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Mailbag / By Jerry Sullivan: Babcock simply played free agent game

It was another rousing week for the Mailbag. There’s so much good material, it’s hard to choose. I start by cutting the lowlifes who use profanity. Didn’t their mothers wash out their mouths with soap and tell them swearing is the sign of a meager intellect?

You can submit your scintillating, squeaky-clean comments and queries via my Twitter account (@TBNSully) or my Buffalo News email ( This week’s bag:

Patrick Occhiuto asks: Reports are that the Sabres thought they had a “deal in principle” with Babcock. Do you think it’s more likely that he did something nefarious, or the Sabres front office misread the situation? They do have a history of mishandling things.

Sully: Nefarious? Babcock was a free agent and played the game. Players do it all the time. If Mario Williams had taken the Bills’ $100 million offer to another team, would that have been nefarious? How come when a coach plays one team off against another, he’s accused of being a two-faced cad? Most ordinary citizens would love the chance to do the same in their jobs.

Pegula made a very strong offer. I believe Babcock when he says there was no deal. He had every right to see if the Leafs could match or beat it. If the Sabres “misread” the situation, it was only in underestimating what the folks at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment had in mind – and Babcock’s desire to coach at the Centre of the Hockey Universe.

True, the Sabres have been a dysfunctional operation over the years. But they didn’t botch this negotiation. They just got beat – though I don’t imagine their history of mismanagement helped their cause any.

@jb7169 asks: I’m over it, but what messages does MB rejection of Buffalo send to our current and future players? Anything?

Sully: Glad you got over losing Babcock so soon. I’m sure your glee would have dissipated just as quickly if he had taken the job. I’m not sure what message it sends to the players. Most of them are probably open-minded and eager to get started with whoever becomes their coach.

The players should take it as a challenge, a sign that Babcock didn’t feel the future was as bright as fans think. Success isn’t automatic simply because you have a bunch of high draft picks. A hockey team needs talent, but it also needs to develop a tough competitive personality.

The entire organization can use the snub as motivation. The hottest coach in hockey didn’t want to be here. So get to work, develop a winning culture, and show Babcock he made a big mistake.

@Sanford117 asks: Were there any revelations (and I use this word apprehensively) from the Bills’ three-day rookie camp?

Sully: I wasn’t exactly riveted to rookie camp. The only thing close to a revelation was later in OTAs, when Rex Ryan said John Miller, the Bills’ third-round pick, was already lining up at guard with the starting offense.

It’s a little surprising to see a rookie establish himself that soon. But it tells you how desperate Ryan is to fortify a shaky offensive line. As we found out last season, the veteran guards didn’t inspire a lot of belief in the coaches.

Ryan said Miller was a player the Bills targeted heavily before the draft. He said the Louisville product “blew us away” during a pre-draft visit. It’s early, but if Miller lives up to the hype and Richie Incognito is close to his old form, they’ll be a lot better off at guard.

sameskimo@aol asks: Do you think Nate Oats can continue the rise of the UB basketball program? What are you hearing about the quality of the recruits he has signed? Finally, I heard that Torian Graham will not be playing for UB. Can you confirm this?

Sully: The Bulls will take a step back with Bobby Hurley and Shannon Evans heading to Arizona State. Hurley was a hoop brand, a prime recruiting tool. But I’ve been impressed with Oats, who is a strong recruiter and has signed five promising new players so far.

Blake Hamilton, a 6-6 JUCO wing from Pasadena, Calif., is expected to step in right away. He has the sort of size, skill and athletic ability to make an impact in the MAC. They’ll need it with Xavier Ford lost to graduation.

Graham, a 6-5 guard who transferred from the University of Houston in January, would have served that role. But Graham, who practiced with the Bulls but was never on scholarship, is no longer at UB.

Daniel Meyer asks: If you had to win one game as an MLB manager, what current starting pitcher would you pick? What if you had to protect a one-run lead in the ninth? With Mariano Rivera retired, what current relief pitcher would you hand the ball to close a game out?

Sully: Right now, I’d be tempted to use Corey Kluber, who pitched one of the most dominant games in history a week ago. But the choice has to be the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, the best clutch pitcher in baseball. Bumgarner, who dominated the World Series last fall, is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 0.88 ratio in his postseason career.

The reliever? I’ll go with the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, who throws 100 mph and has allowed only 140 hits while striking out 459 in 270 innings over five seasons. Craig Kimbrel is struggling with the Padres. The Yanks’ Andrew Miller has been close to unhittable, but Chapman is more proven.

Alfred Wright asks: Please provide context to claims that Jack Eichel would be No. 1 in many years. How would he rate the year Steven Stamkos was drafted? Patrick Kane? John Tavares? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?

Sully: Tough question. Eichel will be a great value at No. 2, but that doesn’t mean he’d have been picked over those players, or other top overall picks. It was a convenient position to justify tanking, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty where he would rank.

You could make a counter argument that Eichel wouldn’t have gone second overall in some years. Tyler Seguin, Drew Doughty and Evgeni Malkin all went with the second overall pick.


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