Even after a horrible start, jump starting the team by firing head coach Lindy Ruff is not a reality here in Buffalo. So let’s take a look at 5 ways in which the Sabres can make the playoffs this season.
5. A “Selfish” Thomas Vanek.
I’m not numbering these in any order of importance, but I figured I would start with Vanek, since it was his brilliant move and overtime goal over last weekend that got me thinking, “Ok…NOW the season starts for the Sabres. Vanek needs to become the younger, selfish player that got him benched from time to time in his first 2 seasons. Back then, Vanek was surrounded by more talented offensive players and his selfish play hindered the system, even when he was one of the purest scorers on the team. Now it’s different. With an anemic power play, to put it very lightly, the Sabres need someone who can put the puck in the net every other night, 5 on 5 and Vanek has proven he can do that. Vanek needs to think shoot first and pass second on a consistent basis and he needs players on his line that will allow him to do so.
4. Lindy Ruff MUST change.
There are two things that will not happen and that is the coach or general manager getting fired from this team. Let’s remember that Larry Quinn’s first go round as President of the Sabres, came during the John Muckler/Ted Nolan/Dominik Hasek debacle. He now has harmony between his GM and coach and that is not changing anytime in the foreseeable future. As Sabres fans, we hear after every loss, “the players know the system, they need to play it”. We have been hearing that from Ruff for years. The core of the four offensive lines haven’t changed much in 4-5 years, even with the departure of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere three summers ago. Lindy’s “System”, needs to. It’s a known fact, these players are not physical and are irresponsible in their own zone. So why not gear up the offensive side of the spectrum? Let these guys skate, pass, shoot, as the “Coneheads” line of the 1980 USA Olympic team so eloquently put it. If you are going to consistently give up 2 on 1’s, night in and night out, with a system that is supposedly geared on “own zone responsibility”, why not at least follow those mishaps with odd rushes of your own? The “responsible” one is not working. Change it! Your goaltender has proven to be up to the task of stopping a majority of the 30-35 shots he faces every night. Which leads me to my next point.
3. Ryan Miller needs to be “Ryan Miller”
Ok, so this one is pretty obvious and I won’t belabor the point. We have found out that it wasn’t just the defense and lazy forwards who were responsible for the early season ballooned goals against average. Miller had a nagging injury. After sitting out 4 games, Miller came back and looked like his old self against Washington, making several clutch saves, including one on an early breakaway by the greatest goal scorer in the world, Alex Ovechkin. The Sabres need this to continue and hopefully this early season rest will allow Miller to take a heavier workload in February/March. A time in the past, where Ruff seems to give Miller more breaks and a time where the Sabres seem to stagger.
2. Kaleta needs to fight
I understand that the NHL is taking steps to move away from fighting and nothing screams that more then the “instigator rule”. I have always thought fighting played a bigger role to the game of hockey in the minds of fans, rather then those who actually lace up the skates. I still believe that and playoff hockey proves it. For a team that seems to lose it’s luster after the first period though, I will approve of it for now. I’m praying for it actually. This team needs a serious shot in the arm. They cannot sit back all the time and hope for what happened the other night against Washington, to get themselves going. Vanek isn’t going to be undressing defensemen like that every night. You don’t help a non beating heart by sitting idly by and willing it to start up again. You grab the paddles, put the liquid gel on them, rev them up and yell “Clear!”. Pat Kaleta needs to start punching and getting punched in the face more. He needs to be the Sabres defibrillator. Something needs to change as far as what the Sabres gain motivation from. Well, unless this happens…
1. Sabres owner, Billionaire Thomas Golisano and President Larry Quinn give the gift of “Risk” to their GM for Christmas and tag it: “To Be Used at Anytime…Sooner the Better”
No, not the board game. The game that involves trading away your assets to obtain other assets. Darcy Reiger gets a lot of heat here in Buffalo. He will always be remembered for the GM who let Drury and Briere sign elsewhere. Briere, with absolutely no talks nor attempt to resign and Drury, with a pathetic last ditch effort. An effort that could have simply been done 5 months earlier. I know, I know. Buffalo fans still sound like cry babies, because every other sentence out of our mouths contain “Drury” or “Briere”. They have replaced the two words “No Goal” as the staple to every Sabres fan’s vocabulary. That changes if Reiger is given this gift for Christmas.
If you want to give Reiger credit and not label him a puppet, you can say he is one of the most responsible GM’s in the league and has done a good job in keeping the farm stocked and not making the horrible knee jerk trade when things are going bad. Well, besides the terrible knee jerk contract extensions given to the three players I am about to mention. Players which were given contracts as band aids in direct response to the Briere and Drury aftermath. I also believe a lot of moves or non moves fall directly on the hands of the Owner and President. The time for ensuring your teams 5 year future success, needs to be pushed aside for a moment. The desire for making sure the bottom line is black instead of red, by a billionaire owner, needs to take a backseat for the time being. Reiger needs to use this gift and obtain a first line Center and a Defensemen that can actually hold the blue line on a power play. Easier said then done? Maybe. Teams do it every year though, so why can’t this team do it? A team that actually has chips to bet with. There are 4-5 players on the current roster and at AHL Portland, that could be enticing to other teams in trade deals and every team always has draft picks to dangle. I love Buffalo and would have chosen no other place on the planet to grow up and to raise my kids, but I am honest with myself and understand that this area is not enticing to millionaire hockey players, well until they are forced here in a trade and then realize that this community is as good as any other. Buffalo is not the voluntary choice for high price free agents and top level players. We need to trade for them.
Obtaining a first line Center is the trickiest one, since I believe the Sabres need a really good, to great Center to complete this puzzle. The days of “Rolling 4 lines” are long gone. The Sabres have a hard enough time these days, rolling even one. In my mind, that makes the likes of Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Jochen Hecht, extremely expendable. Connolly being the most enticing, since he is a free agent next year and offers the most pure offensive talent of the three. Why would other teams want these guys? Well, it’s because these three players have undeservedly skated on first lines here and would be more fitting on teams that need to complete their second and third lines. Lines I believe these players would excel on. Besides Vanek, Tyler Ennis and Derek Roy, I’m willing to put any offensive player Buffalo currently has on the trading block. Prop them up in the Sabres front yard and slap a big “For Sale” sign on the front of their jerseys. Why would a competitive team give up a good center before the playoffs you ask? Well, it’s because maybe that team is planning, taking on more salary with other trades of their own and needs to dump a center that is making $6 million to Connolly’s $4 million, in order to add those additional players they desire. If that doesn’t work, then you flip a non playoff team young players, prospects or picks, which the Sabres have, minus Tyler Ennis.
The power play Defensemen is easier. I’m not asking for a Mike Green from Washington. Just someone who can hold the blue line on the power play so the Sabres can spend more of the two minutes in the opponents zone, rather then continually skating back to their own and retrieving the puck from their own goaltender who is patiently waiting there, puck on stick.
“Risk” Golisano and Quinn and not the one at your local toy store.