Sabres Free Agent Troubles

But I suppose we can now insert the term “officially” into Sabres GM Darcy Regier’s statement that he intended to retain the rights to Briere. In fact, Regier stated the Sabres would retain the rights to all their RFA’s (he must have forgotten that Andrew Peters still played for them), and in a radio interview this morning Sabres winger Jason Pominville indicated he received his offer yesterday. That tells me the Sabres have made their decisions, but we will know for sure Monday at 5:00, which is the deadline for qualifying offers to be received.

At that point, the Sabres have the right of first refusal on their RFA’s, which means other teams can make the players offers, but the Sabres would always be able to match. If they chose not to match, they would be eligible for draft-pick compensation based on the amount of money the RFA was offered by the other team. This is important, because I think the Sabres could be vulnerable despite the fact that offer sheets to RFA’s are fairly rare.

The formula for compensation is based on the amount offered and is as follows:

Under $660,000 = no compenastion
$660,000-$1 million = Third Round
Over $1 million-$2 million = Second Round
Over $2 million-$3 million = First Round and Third Round
Over $3 million-$4 million = First, second and third round
Over $4 million-$5 million = Two First Round, one Second, one Third
Over $5 million = Four First Round Picks

You might be interested in: Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall

Do you see where the Sabres are vulnerable? If other teams make offer sheets for four or five years at a mere $2 million per season to a few of our younger guys we might just lose them with little compensation. We all know Darcy Regier’s aversion to long-term contracts, and if that offer got tossed out to a Brian Campbell (RFA qualifying offer of $459,800) or Henrik Tallinder ($591,800) he might just back away and end up with nothing but a third-round pick. Heck, if the offer escalated a bit he definitely wouldn’t touch it, and if you’re a team like the Rangers or Leafs locking up a good, young player for $3 mil per isn’t such a bad plan.

The other area where the Sabres could be impacted adversely is player-elected salary arbitration. The players have until July 5 to decide if they would like to go to arbitration, and for some Sabres it could be a big winner. Let’s take Max Afinogenov as an example. His qualifying offer will be $1,086,000. He led the Sabres in scoring and can easily make the statistical case that he deserves similar compensation to Chris Drury, who made just shy of $3 million last year. To make things even scarier, he had statistically superior seasons to Todd Bertuzzi (salary: $5,269,333), Jarome Iginla ($7,000,000) and Miro Satan ($4,015,000). Afinogenov could be a huge winner in arbitration, and the Sabres might be forced to decide if they want Max making $3 million based on an arbitrators decision. The only other option is to “walk away” from the arbitration ruling, which would make Max a free agent. Another player who could cash big in arbitration is Ales Kotalik, who finished third on the Sabres in scoring and whose tender will be for $837,900. How about JP Dumont, who will be offered $1,598,000. Think he couldn’t angle for an additional million?

Iis there any doubt that Darcy Regier is keenly aware of the potential arbitration problem with Afinogenov? When you tie that to his statements that he wants to deal some forwards, I think he is laying the groundwork for a bigger-named, arbitration eligible player to be moved. One salary getting out of line with the Sabres formula could adversely impact the teams ability to sign their RFA’s at levels they are comfortable with, plus cause problems with team chemistry.

I don’t envy Regier for the position he is in as he works to keep his core together for the next couple years while keeping salaries reasonable.

 

 

Sabres Take 1-0 Series Lead With 3-2 Victory Over Canes

The Buffalo Sabres took a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Carolina Hurricanes with a 3-2 win on the road. Although Buffalo was outplayed by Carolina for large stretches of the game the Sabres got spectacular goaltending from Ryan Miller and goals from Henrik Tallinder, Daniel Briere, and Jay McKee to earn the win.

Buffalo got off to another good start by scoring the first goal of the game. Buffalo has now scored first in 11 of 12 playoff games this year. The play started in the Buffalo zone when Toni Lydman broke up the right wing and banked a pass off the glass to Jason Pominville in the neutral zone. Pominville flipped a pass over to Jochen Hecht in the slot for a one timer but Hecht wasn’t in a good position and the pass ricocheted off of him and went wide of the net. The puck ended up back on Pominville’s stick as he spotted Tallinder crashing to the front of the net. Pominville flipped the puck out to Tallinder who then one timed the pass into the top of the open net over Cam Ward’s right arm. The goal came just 2:56 into the game.

Carolina tied the game at 1-1 on a goal by Rod Brind’Amour at 12:11 of the first. The goal was the result of a turnover by Rory Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was attempting a pass from inside the Buffalo zone out over the red line and it was intercepted by Cory Stillman. As Stillman carried the puck in over the blue line Fitzpatrick laid him out with a hit but not before Stillman fed the puck up to Brind’Amour along the left wing. As Brind’Amour got ready to take his shot on Miller from the left face off circle, Brian Campbell backed away from him instead of trying to block the shot. Campbell may have been trying to get out of Miller’s way but the correct move would have been to try to get in Brind’Amour’s way. Miller dropped down to stop the shot but it went in high on the glove side over his left shoulder. Miller definitely got a piece of the puck but could not get his glove on it in time.

You may also check: Those Balls Are Really Bouncing Out There

Buffalo was outplayed by Carolina in the first period and they spent most of the period in their own zone withstanding the aggressive fore check of the Canes. The Sabres were out shot 10-6 and they were not as physical as the Canes. Buffalo got out of the period with a 1-1 tie due to two or three clutch saves by Miller and good penalty killing. The Canes were 0-for-2 on the power play during the period. Buffalo finished the first with only 22 seconds of power play time to finish the period.

