The mail was a tad light this week, maybe because it's the first week of summer. People might be golfing, or waiting anxiously for Friday night's NHL draft. I can't get terribly worked up about a bunch of 18-year-old kids I've never heard of.
The looming question as the draft approached in Chicago was whether Jason Botterill would pull the trigger on a big trade. Based on what I'm hearing from our hockey guys, the Sabres' new GM isn't wedded to anyone on his roster other than Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel.
My ears perked up when I heard Botterill's comment about wanting his team to be "competitive off the ice." It sounded like a veiled shot at Evander Kane, who is notorious for bolting the arena as soon as practice ends, and perhaps Sam Reinhart, who also became known for rapid exits last season.
I'm all for moving Kane. I understand the reluctance to part with your leading goal-scorer, a dynamic power forward. But Botterill doesn't seem inclined to give Kane a huge extension. His value might never be higher, and the Sabres need help on defense, so a trade makes sense.
It's easy to trade guys when their stock is low. The savvy executives know when an asset is at its peak and act accordingly. You need to give value to get value, and if it improves team chemistry off the ice, all the better.
On to this week's Mailbag:
firstname.lastname@example.org asks: In December, you said the Bills would go 17-31 over the next three seasons. With the Housley hire, what's your Sabres forecast?
@mickeybrocks asks: Who makes the playoffs first? Bills or Sabres? When?
Sully: Buffalo fans want to believe that hiring a new coach and general manager will awaken a sleeping giant and transform the Sabres into a playoff team. It's wishful thinking to suggest that Housley's uptempo style and engaging personality will instantly unleash this team's vast potential.
The roster isn't good enough. That's why Botterill is open to moving just about anyone. He doesn't use the word "process," like Sean McDermott does, but it'll take time. He's no dummy. He's helped build Stanley Cup winners and I don't imagine he had the most glowing opinion of the Sabres when he was in Pittsburgh. He'll be looking to impose his winning vision.
The Sabres had 81 and 78 points the last two years. That's who they are, until proven otherwise. You can't pin it all on Dan Bylsma. The defense was dreadful and they weren't tough to play against. Talk all you want about speed, but physical play still matters, especially in your own end.
Fans can point to the one-year jumps by other teams last season: Columbus improving by 32 points, Toronto by 29, Montreal by 21. Things are pretty even in the NHL these days. But it also shows that other teams in the conference are ahead of Sabres in their rise to Cup contention.
They certainly should improve next year. If I had to predict, I'd say they move to 88 points next season, fall short of a playoff spot with 94 points the next season and break through for 101 and the playoffs in 2019-20.
There, I predicted a Buffalo team to make the playoffs. And people say I'm negative. That should also answer the question of which teams gets there first. Sabres.
Matt Cohen asks: UB is finally getting a fieldhouse. Do you think it will allow UB to bring in better recruits for football? Any word how much money UB will save for no longer using Bills' facility?
Sully: UB has been dreaming of an indoor football practice facility since 1998. It's not for appearances sake. The only other MAC school without one is Ball State. It has to dissuade some prospective recruits from choosing Buffalo, which has perceived drawbacks as it is.
The wisdom of UB competing at the highest level of college football has been well-debated, especially since the university eliminated four sports to save $2 million a year. But it was silly to think they would turn back from BCS football with an $18 million project like this one in the works.
I don't have figures on how much they'll save from not busing to Orchard Park on occasion. It's likely a minimal savings in a $7 million budget.
@spyderman1954 asks: With the emphasis on analytics in baseball, do you see a change from dead pull hitters swinging for fences, to guys who can spray?
Sully: To which analytics do you refer? MLB players are swinging for the fences more than ever. It's a revolution in swing mechanics that's causing the change -- an increasing belief among hitters that elevating the ball is the way to go.
Home runs are at an all-time high at 1.27 per team per game, well ahead of the steroid era at its peak. Strikeouts are up (to 8.22 a team per game) for the 12th year in a row. So players don't mind striking out in their quest to drive more balls over the fences against pitchers throwing harder than ever.
It's not all pull hitting. If you mean spraying the ball over fences, you have a point. Today's players are so big and strong they can hit it out to all fields. The other night, I saw the Yankees' Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, both righties, line homers out to right-center
@ZBIV42 asks: IMHO, Lebron > Jordan, Elway > Montana. The best teams win championships, so sometimes the best players don't. Thoughts?
Sully: LeBron James is now 3-5 in NBA Finals. He's also been on seven straight East Conference champions. So he's one of the league's great winners. The fact that Jordan won six titles doesn't necessarily make him better. I also rank James above him on the all-time list.
I love the Elway-Montana discussion. When Elway was leading those last-minute drives with ordinary Denver offenses, I thought he might be the best quarterback ever. Montana was superior as a passer, but had a better supporting cast and a coach who was a genius in the passing game.
Of course, I've felt for years that Tom Brady was the best ever. But as time goes by, people forget how good Elway really was.
Tony Pappagallo asks: What do u think of the Durant-McAdoo comparisons? KD has more ball skills but I can't help think about #11 when I watch KD drain 3s.
Sully: Another good one. Kevin Durant and Bob McAdoo are two of the top shooting big men ever to play. Like KD, McAdoo was 6-9 with astonishing range for his size. He was ahead of his time, drilling 25-footers that would be three-pointers today. He wasn't as good a ballhandler or passer as Durant, but his skills would translate well to today's game.
Durant is an exceptional defender, on the perimeter and at the rim. But McAdoo guarded centers in his day and led the NBA in blocks in his prime. In his three peak seasons with the Braves (1973-76), he averaged 32 points, 14 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 43 minutes a game -- when he was 22-24 years old.
McAdoo remains one of the most underrated players ever. He had a reputation for being selfish while playing for bad teams, but he went to the Lakers at the end of his career averaged double figures in 20 minutes off the bench for some of the greatest teams ever under Pat Riley.
He played in Italy at a high level until he was 42 and became the first ex-player Riley hired as an assistant coach. It's hard to compare guys from different eras, but I'd take McAdoo.