Mr. Pegula,

As a fan of the greatest sport on earth, and someone who went through a long period of bad hockey in my home town, I was delighted to see you buy the Buffalo Sabres. Your enthusiasm, your liquid wealth, and most of all your open nature had many of us convinced the dark days of hockey in Buffalo were over. The fans in Buffalo, the writers covering the league, and the local business people hoped against history that time had come where the team was fun to watch, and had fans buying up gear and downing refreshments throughout the city game nights.

That time is not here. In the more than two and a half years since you bought the team, the results have only gotten worse. The old team had more skill, more will and more class than the current version. For all his whining in press conferences and questionable ability to deal with skilled rosters, the old coach had way more horse sense than the new one. This team lacks. What it lacks is nearly everything. While their are bright spots, they are so outnumbered and overpowered by the places on the team where light fails to shine.

As the owner, as a leader, as a fan and as a business man you have the responsibility to make the team better. The general manager who was gathering dust in the front office when you arrived made a few quality trades that brought the franchise quality assets. But as he’s shown year after year he is completely out of his league when it comes to putting together a team that has cohesion, skill, internal motivation, and enough hutzpa to be a contender.

Complete the sweep. The team isn’t going anywhere but there is some young talent. You’re losing the good will of the fans more and more each game. The time to act is while sentiment is still in motion, not when the last of the fans has walked away.  Put the music label, the NFL talent agency and all the other projects in the hands of someone capable for a while and take point on this. Two years ago you were the best hope of sports glory for Buffalo.

In the final analysis the team has had little publicity in this young season. The most discussed player is not Ryan Miller who is playing some of the best hockey of his life. It is not Cody Hodgson who in his best games shows true number one center potential. It isn’t even Tyler Ennis who has played the most consistent hockey game in and game out. All the attention has swirled around John Scott. When your teams most consistent press comments swirl around a guy who averages six minutes a night, you have no excuse for not taking strong corrective action, no excuse but apathy.

Ryan Miller has been the main stay of the Buffalo Sabres for years. He emerged out of the shadow of Domnik Hasek to win his own Vezina trophy, attend the All Star festivities, and even play an Olympic tournament that was one for the ages. For a few years it looked as if he would bring glory to the team, the city, and the entire upper north west of New York State. The reality is that Terry Pegula stepped up to late to make Miller a champion in the home uniform.

When you look at Miller, and his own individual talent level, there are any number of teams that could, and probably should step to the plate and put in a worthy offer. But the teams that will be most attractive to him, with his no trade clause, and for his future are not so many. At age 33, the Lansing Michigan native has to be aware of how narrow the window is for him to win, even if he believes he can be an NHL starter another seven or eight years.

The list of teams that even if he’s traded to, he probably would not sign a new deal with include teams like the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets, and Florida Panthers. The Flyers have to be every goalies nightmare just based on history. The Lightning, Jets, Panthers and Stars are all in some stage of rebuild and growth and only one is really in advance of the Sabres. It might save a nervous general manager’s job in the short term to acquire Ryan Miller and escape the league basement, but if he doesn’t stick around, whatever assets were expended to bring him in are pure loss.

There are exactly two teams that standout as being ideal places for Ryan Miller to launch the next phase of his career. The first spot is a team with an absolutely star studded roster of mature NHL talent, a hall of fame player turned coach, and is handy to major east coast cities, has and has a very metropolitan lifestyle where mere athletes blend in. The other is an old Canadian market with absurd amounts of young talent, a couple of wily veterans and love of hockey that extends to the depths of the earth.

In Washington playing for the Capitals Miller could give up worrying about goal support, forget about being the only recognizable name that didn’t make fans despair, and simply concentrate on winning. There would be no years long wait for the team to reach peak, and little need for the dramatics he’s indulged in over the past few seasons to draw some emotional engagement out of his teammates.

The Edmonton Oilers are the other obvious landing spot. Today they sit 10th in goals for but tied for worst at 5 goals against per game. Adding Miller just months after the additions of new captain Andrew Ference, David Perron and Denis Grebeshkov would be the signal that now is the time to budding superstars Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov. The Oilers may be built around their young stars, but today’s roster is about the same average age as the Boston Bruins team that won the cup just three years ago.

