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The Blame Game

If you are unaware of my podcasting endeavors, I apologize for not publicizing it enough.  Anyway I co-host Sabres Weekly on TPS along with Dave Davis of The Fourth and a soon to be household name Matty K.  On our last show Dave and I had an interesting discussion regarding who should be blamed for the Sabres failures this season.  I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast but I do have a few thoughts I would like to share with you here.

Before the victory Thursday night against Dallas, the Sabres had won only one of their previous 13 games.  The fans and the media have started to play the blame game and debate who or what is to blame for the Sabres failures and Lindy Ruff publicly accepted blame for the teams failures.  The problem with the talk is that the blame is not being directed at the right people.  The truth is that it isn't one person that is to blame for the Sabres being in the position they are currently in, 13th place in the Eastern Conference and three points from being in dead last in the Conference.

The fans and media, not everyone but the majority, are blaming Sabres management.  It is being directed at both Darcy Regier and Larry Quinn.  The question has been asked, how much power does Darcy Regier have in the organization?  Is Larry Quinn the go to guy for all Sabres transactions?  To be honest, I don't know but there are a few things I do know.  Darcy Regier is a very smart personnel guy, this is the same guy who traded Chris Gratton for Daniel Briere and Michal Grosek for Doug Gilmour AND J.P. Dumont, he didn't all of a sudden become dumber.  Darcy Regier is not to blame for the Sabres struggles this season.

Larry Quinn deserves at least some of the blame but not as much as he has received.  He has already admitted to making a mistake with Chris Drury who would have signed for just over $5 million per season.  He probably mishandled the Brian Campbell negotiations as well, although when a player publicly states "my value goes up month by month"  at least some of the blame has to go to the player.  Quinn is criticized for many things that aren't his fault as well.  He takes blame for not signing Thomas Vanek sooner but his agent said in many interviews that he had an obligation to his client to see whet his value was on the open market.  If the Sabres didn't match the offer to Vanek they would have been criticized for that as well.  He is criticized for the handling of Daniel Briere but the organization made a decision that they would not be able to afford Briere and let the Flyers overspend on him.  He is criticized for over paying for, underachieving Max Afinogenov and oft-injured Tim Connolly but the two players combined don't make what Briere would have made.  I won't deny that Larry Quinn is to blame for a few problems but he can't be held accountable for the entire situation in Buffalo.

Lindy Ruff publicly stated this week that he was to blame for the Sabres recent failure but we all know it isn't his fault.  Lindy Ruff has been a successful coach in the league for years and the most impressive part of Ruff's coaching abilities is the ability to adapt to any situation.  The best characteristic of Lindy Ruff is his leadership ability and how he always figures out how to get the most out of his players.  Ruff's public admission of blame is nothing more than a facade to take pressure off the players.  It appeared to work in Dallas where the Sabres won 2-1.

The true source of the Sabres problems is simple and yet often overlooked.  The source of the problem is a lack of execution.  Sure there could be many reasons for the lack of execution, too much pressure, lack of leadership, too many injuries and a lack of depth could all be reasons for the lack of execution but this team is too talented to be where they are in the standings.

Thomas Vanek signed a huge contract in the off-season after scoring 43 goals and 40 assists last season, this year he has 13 goals and 18 assists in 48 games played, what happened to his production?  Is it the pressure that comes along with being the go-to guy?  I don't but that at all, he was the guy in Minnesota when he won an NCAA championship with the Golden Gophers and he handled the pressure just fine.  Maybe it is because the second he signed the big contract people started talking negatively about him and said he was going to fail.  I'm a Buffalo Sports fan myself but the fans can be very hard on players who sign big contracts.  I still believe in the talent that Thomas Vanek has and I hope he can put it all together sooner than later.

Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder suddenly forgot how to play defense.  It's anyones guess what happened with these guys but they have been awful.  Lydman suddenly gives the puck away more than anyone on the team including Max Afinogenov and both Lydman and Tallinder are often out of position.  The pairing of Lydman and Tallinder was always asked to be the top pairing, playing against the other teams top players but this year they have been so inconsistent that Campbell and Spacek were asked to assume that role for awhile.

The goaltending situation hasn't helped much either.  It has become commonplace to see Miller let in at least one soft goal a game.  Miller was always automatic when he faced an odd man rush but this season it has been an automatic goal.  I have been very critical of Miller in the past, especially for going down too quickly, maybe the scouting report has caught up to him.  It's difficult to even talk about Jocelyn Thibault.  I think I would be giving him a compliment if I said that he has been awful.  The play of Thibault this season makes me long for the days of having John Blue or Robb Stauber as a backup.  I guess the Penguins got the best of that goalie swap.

The entire team seems to be completely inconsistent.  The offensive output is extremely streaky, scoring 10 goals on one night and failing to score a couple of games later.  The only players who have been relatively consistent are Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville and Daniel Paille.  The injuries to key players like Max Afinogenov, Tim Connolly and Derek Roy haven't helped with the offensive output either.  

It's not too late for this team to make a run at the playoffs but they need turn things around fast.  The line of Vanek-Roy-Stafford has been playing well recently and if Connolly and Afinogenov return it will give the offense a huge boost.  The defense will still need to be upgraded for the team to succeed.  The next week or two will loom large for the direction this team is heading.  Only time will tell if we will be cheering the Sabres on in the playoffs or cheering them on in the draft (Steven Stamkos) lottery.