Tempering the McDavid/Eichel hype in Buffalo or Talking like an idiot

ARX_3633It’s been an interesting season in Buffalo. Regardless of how bad or horrendously bad you think the team is, there’s little reason to claim they’re uninteresting. And some of that is the debate between the merits of “tanking” and trying real hard to win games with a terrible roster.

There’s been a lot of resistance from a segment of the fan base and some of the scribes at The Buffalo News towards the idea of embracing the tank, and making the most out of this rebuild. Noted scribe Bucky Gleason dropped a whopper of a “MY COLUMN:” today, dropping a heaping serving of truth to all the tank enthusiasts who have dreams of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel dancing in their heads.

Instead of just saying how stupid it is, I’m going to point out how stupid it is.

Last year, sometimes in meetings with front-office staff and other times in casual conversations, Ted Black was telling people that everything would be fine after the 2015 draft. The master plan called for finishing last, allowing the Sabres to land either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Not even half a sentence in and Bucky’s dropping that insider knowledge to create the illusion of insight. Ted Black, Tim Murray, and just about everyone in the organization has been referencing building with high picks since before the 2014 Draft. The Sabres have been building through the draft for four years, going back the 2012 Draft when they snagged Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. At some point, you move on. Is it a huge deal to acknowledge you’ll be comfortable doing so at a certain point? Unacceptable.

Forget that the Sabres would have only a 20 percent chance of landing McDavid, considered the better of the two prospects this season. Sabres staffers and delusional fans, some of whom happen to be the same people, convinced themselves that Eichel also would answer their prayers.

Yes, the Sabres would have only a 20% chance of retaining the top pick if finishing dead last. This would be more than the 13.5% chance given to the team that finishes 29th, or the 11.5% chance given to the team that finishes 28th, as well as every other team in the lottery. It’s as if you’d have the best chance to get the best player should you finish last. What a revelation!

I know if I were a fan, the last thing I’d want is the team’s staff to be on board with whatever put the team in the best position to win. No need for that delusional fan mentality. There needs to be detachment from what the team might be able to do to improve their roster.

Bucky’s totally right. Getting Eichel would be a worthless consolation prize. It’s hard to convince yourself that Eichel could be a valuable choice when TSN’s Bob McKenzie says “both McDavid and Eichel project as bona fide franchise players, A++ prospects who will be No. 1 NHL centers” or Craig Button says “Eichel and McDavid are generational players” or any other prospect report says that it’s the case.

I’m gonna go with Bucky on this one. Then I’m going to go step in front of a bus.

Quick question: Did ownership or people in the front office, other than GM Tim Murray and his scouts, watch them play enough to make that assessment? Are they absolutely certain that either player would really save the franchise, the way Sidney Crosby supposedly saved the Penguins?

Quick question: does it matter what team staff is discussing when they ultimately cede the decision to GM Tim Murray and his scouts?

Both are very good players, as you would expect. They have all the speed and skill needed to become first-line forwards in the NHL. In fact, I’m hoping for their sake and their teams’ sake that they become superstars, as advertised. But to say they’re “generational players” is a major reach.

DSC_2308Admittedly, these two renowned elite prospects who happen to be star players and leading scorers are very good at hockey. At least Buckster has the kids’ best interests at heart here. He just wants the best for them. What a kind soul he is.

Let’s start with McDavid, the more promising of the two prospects. He had a slow start before gaining confidence and picking up his play during the WJC. He was terrific Sunday night in the blowout win over Slovakia, a team that Canada overwhelmed with its speed and depth. He can fly and has terrific hands and vision, making him a very creative and dangerous player.

Gleason has his finger on the pulse here. McDavid, coming off a broken hand that kept him out for weeks leading up to the tournament, had a slow start playing his first games since November. Great insight. He also had a slow start to the season in Erie, collecting 42 points in the first 14 games of the season before he struggled mightily and was held pointless for one game. Hard to get a read on a kid when he’s that inconsistent.

Still, it wasn’t as if he jumped off the television screen the way Crosby did when he played or even Patrick Kane did when he played at the same level. McDavid has shown flashes of brilliance during some games and looked painfully average in others. Yes, that inconsistency comes with youth and inexperience. Yes, he was still trying to get his timing back after being sidelined with a broken hand.

But McDavid hasn’t “jumped off the screen” like Patrick Kane did. Patrick Kane played for Team USA in the 2007 World Junior Championships, registering nine points in seven games as the Americans won the bronze. McDavid has ten points in six games, with a final left to play. He’s been off the scoresheet in two of six games. Just twice.

By the way, interesting that Gleason cites his South Buffalo boy Kane in this discussion, because the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championships, held in Leksand and Mora in Sweden, weren’t fully televised. NHL Network didn’t exist yet. Unless he had Center Ice or was going to Canada each morning to catch games on TSN, there’s no way he saw every US game that featured Kane. And by the way, Kane was held scoreless in two of the seven games he played. Same as McDavid.

