Archive for the ‘Hockey’ Category

Buffalo Is “Hockey Heaven”?

02 Mar


Sabres’ interim coach Ted Nolan at the Olympics

So this is what “Hockey Heaven” is supposed to look like? That’s a question loyal Buffalo Sabres’ fans have to be asking after a crazy weekend of turmoil surrounding the team. It’s been quite awhile since I posted anything regarding the local NHL team, in fact, the last was a 2012-13 season review of the team published last May. Since then, the creator of that “Hockey Heaven” title, owner Terry Pegula, finally came to his senses and got rid of both GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Roulston, and made what looked like a brilliant move by hiring Pat Lafontaine to guide the franchise back to respectability. Dumping the previous regime amounted to lifting the Sabres out of a “Night of The Living Dead” era with the placid Regier and Roulston, and reviving them behind a well-respected figure from the team’s past in Lafontaine. It was a terrific PR move, made even better when Lafontaine brought in Ted Nolan along with him to become interim coach. Then a veteran Hall of Fame front office man, Craig Patrick, was added to the mix as an advisor. Lafontaine, after a careful search, hired Tim Murray from Ottawa as the team’s new general manager, and an impressive executive team was complete. Everything looked rosy, until a whirlwind weekend of events shook the team to its’ core. Those events were a blockbuster trade that sent the face of the franchise, goaltender Ryan Miller, and team captain Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues for what appears to be an impressive haul in return – goalie Jaroslav Halak, young forward Chris Stewart, junior prospect William Carrier, a 2015 first round draft pick and a conditional 2014 pick – and the abrupt resignation of Lafontaine.

The two events sent shock waves through the Sabres’ fan base. The trade was something that was mostly expected, so the reactions were mixed between negative and positive. Lafontaine’s departure, however, was stunning and drew complete negative reaction. Where does the team go from here? To me, once the dust settles and the trade deadline passes, there are two people who will be the most important in shaping the future success of the team, Murray and Nolan. Here’s my take on both of them: Murray deserves credit for pulling off the blockbuster trade in his first major move as GM.  There are rumors that both Halak and Stewart may  still be traded, but if Buffalo decides to keep them, they have a goalie who has been inconsistent, but who also was a star in a deep playoff run with Montreal a few years ago. Stewart is a power forward who is only 26 and can score, in addition to being a physical force. Carrier and the draft picks are bonuses, and who knows what other assets could be coming here if either Halak and/or Stewart are traded. Minnesota is rumored to be interested in Halak and Murray’s old team, the Ottawa Senators, are supposedly salivating at the chance to get Stewart. The bottom line is this – Murray made a bold move that Regier wouldn’t have had the guts to pull the trigger on in a million years, and did it without spending a lot of time being sentimental about the departing players. I see that as a positive, since the Sabres, Pegula included, have been mired in a sentimental journey into the team’s legacy, honoring past players by erecting statues. Even bringing back Lafontaine, to a degree, fed into that. The team has been a great part of the community throughout its’ history and had plenty of memorable moments, but they’ve never won anything, unless Presidents’ Trophies and Prince of Wales Conference titles are good enough. Murray is a fresh set of eyes for this organization, with no ties and no sentimental attachment to the past, and that’s a good thing. I’m excited to see what he can accomplish as a GM.

The one concern I do have with Murray is what he will decide is the future of the other person I consider important to the team – Nolan. There are stories that claim Murray will want to bring in his own coach, and I suppose he has a right to do that. However, Nolan was asked to come here and attempt to right the ship, and he has more than answered the call. He inherited basically the same team as Roulston, and the difference in the play of that team between the beginning of the year under Roulston and now is like night and day. The three games since the Olympics have been amazing. Three wins under the cloud of the trade deadline engineered by a guy still holding the “interim” tag. The most impressive was Friday night’s win over San Jose. It was a bizarre game, with Miller and Ott pulled from the lineup less than an hour before the drop of the puck. The game telecast included an unreal scene where the intermission show between the first and second periods included a farewell press conference for the traded players. The Sabres, for the foreseeable future, are going to be a rebuilding project of trying to piece together young players into some semblance of a competitive NHL team. After watching the Latvian team in Sochi, is there any coach out there with better credentials to accomplish this job than Ted Nolan? It would be a crying shame if he is denied, for a second time in his career, the opportunity to finish a job he started.

