I was a guest on Buffalo Sabres Now on Justin.tv. Please click on this link to hear my opinions on the Sabres. Yes, I sound a little crazy, cranky and mad.
Where the hell do we begin with this? Actually, where do I begin? I really didn’t think the Sabres were going to lose this series. Frankly, I wanted this match-up. I thought the Sabres top six forwards would be able to beat down the Bruins and their anemic offense. I thought Ryan Miller would outclass a rookie goaltender. I had absolutely no respect for the Bruins and to be honest, I still don’t. I think the Sabres felt the same way too. You can just tell in their demeanor after games that they were a rather confident bunch and really, who can blame them? Seriously? Miro Satan? Daniel Paille? No Marc Savard? Easy win, right? Wrong.
So what the hell went wrong with this bunch?
6) Vanek and Hecht Injuries
Look, even a pessimistic monster like myself has a little bit of a heart. The Sabres missed Vanek and Hecht like an alcoholic misses his Jack Daniels and Labatt Blue. Both these players represent the strongest points for the Sabres; best offensive player and the best two-way player. You think Hecht would have helped the penalty kill? You think the power play-which was absolutely horrible during this series-would have gone 0 for a zillion? OK, maybe it would have.
However, I would never have bet against the Sabres penalty killers. They have been lights out this season. I think the loss of Hecht was an even bigger loss than Vanek. Hecht is so vital to the Sabres defensive play and can always chip in a goal or two. Take away Vanek’s brilliant five game stretch and everyone would be singing the blues for Jochen.
Then again, the Bruins were playing without their best scorer too. I’m sure the injury excuse will make the rounds at least 4-5 times during the Sabres season ending press conference.
5)Ryan Miller was great, but not super
Look, I’m not trying to fault Ryan Miller here. He played great this series. However, he didn’t look like the Ryan Miller from the Olympics. The Sabres needed Ryan Miller to put on his Super Man cape or Batman utility belt for some of these games. Instead, he put on his Wolverine leopard print outfit and couldn’t claw the Sabres to victory. Sure, he stole the Sabres a period or two, but he didn’t steal a game. Miller needed to do that and he didn’t. Yes, calling out Miller may be considered blasphemy in parts of Buffalo, but he…I feel bad, but he didn’t go above and beyond to carry us in this series. If I were to tell you before the series that the Sabres would score 15 goals in six games, wouldn’t you think that would be enough for Miller?
Maybe Miller was just too tired from the season or maybe he couldn’t handle carrying a bunch of overpaid hacks on his team. Maybe Miller should have just left the beard alone and not gone with the porno mustache. In the end, Miller doesn’t deserve to be on this list; but man, we needed a game stealer.
4) Has the Sabres oldest backbone cracked?
I’ve always talked about how I can’t stand the way the Sabres front office always tend to make up excuses for their short-comings. From Marian Hossa never winning the Penguins the Cup to Philadelphia and Montreal’s spending habits don’t equal success. It just always seems that the Sabres upper management make a career out of second guessing everyone else, but themselves.
However, at least we had Lindy, a coach who never makes excuses. A guy who always calls out players and doesn’t hide behind the excuses that the front office seems to make yearly. Well, for this series, Lindy reverted to what Sabres management has stood for: Complaining and whining
If there were a Ten Commandments for Buffalo Sports, I’m sure that “Thou shall not call out Lindy Ruff” would definitely make that cut. Well, I’m calling Lindy out. Everything Lindy did in this series seemed to be a little weird or off, didn’t it? It pretty much started after game four. Yes, the referees stunk, but Lindy Ruff sounded like a whiny little bitch in his press conference. Look, Sabres played a decent game four, but Ruff/fans were acting as if the Sabres had the first two periods of their lives. Sorry, but you lost that game because your special teams stunk and Boston took it to you in overtime.
After game five, Lindy Ruff then began begging for the NHL to suspend the Sabre killer, Zdeno Chara, because of getting the instigator penalty at the end of the game. Sorry, but it was Paul Gaustad that decided to take a chunk out of Chara’s leg during the melee that was deemed to be instigating. Everyone knew that from looking at the replays. Lindy Ruff was just looking for something/anything to get an advantage over the Bruins. Maybe he should have tried coaching the Sabres up on the man advantage instead.
Then, whether you want to say it’s calling out or not, he told the media that it’s up to Thomas Vanek to play. I’ve been watching sports for over 20 years and when your coach says something to that effect, he’s sending a message. Whether it was overblown or not, Lindy should understand that Vanek is a mental case when it comes to being pressured.
He should have kept everything in house. The press clippings that Ruff delivered seemed more about making excuses and coddling this fragile bunch than preaching accountability. Lindy should have been slamming the penalty box door in between their private parts for the way some of these guys played.
This just didn’t seem like the no non-sense coach that we have all learned to love and give a pass to for the last 13 years. I saw a coach that was at his end whits with this team and was trying to look for anything to hide the fact that the team didn’t play well.
Now, should Ruff get fired? No, but he needs to be held accountable. How many times can we just sit here and chalk up the Sabres short-comings to personnel? There has to be a reason that Raffi Torres decided to go scoreless for 20 plus hockey games. OK, Raffi could have just sucked. However, if management keeps on telling us that the top six forwards are more then capable of guiding this team to a Stanley Cup, then someone has some explaining to do.
