Luke Adam had three goals and four points in his first 18 NHL games, so he wasn't the Sabres' best player by any stretch. He's a big kid with a good head and good hands whose skating will improve with time. What the rookie needed more than anything was quality minutes.
Lindy Ruff liked the center's game. He made it clear last week when he failed to swing at a softball question suggesting the 20-year-old Adam needed to adjust to the demands that come with playing in the NHL. Ruff confirmed it wasn't the case at all. It was a numbers problem that arose when Patrick Kaleta returned to the lineup.
"I thought Luke gave us a lot of good periods," Ruff said. "He needs to go play, to go play 20 minutes a game. He needs to be involved in special teams in a big way which he has been down in Portland. We think a lot of him. It's just not good for him to be here when we're healthy and only play 8-9 minutes."
Fair enough, but why not grant him more ice time by weaving him into different situations in Buffalo over unproductive forwards who have grown comfortable? Adam playing between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville on a regular shift might have been an upgrade over Jochen Hecht. Perhaps he could boost the power play if given the chance.
Ruff didn't have room on the roster to find out, not without pushing a veteran out of the lineup and keeping 23 players on the roster rather than 22. The Sabres didn't want to keep a full roster because it would have meant paying for past mistakes, such as signing Rob Niedermayer and buying out Tim Kennedy.
Niedermayer, 35, has been mostly invisible and will be an unrestricted free agent after making $1.25 million. If they kept 23 players -- whether it was Niedermayer, Nathan Gerbe or anyone else -- their payroll would have been higher than if they simply accepted Kennedy's $1 million arbitration award rather than add the cost of his buyout.
Kennedy, 24, who has regained his confidence in the AHL after having his career turned upside down, would have given the Sabres more depth down the middle and another young player who understood Ruff's system. The Sabres also would have had more options with young players, such as Adam and Gerbe.
Understand, the beef here isn't about Adam, Kennedy, Niedermayer or Gerbe in particular. It's about management's approach in general. The Sabres are hoping to make the playoffs, but there's a big difference between hoping to reach the postseason and doing what's required to get there.
Almost every move General Manager Darcy Regier has made since the lockout has been based on attrition, not competition, and money, not winning. The Sabres too often this year looked like they were going through the motions, much like Regier did last summer. Their awakening going into the all-star break could be too late.
FYI: Atlanta had a similar dilemma with a young player Tuesday, the same day Adam reported to Portland. GM Rick Dudley wanted to keep rookie Patrice Cormier but didn't have roster space. Cormier had one goal and one assist in 10 games, is about same size (6-2, 215) as Adam (6-2, 205), plays the same position and was born four days earlier.
No room, no problem.
Dudley created space while helping the Thrashers' short- and long-term futures. He traded Ben Eager to San Jose and in the process replenished a fifth-round pick lost in a previous deal. He refused to sit around even though his team was in the top eight in the conference, three spots ahead of Buffalo at the time.
Whether it lifts them into playoffs doesn't really matter. Cormier will be better for the experience. Dudley sent a message through his dressing room that he was at least making an attempt to improve. He also saved $400,000, giving him more options before the trade deadline, for a team that has the NHL's second-lowest payroll.
Terry Pegula should keep that in mind.
Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin had 16 goals his first 48 games this season in what is shaping into the worst year of his career. He had never scored fewer than 46 goals in a season, and his dropoff appears to be contagious.
The Capitals are averaging more than a goal less per game this season. Last year, they led the league with 318 goals (3.87 per game) but had just 135 (2.81 per game) through 48 games, including shootout victories. Washington entered the weekend having not scored more than three goals in 12 straight games and 18 of 19 overall.
It's the result, Ovechkin says, of not paying the fare around the crease.
"Sometimes you just think maybe there's going to be a rebound, and I'm going to stay outside of the net because I don't want to go there, be in that position where I'm going to have hit in the neck or elbow in the face," he said. "You think the puck is going to bounce right to your stick. Most of the time, you have to go there and fight for that puck."
The long way
Kids, if you're good enough, they'll find you.
Just ask former Rochester Institute of Technology defenseman Chris Tanev, who made his debut with the Canucks last week after ascending from the Markam Waxers of the Ontario Tier II league to the NHL in less than two years.
Tanev had 10 goals and 28 points last year in his only season at RIT before signing with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent last spring. A scout initially discovered him playing for Markham during the 2008-09 season, and Canucks player personnel director Dave Gagner followed his game at RIT.
The 21-year-old was summoned to the NHL last week from Manitoba after Andrew Alberts and Aaron Rome were sidelined with injuries. Tanev weighs only 180 pounds, but the Canucks believe he'll eventually become a top four defenseman.
"You could see the hockey sense, the poise with the puck and that he's a great skater," assistant GM Lorne Henning said. "He's got to get stronger. But he's been working on that."
Wild winger Brad Staubitz was thanking the league, not to mention the hockey gods, for allowing him to skate after he instigated a fight in the final five minutes of regulation. He was facing a one-game suspension and a $10,000 fine on Todd Richards.
The league ruled that Staubitz was coming to defend teammates Nick Schultz after tempers flared in a blowout over Edmonton. The rule is designed to dissuade coaches from sending out goon squads to even the score in lopsided losses.
"I'm just glad Todd got a break," Staubitz said. "You never want to do that to a coach. That wouldn't have been good."
Former coach Jacques Lemaire paid the $10,000 fine after Kyle Wanvig started a fight with Brooks Orpik in 2005. Wanvig served the suspension and was a healthy scratch for 10 straight games. Tough guy Derek Boogaard once wrote a $10,000 check to Lemaire as an insurance policy so Lemaire would play him in the final five minutes.
Canucks fourth-liner Tanner Glass, who earned a degree in history from Dartmouth, on whether he shows off his Ivy League education in scrums: "No, I dumb it down."
Around the boards
*Blue Jackets defenseman Jan Hejda landed in the press box last week after posting a minus-9 rating in nine games. It could be time for a change in scenery for Hejda, who was plus-43 in his first two seasons with Columbus and minus-26 in his last two. GM Scott Howson has worked the phones, but he's not sure whether to buy or sell.
*Penguins star Sidney Crosby apparently was angry with reports out of Toronto that suggested he wouldn't play in the All-Star Game in protest over the types of head shots that caused his concussion. "That's not even close," Crosby told reporters. "I'll be there if I can be there." Crosby hasn't played since Jan. 5 but felt better last week.
*The Devils wasted little time crediting coach Jacques Lemaire after they won three times in four games. Lemaire replaced rookie boss John MacLean, who was fired after a terrible start. "I think Jacques has changed our situation, changed our mentality," veteran Jason Arnott said. "He simplified things. When we do it right, we win."
*Look for the Oilers to be among the teams playing in Europe to open next season, most likely in Stockholm. Their following in Sweden goes back to Wayne Gretzky's days in Edmonton. More fans jumped on the bandwagon -- there is one? -- this year with rookies Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark starting their NHL careers.
*The Kings continued their tumble with three straight losses, giving them five defeats in six games and 10 in 12. Last week, they promoted Andrei Loktionov from the East Coast league and tossed him on their top line. "It's not the 'Woe is me'; it's battle through," forward Justin Williams said. "Work harder."
*Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury turned around a miserable 1-6 start with a 20-5-1 record, a 1.97 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in his next 26 starts. He has allowed two goals or less in 20 times in 28 games over that stretch. It doesn't hide the fact that former Cup hero Maxime Talbot hadn't scored in 22 straight games.