A Fallen Tree: Farewell, Dmitri Kalinin

Dmitri KalininOut of the Sabres press conference yesterday came an interesting, yet sort of expected, nugget of information. Darcy Regier revealed that the Sabres will not tender an offer to unrestricted-free-agent-to-be defenseman, Dmitri Kalinin.

To many, it’s about damn time.

To few, it’s a shame. Kalinin sometimes, not frequently, shed some light as to why he was such a highly regarded prospect.

Kalinin has been in the organization for 10 years, and he’ll no longer be a Sabre come July 1st.

It’s an end to any hope that he would turn out to be the defenseman he was expected to be, but in reality he turned out to be a pretty solid Sabre. Dmitri had his moments.

When he was drafted, there were very high hopes for the young man from Cheljabinsk. This excerpt is from the Buffalo News’ post-1998 draft article:

As the Buffalo Sabres’ turn in the first round approached Saturday afternoon, the team’s hockey department kept waiting for Dimitri Kalinin’s name to be called out. Buffalo figured Kalinin was one of the best 10 players in the draft, and it was picking 18th.

“It’s funny — a couple of our scouts were getting pretty excited because we were getting closer and his name was still there (unpicked),” Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said. “Don Luce had to temper that. He said, ‘Don’t put his name on a list. Don’t put it on a computer. Don’t talk about him. If he’s there, great. If he’s not, so be it.’ ”

The Sabres’ hopes were realized when Kalinin wasn’t one of the first 17 players taken. Buffalo quickly grabbed the native of Russia, who was rated as the top European player in the draft by the Central Scouting Bureau.

Kalinin then accepted the cheers of the roughly 9,000 fans at the Entry Draft in Marine Midland Arena as he put on a Sabre sweater on the main stage.

Kalinin was the first of four players taken by the Sabres in the top 50 picks. Buffalo had three choices in the second round. It used them on left winger Andrew Peters of Oshawa, right winger Norman Milley of Sudbury, and winger Jaroslav Kristek of the Czech Republic.

The choice of Kalinin, who played with Traktor Chelyabinsk last season, was something of a surprise. Buffalo was expected to go for a forward with its first selection.

“By the time for our pick came, many of the forwards we liked were gone,” Regier said. “But we had an opportunity to get a defenseman who we did not believe would be there. He’s got good size, and our European scouts say he’s got the total package.”

The Sabres were thrilled to get him. Getting the top European prospect to fall to you at the 18th pick is no easy feat. Don Luce, then working for the hockey department, was beyond thrilled.

“I know it’s standard in scouting to say, ‘We couldn’t believe he was there,’ but we got the No. 1-rated player from Europe when he fell to 18th, so I was surprised by that,” Luce said. “He’s a good skater. He works hard every shift. He’s got skills. I know his stats don’t show it (two points in 26 games), but he played in a men’s league. We also saw him play in games against players his own age, and he was outstanding.”

Fast forward to January 4, 2000. The nation was just recovering from the Y2K scare. Gas is about $1.25/gallon. Music legends such as Smash Mouth, Ricky Martin and Savage Garden had songs in the top 10. That night, Dmitri Kalinin made his NHL debut for the Sabres in a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.

Dmitri KalininOver the next few years, Kalinin became a fixture on the Buffalo blueline. The following season he appeared in 79 games. In the 2003-04 season, he led the Sabres blueliners with 10 goals. He always showed flashes of brilliance, but those were usually erased from memory by a bunch of bonehead plays.

Probably my favorite memory of him as a Sabre was his shorthanded goal against Boston late in the ’02-’03 season. Kalinin beat Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who was then a total scrub (some say he still is), from his own blueline, for a shorthanded goal. The Sabres lost that game, 8-5. Milan Bartovic also scored in that game.

If it weren’t for his broken foot, suffered in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Ottawa, the Sabres may have won the Stanley Cup in 2006. The absence of Kalinin, along with defenseman Henrik Tallinder, Jay McKee and Teppo Numminen, forced Buffalo to field a depleted blueline for Game 7 against Carolina. The Sabres were unable to hold back the Hurricanes in a 4-2 loss, ending the season of possibly the most Cup-ready team in franchise history. (God, look at your feet, Rory!)

He played 82 games for the team in the best regular season in franchise history in ’06-’07. During the playoffs, he was benched for poor play in the team’s series against Ottawa. Many called for him to be moved, but when training camp came the following fall, it was revealed he had been playing on a sports hernia, which is usually enough to completely take a player out of the lineup.

Still he was often criticized for being soft, although during his time here, he did drop the gloves when he felt like it. And, yes, I have proof:

Criticize all you want, but this guy has been around for a while. Look at some of the names on the roster from that ’99-2000 season: Brian Holzinger. Wayne Primeau. Vladimir Tsyplakov.

Want a fun fact? Six Sabres appeared that season without registering a point. Here they are: Doug Houda, Mike Hurlbut, Paul Kruse, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, David Moravec and Dmitri Kalinin.

Yeah, it has been a while.

466 games. 34 goals. 111 assists. +11. (really!) Averaged 19:43 per game. 37 postseason appearances.

So, unlike other fans who’ll scream, “Good riddance!”, I’ll be nice.

Thanks for the memories, ‘Tri. I’ve spent many arguments defending your validity as an NHL player, and you barely supported that on the ice. Good luck wherever you end up.

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Posted on June 4, 2008, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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