State of the Sabres: Report Style

Wrote this assessment of the current and future Sabres team for some friends that were busy in law school or out of market.  Turned into a mammoth 7 page write up (mostly done at work - sorry boss) of mostly me trying to flex my hockey knowledge muscle...there's no sabres fans in philly to banter with.


Let me know if my perceptions of anything/anyone are off.


Current Roster



Needs/Trade Possibilities

Recent Play/Future Outlook

Future/Farm highlights

State of the Sabres

32-16-7 71pts

3rd in East

1st in NE Division



Roster (Stats through 54 games. G,A,+/-) in no particular order:




Derek Roy [53 games: 12, 27, -1]: Underachieving is an appropriate term. VERY good salary cap number at $4M the next three years. He’s in a slump lately but still very valuable on PP and penalty kill. All around player I can’t see leaving if only because he’s so cheap (career 0.78 points per game). Good game against PIT on Monday, encouraging signs.


Tim Connolly [55 games: 14, 38, +9]: Probably the one or two hottest players in the NHL the last month, scoring points in 16 straight games. Always lauded as an 82 point player when healthy (point per game), which hasn’t been an issue yet this year. May just be the key to success for the sabres down the stretch. Could be an intriguing trade piece in 2011, depending on our situation of course.


Jason Pominville [55 games: 15, 25, +8]: Consistently underrated but an equally frustrating player. He could end up totaling 30 goals this year, which really is his ceiling. Relies a lot on other play makers and has a hard time creating chances on his own. Very good snap shot and is a big part of our power play. He’s responsible defensively but lacks that "hard nose" mentality. Getting paid a lot to be just pretty good though.


Paul Gaustad [43 games: 8, 6, -4]: Third or fourth line center that doubles as an enforcer/energy type player. Our top face-off winner (top 5 in the NHL) so he brings some extra value. Gets lots of PK time and is our net presence on the 2nd power play. Overall a guy who’s easy to like and root for but won’t ever put up any #’s that would impress you.


Thomas Vanek [50 games: 17, 18, -1]: Talk about a frustrating player. We’ve seen his high end potential after the lockout of 40 goals and a huge +/- rating but he’s lacked that quality center that he can consistently mesh with. One of the top PP players in hockey as far as setting up in front of the net for deflections and using his quick hands to bury rebounds. I almost think he’s lost a step and doesn’t seem to skate as "freely" as he once did in open ice There were times he could take over games (I recall a Toronto game 2-3 years ago) but now seems to play more reactive and lets the game come to him. At $6.4 million the next four years we need more "elite" production from him otherwise we’re sinking a lot of money where you’d expect a lot more results. Playing better hockey of late.


Drew Stafford [51 games: 12, 14, -1]: Good 2nd maybe 3rd line winger, but not the stud power forward he was drafted as at #13 overall. Shows flashes of dominance but can disappear at times. Was a healthy scratch early this season and came back and won the next game single handedly for the sabres with 2 goals, one on a penalty shot. So basically he has the skills but it’s the fire he needs to work on bringing every night. $2.3 million for one more year and I think he’ll be gone unless he shows something.


Mike Grier [46 games: 9, 8, -2]: Consummate veteran role player in the NHL. Brings a lot of experience and defensive wile that is great for the younger players to see. Can’t speak for his leadership off the ice but the guy is a hard worker and while limited physically (read: slowing and stone hands) seems to do everything right. Nine goals thus far are more than Regier could have expected so the FA signing is looking better everyday. Would like to see him resigned.


Clarke MacArthur [54 games: 13, 11, -13]: An inconsistent offensive player that leaves a lot to be desired defensively, hence the minus 12. You get the sense he’s another "unmotivated" guy that needs to be pushed to succeed and has been a healthy scratch lately for this reason. Has loooong stretches of scoring droughts that are really unexplainable, then can get hot. I think he has more value as a trade piece than anything else right now.