One period of any game this season is enough to convince anyone Miller is healthy, hungry and at the top of his game. That same period is more than enough to convince anyone objective observer that the gap in skill, commitment, and execution between himself and his nearest team mate is similar to the gulf between the NHL and the ECHL.

With the deadline looming, and about a bakers dozen games left for many team, it is time to take a look at what we know about all the teams in the NHL.

Pittsburgh: We know Ray Shero likes to make deadline trades, we know health is sorta returning for this team. We also know that with a current cumulative cap hit higher than next years cap, and Morrow’s decline and questionable health that this is likely a one shot deal for the guys currently in uniform.

Montreal:  It’s kinda hard to figure out why more people aren’t excited about his team. They are fifth in goals for, ninth in goals against, there only real bad component is their penalty kill. While we’re at it, Tomas Plekanec deserves way more attention than he gets, if he could drag the penalty kill into respectability, or even just score a shorthanded goal or two he’d be on my Selke shortlist.

Winnipeg; We know this team needs desperately to buy quality defense at the deadline. Adding offense wouldn’t hurt at all, but the backend needs to come first they are one of just two top eight teams in the east to allow triple digit goals already.

Boston: This team needs an attitude adjustment. They do not have the raw focus or hunger they did in their Cup winning year, what body they add isn’t the solution, the size of the fight in that dog is.

Ottawa; Clearly this is a team made up of undercover superheros, or at least the guys left on the ice. They might not go to far this year, but oh man this team has some good young talent and might even lead the conference if they were healthy. A cheap rental forward who can add to the scoring would be nice, but this team could easily produce an upset or two.

Toronto: The fact that no real changes have been made to this team since Brian Burke was fired, and it has just about locked up a playoff spot means he shouldn’t have too much trouble landing his next GM job, and probably trading for Kadri, Gardiner, and Grabovski or pennies on the dollar.

New Jersey: The Devils have spent all season proving last season wasn’t a fluke. How they’ve done this is anyones guess. They are winning right now even without Kovalchuk, It would not surprise me if they became sellers at the deadline, but in a very limited sense.

New York Rangers: We know this is either the Eastern Conference’s best bad team or worst good team.  We know time is running out on the current off ice leadership for this team. We know in order to get this level of under-performance elsewhere in sports you’d have to threaten professional cycling with accurate testing and jail time for violators. We know that if the Islanders and Devils make the playoffs and the Rangers don’t the angst in Blue Shirt nation will be legendary

New York Islanders: We know John Tavares should be getting way more attention than he does, he is after all over a point per game, second in goals, and seventh in points. If the Islanders make the playoffs, he has to be on the Hart shortlist. We know that Brad Boyes would be a frickin’ idiot to sign anywhere else next season given that he has more points in 34 games this season, than in 65 last year.

Carolina: With several games in hand their current 10th place position is deceiving, we know however they need to win those games. We know that Cam Ward isn’t nearly as irreplaceable as the faithful would have you believe. We know that Jeff Skinner (signed to a big endorsement deal by Dewey, Slewfoot and Diver) will probably not like the attention he receives night after night from top defenses.

Washington: We know that Adam Oates deserves a boatload of capital for turning the ship around on the fly without the benefit of a training camp, stable goaltending, or a team with any confidence in itself. He’s also got Ovechkin back to a point per game by using that weird thing called logic and letting him play more minutes. We also know that this team still isn’t built right and that problem still resides at a higher level than Oates.

Tampa Bay: We know that Yzerman is just as good at constructing a defense as he was at fighting.

We know he needs to fix that if he’s going to make it to his fourth year as general manager. He’s clearly good at identifying offensive talent, so swapping some of the current stable to rebuilding or needy teams for a veteran defenseman or two shouldn’t be completely impossible.

Buffalo: We know Terry Pegula can’t be pleased with the state of his hockey team. We know that with next years realignment no one with an ounce of hockey sense would pencil this team into next years standings about sixth place without major changes. We know if they blow up the team right they could have a pretty good chance at drafty both Seth Jones and Connor Mcdavid.

Philadelphia: We know the keep defenseman healthy the same way The Real World finds the mentally unbalanced to film every season. We know that no to long ago the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup finals, and have regressed further and further every year. WE know this is another team that’s due for some administrative housekeeping even if the health problems make things look worse than they are.

