Share this article

print logo

Everyone deserves blame for Sabres' poor season

The Sabres have had so many problems this season that it's difficult to determine where to begin and where to end. Obviously, they're broken and need to be fixed. There is no magic trade that can turn them around before the Feb. 27 deadline.

When comparing expectations to results, this season will likely go down as the worst in franchise history.

Buffalo's injuries cannot be ignored, but they're not a valid excuse, either. Injuries might have prevented them from contending in the division or made a difference between fourth and eighth in the conference. Fifteen skaters have appeared in 44 games or more this year. To blame injuries for having the NHL's 28th-best record is ludicrous.

OK, so is it the players? Broken down, you can find no fewer than seven who were having the worst seasons of their careers in one form or another going into the weekend. It's not a good sign when two forwards, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, accounted for nearly 31 percent of their scoring through 57 games.

Derek Roy was on pace for 16 goals and 40 points, both career lows since the lockout. Drew Stafford was headed toward 13 goals, a career-low for a full season. Paul Gaustad was on pace for 21 points. Ryan Miller was staring down the barrel of his first losing record, his worst goals-against average (2.82) and second-worst save percentage (.906).

Ville Leino was on pace for six goals and 22 points, one fewer goal and one fewer point than he had in 19 playoff games in 2009-10. Brad Boyes, a three-time 25-goal scorer, was on pace for four goals and 19 points. He had never averaged worse than 0.512 points per game in his career before averaging .295 ppg this year.

Do we really need to reach deep down the list and find Cody McCormick with no goals in 38 games or Matt Ellis with six points in 47 games or Mike Weber's team-worst minus-14 in 31 games played this season? Tyler Myers missed 20 games with injuries, but he's been less productive in the games he played than in his first two years.

It's not an anomaly, you know, like the weather. It's a pattern.

Is that the players or coaching?

Several players mentioned how it was odd not hearing Lindy Ruff, when he watched from the press box, screaming during games. It made me wonder if they've grown tired of listening to their coach's bark. At times this season, the Sabres looked stale and uninterested in playing for him.

Ruff can't score goals from behind the bench but he's partly responsible for the listless efforts and poor defense that have become common this year. He's also the one who needs to get players in positions to succeed.

Luke Adam had five goals and 13 points in his first 16 games while playing mostly on the top line. The rookie's production, and likely his confidence, took a dive when he was demoted for an extended period. He skated into the weekend without a point in 20 games, or since Dec. 17, and was still fifth among forwards in scoring with 20 points. He's back in Rochester.

Boyes' success earlier in his career came while playing wing and bombing one-timers from the left circle. He has played center out of necessity for much of his time here. Leino was signed with the idea he could play center. The experiment failed, and Ruff has been unable to find him consistent linemates without breaking up Vanek and Pominville.

So is that the coaching or the poor personnel?

GM Darcy Regier made no changes even when it was obvious his team was headed in the wrong direction. Nearly six weeks ago, Sabres President Ted Black suggested they had reached a crossroads and insisted Regier was doing his job. If his job was doing nothing to address flaws and watch his team slide down the standings, he succeeded.

Regier has the trade deadline ahead with little hope of reaching the postseason. He was given an open checkbook for the first time in his career. The Sabres are spending more and getting worse results.

Owner Terry Pegula and his upper-management team have insisted Regier isn't getting fired, which at best sounds like accepting mediocrity for a team that supposedly was serious about winning it all.

The answer to the questions, of course, is all of the above.

Let's work backward for the solution, one you've read numerous times. Change the general manager, have the incoming GM decide on the coach, clear cap space, address his roster and make sure he has enough depth to overcome injuries.

***

Kane for Miller?

Jeremy Roenick caused quite a stir, particularly in Chicago and Buffalo, last week when he suggested the Blackhawks needed to consider trading away Patrick Kane in an effort to upgrade their goaltending.

"I love Patrick Kane," Roenick said on ESPN radio in Chicago. "He is one of the most talented and one of the best players in the NHL. But if you really want a top-end goaltender you're going to have to give up somebody."