Jochen Hecht [55 games: 12, 15, +7]: One of the under appreciated forwards on the team, though a favorite of Lindy’s. Very sound defensively and is used a lot on the penalty kill. I would be happy if he ends up with 50 points. Probably getting overpaid at $3.5 million, but these are the types of players you need to fill out your roster on a good team.


Tim Kennedy [50 games: 6, 12, -2]: One of the youngest forwards, has a gritty playing style and should stick around a while if only for that reason. Was only moved to center this year and is still learning the position, as such he's got terrible face-off #’s. Played very well in the AHL last year in a play making role and I see him fulfilling that better come next year.


Patrick Kaleta [41 games: 8, 3, +4]: Quickly becoming one of my favorite players, being from Buffalo only helps. Has always been a huge hitter but is evolving into a great agitator with some offensive upside. Unfortunately, with his style of play he’s vulnerable to injury (whether from the actual impacts or the revenge) and has only played 41 games. When he’s out of the line up you definitely see a drop in energy and physicality. Should have a role on the 4th line carved out as long as he’s able.


Matt Ellis [47 games: 2, 5, +3]: Nothing spectacular here, just a hard working 4th line center. Is reliable defensively and can create a spark with energy if needed. Would like to see this roster spot filled with one of the more talented prospects in the AHL.


Adam Mair [41 games: 2, 5, -1]: See Ellis, Matt.




Craig Rivet [53 games: 1, 11, -4]: Slipping physically as he ages. Is no longer a top 2 defenseman but is hanging in at 3 or 4. Has been more aggressive in the O-zone yet hasn’t seen the production rise. $3.5 Million is a bit pricey for his age, but as a captain you’re paying for the leadership as well.


Tyler Myers [55 games: 7, 24, +7]: Could write an entire page on this guy. He’s the Calder Trophy (ROY) leading candidate and is getting better as the season progresses. There have been some lofty comparisons to a young Pronger or Chara, wow. I really can’t overstate his skating ability and puck presence either, nor can most writers. The best part is he just turned 20 this week and will likely fill out more than his current 222lbs at 6’8". If he can increase his physicality and defensive tenacity, all indications are he’ll be a Norris trophy contender for years to come. Along those lines, I’d love to see a crazy 10+ year deal on the table soon and avoid those uncomfortable FA countdowns. Nice to see a buffalo 1st round pick outperforming everyone in his draft class, aside from #1 Stamkos and #2 Doughty. You got to wonder how hard LA is kicking themselves for swapping picks with us and yet still taking a defenseman at #13.


Chris Butler [43 games: 1, 16, -12]: Came up as an all around player that won’t blow you away with anything but is solid from top to bottom. Well, that’s what we got. He’s pretty adept at getting the puck through from the point on the PP, and has 11 PP assists to show for it. Hard to explain his -12 number. I guess he is prone to mail in some bad games here and there. Nonetheless I think he’ll remain a reliable 2nd defensive pairing guy, he’s still only 23 which is still young for the position. I’d like to see him paired with Myers in the near future.


Henrik Tallinder [55 games: 3, 11, +9]: He was in a major doghouse going into the season as a former top defensive prospect that had slipped to borderline healthy scratch. Really turned it around this year due to several things: he’s avoided injury, stayed out of the penalty box, is in his FA year$$, and most importantly is that he’s paired with Myers. That’s two very long and mobile sticks that can skate with anyone when they’re on. It’s doubtful he’ll be brought back unless it’s for his true worth (about $2.5M) not his current perceived level of play.


Toni Lydman [40 games: 1, 9, +2]: This guy has fallen off steeply from his prime years of 05-08’. He’s a checking and shot blocking specialist but often gets caught on his heels in open ice, and is misreading the play a lot. He’s even been a healthy scratch in recent games. Another free agent that I think has no chance of returning, possibly even traded this year.


Steve Montador [53 games: 3, 12, -3]: The biggest FA signing of the off-season was a pleasant surprise early on this year. Has had a terrible road trip and got benched for it. I think he’s motivated to perform better and hopefully has gotten the message. The sabres really lack the physical presence he brings along with his part time enforcer role from the blue line when he's scratched. Definitely has value on the 3rd D pairing for the next 1.5 years.


