On luck and logging off

If you’re reading this, you already know. This blog is going dormant. For me, it’s just time.

I started this back in 2008 without a real plan and no idea where it would go. It was just something I wanted to do. I wanted to write about the team that I followed, that I cared about deeply. It was a way to vent, a way to make an argument… an outlet.

It wasn’t meant to be a catalyst for change, or a means to make a name as a serious journalist. It just seemed like a fun thing to do. The name itself should’ve made that point. I was in college, a sports management major, and writing was fun. Making fun of people was fun. Making a point was fun.

But things evolve. This form of media exploded. The blogs that were once an alternative viewpoint are now blurring the lines of what’s mainstream. And for me, this brought opportunity.

Thanks to the Buffalo Sabres’ progressive acceptance of what blogs can do for team coverage, that blurred line of what’s mainstream and what isn’t, left an opening for me and every other blogger to get access. Access to the press box, to the locker room, to the coaches. For me, who is admittedly just some asshole with a WordPress and a twitter account, I was given the keys to help tell the story.

From the first time I stepped in the locker room after a game a couple years ago, all the way through last night, it was completely surreal. I grew up obsessed with the team, became a season ticket holder at 18 and all of a sudden, I was standing in front of players with the opportunity to ask them anything.

But I didn’t. I never asked a question. Not to a coach, not to a player. I never interviewed anyone. I listened. I observed. And I got to see things beyond any answer I could’ve hoped for. Whether that was seeing a player who some called soft stewing furiously in his locker after a bad loss, or watching guys messing with other players while they’re getting interviewed, or seeing a star player giggling hysterically while John Scott crashes a postgame interview. Things that you don’t get to see. Things that don’t make the paper or the postgame show. It wasn’t about the news. It was about the context. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 30 to go: Blues (good team) shutout Sabres (not good team) to kickstart new streak

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It had been a long two-plus weeks since the Sabres last graced the First Niagara Center ice with their presence. Coming off their first win of the calendar year, they faced a tough test in the visiting St. Louis Blues.

The result was predictable.

Despite a solid outing from goaltender Jhonas Enroth, the Blues jumped ahead on a second period Dmitrij Jaskin goal and that would be all they needed. St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen stopped all 23 shots he faced and picked up an assist as Sabres fell 3-0.

462811978_slideVladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz added third period goals to pad the final tally, but Buffalo was unable to cash anything. Buffalo’s Chris Stewart and Brian Flynn each had breakaways at points in the game that weren’t finished, as the Blues looked like an elite team as they moved into a temporary tie for the best point total in the National Hockey League.

Enroth would stop 27 shots to claim his 20th loss of the season.

The Sabres continue their homestand Saturday as Lindy Ruff and the Dallas Stars visit First Niagara Center.

  • Nice of the Sabres to do a little tribute to former captain Steve Ott in his first visit since being traded before last season’s deadline. Not everyone deserves a tribute, but he was the team’s captain. That honor deserves respect. Also, bonus points for having it say “Thank You Steve” not “Thank You Ott.”
  • Speaking of former Sabres, look at legendary defenseman Chris Butler getting on the scoresheet with an assist on the winner.
  • The time of game was officially 2 hours and 14 minutes. It went quick. Only three minor penalties, and only 49 total face-offs. Get in, get out, get a loss. Read the rest of this entry

It’s not about winning: Improving the Sabres’ game experience at First Niagara Center

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There’s been a lot on this blog about things that don’t happen on the ice. Not everything you do as a Sabres fan is about the roster and the final score. Sports is more than that. It’s a cultural thing. It’s an experience.

Being a fan is a visceral, and it’s a huge investment both emotionally and financially to walk into First Niagara Center on a regular basis. You want to want to be there. You want to feel like you’re missing out if you’re not, like the investment is worth it.

I’ve talked (at times, ad nauseam) about things like game presentation, social media and marketing, not only because of my sports business background, but because to me, and every other fan, that stuff matters. Usually it’s fairly simple things, like not sticking a blooper reel on the scoreboard in a tight game, or playing songs during stoppages that will help set or reset the tone, or wanting a twitter account that doesn’t feel like it’s run by a teenage fan-boy/fan-girl. Simple things that, if addressed and optimized, can incrementally improve the overall experience, getting people more engaged and making the arena a better place to be.

Before this blog goes dormant, I want to put this wish-list out there. Some of these things may have been discussed, some of them may have not permeated the groupthink at First Niagara Center. Either way, I’m a season ticket holder (likely, for life) and the inherent value of being there for a game means something. It should.