Buffalo found their legs in the second period and started to take the attack to Carolina. Chris Drury hit a post early in the period while Buffalo was on the power play and the Sabres had numerous other scoring chances throughout the period. Teppo Numminen left the Sabres bench during the second period with what may be a leg injury (although the Sabres aren’t saying yet). Buffalo was forced to play the rest of the game with only five defensemen.

Briere broke the tie halfway through the second with a beautiful back hand shot up under the crossbar. The goal was set up by two great passes from Taylor Pyatt to Jason Pominville and then Pominville to Briere. Pyatt got the puck up near the blue line along the left boards and passed the puck over to Pominville in the neutral zone. Pominville got the puck at center ice and immediately fed the puck up to his left to Briere as Briere was crossing the blue line. Briere had a step on Bret Hedican but Hedican was forcing Briere to the outside. Briere was still able to get a backhand shot off from about twelve feet away. The shot went up over Ward’s left (glove) hand into the top of the net at 9:41 of the second.

The teams went to their dressing rooms with Buffalo leading 2-1 after forty minutes. Buffalo was definitely the better team in the second period. They out shot Carolina 13-4, took the one goal lead, and killed off another Canes power play. The key to the Sabres second period success was that they skated hard and pressed the attack in the Canes zone. Buffalo could have had a larger lead if Mike Commodore hadn’t blocked a shot that JP Dumont had on an open net and if Thomas Vanek would have shot the puck from the top of the slot on a Sabres power play instead of passing it away.

Buffalo had another opportunity to take a two goal lead early in the third period but a shot by Hecht hit the crossbar and bounced out. Carolina was starting to get desperate and get scoring chances when Jay McKee was called for Holding at 11:32. Not only did Buffalo kill the penalty, but when McKee stepped back on the ice he was in perfect position to accept a pass from Hecht and score the eventual game-winner. McKee took the puck and moved halfway into the Canes zone along the right boards and hesitated with the shot to allow time for traffic to get in front of Ward. After pausing, McKee moved to his left and used Niclas Wallin and Mike Commodore as screens before taking his shot from 25 feet and beating Ward low through the five hole. Buffalo’s lead was now 3-1 with 6:20 remaining.

It looked like Buffalo would be able to put the game away when Aaron Ward took a Holding penalty with less than five minutes remaining. Instead of scoring an insurance goal on the power play, however, Buffalo gave up a shorthanded goal to Mike Commodore at 17:07 that cut the lead to 3-2. Buffalo was playing soft on the power play and allowed the Canes to gain possession of the puck in the Buffalo zone. Hedican took a shot from the point while Lydman, Campbell, and Staal were in Miller’s way causing traffic. Commodore got a piece of Hedican’s shot and deflected it past Miller.

Carolina spent the next three minutes desperately trying to score the tying goal. Ward was pulled with almost 1:30 left and the Canes went with five forwards and one defenseman as they pressured Buffalo the entire time. Miller was sensational, making save after save until Buffalo was finally able to clear the puck down the ice as time expired.

The key to this game was the stellar play of Ryan Miller. Other than the Brind’Amour goal, Miller was on top of his game. He was moving well, never out of position, handling the puck when needed, and smothering rebounds. Buffalo also owes a lot of credit to McKee and Tallinder. Both defensemen scored goals (2), blocked shots (7), and gave out hits (3) while logging 22:01 (McKee) and 26:51 (Tallinder) of ice time.

Even with McKee and Tallinder’s great play, Buffalo’s defense is a concern heading into Game Two. Campbell was a minus-2 on the night after being on the ice for both Canes goals. If Numminen is out for Game Two he will be the second top-6 defenseman out of the series for Buffalo, including Dmitri Kalinin. Buffalo may have to dress one of their young defenseman from the AHL Rochester Americans in Numminen’s place (either Nathan Paetsch or Doug Janik). This is after Buffalo’s D had their hands full with Carolina for most of the game. Four of Buffalo’s five penalties went to their defensemen for Holding and Interference. That’s not a great sign and Buffalo will need to work on that in Game Two.

The good news is that Buffalo has the 1-0 series lead and now they can play Game Two with less tension knowing that they are guaranteed a split on the road before heading home. Prior to the game I felt that a victory in Game One was important but not essential to winning the series and I still believe that is the case. Both teams had a lot of time off before this game and were a little rusty which makes it hard to judge their performance. I’m glad that Buffalo got the first win out of the way though. These two teams seem to match up well and it looks like it could be a long six or seven game series.

 

 

Buffalo Sabres Outlast NY Islanders in Shootout to Win 4-3

Two different games on two different nights against two different New York teams both end up in an overtime shootout for the Buffalo Sabres. Last night Buffalo lost to the Rangers in a shootout, tonight they beat the Islanders in another shootout.

Once again the Sabres got off to a very sluggish start and were out shot 15-5 in the first period. Martin Biron made some key saves to keep the Sabres in it early on. Its possible that the Sabres were adjusting to new line combinations which were needed when Danny Briere was held out with an injury. Even if that is the excuse the players use it is not acceptable. They’re professionals – they should be able to handle changes to the lineup.

The Islanders got the first goal of the game when York deflected a shot from the point by Campoli. York was left alone in front of the net by both Tallinder and Kalinin. Either defensemen could have picked him up and prevented the goal. Instead, he was allowed to camp out in front of the net and deflect the shot. The Sabres responded with a power play goal by Chris Drury two and a half minutes later to tie the game 1-1. Buffalo cycled the puck around the outside for over a minute before Brian Campbell found a lane and took a shot from the point. Drury was in front of the net and fired the rebound home. Marty Biron made a clutch save on Yashin with under five seconds left in the period to keep it tied going into the intermission.