Andrej Sekera [30 games: 3, 4, even]: Still learning the game but has pretty much shown what he is - not the heir to Brian Campbell they hoped for but definitely has some offensive flair. I’ve really liked his play since replacing Montador, not sure he’ll stick unless he steps it up in his own zone. I think he needs to be paired with a defensive minded partner to succeed. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s utilized down the stretch.


Nathan Paetsch [11 games: 1, 1, +2]: Feel bad for this guy. Is a constant healthy scratch and hasn’t be sent to the AHL. He’s been dressed as an emergency forward a few games and for a change up on the blue line when players are slumping. He’s very valuable in an injury situation but I don’t see an active roster spot on this team for him in the near future. I always wonder how he’s viewed by the rest of the NHL but in buffalo he’s a #8 defenseman right now. At $1M that’s no bargain.



Ryan Miller [45 games: 29-13-5, 2.12 GAA, .930%]: Not much to say here. Far and away our team MVP and generally heralded as the #1 goalie in the league right now. Has fallen into a funk, along with the team in front of him, but still is making more saves that one can reasonably expect, earning his rep. The semi-reemergence of Lalime wasn’t enough to steal playing time from Miller and that could be a problem in the long run. With his workload (on pace for 70+ starts) and the Olympics looming the Sabres have got to be crossing their fingers he doesn’t hit a wall. That said, he’s one of the most cerebral goalies in the league as far as having an even temperament and relying on his play reading skills more than athleticism.


Patrick Lalime [9 games: 3-2-2, 3.11 GAA, .902%]: Really is giving what was expected: an average backup goalie that is prone to lay eggs but can also carry a team on (rare) occasion, certainly why he’s no longer a starter. Has a good relationship with Miller and won’t complain about his status. He’ll be needed for an increased role spelling miller the next few months. Most teams will tend to play differently in front of backup goalies but I don’t see us tightening up any when he starts. Playoff position could likely lie directly on his shoulders when it comes down to it, scary.






Scoring Depth – The sabres don’t have any player with over 17 goals (which is only good for #47 in the NHL) but do have seven with at least 12. It’s a very valuable asset to have scoring potential from all three of your top lines, especially on the road when you can’t control match-ups. Overall they’re 13th in goal scored and have been playing a more wide open style in the last month.


Defensive Depth – This team has a legitimate 8 starting defensemen and another in Portland (Mike Weber) that has experience in the NHL. With only one true stud on the blue line in Myers, the pairings are pretty interchangeable as far as naming  #1's, 2's, and 3's. Again eases things on the road and creates match-up concerns for other teams. Severe injuries to the blue line are inevitable and this depth will be very valuable. Pretty much all the defensemen have seen time on the penalty kill and power play, so blue line special teams depth should be included in this strength.


Goaltending - It’s hard to believe we’re 23rd in shots allowed yet 4th in GAA. This really can only speak to the quality of goaltending we’ve gotten from Miller. Already mentioned he’s our MVP (maybe league) and possibly already outplaying his contract already if you consider what Luongo, Lundqvist, and Giguire are making or what Nabokov will get. Amazing to see him rise from a well-respected college goalie and 5th round pick to what he is today. Lalime remains the wild card in this mix and again may have a significant role in our playoff position.


Penalty Killing - #1 penalty killing unit in the league (large thanks to miller) and have been lights out in the last several weeks. The range and mobility of our forward group is a huge bonus when down a man as well as the depth we can roll with. Surprised to see we only have 3 SH goals, but that’s a throwaway stat in the big picture. This unit could be a determining factor in tight playoff games if it continues to dominate like it has.