Also, that 2007 team was coached by Ron Rolston. Bucky loves Rolston.

Let’s not ignore the players he has around him. Canada is strong across four lines, which is why six players were averaging more than a point per game going into the final against Russia. McDavid is surrounded by so much talent that he’s bound to find more room, bound to put up points, bound to succeed.

While his bursts of speed are undeniable — and perhaps unmatched — you would be hard-pressed to say that he’s even the best player on his team. He’s one of several very good players.

By registering more points that Crosby did in the most loaded World Junior tournament in history in 2005, with the NHL lockout allowing full lineups, clearly McDavid isn’t making the most of his position on a roster for a country that hasn’t won a gold in five years. He has the second most points of anyone in the U20 tournament as a 17-year-old.

The same goes for Eichel, who is loaded with skill. There were times during the WJC that he looked better than McDavid, but his play tailed off as the tournament carried along. He didn’t have nearly the talent around him with USA that McDavid enjoyed while playing for Canada. Eichel was among several good ones including Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching.

Great players for their age? Absolutely. Generational players?

DSC_1627Now Bucky’s using Eichel’s support staff as an excuse for his play. What is he trying to say here? That a 17-year-old couldn’t carry a national team in an under-20 tournament? How is a five game stretch in international competition a valid argument towards anything?

Let’s wait and see when McDavid and Eichel are matched up against bigger, stronger and older players who will give them far less time and space and don’t respect them as much as scouts do. NHL veterans have watched too many can’t-miss prospects come and go to become enamored with any teenager. Success and failure is often determined by the talent they have around them.

Jack Eichel is playing college hockey and as a freshman was leading the nation in scoring when he left for the World Juniors. He still is. He’s playing against guys who have 3-4 years on him and tearing it up.

He doesn’t name the “can’t-miss prospects” who came and went, but it’s always a good argument when you use the outliers to make your case.

Crosby is a generational player who was surrounded by great players in the NHL. The same is true for Kane. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall are terrific players in Edmonton, but you hear less about them even though they have each other. The Oilers have spent years rebuilding through the draft and were still sitting in last place in the NHL through Monday’s games. Great players need other great players to succeed.

So, wait, you’re telling me that the Sabres won’t be any good if you put McDavid between Pat Kaleta and Cody McCormick? Get the hell out of here. True star players make players around them better, buddy!

Excuse me, I need to go find that bus again.

OK, so what about Sam Reinhart?

He has been terrific for Canada in the WJC. He had four goals and 10 points and was plus-10 in six games. He was leading Canada in scoring before Nic Petan (11 points) moved past him with a hat trick Sunday. McDavid has two goals and 10 points. Reinhart has a case for being their most effective player in the tournament, but it doesn’t mean he’s the most promising one.

Good point here. Reinhart has as many points as McDavid, so saying Reinhart looks good might indirectly make McDavid look good.

Just because you’re effective doesn’t mean you’re promising. Much like he pointed out earlier, where he said if you’re not effective, it means you’re not promising. Everything means anything, yet it also means nothing.

Reinhart, taken second overall last year by the Sabres, has the hands and head to play in the NHL. You don’t need to be an astute hockey fan to see that he also has skating issues that plagued him during his brief stint in Buffalo. He has an awkward stride, is easy to knock off the puck and doesn’t move his feet enough. He gets away with his skating when playing against teenagers, but it will catch up to him against the big boys.

See? Reinhart has the hands and head to play in the NHL, but does he have the heart? That skating can be a real issue, and it’s quite an indictment when an 18-year-old gets knocked off the puck by grown men in the National Hockey League. It’s almost as if he needs (*gasp*) time to develop!

He’s an NHL player, for sure, but he has issues. He’s not going to be a first-line player until he cleans up other parts of his game. Until proven otherwise, he’s just like everyone else in the WJC. He’s a prospect.

This is the real revelation in this well-crafted, bullet-proof column. Everyone might have their own thoughts, but Bucky calls his shot to say that a great prospect isn’t going to be a first line player until he becomes a first line player. Reinhart, McDavid, Eichel, they’re all the same, kids playing in a short, international hockey tournament.

Bucky spends a lot of words here preaching to his choir, being idiots who don’t bother to read anything or follow hockey or listen to respected voices who unanimously say one thing. Nope, Bucky knows the real truth. He knows that if this team finishes dead last, and puts themselves in a better position to win by getting a widely-accepted-as-generational talent, maybe it’s not all about working hard and competing like his buddy Teddy Nolan has been preaching. And if Nolan isn’t part of the solution, then ol’ Buckster looks like a doofus.

It’s absolutely embarrassing that this kind of schlock can be such a major part of the discourse around this hockey team. We rip on the #hockeyIQ in this town all the time, but there’s some smart people in media who say smart things that get ignored by the same moronic twats who embrace this drivel.

This team sucks. They’re going to get a great player in the draft. They’re going to get better. Let’s relax.

Too bad there’s no way for us to tank for a better local newspaper.

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Posted on January 5, 2015, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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