Florida: We know that last year despite an absurd amount of injuries the team went toe to toe with the eventual Eastern Conference champions. We know that this year, another absurd amount of injuries and dramatically poorer goaltending from the guys not named Markstrom have lead not to the Southeast division title but once again to the eastern conference basement. We know they have a couple more solid prospects in the pipeline. We know there is tons and tons for Dale Tallon and company to do.

After 170 head coaching changes elsewhere around the league, Darcy Regier (or whoever) finally decided they needed someone else to blame things on. Lindy Ruff is Buffalo Sabres coach no more.

10: They Sabres were winning to many games to have the best possible shot at drafting Seth Jones.

9: Darcy Regier promised Terry Pegula he could easily have a draft as successful a the Sabres 2000 edition.

8: Ruff never told Regier how bad Myers was before the Sabres wrote his current contract.

7: After having yet more misfit toys like John Scott, Steve Ott and Patrick Kaleta dropped on his roster Lindy Ruff used his safeword.

6: Super star defenseman Adam Pardy said he could no longer play on a team coached by Ruff and management had to make a decision.

5: The New York media like John Tortorella’s press conferences better.

4: After careful consultation with Pierre Gauthier it was decided that anyone who failed to say “not it” at the staff meeting would be fired.

3: Terry Pegula finally realized all the whining at the Sabres press conferences wasn’t caused by press audio equipment.

2: It was always in managements plan to fire Ruff when his name rusted off the sign over his parking space.

1: Like George McPhee Regier is dead certain he can keep his boss from noticing how bad at his job he is by firing coaches.

There are some teams that just aren’t going anywhere this season no matter how well they do in the regular season. For some, just getting run out of town in the first round of the playoffs will be a moral victory. But let’s be honest; moral victory is just another way of saying we aren’t good enough for the real kind, and we aren’t going to try. Not all of the teams with players on this list fall into the category of non-contenders, some have to make room under the falling cap.

Victor Fasth: What an amazing start to an NHL career. The Ducks new netminder has won his first 8 (and counting?) starts in the NHL. This would be far less amazing if he were playing behind a team that showed it was a playoff contender. The other two guys to get off to a start like this are Ray Emery who is worthy of every accolade for endurance and determination to stay in the NHL, neither he nor Bob Froese are going to make it into the top 50 list of goaltenders one would build a franchise around.

Joe Pavelski: Fourteen games into the season “Little Joe” has 14 points. Unfortunately he’s is only got two of those in his last six games. If he were Russian the terms from up north would be stronger than the “inconsistent” I’ll use. With 1/3rd of his goals on the powerplay this season, and for his career, maybe a change of scenery could get this player to the next level. With two more years on a reasonable contract he could help a team that will really contend over the top. His career high 31 goal season last year, and his fast start this year might just get a team to bite.

Martin St. Louis: While I don’t see his quality of play crashing anytime soon, he is the best trade piece the team has for a long term improvement. The team is 24th in goals against, familiar territory for the Lightning. With two years left on his deal, if he can be persuaded to waive his NMC, the return could be gigantic. Lecavalier is untradeable at his current production, trading Stamkos is absolutely a laughable idea, but St Louis could return the right picks or players to shore up an awful defense in front of their solid goaltender. For the undrafted Catamount Alumni he might just get to hoist Lord Stanley if he lands in the right place.

David Krejci: As we all know most forwards peak between 26-28 years of age, then begin to decline and often first liners at 24 are 3rd liners not to long after they peak, assuming they are still in the NHL at all. David Krejci turns 27 on the day after the season ends. He’s off to a point per game pace, he’s shooting well with a career high 17.4%, he’s completely healthy, and he’s the highest paid forward on the Boston Bruins this year. As Stanley Cup champion, a decent faceoff man, and a top 10-15% passer, he’s got value. There are teams up and down the league that can use an offensive center. With cost certainty built in for two more years he’s not much of a risk for teams who need to juice their offense.