Coaching – Lindy Ruff’s reputation and track record are self explanatory here. His most valuable trait I think is how well he adjusts to his player’s skill sets by implementing different systems and strategies. In just 4 years he’s gone from a wide open speed system to a more trap-based defensive stance. They give up a lot of shots but many are forced from the outside and not dangerous, perfect for quick counter attacks. Heard a nice quote from him when asked about his preference toward the recent up and down play we’ve seen versus what was prevalent earlier in the year and his only comment was "whatever wins games." Also he’s very keen on motivating his players when needed. Not afraid to send messages with benchings and line demotions. There’s a point where this can be detrimental to chemistry, but I think he toes the line quite beautifully.


Continuity – The small market, conservative approach Regier has chosen is paying dividends. Flash pan signings and superstars just don’t fit in here. They’ve committed to building from within and grooming their prospects through dedication to the system. I think long term Portland will be an upgrade to the situation in Rochester Though frustrating as a fan when your biggest FA’s were Montador and Grier (Myers can be seen as a money in the bag acquisition if you really think Darcy is that much of a genius), it’s brilliant when it comes together. Still baffling to think the coach GM tandem has been here since 1997.





Top line Scoring – The opposite of scoring depth here is that they have no bona fide scorers up top - Vanek has yet to prove he’s consistent. The recent clubs with recent playoff success all have had at least a player or two that can be considered elite scorers (PIT, DET, ANA, CHI, OTT, WAS, SJ). In the clutch and grab of the playoffs talent is what shines through and I’m fearful that our bunch of forwards can be neutralized once this style of play settles in. It’s rare to have these types of players and really it’s been quite a while in Buffalo since we’ve had one…Mogilny? Lafontaine? Alas it’s not our "style".


Reliance on Goaltending – As mentioned we give up a lot of shots. The last month we’ve been exposed a bit on the blue line and Miller hasn’t been able to bail us out as consistently. If his play slips further or continues in mediocrity our point pace is bound to decrease. I have all the faith we can adjust and recover but the fear looms.


Power Play – Currently ranked 13th but steadily climbing, this too will be huge come stretch/playoff time. A big boost came from Connolly and Pominville’s hot streaks as well as Myer’s improved PP efforts. The question here is can they improve further and stay hot? Special teams are invaluable, our two ECF appearances this decade were predicated on this.


Shootout – Being 3-5 in shootouts could hurt us, as those points become very valuable. None of our shooters seem to have the confidence going in, often times failing to get a shot off (Hecht is surprisingly 100%). Miller has regressed a bit to a .640 s%, though still is an asset. Who would have ever thought we’d miss Ales Kotalik? Mercy me. It almost makes you wonder the impact a speedy scorer might have such as Ennis/Gerbe if only in a SO capacity


Needs/Possible Trades


Play making Center/Wing – Connolly has been aptly filling this role at center but you’ll still hear screams that we need a piece in the middle to fit together with Vanek. Roy may be better utilized at wing as he was previously in his career and there’s definitely need for better scoring from the top 2 lines. I’ll avoid trade speculation here, but a quality player like Ray Whitney would certainly fit the bill.


Backup Goalie – If it’s deemed Lalime isn’t reliable (he needs a few more starts to prove this) then bringing in a 2nd option isn’t out of the question. No way would they pay a big asking price but even a minimal improvement would be worth the risk.


Veteran Leader – Ideally the first need would also bring this trait. If you look at the roster we’re very young at our most important positions. Very often you see teams pick up skilled veterans (Recchi, Guerin, Roberts, Tkachuk) that can lead a team through pressure situations. I’d very much like to see some failing prospects and low picks exchanged for such a player.



Recent Play/ Season Outlook


The long road trip out west (2-3-2) took a big toll on our players physically and mentally. They were obviously fatigued as it wound down and even in the first game at home against Jersey. Two big wins against the devils and bruins but both seemed sloppy, lethargic and really out of character (wins a win though). The bigger concern is the funk it seems to have put us in. The amount of mental errors that resulted in scoring chances is mind blowing in the last two games, both losses. I thought the loss to Ottawa started off really well in the first period, a welcome change to the previous trend. Being the senators, we found a way to allow two back breaking goals on terrible angles (give credit to Spezza), come back strong to tie it up at 2, then completely break down and leave an all star by himself in the crease for the winning goal. The penalty discrepancy hurt any momentum we built early on and we couldn’t capitalize when the pendulum swung back to our PP. They’re only 3 points out in the division (but with 2 more games played) and playing scary good.


