Monday, November 10, 2008

Inside the NHL for 11/6

10:59 Good morning. Just spent a few minutes adding up the stats for Mark Mancari, Tim Kennedy and Nathan Gerbe for their first nine games in Roch---, er, Portland. Anybody have a calculator? Nine games, 20 goals, 45 points combined. And the Sabres think they have a tough decision because Jochen Hecht is coming back and they wondering if the should waive Matt Ellis or send down Patrick Kaleta or Drew Stafford. If these kids keep lighting it up, the decisions are going to be tougher but the options will be better.

11:03 [Comment From Zach]
Do you think that the Amerks are rethinking their decisions now that they are struggling with the Panthers as their affiliate and the Pirates are taking off.

11:05 The relationship with Buffalo reached a point where it couldn't be repaired under the Amerks' administration. It''s not a matter of the Amerks rehtinking their position. The contract expired, and the Sabres felt they needed to leave them. I agree with the move. It was an unhealthy situation for Buffalo in terms of development but also finances. Basically, the Amerks had major money issues.

The Pirates are 9-1-1 and leading the Atlantic Division while the Amerks are 2-10. Three Pirates are in the top 10 in scoring in the league, Mancari, Gerbe, and Kennedy, while the leading scorer for the Amerks only has 8 points. The Amerks may be reconsidering their financial decisions and the way they handled the Sabres. The Amerks are completely tanking in terms of attendance and game play while the Pirates are the cream of the crop this season. Its good to be a Sabres prospect this year. Also, the Pirates are coming to the HSBC Arena on February 10th. They will face off against the Albany River Rats.

11:07 [Comment From Zach]
If you were playing the role of Lindy, who would you sit down and why?

11:10 Slow start here, Zach. We could have just talked on the phone. People must be busy working. Lindy, to me, has two options. He can waive Matt Ellis and see if he can get him down to Portland. Ellis is a gamer, but he needs work on his skating. I'm not sure that's he's NHL material. Lindy can also send down Drew Stafford, whose confidence appears to be in need of repair. Stafford will be a good player in this league. I'm convinced of that. But he has struggled with consistency since last season. A few weeks, and only a few weeks, in Portland might do him some good.

11:11 [Comment From Brian]
People talk about Buffalo needing to be more like Anaheim to win a cup. Usually that's a knock on their grit, but to me the key to Anaheim's cup win was the Niedermayer-Pahlsson-Moen shutdown line. Do you think Buffalo has three forwards that could play this role right now? Paille and Hecht are solid choices, but the best I come up with for # 3 is Pominville, and they would miss his offense dearly

11:14 Brian, good points all the way around. The key to the Ducks' Cup win in my opinion was their ability to play either Scott Nidermayer or Chris Pronger virtually every other shift. Those are two dominant defensemen. The Rob Niedermayer line with Pahlsson and Travis Moen played a big role in the playoffs because they could shut down almost anybody. The Sabres don't have three forwards who would specifically fit that role, although you mentioned two. Perhaps Paille on one side, Hecht on another and Gaustad in the middle would be a solid defensive force. But at what cost? Lindy needs Hecht producing, and that usually happens when he's playing with Pommer. However, if they buy into the system and have players effective on both ends, the points will come.

The Sabres system does not lend to the need for a shutdown line I guess. It would be nicely needed but the fourth line could be a shutdown line with Pallie/Mair/Kaleta if they could play defense a little better. We really don't have many defensive forwards.

11:15 [Comment From Guest]
Peters is a waste of space. Why cannot Mair, Rivet and Kaleta take the role of enforcer? I cannot believe we drafted him the second round. I have seen better skaters playing pee-wees.

11:18 Peters has a role on this team, but let me say this: He's fortunate that Ruff is his coach. Ruff strongly believes you need a true fighter on your roster. They don't even need to play, but Ruff likes having the threat of a guy like him. Mair will fight anybody in the league. Rivet and Kaleta are also willing fighters. Gaustad is another one. But Peters is an enforcer. That's what he does. You don't want Mair fighting every night, especially now with him overcoming injuries. You don't want Rivet in the box for five minutes unless necessary because he's too valuable. Kaleta is a pest and very effective. Plus, he can play. Is he enough for an opposintg coach to change his lineup? Not on most nights. That's why Peters is still around. He forces the other team to dress a tough guy.