The Islanders regained the lead early in the second period on a power play goal by Sopel. The shot was a deflection that Biron had no chance on. Less than a minute later, Jason Blake put the Islanders up 3-1. Weinhandl passed the puck from behind the net out to Blake who was all alone. Two things went wrong for the Sabres on the Blake goal. First, three Sabres players were crowded together in front of the net and not playing their positions, which left Blake alone in front. Second, Biron sat back in the net and did not come out to challenge Blake. By sitting back Biron left a lot of net open for Blake to take advantage of.

Jochen Hecht scored the Sabres second goal when he tipped a shot from Teppo Numinen past DiPietro. Ales Kotalik tied the game at 3-3 when he scored with under three minutes remaining in the third. The goal was the result of excellent individual effort. Kotalik broke down the left wing and fought off the Islander defenseman. He then went strong to the net along the goal line and flipped the puck past DiPietro. That goal seemed to give the Sabres the energy that they had been missing all night. They woke up in the four-on-four overtime and dominated the Islanders. Buffalo out shot New York 4-0 in OT but DiPietro forced the shootout.

For the second time in two nights the Sabres sent their three shooters out to try to win a shootout. Kotalik, Vanek, and Connolly were picked to face Yashin, Blake, and Satan.

– Kotalik scored on a backhand that went “top shelf” to put the Sabres up 1-0.

– Biron got his stick on Yashin’s shot to keep it 1-0.

– Vanek tried too many moves and ran out of ice which kept it 1-0.

– Blake seemed to lose control of the puck and Biron poke-checked it away to keep it 1-0.

– Connolly sealed the win for the Sabres when DiPietro slid too far back into the net with the puck under his pad.

– Satan never had a chance to shoot because the Sabres were already up by two goals.

Next up for the Sabres will be the Montreal Canadiens in Buffalo on Friday night.

 

Buffalo Sabres Defeat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 in OT

The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Montreal Canadiens to extend their winning streak to five straight games. The Sabres had not won five in a row since January 1993. It was a chippy, gritty game that wasn’t that fun to watch until late in the third period. Both teams took turns controlling play but neither team was able to seize control of the game. Montreal only managed 20 shots on net but Marty Biron was forced to make some excellent saves to keep the Sabres in the game. At the other end of the ice, Jose Theodore made 27 saves but was victimized twice by the Sabres power play.

The Canadiens got on the board first when Michael Ryder was left all alone deep in the Sabres zone during a Buffalo break out that was broken up by Montreal. The Sabres defensemen were already clearing the zone when the puck was knocked back towards the goal from the blue line. Ryder was all alone in front and quickly put the puck past Biron, high on the glove side. The first period ended with Montreal leading 1-0.

The Canadiens extended their lead to 2-0 on a second period power play. Montreal controlled the puck in the Sabres zone and Ryder sent a cross ice pass to Dagenais who had the whole side of the net to put the puck into. Biron was not able to get across the crease in time and Dagenais buried the puck.

The Sabres entered tonight’s game with the number five ranked power play in the league. Buffalo finally got on the board with a power play goal in the second period to cut the lead to one. Jason Pominville set up Brian Campbell at the point and Campbell fired a slap shot past Theodore. Replays showed that Tim Connolly most likely tipped the puck in front of the net and the official score sheet has given Connolly credit for the goal.

The turning point of the game came at around the seven minute mark of the third period. Buffalo had a power play at the time that was one of their worst in recent memory. After Connolly gave the puck away twice, Numminen took a penalty for holding Begin who was being aggressive on the fore check. Mair was called for hooking less than thirty seconds later to give the Canadiens a 5-on-3 power play. Buffalo was able to kill both penalties and the momentum shifted their way.

The Sabres still trailed 2-1 late in the third period when they scored another power play goal at the 15:45 mark. Chris Drury was in his favorite power play position, down low on the goal line, when Connolly fed him the puck. Instead of passing the puck back through the crease, Drury roofed it over Theodore’s right shoulder on the short side. The Sabres have now scored at least two power play goals in 12 games this season.

The teams ended regulation tied at 2-2 and headed to overtime. Campbell, who was one of the best players on the ice tonight, scored the winner 2:15 into the OT period. Connolly had control of the puck in front of Theodore and noticed Campbell rushing the net from the left point. Connolly fed Campbell the puck and he one-timed it by Theodore on the short side.

Although the Sabres were outplayed by Montreal for large stretches of this game, they used a combination of good goaltending and special teams to steal a win and two points. That is the blueprint that Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff designed for this team. The Sabres are playing without three of their top players (Miller, Briere, and Dumont) and still finding ways to win with their depth, youth, and skilled players (Connolly, Campbell, Roy, Kotalik, Pominville). There are still problems with the team that need to be addressed, but every team in the league (with the exception of Ottawa) can say the same thing. If Biron continues to play well, Regier should have some leverage in a trade that he can use to address the defense. If Regier can tweak the lineup a little the Sabres have the potential to be a consistent top six team in the Eastern Conference this year. Its still early in the season but the Sabres have put themselves in a good position up to this point to compete for one of those eight playoff spots.

The Sabres will look to extend their winning streak to six games when they face the San Jose Sharks at HSBC Arena in Buffalo on Friday night. Joe Thornton will make his debut with San Jose in that game so look for the well rested Sharks to come out firing early on. The Sharks will be the first of five straight Western Conference opponents for the Sabres.

 

Those Balls Are Really Bouncing Out There

The Mira Vista Resort in Tucson, Arizona has opened up as a “clothing-optional” resort for nudists. Among the activities that you can enjoy while you’re naked are swimming, lounging, tennis, and yoga. They don’t advertise “ga­­­wking” or “leering” as the most popular recreational activities but I’m pretty sure they would be 1-A and 1-B on my list.

Current facilities include 14 guest suites – mostly 2 rooms each, restaurant and lounge, deluxe fitness center, swimming pool and spa, huge covered and furnished pool-adjacent outdoor ramada, spa treatment center, tennis court, old West “town” and beautiful saguaro cactus-filled grounds and desert vistas.

