Before I begin, let me dissuade your urges to assume that I'm just an Islander fan looking to speak negatively about another NHL franchise that is, seemingly, a bit worse off than they were at the end of last season. Quite contrarily, I am not and it remains to be seen just how the Sabres will fare when things play out come October. But the reason for my concern and the reason for this brief blog stems from a simple observation that I made at last month's NHL draft.
First, it is vitally important to know that my concerns for the Buffalo Sabres have little to nothing to do with the departures of co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury - at least not in the short term. To me, Ryan Miller, Max Afinogenov, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Brian Campbell, Alex Kotalik, Drew Stafford, Nathan Paetsch, Daniel Paille and others still make for as good a core as there is in this league and a very promising future. Did losing the firepower, leadership and knack for the clutch goal that both Briere and Drury brought to the team hurt? Of course it did! But, as I said to my fellow Islander fans about that mulleted, Ex-Oiler fellow leaving (for the life of me, his name just seems to escape me ... hmmph!) they're gone now and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Besides, regarding Drury anyway, when the evil empire that is the New York Rangers throws the kind of megabucks around the way they have done, once again, this off-season, what can you do? Take the Garth Snow approach: If they don't want to be here, screw 'em. And, while neither Briere nor Drury actually said it, nor would they, the fact that they are elsewhere means that they did not want to be in Buffalo, plain and simple. So, one more time, do it with me now (it actually feels good), SCREW 'EM!
All that aside, back to my "concern." It has been well chronicled throughout the hockey world that the Sabre higher-ups have done away with traditional amateur scouting in favor of video scouting and other new technological advances. No cause for concern up to this point, but the recent Buffalo draft class raised my eyebrows just a tad.
Buffalo's 2007 draft picks: T.J. Brennan (31st overall), Drew Schiestel (59th), Corey Tropp (89th), Bradley Eidsness (139th), Jean-Simon Allard (147th), Paul Byron (179th), Nick Eno (187th) and Drew Mackenzie (209th.)
With Brennan as a remotely possible exception, every member of the 2007 Sabre draft class was a significant reach, with Schiestel standing apart from the rest by leaps and bounds. Ranked 223rd by ISS, Schiestel himself was admittedly stunned when selected 164 picks ahead of his ranking. Even Brennan, an offensive-minded defenseman with a wicked slapper for St. John's in the QMJHL, was playing club hockey just two years ago and was slated for the mid-second round at best.
In their defense, the Sabres, as President's Trophy winners, didn't exactly have primo draft positioning and it's no secret that the NHL draft, perhaps far more than that of any other professional league, is hardly an exact science. But it's worth noting that some of these picks were legitimately "off the board."
Are the Sabres and their innovative scouting ways ahead of the curve? Time, and a lot of it, will certainly tell. I am not, in the least, concerned about Buffalo's immediate success. With Miller's goaltending, their plethora of young guns at forward and a solid defense corps (not to mention an outstanding coach in Lindy Ruff), I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them contend for home ice in the playoffs again next season. But looking further down the line, is it really a good idea to roll out innovations in something as time-tested and traditional as scouting?
This year's draft class certainly makes me wonder, that's all ...