Posts Tagged ‘Sabres


Rebuilding the Sabres: My Way

It’s been a while. Life has a way of setting your priorities for you. I’ve been inspired to return to writing as I watch my favorite team, in my favorite sport, flounder for yet another season.

Buffalo Sabres logoThe Buffalo Sabres find themselves battling to stay out of the NHL’s standings basement again. A familiar place, despite a new owner and team president. Thankfully, signs that the status quo will no longer be acceptable, have already occurred. The Sabres long-time head coach, Lindy Ruff, was dismissed on February 20. It was a necessary, yet merely superficial, move by Darcy Regier, Buffalo’s equally long-time General Manager. Regier has been the man in charge of assembling the mediocre talent of this team. Many in the hockey world believe his time has come and gone. Many Sabres fans hope that Terry Pegula and Ted Black believe this too.

So it looks like there will be an open position at the First Niagara Center soon. I might as well throw my hat into the ring. Why not? I used to be a professional hockey general manager! Okay, okay. It was professional roller hockey, but the players were paid, the games were on TV and people paid real money to buy tickets. I’m pretty confident I couldn’t do much worse than Darcy.

The first thing I’m going to have to do is decide who I want to coach this team. Sorry Ron Rolston, it’s not going to be you. Thanks for stepping in. Enjoy your ride back to Rochester. Ron, you seem like a very smart, capable head coach, but this team needs a heart transplant, and you’re a brain surgeon. The Buffalo Sabres need a whole new identity.


Teams in the Northeast Division have toughened up. The Boston Bruins have been the division bullies for the last few years and have a Stanley Cup to show for it. The Toronto Maple Leafs are finally on the upswing. The Montreal Canadiens are currently leading the division. Both teams can point to a newer, tougher attitude, coming from the top down as a reason for their success. The Ottawa Senators have rebuilt right past us in the standings.  Next season, the Sabres will have to compete with the Detroit Red Wings and the improving Tampa Bay Lightning. All I can say is Thank God for the Florida Panthers!

roy2For the Sabres next head coach, what I think they need is someone who has toughness and winning in their blood.  He needs to be a new, powerful voice who has experienced winning at the highest level. I’ve heard his name mentioned and he would be my first choice. I would want Patrick Roy to be the Buffalo Sabres’ next head coach.

My job as GM, is to build a championship team.  Hiring Roy would bring excitement to the locker room and the fan base. He clearly knows how to win, as a player and a coach, and he would bring a fire to this team. Would he be the safest choice? Maybe not. I’m not looking to do safe. I’m not looking to do old school. I’m looking to win. As a player, Roy has won 4 Cups with 2 teams.  He’s considered by many to be the best in goalie of all time.  As a head coach, he’s shown to be willing to push the line in order to win.  He has never backed down from a challenge.  Having Roy behind the Sabres bench will win us games and maybe a championship or two. It will sell tickets. It will make the Sabres relevant again.

Now let’s take a look at the roster. The level of talent on this team is woeful at best.  Hockey, more than any other sport, relies on team chemistry.  All your players don’t have to be the best players, but they have to play well enough together to be the first team to win 16 games in the playoffs.  A winning team needs the right combination of skill, toughness and role-players.

For me, there is only one untouchable and that’s Thomas Vanek. Vanek2Pure goal-scorers do not grow on trees. Vanek has done everything that been asked of him. He’s been relatively healthy and he’s become an NHL star. Some will ask if he’s worth the money his experience will command. I believe I can build a Stanley Cup winning team around him.

While he’s not “untouchable”, Cody Hodgson is producing and has a tremendous upside.  I also wouldn’t be looking to move Jason Pominville, but would listen if the right deal came along.  Matching him with Hodgson and Vanek on the first line has worked well. It could be even more consistent with a viable second line taking up the scoring slack and the pressure of the opposing team’s top checkers.  Steve Ott has been an excellent addition to the team.  He can effectively center the second or third line.  He’s everything this team needs!  The play of Marcus Foligno of late has earned him a spot on my team for the immediate future.   Tyler Ennis has shown me enough to keep him on. With his speed and puck-handling skills, he can develop into a productive 2nd line center or shift back to wing, but he will have to be paired with the right players. I also think I would have a place on my team for Nathan Gerbe. He reminds me a lot of a player I used to coach. He could be very successful placed in the right situation.

Hodgson, Foligno, Ennis, Gerbe are all young players. The team needs another big, tough, veteran, scoring winger on the right side.  He has to come through trade.  I’m done with Drew Stafford. I was done with him a long time ago.  Mikhail Grigorenko is a mystery.  He’s a high draft pick rookie with a lot of potential. I don’t think he was rushed into the line-up, but he clearly hasn’t shown what he’s capable of yet.  He may need a year down in Rochester.  Patrick Kaleta is another tough call. He brings a lot to the team.  Unfortunately, mounting injuries and suspensions from his style of play are starting to take its toll.

Tyler-MyersAs far as the Sabres defense is concerned, you have to go back and build the blue line around Tyler Myers, but the kid needs to get fixed in a major way. One of the first things I do as GM of the Sabres is find the largest brief case, filled it full of money, go to Nicklas Lidstom and beg him to be Myers’ personal coach. He doesn’t have to be a bench coach if he doesn’t want to be. We have to stop taking half-ass approaches in an attempt to be a championship franchise.

So as Myers is getting his head screwed back on right, we go with Christian Ehrhoff as our back line quarterback.  After that, it’s pretty wide open. Jordan Leopold I can take or leave. It seems like every time he starts to get good, he gets hurt.  I can see that Andrej Sekera is developing into a solid four or five defenseman.  Robin Regehr is playing like he regrets waiving his no-trade clause to come to Buffalo.  I like Weber’s toughness and Sulzer’s steadiness. McNabb and Pysyk are up-and-comers and Pardy has looked good in his brief stint with the big club.

RyanMillerNow to goaltending. Ryan Miller is an elite goalie. There is no doubt about that. However, I don’t know if I can win a Stanley Cup, with him on my team. Miller, like most goalies, is a head-case. He requires intense concentration to be at the top of his game, but he also needs to concentrate for the entire game. Maybe he got tired because he wasn’t used properly throughout the season. If you look at the last 8 Cup winning teams, 6 of those did not have a “franchise” goalie. In order to build this team the way I want to, I think I can get more value trading Miller than keeping him.  Enroth is decent, but not a long-term number one goalie. Leggio is playing well in Rochester and I have Markarov in the pipeline. My philosophy is to build a solid defense and a puck-controlling offense to keep the opposing scoring chances low and most mid-priced goaltenders can do the job.

So maybe the roster isn’t woeful. There is a lack of depth and experience. The team is relying on youth and potential right now, but that’s not translating into wins.  Players need help reaching their potential. This can be done through a combination of improved coaching, adding one or two of the right kind of player to the roster and maybe a little seasoning in the minors.  The biggest change has to come with the mindset that winning is the only acceptable outcome.


May 2018
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