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NHL – Reviewing the Buffalo Sabres’ 2012-13 Season

19 May

As the National Hockey League playoffs continue on toward the Stanley Cup, it’s time to review what turned out to be a disastrous lockout shortened season for the Buffalo Sabres. The woeful play of the team’s players wound up costing Lindy Ruff his coaching job, which was no surprise to me. The wise move would have been to fire Ruff at the conclusion of the 2012 season to get a fresh start, since it became obvious that the players had tuned him out last year. Here is a look at where I feel the Sabres stand at this point:


Ruff was finally put out of his misery, and the team summoned Ron Roulston from their Rochester AHL affiliate to finish the season as interim coach. He managed to steer the team to a better than .500 record, and was rewarded by having the interim title removed, as he becomes the permanent head coach next year. It was not a move that received much positive feedback from fans, justifiably in my opinion. Rolston’s strength is supposed to be developing young players, yet Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno seemed to regress, if that was even possible, after he took over. Under Rolston, the Sabres basically did the same thing they did for Ruff at the end of last year, rally from a slow, lazy start to the year to “almost” qualify for the playoffs. To me, the team continued to underachieve with Roulston as coach, and despite his barely winning record, some of the team’s worst performances of the year came on his watch (remember the Ranger game fiasco with Ryan Miller’s unprofessional, unfocused clearing attempt?) There were some positives for Roulston – two players he mentored in Rochester, Brian Flynn and Kevin Porter, were called up and made positive contributions. They at least laid the groundwork that they plan to compete for roster spots with some of the lazy incumbents on the roster next season.


Jhonas Enroth

If the Sabres feel the need to continue the total housecleaning they started on trade deadline day, they should trade Miller. He’s 33 years old and really has never achieved “elite goaltender” status in my mind. Jonas Enroth’s play for Sweden in the recent IIHF tournament, where he had a 6-1 record with 2 shutouts and led his team to a gold medal win over Canada, is encouraging, and he should be given first crack at taking over in net if Miller is dealt. Also, the team has a pair of 23-year old prospects in their system who need to play – Matt Hackett (acquired in the Jason Pominville deal) and Connor Knapp. This is just an observation, but it seems that Sabre prospects (translation:Darcy Regier draft picks) are always “not quite ready to make the jump to the NHL”, and then either disappear into oblivion (out of hockey completely) or end up starring in another organization (see Dan Paille and Clark MacArthur).


Thomas Vanek

The 2 brightest lights among the forward lines this season were alternate captain Thomas Vanek and newly-acquired Steve Ott. Vanek is also mentioned in house-cleaning trade talk, but in my mind owner Terry Pegula should order Regier to get him re-signed for the balance of his career. The franchise has had a glaring need (basically for 40 years) for a winger who is not afraid to go to the front of the net, and Vanek is currently one of the league’s best at just that.  Even if you decide on a youth movement, you need to keep a few veterans around to give fans some hope. Cody Hodgson also had a decent year statistically, and it will be interesting to see how he does in a full season. At this point, Ville Leino is a collossal free agent bust, but when healthy, he is a difference-maker and the team needs to give him a longer look. Patrick Kaleta knows his role and does it well, and Flynn and Porter’s play was encouraging. The rest of the forward line players are underachievers, the biggest offenders being Foligno and Drew Stafford. Luke Adam shows signs of progress at times, then plays his way back to Rochester. It will be a make-or-break season in 2013/14 for him and the smaller “speed” guys – Nathan Gerbe and Ennis. There are supposedly promising Regier draft picks waiting in the wings also – Mikael Grigorenko, Joel Armia and Zemgus Girgensens. If Regier is such a genius as a GM, then Sabre fans should expect these guys to develop into superstars, right?


