Calm Down! Why the Sabres' Playoff Failure was a Good Thing
Sigh. It's been a couple weeks, and we've all had some time to calm down and think. At this point last year, we as Buffalo Sabres fans would have been thrilled just to be in the playoffs.
Now, here we are clamoring for change after an embarrassing first-round exit to the Boston Bruins, a less-talented but far-more-deserving division rival. Even a casual fan knows what went wrong, despite what GM Darcy Regier states in press conferences.
Here is what we learned, and how to fix it.
1. Lindy Ruff is a Reactionary coach
Remember when he was Coach of the Year? Lindy was praised for his pro-active approach coming out of the lock-out.
He coached his players on the rule changes, designed his team around the "New NHL", and came out of the gate running.
Fast forward three years, and Lindy has had to redesign his system. Not because he saw the NHL sliding back to the Neutral Zone trap days of clutching and no penalties, but because his speed-and-skill style can no longer compete.
It took Lindy a roster-gutting off-season and two years of playing golf in April/May to change something.
The problem is, Lindy's "new" system required the team to react to the opposition. If the opposing defensemen were pinching up in the offensive zone, Lindy wanted the 'fast-break' style that he loves.
If the opposition put four-across along the blue line, Lindy wanted dump-ins and good corner play.
A good team cannot perform consistently in this manner. A good team forces their opponent to adjust, not the other way around. Pick one and build a team, Lindy. I'm on your side.
2. Ryan Miller is taken for granted by the organization
Everyone, from Don Cherry to the Zamboni driver, expected Miller to carry the team deep into the playoffs. I confess to being one of those people.
The problem is, his teammates also expected it. Therefore, almost no one bothered to play.
As good as Miller was, he let in some pretty weak goals. Miro Satan's OT winner was a result of Miller over-reacting.
There were some other goals that were a direct result of Miller's anticipation being misplaced, but I won't get into details. This is not a recap.
Here's the bottom line. Miller put all his chips on the table for the Buffalo Sabres when he signed his contract extension.
He wanted to remain in Buffalo, for less money and before his chance to cash in as a free agent, because he believed in this team. The city loves him for it. I love him for it. The organization loves him for it.
The least they could do is use the money they saved to buy him some help.
3. Tim Connolly cannot carry a team, and neither can Derek Roy
In fact, pay close attention to that picture. From left to right, you see Gaustad, Pominville, Roy, and Connolly.
There lies the core in which this team was built around. And there lies the antithesis of the New York Yankees' Core Four.
This picture could also be titled "The Salary Cap Robbers". Or "How To Make $15 Million Disappear". Or "We All Change Each Other's Tampons". I could go on for pages.
Seriously, I wrote about 50 of these as I stewed about the series, and not a few of them have to do with an exchange of bodily fluids.
These guys will score points in the regular season. But they come in spurts. A four-point game can easily be followed by a four game scoreless streak.
That is how some of these guys are a point-per-game player. You never know which one your going to get from these guys.
When Thomas Vanek went down, Roy looked lost. Pominville could not find a loose puck to save his first-born child.
Instead of trying to make up for the shots Vanek would have taken, Connolly decided to pass anytime a big, scary Bruin farted in his direction.
Gaustad will win a bunch of face-offs, but he won't win the ones the team needs him to win. Chris Drury did a great job teaching him about winning face-offs. Too bad he didn't do as good a job teaching him how to win.
P.S. Don't get me started on Drew Stafford. My children have learned some creative swear words because of him.
OK, one final caption. "Raise Your Hand If You Sit When You Pee."
4. The Rookies Are The Ones To Build Around
Tyler Myers. Tyler Ennis. Nathan Gerbe. Tim Kennedy. This should be the "Core Four." Or the "Courageous Four." Or "Four Reasons Why I Will Watch Sabres Hockey Next Year."
Each one made their mistakes in the playoffs. Myers looked wary in Game 1. Kennedy caught a lot of flak for getting dumped by Mark Recchi (I still maintain it should have been interference, but I'll bend for the sake of playoff hockey.
In the regular season, it would have been, which is why I believe Kennedy had his head down. Rookies learn in the playoffs.). Ennis got tossed around, but never once shied away from a loose puck.
He also led the team in scoring. Gerbe skated for his professional life (which it was) and impressed enough to have a legitimate shot at a roster spot in September.
These four, along with Miller, Vanek and Grier (and to a lesser extent, Cody McCormick) are why the Sabres weren't swept out of the round. They played with a passion that Buffalo hasn't seen in three years, and we as fans love them for it.
We will stand by their growing pains. We will, hopefully, watch them raise the Stanley Cup one day soon.
Summary: Why these are all good things
1. The realization about Lindy Ruff: Darcy Regier picking up ONLY the option year of Ruff's contract should speak volumes. He is being rewarded for his success (yes, success people. He is the best coach this team has ever had.) while being warned at the same time.
Regier (and minority owner Quinn) have effectively told Ruff that if he doesn't reinvent himself and spend more time teaching, he's out the door after the season. I'm cheering for you, Lindy.
2. Ryan Miller is taken for granted: Let's hope the brain trust of the Sabres realizes this before it's too late.
Miller is and will be beloved in this town like no one since Darryl Talley and Pat LaFontaine combined. Miller will win 40 games, steal away 10 wins that the team should have lost, and backstop a championship team.
It's now up to the organization to build a championship team in front of him.
3. Connolly/Roy: With the final judgment on Connolly and Roy (along with several others who have already been named), management can correct their mistakes while they have time. "Tampon" Connolly will have some trade value if the Sabres wait until the trade deadline.
We'll keep his regular season points before we find a true playoff performer. Roy is young and can just about guarantee 25+ goals and 65+ points for a new team.
You don't think the Islanders wouldn't love that production behind John Tavares? I think the Sabres could afford to give up 10 of Roy's goals and 20 of his points if we can find another Michael Peca or Chris Drury.
4. Build around the Rookies: To some, this translates to the dreaded "rebuilding." Led by Myers, this group is ready for the challenge.
With leaders like Rivet, Grier, Montador, and Miller, the potential of this group is scary. The question is, can management play their cards properly? Again, I'm pulling for management.