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Jerry Sullivan's Mailbag: Injuries matter, but no excuse for slovenly Sabres

For all this time, I've been asking readers to submit questions for discussion.

But lately, I've found that a great way to drive the mail flow is by asking the questions myself. What can I say? I'm a little slow on the uptake.

Two days ago, I posed this on Twitter: Are injuries an excuse for the Sabres?

Within an hour or so, I had 10 responses. They ran the gamut, which is great. This isn't a haven for monolithic views, but a forum for vigorous debate.

Here's what people had to say about the Sabres, who have lost six straight in the midst of a brutal run of injuries.

@csbabcock: Injuries only an excuse when your GM gives you no depth and a horrible backend. Team still two years out, even if healthy.

@Buffalodad: Injuries are part of it, but I don't see a coach getting the most out of his players.

@afman3333: We can't trade anyone or fire the coaches, so let's fire the Buffalo media to shake things up!

@braves9: "Injuries aren't an excuse" is what all teams say. The fact is, good players matter and make a difference.

@BuffChris11: You could argue top five players are out -- Jack, ROR, Ennis, Bog, Kulikov. Of course it matters.

@jlorimer71: Even with injuries, team should be better. No excuse for not competing. #tank2.

@rbenny43: I agree. Guys need to step up. This team has no compete. I don't see sense of urgency on ice.

Rick Smith: Sabres lacking chemistry and confidence. Shake things up with players and/or coach.

Richard Schara: Injuries are part of problem. Evander Kane is an issue. Sabres' record with Kane in lineup 25-46. Without Kane 15-13

Ed Jacobs: Watching Sabres. Don't like what I see. Soft, slow, disorganized, disinterested. Cause for concern?

Sully says: You all make reasonable points (I'm sure the media could do a better job of finishing their checks.) It's hard to judge a team when it's missing five top players (full names Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Zach Bogosian, Tyler Ennis, Dmitry Kulikov). That doesn't mean you can't take them to task, either.

I'm sorry, there's no excuse for scoring eight goals in seven home games, six of them losses, or for losing consecutive games by a 4-1 score. They're not deep or fast enough; the defense isn't nearly good enough, and the Sabres don't play with enough of an edge, regardless of where they are in their development.

It was nice to make Pat Kaleta a youth hockey ambassador. What they really could use is someone to give opposing skaters a rude welcome on the ice, the way Kaleta did as a player. They're just not that difficult to play against.

People treat GM Tim Murray like some hockey savant for executing a tank job and collecting draft picks. But in his biggest move, he overpaid badly for Kane, who has embarrassed the franchise off the ice and been a disappointment on it. Kane seems to be going through the motions, as if he doesn't expect to be in Buffalo long.

The notion of a second tank is ludicrous. The Sabres should be a lot more competitive when they get Eichel and the others back. But a lot of fans overestimated their chances this season. I had them as an 88-90 point team before the injuries hit. They'll be fortunate to get to that point now.

As Bucky pointed out in his column Friday, good teams rise above injuries. Look at Tampa Bay. Bylsma could tell you how his Penguins team lost both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for an extended period -- and got better.

I'm not expecting anything that dramatic, and I don't expect miracles. But fans deserve more than what the Sabres have given them so far this year.

@EdShelly1 asks: Bills started the season near the top of "dead cap" money list. Could be why reserves are so thin. That's on D. Whaley. Do you agree?

Sully: Of course. As I've said before, the Bills have the salary structure of a team that made a playoff run and is now paying for it on the cap. That's on the general manager, who made profligate financial decisions on such players as Marcell Dareus, Charles Clay, LeSean McCoy and Cordy Glenn.

When your salary cap is top-heavy, you pay for it down the roster. Whaley made some great adds on the cheap (Zach Brown, Lorenzo Alexander), but couldn't afford to upgrade the roster at spots like wide receiver or safety. ChrisHogan and Bacarri Rambo weren't that expensive, but had to be sacrificed.

The Bills will have 23 free agents after the season, the most in the NFL. They have to decide whether to keep Tyrod Taylor at a $27 million hit next season. Stephon Gilmore wants to be paid like an elite cornerback. A lot of bodies will be leaving, and if you think they're thin now, wait until 2017.

@ringo1256 asks: Should the Bills pursue an interest in Tony Romo if he's available?

Sully: In a word, no. Why would they want a 37-year-old quarterback who is coming off a serious back injury and has three years left on his contract at an average salary of $18 million? And if he was released and had a choice, why would Romo pick Buffalo?

Going after Romo would mean they had given up on Tyrod Taylor. I don't think Taylor is a true franchise quarterback, but Romo isn't the answer, either, at this stage of his career. It would be moving on from one flimsy hope to another.

That would be typical Bills -- taking another team's leftovers and trying to sell tickets by squeezing what little magic remains from an NFL relic. They did that with Drew Bledsoe and Terrell Owens. Where did it get them?

Roy Brenner asks: Has Marcell Dareus ever played a full season? Is there any interest from other clubs to trade for him? What do you think his value is?

Sully: Dareus missed only two games in his first five NFL seasons, including the 2015 opener because of an NFL suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. He missed two starts at the end of the 2013 season for being late.

This season, he has played in only one of the Bills' nine games -- the first four for another marijuana suspension and four for hamstring and groin injuries. He's listed as questionable for Sunday's game in Cincinnati.

Considering the financial hit and the personal baggage, it's hard to imagine anyone trading for Dareus. He has five years left on his contract at a shade over $16 million a year. The Bills are probably stuck with him. They didn't give themselves an out for off-field behavior in his extension, despite his numerous mis-steps.

Tom Schobert asks: So, who is the early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NHL draft?

Sully: Is this some allusion to the Sabres tanking and getting the top pick? Go ahead and dream, Tom. The clear No. 1 is Nolan Patrick, a versatile center for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is yet another "generational" player who has been targeted as the top selection in the '17 draft for some time.

Patrick is the son of Steve Patrick, who was the Sabres' first-round draft choice in  1980 (20th overall) and played five seasons in Buffalo from 1980-85. Steve Patrick also played junior for the Wheat Kings in Steve's native Manitoba.

How times have changed. Twenty of the first 21 picks in that '80 draft were Canadians. Only nine of the first 21 (and one of the first nine) in the 2016 draft were from Canada.

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