3) Special teams weren’t so special
Awful, just awful. I mean it wasn’t even close. I’ve been preaching during the regular season that the power play was something to watch out for and I mean that in a not so good way. There were just too many games this season that the Sabres looked as if they didn’t have a clue what the man-advantage was about. At times, it was as if it was a moral victory for them to just set-up the dam thing. Well, all those worries manifested into what was one of the worst special teams performances ever! Hell, the Bills players from the Music City Miracle thought the special teams were pathetic. They looked horrendous this series. Did I mention that already? Someone needs to call Scott Arniel. Better yet, trade some of the star players who anchor that unit (I assure you, way more on that later)
As for the penalty killing unit’s struggle, that comes as more of a shocker. Like I said earlier, losing Hecht for the series really hurt the unit. However, you’re going against Boston. The Boston Bruins and Miro Satan. The Boston Bruins and their dead last scoring offense. You would think that Ryan Miller and Lindy Ruff’s coaching style/system would be enough to weather the storm of the great Bruins power play. Hell, penalty killing and Lindy Ruff teams go hand and foot.
Well, it wasn’t to be for this series. What made it look worse was how the Bruins really just had there way with the man advantage. Even when they didn’t score, you couldn’t help but wonder “Why can’t our power play/penalty killing look this way?” They moved the puck gracefully and put a ton of pressure on the Sabres PP unit. I can’t even remember seeing an easy kill by the Sabres. Think about that Sabres fans. How envious were you with the Bruins power play or penalty killing during this series? Would you have really thought that was possible two weeks ago?
2) Top six forwards just aren’t good enough
Well, not only did the Bruins outplay the Sabres, but so did the Portland Pirates. I’m sure we can all figure out which players I’m talking about. The names and faces remain the same/invisible for the top six guys. Now, should this really be a surprise? All you have to do is check the Sabres archives in my blog. I’ve been preaching since December that the Sabres undoing in the playoffs was going to be the top six forwards. Everyone wanted to say that I was just being negative and a Jerry Sullivan wannabe. Unfortunately, my worries were very much warranted.
I’ve gone over ad nauseam about which Sabres forwards I’d like to see packing their bags to Parts Unknown. Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford are the first to go. I’m not going to get into the preambles about these guys. Hell, the dead horse has been beaten enough and is sitting in a container of Elmer’s glue. All you have to do is check out the playoff stats. No goals for Connolly or Roy in this series. Jason Pominville had two of the most quietest goals you will ever see in a series. It’s just when the Sabres needed a big time goal, it either didn’t come or it came from Tyler Ennis and Mike Grier. Enough is enough with these top six guys. They had their shots at being the next Drury or Briere and they choked it all away.
I’m not saying all these guys have to go, but Connolly and Stafford would be a nice start. Hell, even if you can’t get fair value for them, at least I would have the peace of mind knowing that the Sabres realize these guys are finished. Plus, would it be a bad thing to see Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe on the first 2 or 3 lines? I’ll leave you with this stat; Tim Connolly and Derek Roy have only scored two goals in their last 22 playoff games. Enough said.
1) Status Quo for Management
Tell me if you have heard this one before? The Sabres didn’t do enough at the trade deadline. We heard it after the 05/06 deadline when the team traded Mika Noronen for a bag of pucks. We heard it after they picked up Dominic Moore and re-signed Tim Connolly which was portrayed as a legit deadline deal (eye roll). And now, we are going to hear it for this off season. I never thought I would say this, but after living through the Dominic Moore and Bob Corkum era; Raffi Torres brought a new low to deadline day deals. Hell, has anyone ever been benched after being acquired at the trade deadline? I said it before, the Sabres needed a trade in order to compete with the top five of the conference. Well, little did I know that they couldn’t even compete with the bottom half.
Management screwed this up. If I could see the question marks regarding the top six forwards, then the Sabres management should have saw it too. Yes, on paper, Raffi Torres looked like his physical play would fit with the Sabres. Well, the dude couldn’t even crack the line-up because he was either out of shape or just playing out the string. The Sabres management owed it to Ryan Miller, Mike Grier, Lindy Ruff and all of the fans to make a legit trade for the playoff run. Torres wasn’t that guy and they deserve to be bitch slapped for it.
Look, Darcy Regier has done some great things with this organization. He’s drafted guys like Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, Thomas Vanek and a host of other NHL players. However, when it comes to trying to get his team over the hump, he always seems to have a knack to clam up and not do a dam thing. He failed during the President Trophy year to realize that the team needed more grit. For the last two years, the Sabres seemed to only need one more player to at least get into the playoffs. Sorry, but Dominic Moore and Big Bear aren’t going to cut. Now, we have Torres to go on the Mount Rushmore of failed trade deadline deals.
Everyone knew that the Sabres had to get better to compete for a Cup. You can only play the Miller and the East is weak card so often. For goodness sakes, when Cody McCormick and Nathan Gerbe are being called up to add spark to your team, you have issues.
In the end, the players gave us a great effort in the playoffs, but they just weren’t good enough. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Darcy Regier’s effort.
Look, I’m very angry right now, more so than usual. I’m sure my year end post will be a lot nicer than this. I’ll say this, if you want to sugar coat the playoffs as a learning experience for the Sabres, I’m just not buying that. Prior to this series, the core of this team has played in over 30 games in the postseason. The Sabres had 14 players with playoff experience on this roster. Um, sorry, but these aren’t all little kids that just turned 21. Obviously, the Derek Roy’s and the Tim Connolly’s should have learned their playoff lessons in 2006 and 2007. Those guys are lost causes if you ask me. Hopefully, guys like Ennis, Myers and Gerbe aren’t slow learners.
Bottom line: The Sabres problems aren’t as complicated to as brain surgery. All the Sabres have to do is trim the fat off some of their top six forwards and re-sign Tallinder and Grier. That’s it. Will they do it? Probably not. But at least they are changing their uniforms!! (Double eye roll)