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After the great let down that was watching our most hated rival clean our clocks in the Eastern Conference Final it was left to the commonwealth of Sabres fans to figure out what went wrong. Many comparisons to the previous year began to emerge and it gave me the idea of actually watching some taped games to see if their really was a difference between the two teams. What I discovered was that both shocking and nonexistent all at the same time.

1) The 2005 Sabres were not as offensively skilled as the 2006 Sabres.

From what I saw the Sabres in the great year of 2005 had to rely much more on hard work and speed to score. They simply did not have the raw talent to put the biscuit in the basket on command every night. Players like Vanek had yet to come into their own and other stars like Briere and Dumont were injured for a big chunk of the campaign. Thus, players like Tallinder, Campbelle, Connolly, Afinogenov and Kotalik stepped up to provided timely offense. Yet, the key to our success that year was not flash and dazzle. There was a different "feel" to our offense.

2) Jay Mackee, J.P. Dumont and Mike Grier where never replaced.

Individually, you can make a case for each player staying in Buffalo. But it is not so much what they could do, but what they brought to the players around them. Now, before I go further, it simply was not an option Dracy had to resign these guys. We were already pressed against the CAP and choices had to be made. At the time I thought Dracy made all the right moves, and he did in terms of building a team full of skill. These missing links however were quite apparant while watching both seasons games.

I) Dumont : J.P. Dumont provided the Sabres with a speedy option down low on the PP. The brilliance of J.P. can be found in that he has great balance and speed. Unlike Jason Pomminville, who is a mere triviality for a rival defensemen with any size, Dumont was hard to knock down and fast enough to retrieve pucks shot into the opposing teams zone. Briere had great chemistry with J.P. and it really showed on the PP, Dumont would break to the net before Briere's pass was even off his stick, the rival defense would be too slow to react. Dumont's effort was strong game in and out. He made Briere more lethal and gave Buffalo's PP a puck retrieval man. His loss was felt in 2006 as Buffalo's PP sank below the league's average and gaining entry into the opposing teams zone became calculus on some nights for the boys in blue and gold.

II) Jay Mackee : Everybody was sad to see Jay go last summer but couldn't stomach the thought of paying him 4 million a year. Jay brought stability to the Sabres back end in 2005, something that was absent in 2006. His ability to block shots, eat the puck down low and punish opposing forwards entering the zone appear so critical when looking at his performances in hindsight. What I really noticed though was Mackee's ability to share the defensive burden with Tallinder and Lydman allowing the latter two players to be more offensive on a given shift if they happened to be out against a weaker line. Tallinder has an offensive up side and his ability to jump up into the play freely gave the Sabres a big offensive threat. This year Hank had to play lock down on most nights and by the end of the season he looked uninspired, or bored of it. He was no longer punishing players, but rather just containing them. Mackee made Tallinder and Lydman look THAT GOOD in 2005 and if the Sabres wish to move forward they need to replace his loss. In 2006 we went with a small but fast D, and the Ottawa Sens exploited it to the max. Everything Jay Mackee brought, we simply lacked against them.

III) Mike Grier: Zubrus will never be able to replace what Mike Grier brought to this team. His size, speed and grit gave opposing D and forwards nightmares. Buffalo seriously lacked that speedy power forward that could punish opposing teams D on dump ins. We all saw what happened to Ottawa when their D got hit, and if you go back to the 2006 playoffs, guess who was forcing Redden to turn the puck over? Grier. His speed on the PK forced defenders to be cautious at the point and made sure guys like Spezza were going to have to work hard to come out of the corner with the puck. His physical presence made Drury that much better defensively as well. His smart play, along with Roy's energy created what I think could have been one of the top checking lines in the league. It gave opposing teams fits.

All three players were let go because they either did not fit our CAP or we thought they were not skilled enough to be on our team. I remember the Grier comments, how some were happy he was gone because of his lack of offense. Some thought Dumont was easily replaceable with Pomminville. The footage says otherwise. These three players made the Sabres a team with more than just raw talent. There was an energy with the boys that went missing in 2006.

So as we get ready for UFA season I plead with Dracy Regier, make us more like the boys in 2005! Find suitable replacements for Jay Mackee and Mike Grier. Tell Jason Pomminville to hit the gym! The cup is not that far away.

I will add more later......
June 27, 2007 7:55 PM ET | Delete
First off I want to say Great Blog. the next thing I want to say is that you have one half of the story. I truly believe that losing grier, Dumont and Mckee we lost A LOT of the grit and determination that the '05 team played with and used to there advantage. but on the other hand maybe the team had too much grit and not enough finishers. This years sqaud had plenty of scorers and plenty of finishers. but it lacked the grit and determination. It seemed that the boys this year came out to prove something and then got bored with it. Drury was really the only guy who wasnt willing to give up when the chips were down. when the team disapeared against Ottawa, chris was THE guy who raised the team to at least pull out one. I think that if our team wants to make it to the next level we need a more balanced team of scoring and grit. players like Mike peca and Scott hannan our Buffalo type of players. I wish that we could keep chris drury and just replace a couple of the finesse players with some tough gritty hard working buffalo type guys. I remember in '99 the team was ALL Grit and a MVP goalie(whom Im not going to mention) but if we could capture a piece of those teams in the late '90s (peca) and put it together with the FUTURE Stars of Buffalo I think you may really have something.
June 27, 2007 8:57 PM ET | Delete
Great blog I must agree.I think all fans realize these loses were crucial and in hindsight we should have let others walk but at the time I think they made the right moves. I think we will sacrifice some scoring this season in order to become a better playoff team. That may mean we fare worse in the regular season and perhaps enter the playoffs as a 4 seed. I think it is going to be difficult to find another McKee especially at the right price. We already have Tallinder, Lydman, Campbell, Spacek and Kalinin locked up plus NP coming up. I know everyone wants Tree and Spacek out of town but its going to be difficult to move those two for any value so I dont know how that will work out.
June 28, 2007 2:00 AM ET | Delete
I'm not sure I agree with you about missing Dumont and Grier, but we definitely did miss Jay McKee. All those blocked shots probably would have made a difference for us this year, especially in the playoffs IF he stayed healthy...but of course he had a very injury-ridden season in St. Louis this year. All in all, I'm not totally sadded by the loss of those players, I think we were just as good if not better without them.... at the same time, i AGREE we could use a player or two like them for next year's campaign, and yes grit is missing on this team. Nice blog.
June 28, 2007 2:21 AM ET | Delete
I was under the impression that Buffalo was willing to match SJ.
June 28, 2007 3:41 PM ET | Delete
I think the blog is totally on point with respect to McKee and what his presence did to the Talli/Lydman pairing (remember Lydman's breakaway goal--an "offensive" beauty against Carolina)? Grier I was glad to see go because he couldn't finish (I think him missing the breakaway on the first shot against Gerber after Ward was pulled in game 3 gave Gerber the confidence to post a shutout embarrasment in Game 4 in our building and turned the series). However, his grit was greatly missed, and Regier was right in admitting he made a mistake in over-stacking skill because unlike the regular season, you can't "score your way out of a hole" in the playoffs. Dumont has a timely goal in Game 3 OT vs. Ottawa last year, but it was not a per se pretty goal, but his special teams prowess was not replaced by Pominville. But, I think Pominville's SH OT goal in Game 5 Ottawa gave Regier all the confidence in PV that was needed to make the decision. I though Pominville was a total bust in this years playoffs. Personally, and with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, I would have gladly foregone Spacek, Zubrus and even Pominville (who probably would have had great value on the market) to keep McKee, Greir and JP.
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