This isn’t meant to be some sort of takedown or exposé on what the organization does wrong. This will get read by Sabres employees (Hey guys! Thanks for blocking me on twitter for no good reason! It’s still really dumb!) and I’m hoping what’s said doesn’t get taken personally or as an insult. This is just sort of a plea/roadmap for improvement that I want to put out there before I go away.

So, put on the coffee. Here’s a few things the Sabres can do around the arena to make it a better place to be. Read the rest of this entry

Welcome to the homestretch: Now what?

462497766_slideThursday’s Sabres/Oilers matchup might have been the most anticipated of the back half of the Buffalo Sabres’ season.

The hyperbole was in overdrive as 30th place Buffalo took on 29th place Edmonton, with just two points separating the two and a Sabres win enough to push them past the Oilers on a tiebreaker for the moment. It went about as well as you’d expect for a team riding a 12-game losing streak, with Edmonton claiming a 3-2 win, pushing said streak to 13.

Then the team traveled to Vancouver, and the result was much of the same, as two goals by Chris Stewart were hardly enough to match the Canucks in a 5-2 loss.

(AD: SPORTS BETTING INFO)

The wheels came off of this season a long time ago, but looking ahead, there isn’t much reason to think this is going to end anytime soon. Vancouver out-Corsi’d the Sabres 70-29, one night after the 29th place Oilers racked up a 74-37 tally against the struggling Sabres. Struggling might not be a strong enough term.

This roster isn’t strong, but they’re not even playing the type of game that gives them a chance to win. The unsustainable (called it, by the way) streak through November-December was a combination of puck luck and strong goaltending. If the goaltender of the night is not standing on his head, this team’s got no shot in any given game.

They’ve got no confidence, which is fitting since their coach is known as a motivator. Their scorers aren’t scoring, with guys like Matt Moulson in slumps that date back to mid-December. Cody Hodgson can’t even stay in the lineup, much less earn a position on a scoring line or powerplay unit. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions: CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (featuring bonus Instigator Podcast)

HKO CHL ProspectsThursday night, the hockey world converged on nearby St. Catharines, Ontario for the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. The brand new Meridian Centre, home of the Niagara Ice Dogs, was the site of the yearly showcase for the best draft-eligible junior players in the Canadian Hockey League.

Team Orr (coached by Bobby) defeated Team Cherry (coached by Don) by a 6-0 score. But the score doesn’t matter. Everything Connor McDavid did does. It’s a chance for young players to stand out among their peers with NHL scouts filling the building.

(AD: SPORTS BETTING INFO)

Some quick thoughts, including a podcast with my esteemed colleague Chris Ostrander from the Two In the Box:

  • Connor McDavid was the best player on the ice. He wasn’t the leading scorer, he wasn’t most valuable player, he’s just clearly the most skilled guy there. I wonder if he “jumped off the screen” to those watching at home.
  • When the CSS rankings got released this week, there was some chatter/outrage over Lawson Crouse being ranked ahead of Mitch Marner, who’s been putting up ridiculous numbers in London. Getting a chance to see them together, I’m coming around to seeing why Crouse is ranked higher. He’s not the type of player who’s going to rack up points, but he can generate offense and be a force in all facets of the game.
  • Former Sabres general manager Darcy Regier was in the house. He was sitting four rows in front of me. He makes an appearance in the podcast below.
  • Also spotted: Sabres legend Donald Audette. Audette is now an amateur scout for the Montreal Canadiens.
  • Paul Bittner was really good for most of the game. He’s ranked 19th among North American skaters and might be in play for a late-1st/early-2nd. I’d be cool with it.
  • It’s a shame Ivan Provorov won’t be available in a position the Sabres will be picking. He’ll go around 10-15. He’s gonna be a stud.
  • It’s a shame that the Sabres as an organization don’t do more with the IceDogs. They’re in their market. They should be playing a preseason game in St. Catharines each year. But then again, hard to sell Sabres to Canada when #WeAreBuffalo.
  • Still not sure I know how to say Travis Konecny’s name, but I really liked him. Him and Timo Meier were good, despite their linemate (McDav-something?) not really being all that generational.
  • Guy I liked: Nathan Noel. Scored a goal late, but just has that indescribable that-guy-looks-like-an-NHL-player quality about him. Not super impressive, just seems to have it.

Here’s a quick podcast we did during the second intermission:

Overreactions with 36 to go: We’ve reached the bottom

461692462_slideIt finally happened.

After an incredible run through November and December, just over a month removed from a streak where the Sabres improbably won 10 of 13 games, they have parachuted to dead last. And despite an improved effort Saturday night against the visiting Flyers, the 4-3 loss, combined with Edmonton’s shootout win over Florida puts the Sabres in 30th place.