Peters is starting to show more skill this season. His forechecking is much improved and he does seem to be able to hit the net. I think given time he may be able to double his goal total from last year. I also said this in 2006 though and was sorely disappointed.

11:18 [Comment From Tom]
Will Connolly actually play tomorrow night? Is he the most frustrating player in team history with his "injuries" and inability to play through some pain?

11:20 I'm not sure on the latest with Connolly. I'm not at practice, so we'll have to wait and see. It's frustrating for everyone involved. The Sabres have had about all they can take with him and the injuries. They love his skill and rightfully so. Ruff has said many times that he wants Connolly fully healthy or not at all. After a while it gets old and becomes disruptive. I would say they at that point, if not past that point with him.

Connolly is starting to come back into form. He looks like he playing an inspired game this season, most likely due to the fact that this is his contract year. If we could get a good season out of Connolly, it may just help the woes that this team seems to suffer.

11:20 [Comment From Mo]
What are you thoughts on where the League is going, specifically on two topics: Do you feel the standards of enforcement have changed and if so, for better or worse?

11:20 [Comment From Mo]
and are we headed for another lockout?

11:23 I really liked the league in its form last season even though Sabres fans were miserable about them missing the playoffs. It was the third year after the lockout, and I thought the NHL struck the right balance between skill and aggression. Scoring this season was actually up slightly last week, so things seems to be in order. But the style of play has changed, in part because coaches are copycats. Everyone wants to play like Detroit. It makes sense, obviously. The trick is finding players who are committed the way Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Lidstrom and the rest are. Another lockout? No. I think both sides learned their lesson. The system seems to be working in a fianancial sense, although poor attendance in certain places is a problem. You could see the cap go DOWN after this season.

Honestly, I think the cap going down would not be a bad thing for the league. Since the cap was created, the salaries of some of these players has been way overinflated. Reigning them in makes sense in terms of a league that relies on their gate attendance as their main revenue. So while the players would be upset over the fact that their salaries would decrease, the league would still be viable and able to function. And taking a pay cut would be better than having no job at all.

11:24 [Comment From Mike]
It was amazing to me that when Craig Rivet was out of the lineup, how much this year's Sabres team looked like last year's team. Do you think the Sabres still need 1 more tough defenseman to be a force in the league again?

11:26 Rivet is a very, very good player. I lobbied for him a few years ago, when he was on the block in Montreal for contract reasons and the Sabres were desperate for another D. As usual, they didn't listen. He does so many things, though, even though he's not the fastest guy in the rink. You can never have too many good defensemen, which Buffalo found out the hard way. The problem is finding them. It's really hard to find defenseman who can play without breaking the bank in unrestricted free agency or getting lucky. That's why you keep them.

11:26 [Comment From Tom]
Have the Sabres given any consideration to extended Spacek? I know he is a UFA at the end of the season. Or are they planning on Weber and/or Butler being here next here with the rest of the same crew?

11:29 I'm really not sure at this point. Spacek has had his shining moments over the years, but not enough to make it a no-brainer. If you look at the two-plus years he's been under contract, it would be tough to say he has justified the money. He's been OK, but just OK. Weber will be in the NHL for a long time, in my opinion. He's a good player and only 20 years old, I believe. That's a good sign. Butler will spend this season adjusting to professional hockey, but he has the potential to be a good one. Do you keep Spacek on a short-term hitch? Only if you can get him for the right price.

Spacek has been a good defenseman for the Sabres but he is also expendable. There are some good defensemen coming through the pipeline that will get some playing time here. Sekera is playing well and learning some good pointers from Spacek. That being said, I could see the Sabres resigning him to shore up the defense. They would be very green if they didn't.

11:29 [Comment From David]
One of the rumors listed on (they cite the Ottawa Sun as their source) is that the Sabres will attempt to trade Kotalik before the season ends because he is to become an unrestricted FA over the summer. I've always been of the mind that Kotalik is overrated and that his supposed ability on the PP and in shootouts should be enough bait to ship him out of here. Do you think Kotalik should be traded by the Sabres- and what do you think his value actually is among other teams?