Andrei Markov: With a quarter of the season gone, Markov has proved, finally, that for the first time since 2008-9 season that he is indeed healthy. Sell, sell now! He played 13 games last season, he played seven the year before. Those are Rick Dipietro numbers. On top of the questions of health he is somehow the teams highest paid skater. Yes he’s produced, he’s gotten hit and delivered hits, he’s blocked shots too. But be smart, make him someone else’s problem the next time he ends up on the shelf for an extended stretch.

Thomas Vanek: As constituted the Buffalo Sabres are about as likely to win the Stanley Cup this season as are the Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames. While Vanek has never even approached the 12g 13a 25p in 15gp pace. Despite being on a team that has had no playoff success in his tenure, Vanek has produced a point per game pace in the playoffs over a 10 game appearance in the 2006-07 year. People, possibly including Terry Pegula, are coming to the conclusion that the current Sabres mix is not configured to win. Vanek, could net even more than Nash. Vanek has, despite scant little more success and being surrounded by middle draft picks to Nash’s high end picks, it is Vanek and not Nash who has the better (slightly) points per game percentage: 0.83778 to 0.81222. Best of all, Vanek is $600,000 cheaper per year.  For the Sabres moving him before the deadline with just one year left on his contract lets them maximize their return and take a long look at more of their prospects and or whoever they get in return.

Lindy Ruff is the NHL’s longest tenured head coach. Over the years he’s done much with not much to just plain nothing at all. He’s been fortunate to have good goaltending for most of that time. The rest of the talent on the roster however has been of highly suspect most years. Fragile, quitters, loafers and AAAA players have been the rule with the odd captive high pick that panned out sticking around just long enough to reach free agency.

In the thirteen seasons since being hired Lindy Ruff has herded the Buffalo Sabres to the golf course before the second round eight times. Five of those times the team failed to make the playoffs at all. In the last two seasons they’ve lost in the first round. In the two seasons before that they didn’t make the playoffs at all.

When the Sabres were purchased by Terry Pegula last season the spending started immediately. Boyes, Regher, Ehrhoff and Leino were all on the shopping list. Suddenly a backwater became a top three spender. Along the way the character of the team was overturned. Character guys like Mike Grier were shown the door. Brad Boyes while tremendously skilled is an enigma at the best of times. The faults of the collection of players who made up the Vancouver Canucks, like Ehrhoff have been discussed ad nauseam.

I don’t think in his career Ruff has coached so many players either expect to win just by showing up or who don’t seem to care. This is not the same as coaching guys who are desperate to prove their worth in the NHL. A guy who knows he only got called up because three guys further up the depth chart are injured or slumping is going to be much more responsive to coaching and direction than the typical hockey diva.

The Sabres now have the potential to become the Washington Capitals of the northeast. They can afford all the talent they want, and quite possibly achieve the exact same non results. The  change in talent level of the roster may not mean much in the end. At this point Ruff has not proved he can coach appreciably over the talent level of a mediocre roster, his ability to coach a talent laden roster is in serious doubt if this seasons efforts are the measuring stick,  The Sabres are the third highest spending team while sitting 19th in the league standings, 13th in goals for, 20th in goals against, and if the playoffs started today they would fail to qualify.

Once more into the bottle. The last of the Boston Bruins divisional rivals take to the ice against the knights of north station.  Among them are the Marchand sized Gerbe and Ennis, the Chara-lite Myers and former linemate Patrice Bergeron the always enigmatic Brad Boyes.

Disclaimer: Even if your participation in this game is limited to drinking water something stupid is likely to happen.  No one actually cares what that stupid is since it will be your own damn fault, but if it should happen to get 500 or more votes on one of our favorite sites definitely send us a link, if it involves some hotties send pics too.

 

Take One Drink:

Any time the words “goalie rotation” are uttered.

Whenever the Bruins and Sabres last playoff meeting is mentioned.

If Lindy Ruff’s tenure is mentioned.

An injury graphic is shown.

Each time someone draws a size comparison among the largest or smallest players is made.

Take Two Drinks:

The changes in Buffalo are shown or mentioned.

A player, even one who isn’t Vanek or Pomminville, leaves the ice with an injury.

Boyes having been a Bruin or Paille having been a Sabre is brought up.

Goalie controversy is used to describe the crease competition in either city.

Any summer pickups by either team are mentioned: Ehrhoff, Regehr, Corvo.

Take Three Drinks:

Whenever you feel like it.

