a fight leadership, which I certainly would not.  Sabre Noise senior writer Caitlin Campbell wondered if Mike Weber might be a dark horse in the captain competition . . . and so far he has wowed Sabres fans with his zero points and -10 rating.   Many fans thoughts Christian Ehrhoff had earned the right to wear the C, and to be fair, he is the only player on the roster who has played in all ten games who doesn’t have a negative +/- rating, but I just don’t see or hear any true leadership potential in him.  He’s been solid on the blueline, for certain, but he’s just not a leader for this team.

The only player I currently see any shred of leadership in right now is Tyler Myers, believe it or not.  Check out his comments following Saturday’s loss:

"“It’s getting to be pretty ridiculous.  The way we’re starting games, it’s . . . unacceptable.  You know, it’s one thing to start games like that a few games before, and start creating the process of working harder and harder and focusing on our start, but we’re just not doing that.  It’s embarrassing, and I don’t know what’s triggering us to start like that.  I don’t know if we’re nervous to do it again, or just not preparing the right way, but we really have to focus on that and address that issue, because it’s hurting us big time. . . It comes down to every guy’s will.  It’s a matter of . . . being ready to play, you know.”"

Mind you, Myers has had some struggles to start this season, but he has already played better than he did at pretty much any point last season, and I have been impressed by what I have seen of him in his off-ice interviews.  He has shown me that he is trying to be a bit more physical on the ice, and he made  a concerted effort to join the offensive attack in the latter stages of the Sabres’ loss against the Avalanche.   I don’t know how much of a leader he really is – he seems pretty soft-spoken to me, although his words ring true – but I see more potential in the young Mr. Myers than in Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott combined right now.

Ten games is still a fairly small sample size, but I don’t think it is too early to admit this: you cannot criticize Ron Rolston’s decision to hand out two Cs, because right now, it literally may take 2-3 or more Sabres combined to contribute the level of leadership that other teams get from their captains.  Buffalo has no natural leader, a la Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks or Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, so until the organization figures out how to mold someone like Myers into a bona fide leader, it won’t mater WHO wears the C.  When it comes to team captain, the Sabres are, simply put, on auto pilot.