11:32 David, good question. Kotalik is off to a good start this season. He's a big guy and very strong. My biggest beef with him is that he doesn't use his size and strength to his advantage, especially in the physical department. This is a contract year, so I'm always leery about players performing above what they had done in the year or two previous. The fact that he would be the subject of trade rumors is not a surprise. Every UFA in the league faces that at some point. Let me put it this way: I would rather see them keep Kotalik than Max. And I would not keep Kotalik if they can get a good prospect in return.

Selling high on Kotalik would be great but I cannot see that happening because I don't any other team really having a need for him. Besides, its the Ottawa Sun. They are usually wrong with those things.

11:32 [Comment From David]
With Brodeur out for an extended period and given Ryan Miller's stellar play thus far in the season (I would argue he's been the best player on the ice for the Sabres and the biggest reason for their great start)- do you think Miller can make a push for the Vezina trophy (and maybe even gather some attention for MVP)?

11:35 Miller has played very well. I've said this before, but I think it's more apparent this season that he's grown up. It's taken a few years for him to learn how to harness his emotions. He's more critical of himself than most goalies and had problems getting over soft goals for a few years. Now, he's more stable. The Sabres are playing very good defense around him and he's become very quiet in net. I don't mean vocally, I mean in how he moves. Very quiet, very discplined, very much in control. It's a very good sign. Vezina Trophy? It depends on so many things, starting with the health of his teammates. MVP? That's a reach, but you never know.

Right now the Vezina leader is Luongo with his phenomenal play out west. Miller could be a candidate but his play does have to be better especially in games like Boston. Granted most of those games were not all his fault but they were three goals from just inside the blue line.

11:36 [Comment From Don]
In your opinion are we ever going to see a rule that penalizes blatant hits to the head? And also, with all the concussion problems in the NHL, why are players still allowed to skate with their chin straps hanging loose? Isn't it time the league got serious about this stuff? Thanks!

11:39 You're not going to see drastic changes until players start respecting one another. It's one thing that I despise about the instrigator rule. The players were more effective, in my opinion, when they could police themselves. The chin straps hanging loose don't bother me. It's not as if you see helmets rolling across the ice all game long. The NHLPA needs to protect players from each other as much as the league does. But I do think visors should be mandatory. I get on that rant every year after someone suffered an injury that threatens their eyes or breaks their cheekbone or whatever. They need to wear visors at every level until they reach the pros. Why would you remove them? Dumb.

11:41 FYI: All lines are open.

11:42 [Comment From Tom]
The last week or so it appears Tallinder is really turing it on - agree or disagree?

11:43 He's playing better, but that's not saying much. Really, he couldn't have played much worse than he did early in the season. He can play. He looks like he's starting to get his feet under him, and the results are obvious. But he's capable of playing even better. And that's what they need.

Tallinder needs to be the defenseman he was in 2005. Playing a sound game and not making mistakes. Right now he is playing not to screw up.

11:43 [Comment From Brian]
Given the current roster problems and the performance of our young guys in Portland, do foresee Darcy making any moves to help alleviate the situation. For example, he could move Max and some others to help shore up our defense.

11:47 I don't see any drastic moves just because they're tearing it up down there. And here's why: The Sabres want their young players riding the buses and growing into a tough league. The AHL is a better league than people realize. Another reason is that the Sabres are doing fine right now. They don't have any room on the roster for those guys unless they make trades. Who wants Max? Pretty short line there because teams know how to defend him. Plus, he's on the fourth line here, only because there isn't a fifth line. At some point, if they continue ripping up the AHL and the Sabres struggle, they might need to make a move. Remember, they're thinking down the road, like next season and beyond. I plan to address this in Inside the NHL this week -- cheap plus. No apologies for that, though, this is a Buffalo News blog.

11:47 [Comment From TerryRay32 Fort Lauderdal]
Well, Bucky, we talked about it last time, but Gerbe and Mancari are tearing up the Minors. Would you ever consider sending Stafford down, for Gerbe and then Mancari with his size could easily take Ellis, or Peters role, and has a scoring touch.

11:49 You need to have the roster spots to start making moves like that. Hecht is expected to be back Friday. That would put the Sabres over the 23-man limit. They can send Stafford down, for example, but it doesn't solve the numbers problem. If you want Mancari, Gerbe, Kenndy or anybody else up in the NHL, you're going to need to make some trades. Lindy can't send down MacArthur because he deserves to be in Buffalo. Kaleta has found a niche, and Ruff appreciates the way he plays and the effort he brings.