Mark Pysyk

The team moved out a big chunk of experience on defense at the deadline, but has a pair of good leaders, Christian Ehrhoff and Andrej Sekera, to begin rebuilding the back line with. Tyler Myers needs to step up next season. He was given a huge contract, then showed up out of shape after the lockout ended and played terribly all year. He’s a good enough prospect that the club should overlook the shortened season and give him a chance at redemption. If he gets his head out of his derriere, he can be a big building block in the team’s rebuilding plans. Alex Sulzer is a decent, if not spectacular, player, and should compete for playing time, along with Mike Weber and Adam Pardy. The team has some interesting young players on defense also, including Mark Pysyk, Chad Ruhwedel and Braydon McNabb. They need a couple of these guys to develop into dependable top six defensemen next year.


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NHL – Buffalo Sabres’ 2013 Season

11 Feb

As the 2012 NHL season wound down last year, and it became apparent that the Buffalo Sabres were again going to miss the playoffs, I wrote 2 different posts on this blog, one titled “Why Lindy Ruff Should Be Fired” and “Lindy Ruff’s Last Stand”, both calling for the coach to be relieved of his duties, as that seemed to be the only way this stale franchise could be revived. Unfortunately, both Ruff and GM Darcy Regier are still running the show, and owner Terry Pegula, instead of following through on his promise to pursue the Stanley Cup, has remodeled the team’s locker room and built a monument to the French Connection line, a fitting tribute to the linemates who thrilled fans in past years, but also never won a Cup.

The French Connection 


My comment on Ruff after last season was that he should be fired, but that Pegula was obviously enamored with him so he’d be back this year, but would be on a short leash as fans would accept nothing less than a fast start and a team that contends for a playoff spot. Instead, the Sabres have been wildly inconsistent, and have been guilty of all kinds of defensive breakdowns while playing Ruff’s defensive “system”. The roster was remade to Ruff’s liking, as tough guys like Steve Ott and John Scott were added.  The results have been the same, as the team continues to struggle and ranks in the bottom of the NHL standings. In the lockout-shortened 48-game season, no team can afford to play as inconsistently as the Sabres have and expect to make the playoffs. I also noted in that season-ending post that the players were grumbling on locker cleanout day about the way Ruff treats them – the biggest complainer, Derek Roy, was traded to Dallas for Ott – and that the players were grown men and certainly didn’t appreciate being treated like 5 year olds by their coach, with his childish punitive punishments for making mistakes.  I had to shake my head when I read that during a practice session recently, if the players didn’t cover a shooter in time, they were forced to do push-ups. Ruff insisted it wasn’t “punishment”, and none of the players publicly complained, but I guarantee you they’ve had enough of that type of treatment. They need their coach to come up with some answers, which he hasn’t. It’s a shame but it looks like the Sabres will muddle through to another non-playoff year. I can’t see Pegula rationalizing that away and continuing to support his coach and GM when the organization just keeps spinning its’ wheels.


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NHL – Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

30 May

by Connor Pohlman

New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings – the L.A. Kings will win the Stanley Cup because they are playing the best of anybody at the right time, and their goalie, Jonathan Quick is playing superbly. Captain Dustin Brown has been the best all-around player in the playoffs, and the Kings have the offensive firepower to wear down the Devils’ 41-year old goalie, Marty Brodeur.

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NHL – Conference Finals Predictions

13 May

by Connor Pohlman


Los Angeles Kings vs Phoenix Coyotes –  this is the Western Conference Final. I think this is going to be a close series. Both teams have good goalies – Jonathan Quick of the Kings and the Coyotes’ Mike Smith. But I think that the L.A. Kings are going to win, since they have more offense.

New York Rangers vs New Jersey Devils – I think the Rangers are going to sweep the Devils in this Eastern Conference Finals matchup. Henrik Lundqvist is playing amazing, and the Rangers are the top ranked team remaining in the playoffs.


