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Revising the blueprints

PC3_slideIt’s still weird.

It was weird when the press release came through around 9:30am on Wednesday. It’s weird early Friday morning when I’m finally putting words to it. Enough about the organization lately led everyone to be skeptical at the words “major press conference,” enough to the point I almost didn’t bother heading to First Niagara Center to witness it. And it had to be seen to be believed.

Even as the news that a new position had been created, and would be filled by one of the franchise’s hallmark talents (a feasible and exciting addition by the organization), the rest was almost unfathomable. It had to be seen to be believed. Despite the addition of Pat LaFontaine as President of Hockey Operations, that didn’t necessarily imply that Darcy Regier’s tenure in Buffalo was over. Nor that they’d cut ties with head coach Ron Rolston.

So when word started filtering out from sources that have remained questionable for many years, that Regier was gone, Rolston was gone, and Ted Nolan… Ted Nolan was back to coach the team on an interim basis, you realize that “major” isn’t quite strong enough to describe it. You don’t see that come through your twitter feed and believe it. Not when you’re sitting at work trying to figure out what’s going on. Not when you’re sitting on a blue chair in the Pavilion at First Niagara Center, staring at four empty chairs and a podium.

And then here comes Terry Pegula, Ted Black, Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan walking over from the elevator.

Then it all becomes real. And you don’t know what to think.

So I sat there, watching these faces from the past become faces of the present. And still, almost two days later, it’s hard to put together a concise thought about it all.

In honesty, when we’re sitting there at 9:30 on Wednesday, wondering what’s going on, and someone tweets out that Darcy and Ron Rolston are out and Ted Nolan is back as coach, we’re all laughing because there’s no fucking way that’s happening, right? Someone’s either saying that because it’s meant to be a joke or they’re the type of guy that’s been calling in to WGR’s postgame shows for the last decade.

Then it happens and you have to make the transition from “Yeah, right…” to “Ok then.” Read the rest of this entry

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Instigator Podcast #25: Petulance Defined

Since everyone else is talking about that shitshow press conference, we might as well cover it. Yours truly and Chris from Two In the Box sat down, had a beer, and talked about what a mess we’re all in.

Hit us up on twitter, @3rdManIn or @2ITB_Buffalo with comments.

Sabres trade Jordan Leopold to St. Louis

leopold

Only days away from the NHL trade deadline, the first domino has fallen at First Niagara Center.

Just hours before the Buffalo Sabres would drop the puck against Washington, the team announced they had traded defenseman Jordan Leopold to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for their 2nd round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, as well as a conditional 5th round pick in 2013.

The conditional pick is contingent on the Blues’ postseason success, as it is upgraded to a 4th round pick should St. Louis advance past the first round of the playoffs.

Leopold is in the last year of his three-year contract he signed with the Sabres as an unrestricted free agent in 2010. He registered 67 points in 174 games with Buffalo, and his 25 goals in Buffalo rank 18th among defensemen in franchise history.

“The first couple deals set the market,” [Blues GM Doug] Armstrong said on a conference call Saturday afternoon. “Pittsburgh set the market for defensemen when Murray went for a second [round pick] and I think a third that goes to a second based on a certain number of things…

“[Sabres GM] Darcy [Regier] might have been able to hold and see if the market goes up, but with that you’re always in the risk of an injury and getting nothing for the player. Everybody has to weigh the proper time for their team, and I know it was the proper time for us.”

Read the rest of this entry

Can the Buffalo Sabres fire Darcy Regier?

regierIn professional sports, when a team isn’t winning, usually there’s changes. On the roster, on the bench, in the front office. Things need to change.

As the Buffalo Sabres continue to struggle, and on the heels of the franchise firing their longtime and beloved coach, general manager Darcy Regier remains in charge.

Fans everywhere want him out, with some holding that opinion for longer than others. (Just ask the dude who yells for it five times at every home game) There’s more than enough reason to validate his removal.

During Regier’s tenure, he has retooled and rebuilt the roster multiple times. There’s been stretches of stagnation and some times of great success. As much as he’s to blame for the team’s current state, he also gets credit for building the post-lockout teams that were among the best in franchise history. He didn’t inherit those, he built them. And it took a few years of struggling to get the group that should’ve gotten them a Stanley Cup.

But that’s the past, and right now, this team sucks. It has a lot of solid pieces, and the whole is definitely less than the sum of the parts. This isn’t underachieving. This is not being good enough.

In that tenure, though, there’s never been the commitment and pressure to win, and win now, that the Buffalo Sabres currently claim. Are they serious? Just ask Lindy. If they’re willing to can the coach, they’d certainly be willing to do the same with the general manager.