If a comparison is made between Rask and Thomas and Miller and Enroth.

Rookie Luke Adam is compared to Nugent-Hopkins.

The word expectations is tacked onto any mention of performance.

If a player who left the ice with an injury returns.

Take Four Drinks:

If at any point there have been more penalties than shots on goal in the period.

The record for either coach is mentioned.

The record for any of the goalies against the other team is mentioned.

The standings are shown.

There is a fight involving more than 3 million dollars in salary.

Skip a drink:

If Jack Edwards fails to apply the word “rocket” to any shot by Boychuk.

No coach is interviewed during a stoppage or intermission.

Someone breaks a stick.

Yesterday afternoon the Bruins front office set of a wave of speculation. All they had to do was let the hockey universe know they were going to be holding a press conference today at 6pm. No one I’ve seen, or heard knows anything and the lines of speculation are both long and distinguished. Some of the more plausible ones include:

  • A trade, either major along the lines of acquiring a number 2 or 3 defenseman, or goal scorer to help finish when on the powerplay. Or just a shakeup move or shuffling of excess and or disappointing parts .Andrew Alberts and Chuck Kobasew were all traded early in the season under Chiarelli. Peter also pulled off some last years key trades well in advance of the deadline, so a settling in period is clearly part of his philosophy.
  • A contract extension for someone in management. I could be his, or someone else.
  • A change in parts of the coaching staff.
  • Injury updates: Marc Savard being the most discussed, but some have pointed out Krejci and Mcquaid’s injuries as cause for concern as well questioning the extent to which Rask is recovered.
  • Others have wondered about health of off ice personnel and management.

Trade talk has focused on a few specific people, without the overwhelming, ridiculous, and flat out wrong push given in notable quarters to the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle. While that doesn’t mean this won’t be a major trade, it is entirely possible the trade won’t be for who is most speculated.

  • Ryan Whitney of the Edmonton Oilers is a big contributor from the backend. He’s been in the 40 point range most seasons, and peaked at 59. Points wise that lines him right up with Zdeno Chara, he’s also a 28 year old Boston native with a four million dollar cap hit this year and next.
  • Daniel Alfredsson is one of the more interesting players speculated. Age and injury history make the amount of time and money left on his contract risky, but the fact he’s still up to playing over 19 minutes a game which is comparable to Patrice Bergeron who is more than a decade younger is solid counter balance. Add to that Chiarelli’s days in Ottawa, the fact he was worn the C even through all the nastiness the last few years there, and that he is well known to Chara and Kelly and you bring the appeal a bit higher. He was a big part of the Senators “golden years” when they were crushingly dominant, but at 38 has still not won a Cup.
  • Rene Bourque (no relation) of the Calgary Flames has his name floated about in trade talks about as often as Michael Ryder did after his first season here, and for similar reasons. When he’s good, he’s damned good, when he’s not he’s almost invisible. His cap hit is reasonable considering he’s produced two straight 27 goal seasons on team with questionable centers.

Those are the three most reasonable and frequently speculated trades. Some others possibilities exist, and are at least to me more interesting.

  • The New York Rangers are sputtering. They may have beat the Jets last night, but through seven games they’ve only scored fourteen goals. As much as they like having Dubinsky and Callahan are very similar players playing on the same line and it is possible a different player might be what is needed to give the team some mojo. Neither is playing particularly well, both play center and wing, often alternating during the game. Both were recently signed, but Sather and company can’t have too much room left on the leash after the way the team has ended the last couple seasons.
  • Kyle Turris is frequently named in speculation since the Phoenix Coyotes and he have yet to reach an agreement, but I don’t find this likely given how many times the GM has said he’d rather let Turris sit the year than trade him.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets have just about flatlined. They have 1 point in eight games, have allowed more goals than any team in the league, and spent a lot of money in the off season specifically so they could see more teams below them in the standings than above them. Of the players they might be willing to move, R.J. Umberger is former Flyer with a lot of playoff experience who has the center/wing experience that the Bruins management favors, I suspect going back would be defensemen and maybe a goalie.
  • The Nashville Predators have a lot of big decisions to make both as management and players. Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter will be UFA’s if not signed by July 1, Shea Weber will be an RFA with arbitration rights. Weber has indicated he only wants to stay if they are committed to winning, I can’t imagine Suter and Rinne have said or done anything different. While I don’t expect we’d land any of them, a couple draft picks from a team that might finish outside the playoffs in exchange for parts of our system that don’t fit could be win-win for both teams.
  • Another team that for the sake of it’s long term survival, and recent change in ownership can’t be ignored in any trade speculation, especially given how much change there was in Buffalo when Pegula took over is the Winnipeg Jets. They aren’t an expansion team, but they might as well be, and they will need to to keep the fan base very satisfied with such a small building to draw revenue from.