First of all, I wouldn’t be advertising the “cactus-filled grounds” too loudly. Keep in mind – this is a clothing optional resort and cactuses are sharp and prickly. Can you imagine having to tell your wife that you “got a little prick” and having her emphatically agree – before she even knows that you brushed up against a cactus? That would definitely put a damper on the remainder of your vacation.

Second, I’m all for clothing optional activities but does anyone think that playing tennis without some sort of “support” is a good idea? Nike and Reebok are making billions of dollars on sports bras and compression shorts for a reason. Not only would it be extremely uncomfortable to play tennis with your junk flapping around, it would be painful for other people to watch, as well. When was the last time you went to a strip club to watch strippers play tennis? Never. If it was a turn-on in even the slightest way I guarantee that someone in Canada (the unofficial home of all strippers) would be charging $20 a head to watch a tennis match between Brandi and Lexus.

You may also check: Sabres Free Agent Troubles

(Side note – Did you ever notice how a lot of strippers are named “Lexus” or “Mercedes”? Where the hell are all of the strippers named “Plymouth” and “Yugo”? Feel free to discuss this among yourselves.)

I think that most of our female readers will agree that watching a couple of guys running around a tennis court with their sacks banging around would not be considered “hot”, either. From a guy’s perspective, I imagine that one good volley would result in the same pain as having Herve Villechaize work your scrotum like a speed bag. I’ve got a stomach ache just thinking about it.

If you have a few minutes, check out the Photo Gallery for the resort. If the following thoughts and questions don’t pop into your head there is something wrong with you:

  1. How often do they scrub the seats in the hot tub? Unless its every five minutes I’m not going in there.
  2. Could that old woman in the hot tub have a bigger rack? Her back must be killing her.
  3. Is that guy getting ready to ride a horse naked? That poor horse.

4a. After seeing that guy on the bed reading his book I hope the cleaning staff burns the old linens and makes the beds each morning with fresh sheets out of the box.

4b. While they’re at it, they should probably burn that couch too.

­­­­

 

Sabres vs. Senators Series Prediction Revisited

Before the second round series between the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators began I posted my series preview online and picked the Sens to win in six games. I’m eating crow today but crow never tasted this good (I suggest pairing it with a fine Pinot Noir or perhaps your favorite lager). The Sabres knocked off the Sens in five games and proved what a talented and determined team they are. I went back to revisit my series preview to see if I was way off base on everything or just my predicted outcome. It turns out that my analysis wasn’t so bad after all. I pulled out specific excerpts for this review but you can read the original post in its entirety by clicking here.

UP FRONT

What separates Buffalo from most other teams in the league, including Ottawa, is their ability to constantly roll four forward lines against opponents. Each of those lines has the ability to put up points so the opposition has a hard time getting match ups against them. Ottawa relies on their top two lines for most of their offense so Buffalo can focus their defensive energy against those lines.

The advantage for forwards is slightly in Ottawa’s favor.

Buffalo’s depth was proven when Jason Pominville, a rookie fourth line player beat Daniel Alfredsson and Ray Emery for the short-handed series winning goal in OT. Derek Roy lit up Ottawa in Game 1 and Buffalo got timely goals from all of their lines throughout the series, even when lines were shuffled. Ottawa’s big names (Alfredsson, Havlat, Spezza, Heatly) were nowhere to be found for most of the series.

ON THE BLUE LINE

Buffalo’s defense has been considered one of their weaknesses all season but the unit is playing well so far in the playoffs. Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are statistically Buffalo’s top defensive pairing. Lydman and Tallinder each have 2 points (on assists) and they are both a +7.

Ottawa has three of the best defensemen in league in Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, and Chris Phillips. Those three can shut down the opposition on any given night. Redden logged 24:00 of ice time against Tampa Bay and Chara was on the ice for an average of 25:45 during the series. That’s a lot of ice time for the two and they could wear down during a long series which would be to Buffalo’s advantage. Buffalo’s game relies on speed and precision passing. If the Ottawa “D” gets tired from chasing skaters and pucks around they could be in trouble.

Also Read: Sabres Take 1-0 Series Lead With 3-2 Victory Over Canes

The Sabres are deeper at defense but the Senators top three are better. Advantage Ottawa.

If it seemed as though Chara, Redden, and Phillips never left the ice it is because they were getting huge chunks of ice time, especially Chara and Redden. I believe that hurt the Sens. Ottawa did not get the production they needed from their defense. Is it any wonder why Buffalo was able to come back late in games and/or win them in OT? Fresh legs are better than tired legs. Ottawa needed more production from their other three defensemen in order to take the pressure off of the big three.

Buffalo was a perfect example of playing all six defensemen. Tallinder and Lydman, Buffalo’s top defensive pairing, are both plus-13 (!) during the playoffs and they only average 22 minutes of ice time. Buffalo’s “D” was solid but unspectacular. All of the defensemen know their roles and they go out and play that role.

BETWEEN THE PIPES

The great unknown in this series is how the young, rookie goaltenders will continue to play. Both Ryan Miller and Ray Emery are NHL rookies in their first playoff campaigns. Miller has a 4-2 record with a 2.02 GAA, .918 SV%, and 1 shutout. Miller was the victim of some bad bounces and deflections off of skates against Philly or his stats would be even better. Emery is 4-1 with a 2.62 and a .924 SV% so statistically the two are very close. Miller is fundamentally a better goalie though. Miller plays better positional hockey and gobbles up loose pucks when he is on top of his game. Emery has a tendency to fight the puck and leave rebounds available. Ottawa’s strong defense usually covers for that flaw but Buffalo’s fast forwards might be able to beat Ottawa to loose pucks and take advantage of it. Neither goalie should expect to post a low GAA or high SV% in this series. The tough job will be to allow one fewer goal than the opponent and not get rattled by high scoring games where every goal is magnified.

