Buffalo Sabres: Are We Even Trying Anymore?
After the Sabres shipped off deadline acquisition Steve Bernier for a couple of picks, I started wondering to myself: "are we even trying anymore?" The Bernier deal was just another move that helped the Sabres fall from Stanley Cup favorites in 2006-2007 to a team that looks like it may not make the playoffs heading into 2008-2009.
Those moves, which everyone knows by now, were letting centers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury walk via free agency, desperately matching a huge offer-sheet on Thomas Vanek from the Edmonton Oilers and trading star defenseman Brian Campbell at the deadline for a first round pick (No. 26 Overall used on center Tyler Ennis) and the now-departed Bernier.
Couple that with the fact that the team is holding onto pieces which it doesn't need yet still has trade value in, and the situation is down right frustrating. While it's understood that the team isn't going to be a big spender even with a cap in place due to ownership issues with Mr.Golisano, they could at least be making good use of the mandatory basement salary that they have to work with.
Start by trading Tim Connolly, Max Afinogenov, and Ales Kotalik. Connolly frustrates me more than any other Sabre because he has so much God-given talent that he could flat out dominate. His decision-making isn't very good, though, and often cancels out his skill.
I can't count the times he's manned the point on the power play, made an awful pass, then turned in an end-to-end rush where he beats four guys and nearly scores. Enough is enough. Afinogenov is in the same boat. He has good scoring ability and speed to burn, but just never seems to put it all together.
I partially blame this on the fact that he doesn't seem to fit well into Lindy Ruff's "defense first" mentality. I wouldn't be surprised if he went to another club and played like he's capable of. Kotalik is just flat out annoying. A winger with good size (6'1", 220) and a tremendous shot, but he doesn't hustle and he doesn't want to get his nose dirty.
He should be an annual 30-goal scorer for us but doesn't produce simply because he doesn't do much but wait for the puck to come to him and then fire it on net. Moving these guys for some prospects and picks while getting their salaries off the books could free the team up to lock in goalie Ryan Miller long term.
Some aren't in favor of this and think Miller is overrated, but I think it would be a huge mistake to let him go. He kept us in games we didn't have a right being in last year and is a good goalie playing on an average team. Darcy Regier also seems content on going after a set style of player at each position.
He loves smallish, play-makers (Briere & Drury, now Roy, Pominville, Paille), bigger wingers with good scoring ability but not a ton else (Vanek, Kotalik) and your standard grinders who offer nothing but a good fore-check and a ton of energy (Mair, Kaleta, Gaustad).
Get rid of Max, Connolly, and Kotalik, and then go one of two ways. Either go smaller and out-skate everyone or try to find skilled power forwards to balance the team and give them different looks. However, this combo of the small guys and bigger guys who don't do much isn't working.
Defensively, he seems to be in love with the tweeners--decent puck-movers who aren't shy physically but won't be confused with Chris Pronger. Tallinder and Lydman are usually our best defensemen on any given night and definitely are assets on the back end.
While that worked well for the first two seasons after the lockout, this team is in desperate need for two things defensively: a true puck moving defenseman (out the door in Campbell) and a true, stay-at-home, punch-you-in-the-mouth defender who will make a forward think twice about going anywhere near the front of the net.
Unfortunately, help doesn't appear to be on the way in the near future unless a major move is made. The minor ranks have been tapped thanks to call-ups of Pominville, Roy, Vanek, Kaleta, Sekera, Stafford, Paille, and Weber in the last few years. This past draft was solid and could prove to help the Sabres, albeit down the line.
12th overall pick Tyler Myers is a monster of a defenseman (6'7"), possessing a booming slap-shot and tremendous mobility for his size. Aside from growing into his frame, maturity seems to be the only issue for him as he makes mental mistakes from time to time. Could be the first elite defender the Sabres have had since, well, ever.
26th overall pick Tyler Ennis is quick as a hiccup and has great offensive ability and skating to boot. He appears to be in the Derek Roy mold, though potentially a little more explosive with the puck. His only knock is his size (called a "water-bug" type at 5'9"), which is far less of a concern in the new NHL than it used to be.
The team also added a player in the power forward mold (Luke Adam), a defender with mean-streak (Cory Fienhage) as well as several projects that may or may not be anything down the line--your typical late round picks. However, for next year, the outlook doesn’t look promising unless Kotalik, Connolly & Afinogenov get their acts together or are dealt.
It won't be a brutal year for the Sabres, but another near miss at the playoffs looks likely. Therefore, as a fan, if changes aren't made to make us better, I hope we tank out. At least then, we can grab a blue-chip prospect. Yeah, John Tavares would look good in blue & gold...
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