Somedays I wonder why anyone wants to be in talk radio. Or the newspaper business.

11:49 [Comment From Anxious fan]
Which defensemen who can help the Sabres are on the trade block?

11:52 As I mentioned before, good D-men are hard to find. I'm told that Jay Bouwmeester wants out of Florida. That's just what I heard, that he's tired of playing for a weak organization in a non-hockey town. He's a good one and an UFA at the end of the season. He comes with the risk of losing him. He's probably the best one out there than can be had. But what would the Sabres give up? Max and Connolly are tough to trade at this point. They have prospects that are untouchables. It depends what Fla would want.

I can't see Bouwmeester playing in Buffalo. The Panthers know what the Sabres prospects look like due to the prior dual affiliation but many of those prospects are going to be untouchable. I dont think there is much more that the Panthers could get from us.

11:52 [Comment From Don]
I know there are a glut of forwards in Buffalo, but realistically how long can the Sabres leave Gerbe down on the farm if he keeps scoring at his current more than a goal per game pace?

11:54 He definitely knows where the net is located. To play in Buffalo, for Lindy, you need to play both ends. My guess is the Sabres want to see him play better in his own end. But it could reach a point where he starts to outgrow the AHL and needs to play in the NHL. I do believe you'll see him in Buffalo at some point, maybe for a peek. He's off to a great start, but it's only a start.

11:54 [Comment From Todd]
Are the Leafs really that much better under Ron Wilson or is it just a decent start that will quickly cool off? Pretty impressive third period against the Rangers last Saturday

11:56 Wilson is a really good coach, one of the better ones in the league. The good thing for him this season is that he has everybody's attention. Nobody in the organization should be safe. Players can either play the way he wants or get shipped out. For now, they're playing the way he wants and seeing the results. But they're still a good way away from being any good.

They are a dangerous spoiler for the Northeast division. They can play well on any given night and throw a wrench into the standings.

11:56 [Comment From Tom]
I understand your problems with Max, but lets be fair - he has been better this year and leads the team in assists. Saying he should be on a 5th line this year is a bit harsh. Even the diving call the last game was horrible.

11:59 Max is playing the way he plays. He's off to a good start, yes, and has done a better job moving the puck and getting to the net. We'll see how long it lasts. He's another one in a contract year, by the way. I've witnessed this before only to watch him revert to the one-on-one, cough-it-up style that has followed him throughout his career. The diving call was a good call. All he had to do was fall down. He was going down anyway. But when you see his arms flying through the air as if he was jumping into a pool, it's a penalty. By the way, I despise the diving rule when a guy gets a penalty. It's either a penalty for tripping or a dive -- not both.

See this past weekend. Played really well on Friday and then cost us the game on Saturday.

12:00 [Comment From sly stone]
i'll be travelling down to the sabres/pens game next weekend, how have the pens looked so far this season, specifically with the losses they sustained in the offseason? and does fluery look like the real deal, as he did in the playoffs?

12:02 The Pens are still loaded with talent, but they aren't as good all the way around as they were last season. They didn't improve in one area during the offseason other than gain experience with reaching the Cup finals. Fleury actually has been pretty solid. I'm not sure of his numbers, but his GAA is under 2.40 and his save percentage was better than .920 the last time I checked. He's not the problem. Their defense is hurting without Gonchar.

The injuries have killed the Penguins. They have lost Gonchar and Whitney to injury. Miro Satan was brought in due to the cap crunch that they face. They are good but they need to shore up some cap space to be able to get rid of the dead weight that they had to bring on.

12:02 [Comment From A former local]
After a game: stay downtown at Pearl St. Grill or head to the burbs to Buffalo Brew Pub?

12:03 Depends on your age. I'm 41, so I'm not going to either one. I don't want to reveal my postgame spot but it's usually relatively quiet.

12:03 [Comment From Jon]
No one ever addresses this, so I'll give it a shot - why did the loss of Scott Arneil hurt our power play so much? I don't think the dominant power play we had a few years ago was specifically because of Briere, Drury and a healthy Connolly. I think Roy, Vanek, Pominville are just as skilled, but the results have never been the same. Why is that?