But, you ask, what are they waiting for? Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, 69th Edition: Sabres get it done in Ottawa

In the spot they’re in, the Sabres are going to put themselves into a good spot if they find a way to assert themselves and grab games early. Saturday night in Ottawa, they never led for a second. But they left Canada’s capital with two points.

Erasing a one-goal deficit not once, not twice, but three times, the Buffalo Sabres found a way to win, earning a 4-3 shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators.

Tyler Ennis scored the decisive goal in the shootout.

Buffalo got yet another strong game from Ryan Miller, who made 33 saves, some in spectacular fashion before stopping two of three in the shootout.

Three times Ottawa took a lead, but they were all answered by the Sabres. Nathan Gerbe scored midway through the second to make it 1-1. Ennis tied the game at 2-2 with less than 20 seconds left in the middle period. The clutch goal to send it to overtime was scored by Marcus Foligno, his first career goal in his 2nd NHL game with 5:54 left on the clock.

“It was good to see us get pucks to the net, and we got a couple of nice bounces and that comes from just putting the puck in good areas,” Miller said. “They all count and they were a little bit dirtier. We needed it.”

It was an impressive effort from the Sabres to rebound, as Ottawa capitalized on Buffalo errors to jump ahead throughout the game. A Tyler Myers turnover at the blueline led to Erik Condra’s shorthanded goal. A breakout pass into Cody Hodgson’s skates set up Erik Karlsson’s first goal of the night. The third goal was a lost battle in front that led to Karlsson banking a shot off Miller and in from behind the goal line.

Buffalo now heads home, where they have Sunday off before facing Montreal at First Niagara Center on Monday.

  • The most important contract Darcy Regier has to get signed this summer is Tyler Ennis. The much discussed “second contract” is going to be key for the team’s cap situation for the next few seasons. Getting this guy signed for a reasonable rate is important. Injuries have kept his totals down this season, which should help, but Ennis is going to be a star by the time he has to sign his next deal. The most dynamic player in the organization, Ennis could be the team’s #1 center in a few years.
  • When Marcus Foligno came up earlier in the season, it was blatantly obvious he was not ready for the NHL. Seems like a totally different player now. I’d prefer to keep him in Rochester longer to continue development unless injuries provoke recalls, but you see why Zack Kassian was expendable. Solid 16 minutes from the rookie.
  • The defense is going to have to make a concerted effort to aim for the blade of Cody Hodgson’s stick instead of the blade of his skates. Read the rest of this entry

Instigator Podcast #6: Codylicious

Please make way for the sixth edition of “The Instigator Podcast” featuring Chris Ostrander of Two In the Box and myself.

This week’s episode breaks down the NHL Trade Deadline, and the Sabres moves. We talk how awesome it is to have Cody Hodgson, how awesome it is that Darcy got a 1st for Gaustad, all the other deals and play Plus/Minus.

Comments, suggestions and music requests can be directed to us. Let us know below or on twitter, @3rdManIn or @2ITB_Buffalo.

Sabres pick up Cody Hodgson, ship Kassian & Gragnani to Vancouver

Hey, Darcy… good work, pal.

While many fans were pulling out the pitchforks with 3:00 approaching, Regier was making moves, and while many might’ve been fine with the previous trade with Nashville, he had something up his sleeve.

Buffalo sent rookie Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani to Vancouver in exchange for Calder candidate Cody Hodgson and German defenseman Alexander Sulzer.

Hodgson, 22, has 16 goals and 33 points in 63 games for the Canucks. He has worked his way into “rookie of the year” talk after playing eight games last season for Vancouver. He made 12 playoff appearances in their run to last season’s Stanley Cup Finals, picking up one assist.

Sulzer, 27, has played just 12 games this season. In 74 games with Vancouver, Florida and Nashville, he has one goal and seven assists. He takes over Gragnani’s role as the team’s #7 defenseman. The Kaufbeuren, Germany native has been on Team Deutschland for the last two Olympic games.

The return was solid, but it was still a shocking move for the Sabres to give up on Kassian, who’d quickly become a fan favorite with his alleged physical play.

In 27 games for Buffalo, Kassian picked up three goals and added four assists. His legendary physicality was largely absent, as he proved to be a more passive big body than people expected. He was the Sabres’ first pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, 13th overall.