In two months the division standings will tell you which teams are good, which are bad and which are bubble teams. With the Bruins, Sabres and Canadiens picked preseason to make the playoffs, right now all the division standings tell us is which teams are off to a  poor start.

Senators:

  • The Senators have a surprisingly bright future for a team with such a dismal roster. Yes Alfredsson and Spezza are capable of amazing hockey play, but take the two out and you’d be hard pressed to be a good ECHL team.  Eleven of the teams 20 goals through seven games have been scored by Spezza, Alfredsson or Michalek. Butler and Filatov, two of their most highly skilled prospects have only played two games each, Filatov as a +1 with an assist in nearly fifteen minutes against the still undefeated Detroit Red Wings.  At 2-5-0 they are unlikely to get higher in the standings than they are now.

Canadiens:

  • If you ask some hockey fans they might say the injury bug has developed an unnatural love for the boys of the Bell Centre, others might say its years of karma over diving, faking injuries and encouraging malicious prosecution coming home to roost. Either way, the Habs have been dinged and damned from the word go. Markov is out, Gomez left the game the other night for an MRI, their leading goal scorer from last year missed time with a skate cut, P.K. Subban’s ability to produce points is broken, and on and on. The bright spots in Habsville arepretty limited, but Max Pacioretty has emerged to climb within one goal of the total he had in two of his previous three seasons with the team, and Yannick Weber who is playing more minutes in all situations this year is currently leading the team in +/- at +3, an impressive number when you realize the team has given up 19 goals and only scored 13 through six games.

Maple Leafs

  • Until the teams visit to Boston in which he was held to just one shot and no points, Phil Kessel had to feel like he was on top of the world. He was the leader in points and goals, the team was undefeated and the Bruins were to put it mildly, struggling mightily. Then the game started. The Leafs were not only routed, Tyler Seguin, the first return on the three draft picks Toronto gave up to get him had a three point night. The Thank You Kessel chants reigned down and the Leafs bench had no answer. The Leafs faceoff with the Canadiens tonight for the second time this season and have a chance at regaining the division lead.

Sabres

  • If there is a more popular man in Buffalo right now than Terry Pegula you’re gonna have to point them out to me. Unless that is, it’s Ryan Miller. Through five games teams biggest star and arguably the worlds best goalie has a GAA of 1.61 and a Sv% of .950 which helps explain why the team leads the division. The other end of the ice isn’t anything to complain about either. In the teams six games they’ve scored twenty goals, all of this without Boyes, Leino or Ennis showing any signs of life. Anyone who is surprised if this team is still playing in May just isn’t paying attention.

Bruins

  • The bad news is what with Krejci, Mcquaid, and Kampfer all missing time already the team has had to ice some players for whom the value has yet to be determined. This has been part of a sluggish start has them looking up at both the powerhouse Sabres and the unproven Leafs. The good news is that Kampfer and Krejci have both made returns and contributed in them. The team finally found both its focus and emotion, sadly not in that order and managed to derail the spunky Toronto team. The question of how well they can and will play in front of Tuukka Rask has yet to be answered in a satisfactory way, leading many fans to question if the players know something about the backup goalie the rest of us don’t.

Today’s schedule:

The Boston Bruins host 1997 number one draft pick Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks.

The Montreal Canadiens will look to even up the season series against the visiting Maple Leafs.

The Ottawa Senators are hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets in what is probably the only game of the month in which the odds makers will favor Daniel Alfredssons team.

The Buffalo Sabres will charge into Lightning territory tonight where for the first time in a long time Lecavalier is making fantasy hockey owners are just as happy to have him on their team as Stephen Stamkos.