12:07 Chemistry had much to do with their success. So did Connolly, by the way, because teams needed to play him honest. What I saw last season was that teams on the PK started really attacking both points, especially after Campbell was shipped out. Briere was really good on the PP, too, because he was so effective on the half-wall. Drury had a spot that he liked near the bottom of the left circle where he would pick the corner, short side. Those goals add up. Also remember, that when you have Briere and/or Drury, plus Connolly on your first PP unit, you had Vanek, Roy etc. on your second PP unit. It usually meant they were against the opposing team's second-best PK. Big difference.

12:07 [Comment From Chad]
With how weak the Southeast Division has been, have there been any rumblings to go to an NBA-style seeding system where the best 2nd place team in the conference could be ranked ahead of the worst division winner if the best 2nd place team has more points? The NBA's system seems to work and it still allows the worst division winner to have the home advantage in the 1st round. It seems unfair to lock a team into the 4 vs 5 matchup when the #4 team has several more points than the #3 seed.

12:08 I haven't heard any rumblings, but it would be great to play in that division. Spend the winter soaking up the rays and beating up poor teams. It's been that way for years.

12:08 [Comment From terryray32 fort lauderdal]
Do you feel we are in the toughest division with Toronto playing as hard as the have and you can see how ottawa is starting to catch their breath?

12:13 At the beginning of the year, I would have said the Pacific was the toughest division with San Jose, Anaheim and Dallas beating up one another and Phoenix starting to grow up. Dallas is off to a terrible start, for some reason. I remember thinking they were the third best team in the division and the fourth best team in the conference. But they've been brutal. The Atlantic has the makings of another tough division with the Rangers, Penguins, Philly and New Jersey. Now that has changed, too, with Pittsburgh struggling a bit, Philly having a bad start and Brodeur out with the elbow injury. The Northeast is better than I envisioned. Montreal is great. Boston is better than I thought. Buffalo has been very good. People in Buffalo know what Ottawa is capable of doing. Toronto is taking baby steps. Tough question. Ask me in April.

12:13 [Comment From David]
I'm looking forward to Saturday night's matchup in Boston- Bruins seem to be on the upswing and the first game between these two teams was very close. I have a feeling this is a matchup that the Sabres are going to need to get the better of throughout the season if they want to continue to hold off Montreal in the division. How do you see this weekend ending up for the Sabres and where do you see the Bruins finishing at the end of the season?

12:15 It's a great Buffalo-Boston weekend with the Bills playing in Foxborough on Sunday. The Sabres will need to beat teams like Boston on a consistent basis if they're going to hold off Montreal. Sorry, but I don't see that happening. The Bruins apparently aren't going away. Montreal is one of the elite teams, in my opinion, or will be in the playoffs. Could be a tough weekend.

12:16 [Comment From Tom]
I still wish they would call interference when the defenseman cuts off the forward when both at going for the puck during touch-up icing.

12:17 I still wish they would call interference when D-men hold up forwards at the blue line after a dump-in. It was called all the time in the first couple years. D-men have adjusted and aren't doing it as much, but they're also getting away with it more than they once did. It's a penalty. Call it.

12:17 [Comment From Chad]
Has Enroth already taken over the #1 goaltender spot down in Portland?

12:19 Enroth has been splitting time with Dennis, but both are playing well. Enroth will likely get more time as the season goes along. The Sabres like him. I haven't watched enough of him to offer a fair opinion, but I know scouts outside the organization have also been impressed.

12:19 [Comment From SluggoNH]
Are the Sabres ever going to get a D-man with a real "mean streak" ? No doubt Sekera and Rivet are upgrades, but isn't there value in a guy that puts fear in the eyes of the opposing team when they hit the blue line?

12:22 Sluggo, first things first. You just might find me in The Fours after the game Saturday night. The first beer is on me. The next three are on you. Times are tough. To answer your question, those D-men that make you worried out there are really hard to find. It came up previously in my chat. If you would shorten your coffee break, you would have known. Really, everybody wants to get their hands on a Pronger or Phaneuf or Jovo or one of those guys. The best way is to develop them, but you still have to find them. It's why they're making so much dough these days.

12:24 OK, folks, thanks for coming back. The plan calls for addressing the prospects in Portland this week in Inside the NHL. See you next Thursday.

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