Buffalo scored late in the opening period to take a 1-0 lead on a goal by Zemgus Girgensons, but the Flyers would take over in the second and controlled the game from there. Power play goals from R.J. Umberger and Mark Streit gave Philadelphia a lead, and they wouldn’t trail again.

Tyler Ennis would score his 10th of the season late in the second, but the Flyers would add two more in the third. A late marker by Girgensons, his second of the night and 13th of the season wouldn’t be enough.

Michal Neuvirth was solid in net for the Sabres, stopping 28 of 32 Flyers shots in the loss. Rob Zepp made 24 saves for the Flyers.

It’s been three weeks since the Sabres’ last win, and it may be much longer until the next.

  • Maybe Tyler Myers’ best game in a long time. He was good. Logged a lot of minutes (27:33).
  • Very, very quietly, Chris Stewart is racking up points. His two assists tonight gave him 14 points on the year. It was his first multi-point game of the season and he has four points in his last five games.
  • Cody Hodgson played 5:57 tonight. Drew Stafford? 9:05. Who needs offense when you’ve lost 10 in a row? Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 37 to go: Have we reached the bottom?

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Thursday night may have been a new low for the Buffalo Sabres. They’ve been losing. They’ve been losing a lot. But this scoreline was as bad as it’s been all season.

Coming in on an 0-for-January slide, the Sabres didn’t even get a sniff of a game. Outshooting Buffalo 15-3 in the opening period, the visiting Minnesota Wild jumped out to a lead that would never be in question. Minnesota would had Buffalo a 7-0 loss, the worst scoreline of the season.

Returning hero Jason Pominville would pace the Wild with three assists, while fellow former Sabres captain Thomas Vanek would add a goal and an assist himself.

For Buffalo, there was nothing. No goals. No great defense. No great goaltending. No threat.

Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth stopped 30 of the 37 shots he faced.

“After a game like tonight, when you get blown out, embarrassed in your own building, I feel bad for fans that come and support us,” said Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges.

461597664_slideNick Deslauriers punched Minnesota’s Matt Dumba in the face for a bit in the first period. That may have been the Sabres’ most notable effort on the night.

Devan Dubnyk, making his Minnesota debut, made 18 saves for the shutout. The Wild snapped a six game losing streak with the win.

It wasn’t good. This team isn’t good. This team is bad to historic, incredible levels.

  • The Sabres showed a “thank you” video for Jason Pominville, a year and a half after he made his first return trip to Buffalo. They didn’t do it then, and they were ripped for it. It’s a nice gesture, but you don’t want to try too hard. It would’ve been fine if they passed on it. They missed the window.
  • It’s honestly kind of surprising there haven’t been more games of this type this season. This will unlikely be the last.
  • He hasn’t been scoring, but I’m continually impressed with Tyler Ennis’ game of late. He’s buzzing around. He’s getting no help but he’s been alright. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 38 to go: A banner night for Hasek is a loss

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It’s been a rough year.

If you’re a Sabres fan, it’s been rough. If you’re a Buffalo Sabres season ticket holder, it’s been even rougher. Every game is draining, both emotionally and financially. It’s long been discussed (here on this blog and increasingly elsewhere) that the organization tends to be sloppy with things like marketing and game presentation, but this was going to be a special night.

It was underwhelming.

After a short, subdued ceremony to honor the greatest goaltender in franchise history and possibly the greatest player to ever wear the uniform, the Sabres dropped their eighth in a row, falling by a 3-1 score to the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Mike Weber’s second period goal, his first of the season, would be the only offense the Sabres could muster.

Buffa461501680_slidelo fell behind midway through the opening period, as Darren Helm scored shorthanded to give the Wings a 1-0 lead. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar would add second period goals and the result was never in doubt.

Czech native Michal Neuvirth made 27 saves for the Sabres, while fellow Czech Petr Mrazek got the win for Detroit, stopping 25 shots.

One game on the schedule stood out as important for the fans. Tonight was that one game.

The game wasn’t thrilling. Little about the night was.

  • Seriously, the organization should be embarrassed about that. You don’t retire numbers often. This organization has arguably retired some numbers undeservedly. There isn’t a chance to do this better next year. There isn’t anyone close to being a candidate right now. It could be decades before we do this again. This should’ve been a seminal moment in team history, and it was completely underwhelming.
  • Little fanfare for Zac Dalpe’s Sabres debut. Honestly didn’t even notice him on the ice until near the end of the first period.
  • Whoever designed the patches the players wore tonight needs to take a lap. Uninspired and weak design. You’re retiring a number, why is the logo the primary focus of the patch?
  • Twenty years from now, the Sabres will be hit with a rash of injuries and will recall Matt Ellis from the Rochester Americans. The guy will never go away. That’s not an insult or anything. Ellis just seems like he’s always around and he never really hurts you. Read the rest of this entry

Overreactions with 39 to go: Sabres fall to Lightning and don’t blame Neuvirth

461248060_slideThere’s a baseball term called “run support,” referring to how much offense a team produces when a certain pitcher is on the mound, and usually it helps a pitcher’s win-loss record when the team can give him some wiggle room. Michal Neuvirth pitched a gem Friday night, and he had no wiggle room.