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NHL – Second Round Playoff Predictions

29 Apr

I remember mentioning in one of my posts during football season, where I pick the weekly NFL games, that I was doing well enough picking winners that I should go to Las Vegas and bet on some games, and maybe I could win some money. Of course, if I had tried that last week when picking winners of the opening round of the NHL playoffs, I’d be broke and sleeping under a cactus in the Nevada desert right now. I managed to get one series right out of the eight played, correctly predicting the New York Rangers would eliminate Ottawa. In order to get more accurate predictions for round 2, I’ve called in the expert, my 9 year old grandson, hard-hitting sports reporter Connor Pohlman. Here are Connor’s picks, and expert analysis, for the second round series:

New York Rangers vs. Washington – I think the New York Rangers are going to win the series because of  goalie Henrik Lundqvist and John Tortorella has more coaching experience than Dale Hunter, winning a Stanley  Cup with Tampa Bay.

New Jersey vs. Philadelphia -I think the Flyers will take the series. Daniel Briere has been playing great and Jaromir Jagr is a veteran.

Phoenix vs. Nashville – Phoenix is going to win in 7 games because both teams are solid but Mike Smith is playing great in goal for the Coyotes.

Los Angeles vs. St.Louis -this series is going to go to 7 games and in the end St. Louis is going to prevail because of coach Ken Hitchcock.  Also, goalie Brian Elliot is solid and Andy McDonald is playing great.

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NHL – Lindy Ruff’s Last Stand

25 Apr


On January 27th of this year, I wrote a post on this blog titled “Why Lindy Ruff Should Be Fired”. Now that the season is over and the Buffalo Sabres have officially missed the playoffs, I have to say that I stand by everything in that post other than the suggestion that young Kevin Adams would be a good replacement. After seeing the Sabres drub the Boston Bruins 6-0 in the first game that Ruff spent in the press box after being the victim of a fluke injury in practice, I could easily see the man who spent that night behind the bench, assistant coach James Patrick, doing a good job if he were to take the head coaching reins. I really believe that the fact that the same roster that was so underachieving all year could be so dominant against the defending Stanley Cup champions is an indictment of Ruff, and a huge statement by those players that they are tired of Ruff’s methods. There were a lot of subtle comments from players on locker cleanout day referring to Ruff’s handling of them and with frustration with the coach’s “system”. Thomas Vanek stated that Ruff treats him the same way now that he did when he was a 21-year old rookie. That treatment includes a lot of yelling and negativity as Ruff attempted to get his star winger to up his game to a higher level. I have to believe that grown men, some of them veteran players, aren’t very fond of being treated like 5 year olds.

Without a doubt, the Sabre players are responsible for the disappointing 2011/12 season, but when basically every player on the roster has a year that sees a regression from the previous year, the coach has to take the brunt of the blame. It’s his job to motivate the team and put each player in a position to succeed, and Ruff failed miserably at that part of his job. Owner Terry Pegula has already announced that both Ruff and GM Darcy Regier will return next season, a move that hasn’t pleased many fans who are tiring of the stale environment surrounding the team. It’ll be imperative on Ruff to make sure the Sabres don’t get off to another of their awful slow starts next year, as he and Regier will most certainly be on a short leash. There’s no way the fan base will accept anything short of a team that contends for a high spot in the standings and eventually the Stanley Cup, a goal Pegula has set as what he’s looking for from his management team.

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NHL – Opening Round Playoff Predictions

11 Apr

The Stanley Cup playoffs, minus the Buffalo Sabres, begin tonight. This year’s playoffs include only 2 teams from Canada, Vancouver and Ottawa. Traditional hockey-crazed towns like Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton are out this year, while Nashville, Phoenix and Florida are in. The opening round includes some interesting matchups, and here are my predictions for those series:

Ottawa vs. New York Rangers – this has been a terrific season for the Blueshirts, but they’d better be careful against the Senators, a team perfectly capable of knocking them out in the first round. I see this series going at least 6 games, but New York should win due to the superior goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist.

Boston vs. Washington – this may be the most one-sided series of the opening round, and I could easily see the defending champion Bruins sweeping. The Capitals had to spend a lot of energy just to get into the tounament. Boston will win, and I don’t see this going more than 5 games.