Advantage in net goes to Buffalo.

The entire series was decided between the pipes. Ryan Miller made a name for himself in this series and has to be considered the real deal around the league right now. Other than the scoring fest in Game 1 Miller made every tough save that he needed to make. Emery looked like on AHL goalie in every game except Game 4. Ottawa’s defensemen were too busy with Buffalo’s forwards to help him out and his flaws were exposed. Think about the tying goal and OT winners in Game 1, and the second and third goals in Game 5, along with countless others. NHL-caliber goalies make all of those saves.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Buffalo’s power play unit faltered at times in the Philly series but still remains a dangerous unit. Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff uses four forwards and one defenseman during most power plays and isn’t afraid to throw four forwards out on a 4-on-3 power play. The Sabres power play percentage against the Flyers was only 17.1% which ranked 10th among all playoff teams. Ottawa’s power play is ranked 1st in the playoffs at 33.3%

The Sabres continued their strong penalty killing in the playoffs and are ranked 2nd with an 89.7 penalty kill percentage. The Senators are right behind the Sabres, ranked 3rd with an 87.1 PK%.

Power Play advantage goes to Ottawa.

Penalty Kill advantage is a draw.

Ottawa’s PK unit shut Buffalo down for most of the series and credit for that goes mainly to their “D”. At the other end, Buffalo gave up too many power goals to Ottawa but its hard to fault a team for letting in goals when it’s 5-on-3. Buffalo showed how dangerous they are when short handed against Ottawa though and it will give Carolina something extra to plan for in the Conference Finals.

OUTLOOK

Buffalo enters this series with the subdued confidence of an underdog team who know that they can win the series if they take one game a time and focus on playing their style of game and not get caught up with trying to adjust to Ottawa. Buffalo ran into trouble during their two road games in Philadelphia when they allowed the Flyers to dictate play. Both those games were losses but the Sabres learned their lesson quickly, went back to playing their system, and then closed out the Flyers in the next two games. Buffalo needs to focus on skating hard and fast during every single shift, making quick and accurate passes, and generating offense from their transition game. The defense should not hesitate to jump up into the play but the forwards need to cover for them when they do.

Ottawa brings a lot of baggage into this series. Ottawa has a history of entering the playoffs with high expectations and then getting knocked out. Those previous teams were less talented and not as physical as this year’s club but the memories remain. If Buffalo splits the first two games in Ottawa doubt could creep into the Senators heads and cause them to play tight. Buffalo is also a much more dangerous team than Tampa Bay, especially in goal. The Sens should not expect to run through Buffalo in five games.
While I believe that Buffalo is capable of playing with Ottawa and giving them a tough series I feel that Ottawa’s overall talent level is higher than Buffalo’s. The Sabres also have more young and inexperienced players in their lineup and that inexperience could hurt them when the pressure kicks up.

As a die-hard Sabres fan it pains me to write this but…

Ottawa over Buffalo in Six Games

Did I say “Ottawa in 6?” Oops. What I really meant was “Buffalo in 5!”

Did Buffalo outplay the Sens? Were they the hands-down better team on every shift in every game? No. Even Briere admitted as much. The bottom line is that they were more determined than the Senators and they kept on coming at them for the entire series. Buffalo never blinked and never backed down against the “superior” Senators. When push came to shove, Buffalo was able to find ways to win. Three road victories and three OT victories say something about this young Buffalo team, something that you cannot say about Ottawa…they are winners.

 

 

Revenue Sharing and the CBA: Two Separate Issues

There has been a lot of bluster and flurry in the past four days as Bills owner Ralph Wilson has apparently made the jump from benevolent and elderly owner into ranting and senile nutcase. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he came around the corner, screamed something incoherent (changa la mangala!) and unloaded a .38 into Daniel Snyder’s belly.

Anyway, there were a couple articles written over the weekend that discussed revenue sharing and the CBA. What many people are failing to realize is that we are dealing with two separate issues.

The CBA, or Collective Bargaining Agreement, is the deal struck between the owners and the players that determines the benefits the players will receive. There are many components, such as how free agency is determined, maximum contract length, and so on, but the most pivotal items are the percentage of revenues that will be given to the players (in the form of salary) and how that revenue is determined. That component has been negotiated and agreed upon. We’ll talk more on that later.

Also being discussed lately is the NFL revenue sharing. Currently, the NFL TV contract is divided evenly amongst all NFL teams, as is most revenue from merchandise sales. Excluded from the revenue sharing are side marketing deals (like how Budweiser is the “official beer of the Buffalo Bills”), parking, concessions, luxury and premium seat revenue, and much, much more. Attendance on regular seats is split with 60% going to the home team and 40% to the visitors. The new revenue sharing deal is what has not been decided upon as yet, despite what Ralph Wilson is saying and local writers are writing. For example, Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde wrote this weekend:

The situation is worse than folks thought. Bills officials say that if the 87-year-old owner passes on and the team is sold, a new owner wouldn’t get any slice of the booty from big-market teams like Dallas and Washington.

Trending Now: Sabres knock off Senators in OT – Advance to Eastern Conference Finals

Well, that’s simply not true. While it may have been discussed at some point, we plebeians have no idea how seriously it was discussed or even if it is still on the table. If Mr. Wilson wants to go throwing every discussion that came up out there and call it a part of revenue sharing it’s just false, and shame on the reporter for treating it as fact. The point is, the method for revenue sharing has not yet been decided, and may not be decided for some months.

As divergent as these two issues may seem, they do tie together down the road.