Steven Stamkos’ goal with 5:14 remaining proved to be the winner, as the Lightning defeated Buffalo 2-1 in Tampa.

Neuvirth was the star of the night, stopping 45 of the 47 shots he faced, including all 27 (yes, twenty-seven) Tampa Bay threw at him, a Lightning franchise record, in the second period.

“It’s tough to swallow right now, but I thought we gave it our best,” Neuvirth said, per NHL.com. “It was a tough start, and after that I made a couple of saves and settled down.”

Cody McCormick scored Buffalo’s only goal, his first of the season and first career shorthanded goal. McCormick tied the game, beating Bishop after being sprung in alone after Patrick Kaleta collected a turnover in the Lightning zone.

Valteri Filppula scored the first Tampa goal in the opening minutes, but that would be the only offense Tampa could muster thanks to Neuvirth, who’s now lost his last six starts and is 3-11-1 on the year despite a solid .909 save percentage.

Buffalo has lost seven in a row and have won just one of their last 12 games (1-10-1). How about that miraculous playoff run we were talking about a month ago?

  • The difference between this game and every game the Sabres won during that batshit crazy stretch in November-December is puck luck. They didn’t have quite enough. You saw it on the McCormick goal, where a little mistake by Tampa’s defense handed a Sabre a breakaway that they converted. But there was always one other instance where they got a redirect or deflection that turned into another goal, enough to ride the goaltending. Didn’t happen on this night. Ended with a loss.
  • 27 shots against in one period? Good lord.
  • Your only even Corsi player for the Buffalo Sabres was Mikhail “Mike” Grigorenko. But he wasn’t playing with enough grit or something. Read the rest of this entry

Making a case that there’s no case for Ted Nolan

459853394_slideFor most fans, there isn’t much to like about this current Buffalo Sabres team. They’re not good. They lose. They lose a lot.

But there’s one guy who many fans embrace, longing for the days of hard-working blue-collar hockey, who seems to try real hard in spite of it all: Ted Nolan.

Ted Nolan, the beloved former coach who heroically returned to right the ship after that total nerd Darcy Regier ruined everything with his video and calculators, is continually embraced by a large segment of the Sabres fan base. Fans who remember when the team was led by players like Rob Ray, Brad May and Matt Barnaby, and pine for the days of trap-filled physical hockey. Even after a decade and a half away from the organization, the legend of Nolan lived in Western New York, that there was a coach out there who got the most of his teams and got a bad rap for it.

And despite years of dealing with “I’ll hang up and listen” calls to talk shows about bringing him back behind the bench, there he was that November day when Pegula pulled the plug on Regier and Ron Rolston. It was surreal. It still sort of is.

Now, after the dust has settled, and with Tim Murray at the helm, and with losses piling up, the question is… why is he still here and when is he leaving?

We could rehash the history of Nolan’s coaching career. Facts are facts. In 1997, after winning the Jack Adams as coach of the year and getting his GM fired, he walked away from a one-year contract extension from a new general manager. Years went by and the fallacy of him being fired stoked the flames of the blue-collar fans who felt he was given a raw deal. He disenfranchised his superstar goaltender, maybe the best player to ever wear a Sabres uniform, and divided a young team and the front office. And he walked away from a contract offer.

The new GM (Regier) and the new coach (Ruff) tweaked the roster over the next couple years and got them within two wins of a Stanley Cup. Somehow, fans still felt that it was Nolan’s team, despite key roster moves that said otherwise. It wasn’t with guys like Brad May, who was dealt for Geoff Sanderson. It wasn’t with guys like Matt Barnaby, who was dealt for Stu Barnes. Despite many of the same faces, it was a different team. It needed to be.

So years went by, he coached the Islanders for two years, he coached the Latvian national team, and he never really won anything. Then he walks in to First Niagara Center and here we are.

His trophy cabinet contains nothing more than a few junior titles. He won two OHL titles in Sault Ste. Marie and one in Moncton, and won a Memorial Cup in 1993. As far as the NHL goes, his pedigree extends as far as a division title in 1997 on the back of one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the game and a seven-game series win over a seven seed that spring.

Taking that into account, what is the real case for not kicking him to the curb, be it this spring or this weekend? Read the rest of this entry

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