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia – unlike the Bruins-Capitals matchup, this series may be the most competitive of the opening round. The Penguins have a stronger overall roster, including getting Sidney Crosby back from injury, and Philly still doesn’t have its’ goaltending squared away. I’ll go with Pittsburgh in 6 games.

Florida vs. New Jersey – critics are saying the Devils, by finishing sixth in the conference, drew an easier matchup than the Penguins and Flyers, but they’ll be surprised by the young Panthers. Florida wins a hard-fought seven game series.

Vancouver vs. Los Angeles – the Canucks proved they are a solid franchise this year, following up last year’s Stanley Cup Finals trip by winning the President’s Trophy as the top club in the regular season. Their goaltender, Roberto Luongo, can get shaky, however, and for that reason I’ll pick Vancouver to win the series in 6 games.

St. Louis vs. San Jose – the Blues had a great year under coach Ken Hitchcock, and San Jose is notorious for playoff failures, but St. Louis faltered late in the year, and the Sharks have an experienced club, and did have some playoff success last year, getting the loser monkey off their backs somewhat. San Jose wins in 6 games.

Phoenix vs. Chicago – the Coyotes are a surprising third seed, mostly on the strength of goaltender Mike Smith, but this is a matchup of a high seed against a lower seed with more playoff experience. The Black Hawks won the Cup just 2 seasons ago, and will tough out a seven game series win here.

Nashville vs. Detroit – this is similar to the Phoenix-Chicago matchup, with the Predators being the higher seed against a playoff-tested Red Wing team. Nashville has the edge in goaltending, but the Wings should win in 6 games.



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Why Lindy Ruff Should Be Fired

27 Jan

Ken Hitchcock, Larry Robinson, Bob Hartley, Pat Burns, John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette and Randy Carlyle. What’s the significance of the names on this list? They are the names of the NHL coaches who won Stanley Cups and have been fired by the teams they won those Cups with, in the time since Lindy Ruff started as the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach in 1997. Ruff himself took Buffalo to the Cup finals in 1999, where they lost to the Dallas Stars in a series that included the famous foot-in-the-crease “No Goal” game. In addition to the 7 names above, there are 8 other coaches who did what Ruff did, took their teams to the Cup Finals and lost, who have also been fired.  That amounts to an extraordinary length of “rope” that has been extended to Ruff during his tenure as Sabres’ coach. When he was hired, Ruff was not a popular choice, and was actually a victim of a lot of fan backlash because the team had fired the extremely popular Ted Nolan, who had made a habit of extracting maximum effort from rosters with minimum talent. Ruff eventually won the fans over, by doing the same thing Nolan did – winning and having playoff success with teams that lacked any stars. Ruff’s teams were routinely referred to as “the hardest working team in hockey”, especially during the Michael Peca, Rob Ray, Brad May, Matt Barnaby era. Ruff has managed to win playoff series against teams that dominated the Sabres in the postseason in their past – teams like Boston and Philadelphia.

But that’s part of the reason why I feel the time has come for new owner Terry Pegula to part ways with Ruff and try to move in a different direction. The bar has been set too low in this city. Pegula, when he bought the team, proclaimed that the sole reason for the Sabres’ existence would be to win the Cup. Consider this statistic – Ruff, in January of 2011, won his 501st game with the Sabres, becoming the winningest coach in NHL history with the same franchise, surpassing former Montreal coach Toe Blake and former New York Islander coach Al Arbour. The glaring difference is that both Blake and Arbour won multiple Cups with their teams, while Ruff has yet to accomplish the feat.

During a recent broadcast on the new NBC Sports Network of a Sabres road game in Chicago, which was a sorry effort by Buffalo, the national announcers mentioned that the Sabre bench was full of players “with thousand yard stares” and intimated that the team seemed to lack effort, a trademark of previous Ruff teams. Remember, these comments came from neutral national announcers, not “homers” Rick Jeanneret, Harry Neale and Mike Robitaille, who tend to look for a positive spin in almost every situation. Those comments seem to imply that Ruff has lost the team, that they’ve stopped listening to him. In a post-game interview, a reporter questioned why young players are routinely punished with less ice time when they make mistakes, while free agent prize Ville Leino was let off the hook for an ill-advised between the legs pass that ended up in a turnover and a Chicago goal. Ruff’s gruff response of “you coach!” tells me that he not only is feeling the pressure of the continuous losing, but has no answers either. I’ve followed sports for a long time and my experience has been that type of response is usually a sign that a coach is on the way out.