Getting back to the CBA. The new CBA increases the percentage of revenues to be given to the players in salary from around 56 percent (I forget the exact number) to 59.5% in the 2006-2009 seasons, and 60% in 2010-2011. More importantly, the players get 59.5% of “all football revenue,” meaning things that used to be excluded from the revenue calculation, like naming rights, side deals, premium seat revenue, and the like are now included in the formula. Essentially, all the things that weren’t shared under revenue sharing used to not be counted in the revenue that determined the salary cap. Now it does count, but still, as of yet, is not shared.

All of this means the salary cap in 2005 went from $86 million to $102-$104 million this season, an increase of over 20%. Next season has a projected increase of another 17.5%. So in two years a team that chooses to pay to the cap will have their player costs increase 30%, with no corresponding increase in revenues.

And that is where the revenue sharing component comes in. There are two very important factors at work here. First, the difference in unshared revenues between the first team and the thirty-second team is $100 million dollars. That means that Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys and Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Redskins have $100 million more in revenue than the Arizona Cardinals. Now, it used to be that that money only made a difference in a few, select areas. How much coaches and scouts were compensated, player bonuses, front office staffers, trainers, amenities like locker rooms and planes, and the like. What it couldn’t affect were what the players were paid as there was a cap that all teams conformed to and it was somewhat realistic as it was below the amount teams made from the TV contract.

Now these ultra-wealthy teams are in a position to easily absorb the sudden 30% increase in expenditures. But beyond that, these teams also have the opportunity to manipulate how large the disparity is. For example, if Jerry Jones signs a $10 million per year deal for the naming rights to his stadium, then the revenues that determine the salary cap go up by $10 million. That means $5.95 million would be added to the cap for the next year, or $186,000 per team. Let’s say the Jets get a new stadium, complete with an additional $100 million per year premium seat revenue stream. That means that the Jets get the benefits of a new stadium and it’s associated revenue, while the salary cap goes up $1.86 million per team, and those teams receive no additional revenue because none of it is shared.

Do we understand the problems here now? It’s not only about the already unfair, but manageable current difference of $100 million between the biggest and the smallest teams, but the ability of those teams to manipulate (intentionally or unintentionally) the salary cap, eventually pricing small teams out of the league.

So when I read NFL suckasses like Peter King saying this:

I think someone who likes him has got to get to Ralph Wilson, quickly, and say, “Ralph, you may not like this system very much, but you’re 10 times better off with the system your peers overwhelmingly voted for instead of a system without a salary cap.’’ It’s impossible not to respect Wilson because he’s such a devoted Buffalo person and such an anti-carpetbagger. But some of his criticisms of the new CBA are way off base. If this deal hadn’t gotten done, the next great Buffalo free agent (Willis McGahee, maybe) might have gone to Washington for three times what the Bills would have been willing to pay him a couple years down the road. I can’t believe he doesn’t see this.

No, Peter. Don’t compare the new agreement with it’s unsolved revenue sharing issue to an uncapped league in perpetuity, compare it to what the league should look like with true revenue sharing. How do you not get it? Now go write a story about the triple-frigging-latte you had last week in Dulles Airport.

Now that we understand all the issues, I do have to take exception to the manner in which Mr. Wilson is handling his problems. Did we really need Senator Schumer involved? Did we need to throw the “move the club” card on the table? I think a more measured approach would have been called for here, but then again, I have no idea how many allies he has in the owners meetings. There was a time when Ralph Wilson was considered a voice of reason within the owners meetings. Now, I’m not sure that is the case.

Regardless, the new deal was a major blow to NFL parity for small market teams, and if the revenue sharing plan doesn’t balance it out it will be the death knell for at least six teams. Will the “new breed” of owners wake up and realize that before it’s too late? Time will tell, but I don’t have a good feeling.

 

 

Sabres knock off Senators in OT – Advance to Eastern Conference Finals

The headline says it all folks. The Buffalo Sabres came into this series as the underdog to the top seeded Ottawa Senators but after only five games it is Buffalo advancing while Ottawa wonders what went wrong. What went wrong for Ottawa is that Buffalo was a talented and determined team that found a way to win. The five games were all one goal games and three of the games were decided in overtime. Buffalo won all three OT games and all three road games in Ottawa. That is the sign of a good team.

The biggest difference in this series was evident again tonight – goaltending. It sounds cliché but its true; Ryan Miller made the big saves and Ray Emery did not. If Ottawa GM John Muckler would have made a trade for a proven goalie after Dominik Hasek went down with (another) groin injury, Buffalo fans might not be celebrating tonight. Ask the Edmonton Oilers what kind of difference Dwayne Roloson has made for them. Hindsight is indeed 20-20 but that is the advantage we have now and the assessment is correct – Ottawa was let down by inferior goaltending.

In tonight’s game Miller faced 36 shots and turned 34 of them aside. Miller had no chance on either of the Ottawa goals. Ottawa’s first goal came on a 5-on-3 power play. Daniel Alfredsson fired a slap shot from over 40 feet away while Miller was screened. The Senators second goal came after Miller made a spectacular save on Martin Havlat, robbing him of a sure goal. The Sens won the following face off and Brian Pothier scored on a 60-foot slap shot from the right point. There were two Sabres and one Senator screening Miller and he never saw the puck until it was past him.

Also Check: Sabres vs. Senators Series Prediction Revisited

Down at the other end of the ice, Emery only faced 24 shots and he let in 3 of them. Buffalo’s first goal was a 40-foot slap shot by Henrik Tallinder just 33 seconds into the game. Emery went down a second too early and the shot beat him high on the stick side into the top of the net. Buffalo’s second goal was a great individual effort by Chris Drury but Emery should have prevented the shot from ever happening. Drury walked in on Emery, looking to make a pass into the crease but Emery froze up for a shot. As soon as Emery committed himself to the shot, Drury pulled the puck around him to the top of the crease and flipped it into the empty net. It should be noted that the Sens defensemen were nowhere to be found but a simple poke check from Emery would have prevented the shot from ever coming.