Vancouver also gets Marc-Andre Gragnani, a once promising young defenseman who had fallen out of the lineup. In 44 games, the guy who had been penciled in as a powerplay quarterback had just one goal and 12 assists. He had been the team’s leading scorer in last year’s first round series against Philadelphia, and it was his overtime goal against Carolina in April 2011 that helped secure a playoff spot.

Hodgson is currently signed to his entry-level deal, which expires after next season at a $1,666,666 cap hit. Sulzer is a pending unrestricted free agent at $700,000 for the season.

Litmus test awaits Sabres at MSG

A few weeks ago, this scenario seemed unlikely. The Buffalo Sabres were floundering and looked destined to spend their April hoping to win the lottery rather than a playoff series.

But that’s not where they sit tonight. They sit directly on the fence. Facing their last game before Monday’s NHL trade deadline, the course of action is far from obvious.

After last night’s victory over the Boston Bruins, the Buffalo Sabres sit only a handful of points out of a playoff spot, with the number standing at five heading into tonight’s game against the New York Rangers. Thanks to a 3-0-1 run in their recent four game homestand, the Sabres turned a battle for 15th into a battle back into the picture.

This streak of success this month has turned a wayward season into a decision whether or not to try to save this season or leave it to die on the operating table, and tonight is the last chance to decide. The opponent couldn’t be better selected.

Facing the Sabres tonight is the perfect test they could ask for. They head to New York to face the 1st place Rangers, who are running away with the top spot, currently holding a seven point lead on Boston. Hart Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in goal. It couldn’t be a better situation. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions, Traverse City Edition

The Buffalo Sabres are champions!

(Editor’s note: Sorry to alarm those who haven’t been following close, but it’s not like there’s ever been opportunities to say that outside of an EA Sports product or Eastside Hockey Manager. Take what you can get, right?)

With a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers, the Sabres’ young guns captured the 2011 Traverse City Prospects Tournament title in the franchise’s first ever appearance. Led by two goals from Marcus Foligno, Buffalo never trailed throughout the game.

Luke Adam opened the scoring with a powerplay marker, followed just minutes later by Foligno’s first of the night. After Corey Tropp scored the eventual game winner early in the third period, the Sabres got insurance goals from Dan Catenacci and the aforementioned Foligno.

2011 draft pick Nathan Lieuwen made 21 saves in net to earn the victory.

Now, the Sabres head back to Buffalo for the official start of training camp. All players report on Friday, with the first practice Saturday.

Some thoughts:

  • Are the Sabres waiting for something in particular to happen to sign Phil Varone? The prospects camp-invitee turned training camp-invitee was one of the best players on the ice. He’d look good in an Amerks uniform.
  • The line of Marcus Foligno-Luke Adam-Zack Kassian was reportedly dominant all tournament, and you can see why. They all have so much big game experience. They’re all big bodies. They all have skill. I don’t think you make them a line in Rochester, because it’d be good to have a vet somewhere in there. I can’t imagine Adam is gonna stay in Rochester long anyways if he keeps developing as quick as he is.
  • The powerplay, which according to the boxscore went 1-for-7, looked good controlling the puck. Without knowing how much they’ve installed powerplay tactics, the work on the points by the defenseman were impressive. Except maybe for their efforts in getting shots through. But the possession was good! Read the rest of this entry

Big Ville Style: Sabres sign Leino to 6-year contract

If you can’t beat them, sign them.

After watching him score the goal that basically eliminated Buffalo in this year’s playoffs, the Sabres decided it’d be better to have him in blue and gold.

Making their first move after free agency opened at noon on Friday, Buffalo inked former Philadelphia Flyers forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal.

“We felt very strongly about Ville, and we felt that it was important to make sure we didn’t allow a quality player like him to slip by us,” Regier said. “He was someone we identified early and moved him to the top of the list.”

Leino had a breakout season in 2010-11, tallying 19 goals and 53 points, both career highs. While he has spent time at wing in the NHL, Lindy Ruff plans to use him to solidify the Sabres’ center situation.

The 27-year-old Finn scored three goals in the seven-game Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against Buffalo, including the aforementioned game-winner in overtime of Game 6, forcing a seventh game, which Philadelphia won.

It’s a solid move for the Sabres, who were never really very interested in Brad Richards, considered the top prize on the market. While the contract can be seen as a risk due to the fact that Leino has not had more than one good NHL season, there’s no reason to think last season was a fluke. Ville is a proven playoff performer, registering 28 points in 37 career playoff games with Philadelphia and Detroit.

Leino will likely slot in as the second-line center on the roster, and his work in the corners and puck possession skills should open up opportunities for his linemates.

His contract will count $4.5 million against the salary cap.