If Pegula should decide to make a switch, what options does he have that would be better than Ruff? Bringing in a total outsider wouldn’t work  (although Anaheim fired Carlyle, brought in Bruce Boudreau and has righted its’ ship). The team had a couple of outstanding replacements in their system in recent years with Randy Cunneyworth and Kevin Dineen, but they are both coaching, in Montreal and Florida, respectively. The team’s problems have been mostly due to lack of offense, so on the current staff  James Patrick and Teppo Numminen, both being former defensemen, don’t seem to be good fits. That leaves Kevyn Adams, who is supposed to be a rising star in the organization but has little coaching experience. If it were my choice, I’d go with him and hope to catch lightning in a bottle. Putting Adams in charge would be a risky, bold move, but let’s face it, this stale organization needs to be shaken up.

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NHL – No Suspension For Lucic?

15 Nov

Boston Bruin Milan Lucic


The National Hockey League, supposedly, has made a concerted effort to legislate hits to the head, and unnessary violent hits, out of the game in order to protect the players from serious injury. They appointed a new director of player discipline, former player Brendan Shanahan, who hit the ground running in his new job by levying fines and suspensions in the preseason and early season, with each accompanied by a video explaining why. Shanahan has been unforgiving in his enforcement, and has gained major support around the NHL for being tough on “goons”. Two exceptions to the crackdown are former employees of the Boston Bruins, Hockey Night In Canada analyst Don Cherry and NBC analyst and resident neanderthal Mike Milbury, who accused Shanahan of trying to turn the game into “touch football”. Milbury’s schtick to draw attention to himself as an analyst is to put on a macho act, making fun of players who wear protective face shields and even helmets.

So recently, there was an incident in Boston where Lucic leveled Buffalo Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller with a vicious check after both skated toward a loose puck in the Sabres’ zone. Miller is now out indefinitely with a concussion. It was announced on Monday by Shanahan that Lucic, who was penalized for charging on the play,  would not be suspended for the hit. Buffalo management, of course, was incensed by the decision, with coach Lindy Ruff saying that Shanahan has now declared open season on goaltenders, an assessment I totally agree with. In fact, Jhonas Enroth, playing in place of Miller, was crashed into by a Montreal player in the team’s very next game. At the very least, Shanahan has virtually guaranteed that the next meeting between the Sabres and Bruins will be a total bloodbath. It’s disappointing to me that the reaction to the play around the league was amazement that no Sabre got “revenge” on the Bruins by going after Lucic or running Boston goalie Tim Thomas in the game, rather than villifying Lucic for the hit. Sabre tough guy Patrick Kaleta has been one of Shanahan’s suspension victims this year, for “multiple” hits to the head and because he is a repeat offender, which apparently makes you open to closer scrutiny under his rule. Lucic, by the way, was fined in 2010 for punching an Atlanta Thrasher player who was being restrained by a referee during a scrum and for making an obscene gesture toward the Atlanta bench after the incident. He was also fined and suspended during the playoffs last year for a hit to the head on a Montreal player. But in this case, Shanahan calls Lucic to his office to “explain” his hit on Miller and says he’s satisfied with the answers Lucic gave him that he had no intent to injure. Did he really expect the Bruin goon to say he deliberately tried to hurt Miller? That’s like trying a murder suspect in court and taking the suspect’s word that he didn’t do it and not hearing the prosecution’s evidence against him. It’s ludicrous for Shanahan to come down hard on all these other players so far in his new job, then relent to the league’s cavemen and not suspend Lucic in this case. Shanahan has already criticized Sabres’ management statements that it’s now open season on goalies, claiming that won’t be the case, but it’s a virtual certainty that the goons around the league are now going to test the league’s new player discipline czar.  

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