The final second of the overtime game winner by Jason Pominville was an almost exact replay of the Drury goal. Both goals came with the shooter in close, down along the goal line to Emery’s right, and both scorers skated right past Emery to end up in the crease with an open net. In Pominville’s case, the play started all the way back in the Sabres end on a short-handed breakout. Pominville beat Alfredsson to the outside on the left side and then cut back in along the goal line to wrap it around Emery for the game (and series) winner. Emery actually attempted to poke check Pominville but he was too slow and missed.

Buffalo had two one goal leads in the game but Ottawa came back to tie it each time. That action was all in the first and second periods. The first half of the third period slowed down considerably as neither team wanted to be the one to make a mistake that could cost the game. Ottawa finally picked up the action halfway through but Miller kept the game tied with some spectacular saves, including a heart-stopper with three minutes left. Patrick Eaves fired a shot over the top of the net that bounced off the glass and came back into the goal crease. Miller somehow managed to come up with the puck and keep it from crossing the goal line, even with four other players in the crease.

Although both teams were having difficulty scoring with the man advantage (Buffalo 1-6, Ottawa 1-7) it appeared that Ottawa would have a chance to end the game in OT after Jay McKee was called for tripping 1:44 into the extra session. However, the special teams goal that would end the game belonged to short-handed Buffalo, not Ottawa. Pominville’s game winner 2:26 in OT was Buffalo’s fifth short-handed goal of the playoffs. Ottawa had managed to slow down Buffalo’s speedy forwards for the past two games but not on this shift. As soon as Pominville saw that he was up against Alfredsson, who is not a defenseman, he turned on the speed and blew around him. Pominville must have wanted that goal badly because he never even looked back to see if he had a trailer to get the puck to. He dropped his head and charged to the net for the game winner.

All series long the experts (and I) said that Ottawa was the better team and that the Sabres had gotten lucky and stolen a couple of games. You might get lucky once or twice but not four times in five games. Buffalo proved that they were the better team and they sent the Sens packing. Next up – Buffalo’s first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1999. Buffalo will be the underdog in that series, as well. Something tells me that the players in the locker room don’t care.

 

 

Buffalo Sabres defeat the Ottawa Senators in OT, 5-4

For any Buffalo Sabres fans who have forgotten what playoff hockey is like (it has been five years after all), tonight’s game may have jarred your memory. The game was hotly contested between two teams skating hard, hitting hard, and trading scoring chances at both ends of the ice. To finish the game in overtime was icing on the cake. The victory had extra meaning for the team as it was Lindy Ruff’s 300th win as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres.

One of the keys to Buffalo’s victory tonight was their power play. Buffalo finished the night 3 of 7 with the man advantage. Their first goal came on the power play and was scored by Max Afinogenov after a great individual effort by Brian Campbell to carry the puck into the Ottawa zone and find Afinogenov in front of the net. Afinogenov beat Ray Emery to put Buffalo ahead 1-0 at the 14:11 mark of the first period.

Ottawa tied the game with 31 seconds left in the period after Sabres defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick made back-to-back bad plays. After Fitzpatrick allowed Jason Spezza to cross the Buffalo blue line unchallenged Spezza dropped the puck back to Mike Fisher and Fisher passed the puck to Daniel Alfredsson to set up a one-timer. Fitzpatrick dropped down in front of the shot but didn’t stop it and ended up screening Marty Biron in the process. The shot found the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.

Fitzpatrick also set up Ottawa’s next goal with a bad pass in the Senator’s zone while Buffalo was on the power play. Fitzpatrick’s cross ice pass from the point was intercepted by Christoph Schubert deep in the Ottawa zone and Schubert took off down the left wing. He fired a slap shot on the net just as he crossed the Buffalo blue line and Biron completely whiffed on the shot as it flew by him. The goal came at 5:18 of the second period.

Trending Now: Tucker Strikes Blow at Sabres, Media Chuckles

Ottawa followed up that short handed goal with a power play goal just 50 seconds later. After Biron stopped a shot by Patrick Eaves and covered the puck the refs let the play continue and Eaves jammed the puck from under Biron’s glove over the goal line. Biron protested but the ref never blew the whistle so goal stood.

After allowing Ottawa to score two quick goals to take the lead, Buffalo quickly came back with a goal of their own 21 seconds later. Mike Grier took a centering pass at the top of the Ottawa crease and fired his shot high over the net. He followed his rebound into the corner and passed the puck out to Derek Roy who had moved into the slot. Roy was one-on-one with Emery and instead of immediately firing the puck he let Emery commit to going down for the save. Then Roy moved to his right and pulled the puck to the backhand before sliding it past Emery for the goal.

After having had a bad night up to this point Fitzpatrick got some redemption with a power play goal at 11:03 of the second period to tie the game 3-3. Buffalo got some nice passes from Afinogenov to Danny Briere and then back to Fitzpatrick at the blue line to set up the shot. Fitzpatrick fired a low wrist shot that clanged off the inside of the post for the goal.

The game stayed tied until Dmitri Kalinin turned the puck over at Buffalo’s blue line to set up Ottawa’s fourth goal with a little over five minutes left in regulation. While trying to carry the puck out of the Sabres zone through traffic, Kalinin was stick checked by Brian Pothier. The puck ended up on Vaclav Varada’s stick and Varada fed it up to Chris Kelly who beat Biron on the far side, just inside the post, for the goal.