The next four contest are extremely important to righting the ship and should be very winnable against Carolina (x2), Columbus, and Boston. The final game before the Olympics is HUGE in my eyes. - a chance to play San Jose at home and stake a claim to being a truly elite team in the East. We played them well at their rink and folded late with some bad giveaways. I look at this as a truly statement game for better or worse.


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I can't imagine a collapse happening after the Olympics. The Senators can't/won't stay as hot as they are and we have enough of a cushion to stave them off. A first round matchup from the #2 or 3 seed should put us in the second round against a NJ or #4/5. Without significant improvements and/or additions I can't see us with a more than a 50/50 chance of advancing to the conference finals.





Future/Farm Highlights:


Luke Adam – C – QMJHL [41 games: 35, 29, +23] – My future favorite player. Powerful playmaking center. Could be centering our top line within 3 years. Very impressive for team Canada in the world junior championships

Nathan Gerbe – C - AHL [30 games: 8, 20, -2] – Might be just prove to be too dang small for the NHL. Could learn to adapt his style to his obvious physical limitations but he’s likely destined to be a very good AHL player or borderline NHLer. Probably has more value in a trade than on this team.

Tyler Ennis – C – AHL [47 games:13, 29, -3] – Similar to Gerbe but with a better upside. Should be on the big club next year if all goes to plan.

Mark Mancari – RW – AHL [44 games: 18, 23, +9] – not really a prospect but could be tradeable and has good size up front for a scoring forward.

Zach Kassian – RW – QMJHL [34 games: 9, 19, -17] – His style screams of agitator role similar to a Dan Carcillo just bigger. Not afraid to fight and until this year could score. Suspended 20 games for a wicked check, hopefully learned his lesson.

Jacob Legace’ – RW – QMJHL [45 games: 31, 31, +6] – Don’t know much, good #’s though.

Corey Tropp – RW – NCAA [30 games: 19, 19, +5] – Leading or at the top of Division I collegiate scoring. Really blossoming as a junior after some disciplinary problems last year. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn pro in 2010 and play in the AHL.

Marcus Foligno – LW – OHL [50 games: 10, 21, +1] – Speedy and physical with a sabres lineage.

Braden McNabb – D – WHL [44 games, 15, 34, -2] – My 2nd future favorite player. BIG physical defenseman who is proving to have a scoring touch in juniors. Looking to be a great pick at #66 last year.

TJ Brennan – D – AHL [34 games: 2, 5, -1] – Drafted for his offensive upside but proving to be better in his own end. Still relatively new to hockey (former lacrosse player in NJ). Another full year in Portland should show us what we got here.

Dennis Persson – D – AHL [36 games: 1, 4, -4] - A bit disappointing from a first round pick. Got to be patient with defenseman though, could be traded and no one would cry.

Marc-Andre Gragnani – D – AHL [33 games: 4, 16, +3] – Great skating/puck moving defenseman. May just never reach a level to break into the NHL though. Make or break season coming up.

Mike Weber – D – AHL [47 games: 1, 11, +15] – I hope to see him on the sabres next year. Defensive specialist (+15!!) and plays very hard.



Jonas Enroth – G – AHL [33 games: 18-14-1 2.52 GAA, .914%] – Would probably be the backup over Lalime but they want to give him a chance to start some games. Should be a very capable backup next year after continuing his adjustment to the north american game..

Conner Knapp – G – CCHA [11 games: 5-2-3, 1.86 GAA, .919%] – They seem to like drafting collegiate goalies and this guy has loads of potential. Only 19 and getting playing time, which is big for a sophomore goalie. Very big at 6’5"

Brad Eidsness – G – WCHA [26 games: 12-7-4. 2.26 GAA, .906%] – Probably doesn’t have a huge upside. Stand up goaltender that has very good numbers at an elite collegiate school.


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