December 30, 2009

Sabres an unfinished product

by Stan Fischler

Our man in Buffalo, Dave Ricci, reports that despite leading all the other teams in the Northeast Division – including the Boston Bruins -- the Sabres need to make a move:

On Saturday, the Sabres faced a test of character game against an Ottawa club they had not defeated in six consecutive meetings – and failed.

Though Buffalo salvaged a point in the shootout loss, they opened the game with what had to be the most embarrassing single period of play from this franchise in the decade.

Not only were the Sabres slow and soft, they repeatedly turned the puck over in a horrific effort that saw Ottawa outshoot Buffalo 19-1 in the first period.

Steve Montador got the Sabres’ first official shot on net with 2:36 left to play and it was met with a thunderous roar of sarcastic cheering from the sell-out crowd at HSBC Arena. Just before the first shot, fans sarcastically chanted, “Let’s get a shot on goal” to the tune of the traditional “Lets go Buff-a-lo.”

“We're just doing things too slow,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Our puck movement hasn't been good enough. We just didn't make enough good plays.”

While the core of the team is strong enough to make a run at a playoff spot its obvious they don't have enough to make a legitimate run deep into the postseason. This team relies far too much on goalie Ryan Miller, and only a handful of players – Tyler Myers, Craig Rivet, Mike Grier (Holliston, Mass.) and Paul Gaustad – are the only ones that show emotion on a nightly basis.

This team has too many floaters and players that were overvalued and not living up to expectations.

If the Sabres are serious about going after the Stanley Cup this season they had better make a daring move.

Step one: get a clear-cut, TRUE number 1 center. The Sabres need to make a play for Eric Staal or Vincent Lecavalier. Someone who blends size, power, skill and quite possibly might be looking for a change of scenery. Sabres fans aren't just hungry to see a winner again they want to see a substantial roster move to make that success happen.

Observations

* The Hockey News’ annual “One Hundred People of Power and Influence” has some interesting placements. The Big Four – Gary Bettman, Al Ovechkin, Bill Daly and Sid Crosby in that order – make sense. After that, THN’s people get a bit off the wall.

Wayne Gretzky is down at 16 with Mark Messier a lowly 56th. It doesn’t make sense.

See what you think of this THN order: 1, Gary Bettman; 2, Alexander Ovechkin; 3, Bill Daly; 4, Sidney Crosby; 5, John Collins, NHL VP of Marketing; 6, Colin Campbell; 7, Chris Chelios; 8, Larry Tanenbaum, Maple Leafs chairman; 9, Jeremy Jacobs, Bruins owner; and 10, Alexander Medvedev, President of Russia and the KHL.

Tanenbaum and Jacobs come as surprises on the list, as do some other names: 27, Mark Milliere, TSN VP of Production; 29, Steve Hatze-Petros, NHL Senior VP of scheduling; 35, Jeff Shell, Comcast programming president; and 48, Scott Moore, CBC Sports executive director.

We would have placed Tanenbaum behind the following owners: Ted Leonsis (Lowell, Mass.), Ed Snider and Daryl Katz at the very least.

Another person who came up undeservedly short is former Bruins coach Don (Grapes) Cherry, who ranks a meager 45 on the list. After nearly 30 years of commentary, the “Hockey Night in Canada” analyst has an influence that is as far and wide as it is controversial.

By the way, placing Chelios in seventh place seems either unrealistic, ridiculous or in indicative of the fact that Chelios has a hell of a lot more clout with The Hockey News than 93 other people – or all of the above.

Gossip

* While coaching 200 games with one team is not usually that stunning an accomplishment, Claude Julien doing it with the Bruins is worthy of recognition. Boston has not had a coach cross the 200-game barrier since the firing of Pat Burns early in the decade.

“With all the changes that are going on in the league, the best thing a coach could hope for is stability,” says Julien. “One thing I had going for me when I came here was that I had known (GM) Peter Chiarelli a long time.”

* According to the NHL, there were 300,000 more ticket requests than seats available for the New Year’s Day Winter Classic in Fenway Park.

* The Devils, with all of their injury woes, have continued to baffle critics with stellar play. Not only are they near the top in points, they own another compelling stat: The team has a 100 percent win rate if leading after the first period.

* The clock is ticking on Ilya Kovalchuk’s future in Georgia. Either Atlanta’s Don Waddell signs his captain next month or he deals him. The consequences of Kovalchuck being moved will be worse for the Thrashers franchise than if the Lightning deal Vin Lecavalier.

Stan Fischler can be reached at fischlerreport@aol.com.