Buffalo’s tying goal would never have happened if Brian Campbell hadn’t prevented an empty net goal with just over a minute left in the third period after Buffalo pulled Biron in favor of the extra attacker. Jason Spezza was rushing into the Buffalo zone getting ready to take the shot when Campbell checked him hard at the Buffalo blue line and knocked the puck loose. The play continued and the puck ended up in the Ottawa zone. Campbell got the puck back at the blue line and skated around two Senator defenders who dropped to the ice in his shooting lanes. Campbell stayed calm, faked his shots, and skated around both of them as he dropped down from the point on the left side. Campbell spotted Briere and Roy in front of the net and fed the puck into the crease. Roy created enough havoc in front of the net to allow Briere a clean shot at the puck. Briere knocked it past Emery with 40 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

The game headed into an overtime that was action packed. Both teams traded chances until Ottawa’s Pothier took a penalty 3:55 into the OT session. Buffalo put four forwards out (Afinogenov, Briere, Connolly, and Kotalik) against three Senator defenders. After Briere ended up with the puck behind the Ottawa net he passed it around the boards to Afinogenov in the right corner. Afinogenov looked to the point before firing a no-look pass through the crease to Briere that caught Emery and the rest of the Senators by surprise. Briere one-timed the pass into the wide open net for the goal and the win.

The win was a huge boost of confidence for a Buffalo team that has been struggling as of late. Buffalo played a fast and aggressive style of hockey tonight that has been missing for the past three weeks. The two points also help Buffalo’s quest to lock up the fourth seed in the playoffs. Buffalo has one more chance to prove they are Ottawa’s equal when the teams face off again on Saturday night in Ottawa. Buffalo plays Philadelphia at home on Friday night so it will be a challenge for Buffalo to be at full speed by the time Saturday rolls around. No matter what happens on Saturday, Buffalo can look to tonight’s game for motivation once the playoffs begin.

 

 

The NHL Ignores Their Own Rules – No Suspension for Darcy Tucker

The NHL has decided that they are not going to suspend Toronto’s Darcy Tucker for his knee-on-knee, intent to injure hit on Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht in Monday night’s game. That means that Tucker will be on the ice for Toronto’s next game while Hecht sits at home and rehabs his MCL for the next fourteen days.

This is the definition of “Kneeing”, according to Rule 71 in the NHL Rulebook:

Kneeing is the act of a player leading with his knee and in some cases extending his leg outwards to make contact with his opponent.

A minor, major or match penalty shall be imposed on any player who fouls an opponent by kneeing.

When a player has been assessed a major penalty for kneeing he shall also be assessed a Game Misconduct.

Before I continue with this rant let me emphasize that I’ve watched the hit multiple times (including slow motion) and there is no doubt that it was an obvious knee-on-knee hit.

How is it possible that the NHL can ignore their own rules and just sit back and do nothing??? I fully expected that the league would be shamed into handing down a token one game suspension (at least) but to do nothing is inexcusable. This league doesn’t have a clue as to what it wants to be. They supposedly want to crack down on fighting and dirty hits but they won’t back that up with meaningful fines and suspensions. By not suspending Tucker the NHL has forced Buffalo to deal with this on their own, on the ice, through violence. They also sent a message to every player, coach, and fan that cheap hits will be tolerated by the league because the league doesn’t enforce their own rules.

When Buffalo and Toronto face each other in Buffalo on April 16th is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Andrew Peters is going to spend the entire game trying to fight Tucker? Knowing Tucker, he’ll avoid Peters like a little girl and then complain after the game that Buffalo players are dirty. The league has created a situation that greatly increases the chances of fights, cheap shots, possible injuries, and suspensions in that game and others.

The question is; is that what the league wants? Part of me believes that the answer is “yes”. Think of how many people across the US and Canada will tune in to that April 16th game between Buffalo and Toronto just to see if there is a fight or multiple fights? Don Cherry will be in his glory that day! If there is one thing that the NHL loves it is ratings and money, and controversy leads to both. If they suspend Tucker the situation blows over to some degree which means that less people will watch and that would be bad for ratings (obviously).

There is also the very real possibility of violence in the stands between Sabres and Leafs fans during that game. Leafs fans come down to Buffalo by the busload for these games and there are numerous drunk and obnoxious fans in the stands (on both sides). That creates an atmosphere ripe for fights. The league isn’t so ignorant that they don’t realize the implications of their inaction. Therefore, I have to believe that they welcome the controversy and potential violence (on the ice and off) that they have created.

Also Read: Buffalo Sabres defeat the Ottawa Senators in OT, 5-4

If this is the way that the NHL wants to operate then they should drop their Instigator rule and let teams take matters into their own hands as they see fit. This is the definition of an instigator, according to the NHL rules:

An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season.

The rule goes on to state that:

A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major for fighting and a ten minute misconduct.

(NEW for 2005-06) A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime, shall be assessed an instigator minor penalty, a major for fighting, a ten minute misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension. The length of suspension will double for each subsequent offense. In addition, the player’s coach shall be fined $10,000 — a fine that will double for each subsequent incident.

(NEW for 2005-06) (NOTE 1) No team appeals will be permitted either verbally or in writing regarding the assessment of this automatic suspension.

This rule has essentially taken on-ice retribution out of the game because players and coaches don’t want to be fined, suspended, and penalized excessively. If the NHL wants to leave the Instigator rule in place then they have a responsibility to the players, coaches, and fans to punish, fine, and suspend players who are cheap and dirty – especially players who are notorious repeat offenders who attempt to injure their fellow players (I am talking to you Darcy Tucker and Darius Kaspiritus).

Until the NHL stops pretending that the game is being played on a pond in Saskatchewan in 1920 and learns to enforce their own rules, sports fans will continue to look upon the league with derision…and rightfully so.

 

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On Instagram