With the 'Hawks looking for better goaltending and the Sabres in need of more scoring, some wondered if a deal for Ryan Miller might be in the works. It might have made sense, but it wouldn't be an ideal move for either side.

Kane is one of the most popular athletes in Chicago and will forever have a place in its sports history after scoring the Stanley Cup winner in 2009-10. Kane has 13 goals and 48 points in 59 games, putting him on pace for the worst year of his career, but trading him anywhere would be a tough sell.

It also wouldn't be fair to him or the Sabres if he wound up in Buffalo, a small town that can be suffocating for all players. Just ask Miller. It would be considerably more difficult for the South Buffalo native, whose every move would be analyzed. The best scenario for him would be staying in Chicago.

***

Nash ponders future

The Columbus Dispatch listed six teams believed to be suitable for winger Rick Nash to lift his no-trade clause with the Blue Jackets. It included the Rangers, Boston, San Jose, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto.

New York appeared to have the inside track, but Columbus is looking for a starting goaltender. It brings deals more into play with Boston (Tuukka Rask) and Vancouver (Cory Schneider). Los Angeles has Jonathan Bernier, but the Kings are reluctant to take Nash's long-term contract and $7.8 million cap hit.

Toronto has young players it can move, starting with defenseman Luke Schenn, but it didn't appear likely it would include a goaltender that can meet Columbus' needs. The Leafs could look into the asking price for Jeff Carter, however, with the idea they could fix him with coach Ron Wilson and GM Brian Burke.

Another option is, well, nothing.

GM Scott Howson has a reputation for being extremely careful and could wait until after the season to make a deal, assuming he's still in charge. Teams will have a better idea where they stand with personnel and the salary cap this summer. Nash would still need to approve any deal.

***

Zidlicky wants out

Minnesota's decision to scratch healthy defenseman Marek Zidlicky against Winnipeg last week fueled speculation that a trade was imminent, but it was actually coach Mike Yeo making the call. Yeo didn't want the veteran playing without knowing whether he was committed to helping them win.

"I'm making an assumption that his head would not be in the right place to play," Yeo told reporters. "I don't know what's going on, and that's speaking honestly. I don't know what's going to happen."

Zidlicky has made it clear that he wants to be moved and would waive his no-trade clause if it meant playing for the Devils. GM Cliff Fletcher hinted that he might keep him until the summer, when he would have more options. Yeo last week wasn't sure when, or if, Zidlicky would get back in the lineup.

"He would have to prove, just like every one of our players, that he's all in to what we want to do," Yeo said. "If you do that, and if you go out and show that night in and night out, then absolutely. Anybody who's here, we will treat them as part of the team."

***

Quotable

Senators center Jason Spezza on his team going 5-0-1 all-time when their fathers travel with them for road trips: "I guess it's the fear of the fathers."

***

Around the boards

*Bolts GM Steve Yzerman is looking to stock up with prospects and draft choices as he continues rebuilding efforts. Defenseman Pavel Kubina will remain off the ice, even for practice, while Stevie Y tries to work out a deal for him. Kubina was asked for a list of five teams to which he would waive his limited no-trade clause.

*Eric Staal Watch: The Hurricanes center had seven goals and 20 points and was minus-22 in his first 38 games this season. In his next 19 games, with the Hurricanes out of contention, he had seven goals and 24 points and was plus-4. He's an example of how much easier the game can become when playing under less pressure.

*The Senators watched three drafts fall into place last week in a 6-2 win over Florida when 2007 first-round pick Jim O'Brien scored his first NHL goal from 2006 first-round pick Nick Foligno and 2005 first-round pick Brian Lee.

*Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Detroit and the Rangers inquired about Ryan Smyth before he and the Oilers agreed they weren't interested in trading him away as a rental. Smyth, who has a no-trade clause in his contract, is looking for an extension in the $6.5 million range over two years.

*Don't be shocked if Nikolai Khabibulin lands back in Chicago before the deadline. The Blackhawks need a goaltender they can trust in the playoffs. The Bulin Wall spent four years with them before signing with Edmonton in 2009-10, the year Chicago won the Stanley Cup with then-rookie Antti Niemi.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com