Archive for the ‘Hockey’ Category

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.


Posted in Hockey


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.

1 Comment

Posted in Hockey


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.


No Comments

Posted in Hockey


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.

1 Comment

Posted in Hockey


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.

No Comments

Posted in Hockey


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.



Posted in Hockey


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.

No Comments

Posted in Hockey


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.  

No Comments

Posted in Hockey


NHL – Buffalo Sabres’ 2011-2012 Season Outlook

27 Oct

It wouldn’t be fair to call this post the Buffalo Sabres’ season preview, since the season is already well underway. So we’ll call it the season “outlook” and take a look at where the club stands as this season begins to progress:

Front Office

If you include owner Terry Pegula and his family here, this is the best part of the organization. They have breathed new life into the organization, from remodeling the locker room to continuing the plaza parties, and most importantly, putting GM Darcy Regier on a level playing field with the big spenders of the league when it comes to player acquisitions. Team president Ted Black is also a great addition to the franchise, and even if the team is still a ways from being a true championship contender, the new attitude of the franchise is making it fun for the fans as they go all out to make it happen.


Lindy Ruff has always done a good job of taking whatever players he was handed and molding them into a competitive, hard-working team on the ice. Then cheap ownership would allow the most valuable members of the team, from Mike Peca and Dominik Hasek on through to Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, to leave and Ruff would have to make do with the scraps left behind. And usually he would do a decent job of piecing together those scraps and putting a competitive, accountable team on the ice. Now we get to see what Ruff can accomplish with a little support from management. The club has been good so far this season and only stands to improve once the new players get accustomed to playing with each other and with Ruff’s system.


Jhonas Enroth

It could be argued that with the emergence of Jhonas Enroth at the end of last season as a reliable backup goalie, the Sabres have the best goaltending depth in the NHL. Ryan Miller is considered world-class and although I still am not sure of that assessment, I believe he is capable of back-stopping the team to a Stanley Cup title if the cast around him is improved. In the past fans always thought Tom Barrasso was good, but never good enough to take the Sabres to the top, but when he left here and was able to play with a talented Pittsburgh Penguin team he was more than adequate to help them win multiple Cups. I definitely see Miller’s situation being similar to Barrasso – the difference being that Miller stays here while the championship team is assembled around him – which never would have happened under previous owners. The presence of Enroth as a second option that Ruff can use, who has the total confidence of his teammates, means that there’s no reason to overwork Miller. The team should be in excellent shape as far as goaltending is concerned throughout the regular season and playoffs if both goalies stay healthy.


Nathan Gerbe


The Sabres don’t have an offensive threat that strikes fear in any opponent, and haven’t really had one since the record-breaking duo of Pat Lafontaine and Alexander Mogilny. They have been relying in recent years on a balanced attack, which can be advantageous come playoff time when teams try to match lines. Their most feared scorer now is Thomas Vanek, who has a great shot and also a knack for scoring in the tough areas around the net. Drew Stafford finally developed into the goal scorer the team expected when they drafted him, and the return of Derek Roy should help the offense also. New captain Jason Pominville hasn’t been a great scorer over his career but gives the offense something just as valuable – consistency. The Sabres should also expect players like Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Luke Adam to push their games to the next level. Ruff now has a new toy to play with when he puts his line combinations together – newly-signed free agent Ville Leino. Leino has been a productive scorer in his NHL career, especially in the playoffs, which should be a tremendous help to the team. Add in the toughness that players like Paul Gaustad, Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta provide, along with any contributions they get from spare parts like Jochen Hecht, Matt Ellis and Brad Boyes, and the Sabres have all the ingredients they should need to have their offensive game covered.


Christian Ehrhoff


Buffalo’s defense corps was adequate last season, but the team went out and got the unit some help in the off-season. Big Tyler Myers is on his way to becoming one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and should start to develop more of a mean streak as he grows into his body. The addition of Robyn Regehr will increase the toughness factor of the unit also. Marc-Andre Gragnani was a revelation in last year’s playoffs and will be a big addition to the team’s blue line, and the power play, as a full-time starter this year. Another newcomer, Christian Ehrhoff, was solid as an offensive defenseman in Vancouver’s run to the Cup finals last year, and will help upgrade the Sabres defense corps also. Holdovers Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera and Jordan Leopold round out what is now as good as any defensive unit in the league.

1 Comment

Posted in Hockey


NHL – Buffalo Sabres’ New Additions

16 Aug

Work constraints have kept me from updating this blog as much as I’d like to, and there are some topics I wanted to comment on that I never got a chance to, one of which is the Buffalo Sabres’ new status as one of the NHL’s big players in the free agent market. With football season starting and baseball entering the heat of the pennant races, whatever posts I add here will likely be dominated by those 2 sports (especially football), but the Sabres’ moves are surely worth a few words.

New owner Terry Pegula has brought excitement and enthusiasm to Buffalo hockey fans that hasn’t been seen since the Knox Brothers brought in Punch Imlach, Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Rene Robert, Danny Gare, Jim Shoenfeld, etc. and built a hockey power that made the playoffs in its’ third season. This season, coach Lindy Ruff will find himself in the unfamiliar position of molding some great NHL talent into a team. Following years of trying to do it with smoke and mirrors after the usual departure of star players, Ruff will have the luxury of inserting newly-acquired talent into his lineup. Ruff has guided the Sabres back into the NHL playoffs the last 2 seasons, but both years ended with disappointing first round losses, to Boston and Philadelphia. The team now has added a pair of  solid defensemen – Robyn Regehr and Christian Erhoff, and a solid two-way forward – Ville Leino, through free agency. Regehr is a stay-at-home type of defenseman who brings a couple of things to the Sabres’ defense that have been lacking – size and toughness. Erhoff possesses the kind of offensive skills that should make him an asset on the power play. Leino is a still-developing player who has shown the knack for coming up big in the playoffs. Signing him away from the Flyers softens the blow somewhat of watching Danny Briere haunt the Sabres continually in this past year’s playoffs.

One overlooked thing about the new owner is that this year, for the first time in ages, the off-season has been filled with stories of the team re-signing it’s own players, rather than having to watch good players leave in order to keep the bottom line in order. In the past, GM Darcy Regier probably would have had to decide between keeping either Ryan Miller or Jhonas Enroth as the team’s goaltender, rather than keep both in the fold, but this year the team signed Enroth and will now have what a lot of other NHL teams only dream of – depth in goal. The club also locked up Cody McCormick, Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, Marc- Andre Gragnani and a host of other future prospects and players to help out the farm team in Rochester, which Pegula also purchased. They may not be ready to win the Stanley Cup yet this season, but it’s nice to know the hockey people in the organization are now being given the tools to compete on a level playing field with the Bostons, Philadelphias and New York Rangers of the league.

1 Comment

Posted in Hockey