Monday, January 26, 2009

Hockey Orphan: Anne from Sabretooth's House on Buffalo

(Note: Thanks to Anne from Sabretooth's House for the great Hockey Orphan offering. Be sure to follow Anne and Co. for all your Buffalo Sabres needs)

The Buffalo Sabres have been one of the more successful teams coming out of the lockout. They went to the Eastern Conference Finals in the first two seasons after the lockout, nabbing the 2006-2007 President’s Trophy for best record in the league. Woooooooooo!! Being a Sabres fan was a GOOD TIME... until the Summer of 2007.

Suddenly, the Sabres were hemorrhaging captains. Briere? Flyers. Drury? Rangers. Numminen? Heart surgery. Suddenly the Sabres went from fierce competitors to floundering middle-of-the-packers with a bunch of “I’m not the most vocal guy in the room"s blindly leading the charge into mediocrity.

2007-2008 was a mostly forgettable season in which the Sabres took their fair share of lumps. The $50 million man, Thomas Vanek, signed to an INSANE offer sheet by Oilers GM Kevin Lowe and then matched by the Sabres in Summer 2007, was VASTLY underproducing until the second half. Ryan Miller, our rock in net for the previous 2 seasons, was giving up goals (particularly in the shootout) like they were perfume samples at the mall. Our defense was laughable and our best puck moving defenseman was sent to San Jose at the trade deadline.
Why in GOD’s name would you CHOOSE to be a Sabres fan? Well, let me tell you!

Goaltending: After a rocky 2007-2008 season in which Ryan Miller set a franchise record in games played (76), he has rebounded into his old form. In 2006-2007 he was a healthy 10-4 in shootouts, in 2007-2008? 4-7. Ouch. However! This season? Miller is already 6-1 in shootouts and has his familiar swagger back in net. I challenge you to find a goalie in the East who’s playing better in 2009.

Goals: Speaking of the shootout, did you know that the Buffalo Sabres roster boasts the player with the most game-winning shootout goals? That man is Ales Kotalik. Buffalo also boasts one Mr. Thomas Vanek, NHL All-Star and current #3 ranked goal scorer in the NHL. Who were the #2 and #3 point producers in the second half of the 2007-2008 season? Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. One of the best puck handlers in the NHL? Tim Connolly. One of the fastest skaters in the NHL? Maxim Afinogenov. Basically if you like zippy offense, you will like the Sabres.

Defense: In spite of what the dolts on Versus would have you think, the Sabres have not had solid defense for quite some time. If Dmitri Kalinin is in your top 4, you are in DIRE straits, friends. However, there has been a personnel shift on the blue line. Campbell, Kalinin and Pratt out. Rivet and Sekera IN, Teppo BACK. Rookie Chris Butler is really proving himself since being called up from Portland in December.

Captaincy: The Sabres have had a rotating captaincy since Stu Barnes left the team in 2003. Our most successful tandem was Danny Briere and Chris Drury, with veteran Teppo Numminen wearing the “A”. When Drury and Briere left, everyone assumed Teppo would get the “C”.

However, Teppo required open heart surgery and would miss (almost) the entire 2007-2008 season, and Lindy Ruff decided to try a rotating monthly captaincy. This proved to be, um, not effective. When the time came to choose a new captain this season, Coach Ruff left it up to the players. To the surprise of many, the players voted newcomer Craig Rivet, recently acquired from the San Jose Sharks, to the job. Rivet is a veteran defenseman with an attitude that lets opponents know you don’t mess with the Buffalo Sabres. He dropped the gloves in his first home pre-season game. The Sabres are more confident and physical with Rivet in the line-up and his presence brings intangible value like you would not believe.

Physical Presence: The Sabres are a HARD hitting team. Boasting such “slammers” (as my 11 year old cousin calls them) as Paul Gaustad, Patrick Kaleta, Toni Lydman and Adam Mair. Mess with one of our younger players? Adam Mair has something to say about it. Paul Gaustad tends to take exception to such matters and his fists of fury will let you know. Gaustad had to have surgery to repair his thumb after a pre-season fight. Mess with Ryan Miller and Cap'n Craig will straighten you out.
Youth: The Sabres boast a few up and comers to keep an eye on. On the offensive side we have Nathan Gerbe, the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four MVP and offensive whiz kid. Adding to his overall appeal is his diminutive stature. Love Marty St. Louis? Then Gerbe is your man. He’s 5’5” and 160 lbs of offensive piss and vinegar. Also keep an eye on Sabres prospect and Team Canada defenseman, Tyler Myers of the Kelowna Rockets.
“In this together”ness: In the Summer of 2008, the Sabres sent a message to their fans that their favorites weren’t going anywhere. From their days in Rochester, there was a group of players who came up through the ranks together and have become close friends and teammates. Those players are: Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller. Vanek and Roy signed in 2007 and in the Summer of 2008, Gaustad, Pominville and Miller made their commitment to the team and to the community to stay here and try to bring the Cup to Buffalo. Being from a city that no one wants to live in, that kind of commitment to this team and community really resonates with fans.

Overall, I’d give the 2008-2009 Sabres a B. They’ve had some horrendous games but have won games they had no business winning. They’re in 7th place in the East right now, and if they keep playing the way they have been, they have plenty of opportunity to move up in the standings.


(Thanks again, Anne.)

No comments: