I've been fairly quiet for quite awhile. I sat and watched Buffalo exit the playoffs in the first round with a lackluster effort against the Bruins. I thought to myself, "Well, at least we made it to the playoffs, and won the Northeast Division". I thought back to the Sabres who got into the playoffs, got eliminated in the first round, reassessed what needed to be done, and then got further in the playoffs the following season. I figured that Buffalo would do the same this off season, in an effort to make a push further into the playoffs, and closer to the Holy Grail of hockey.
I was wrong.
The fans of Buffalo watched as on the first day of free agency, Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman went to new teams. Buffalo promptly signed Cody McCormick and Jordan Leopold. Buffalo then added veteran center Rob Niedermayer. Buffalo also resigned Kaleta to a two year dear, and just yesterday, signed Shaone Morrisonn. 2 more d-men, a leader at center, and resigned Kaleta. Hardly improving the team. Resigning Kaleta, was the best move they made.
Then there was the draft before free agency started. Buffalo took 3 defensemen in the first 4 rounds.
So, Buffalo, with the opportunity to better their team, stocked up on defense. Good idea right?
What most of you may not know, is that Buffalo has 12 defensemen already as prospects on the team. Darcy Regier even made a joke about how the Sabres may need to affiliate themselves with another minor league team, in order to cover all their defensemen.
Darcy, I think you're covered on defense.
As for offense, the Sabres seem to be content to rely on young talent and continue to bring up forwards through the Portland Pirates. But before we look at this, let's look at goals scored for the Sabres since the lockout season...
and last but not least
2009-2010- 231 Goals for the Buffalo Sabres. I think we can do better.
In the playoffs, Buffalo played with no passion, no energy, and the best effort came from Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, Tim Kennedy, and Tyler Ennis. 3 rookies, and the goalie. No veteran leadership stepped up, no energy, and Buffalo left the playoffs early, to prematurely take up golf.
Now, call the fans crazy, but in order to win hockey games, a team needs to score goals, but Buffalo has no strong forward who can do that at the moment. Vanek, Roy, Pominville, and Connolly failed to deliver. Now, lucky for the fans, Miller, Myers, and Ennis are under contract. Not good for Kennedy.
The Buffalo fans were shocked to see that Tim Kennedy had been placed on waivers, and promptly had his contract bought out by the Sabres, making him available to 29 NHL teams (obviously Buffalo doesn't want him)
Darcy's explanation during today's press conference? The Sabres needed to "evaluate the team", there was a "greater need" in other positions, namely defense and left wing, Buffalo has an "abundance of forwards", that the Sabres are "over the projected budget", there "already is a replacement in place" and finally, that hockey is a "tough business". Shortly after Darcy stated that the Sabres needed a left wing, one reporter asked "Wasn't Kennedy a left wing?"
More importantly is that the Sabres are stating how they are "evaluating the team". Based on the numbers, it seems that the Sabres needs are mainly offensive. An "abundance of forwards" is a joke as well, albeit a poor one. Buffalo has 12 offensive prospects. Exactly the same amount of defensive prospects. Now, a team generally starts 12 offensive players a game, and 6 defensive players...
You do the math.
Speaking of math, how about the fact that the Sabres are going to pay Tim Kennedy $333,000, for nothing. Darcy referred to this as a "great deal". Perhaps for Tim Kennedy, for every other team in the NHL that is. Tim Kennedy traditionally played his heart out in every single game in his rookie season. He was one of the few players who's effort the team could count on each night. To repay this, the Sabres let him go, and cut their losses. Plus, he's already been replaced, presumably with a cheaper, version from Portland.
That being said, Buffalo hasn't lost a lot of players this off-season, but they haven't done anything to better the team. There isn't much leadership to help the team in the playoffs, with the exception of adding Niedermayer. The team is a little bigger size wise, but how is that going to help them score goals?
Now, as much as the fans of Buffalo would like to see Kovalchuk come to Buffalo, lets be realistic. It's not going to happen. The Sabres have never been a team to have a star player like that. However, there are plenty of players available, Lee Stempniak, Paul Kariya, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and even Maxim Afinogenov is available too (who had 24 goals last season). Plus, Buffalo has the depth (namely at defense) to make numerous trades to improve their offense. Buffalo doesn't need a 50 goal scorer. A solid 20-30 goal scorer, will give the Sabres a shot in the arm, and increase production from the other top forwards. However, general management has made it clear that scoring goals isn't important.
Instead, the Sabres keep players like Tim Connolly, who plays with no emotion, is weak, and was an empty uniform for numerous games in the playoffs. The Sabres continue to pay him 4.5 million, for a player who plays with 75% effort (and I'm being generous) and shy away from Kennedy, who plays 110% each night, scores 7 goals less than Connolly, and would cost 3.5 million less.
When it comes to managing a team, I've always been a fan of George "Punch" Imlach's philosophy. "If I can make a trade that will improve my team by 5%, I'm going to do it. If I make 4 trades, each improving my team by 5%, all of a sudden, my team is 20% better". This sums up any teams general management philosophy. The end result, put a better team on the ice.
Goal production has steadily decreased consistently the past 3 seasons. Plus, the Sabres are content with soft forwards, and get rid of the players who play with heart. If this trend continues, there's no reason to think goal production will change in the upcoming season. In fact it will probably decrease even more. However, Buffalo's needs always seem to be the same, defense, defense, and defense. Don't forget that Buffalo a Vezina winning goalie in Ryan Miller. You don't need that much help on defense when you have him in goal. Plus, management should feel comfortable having 1 or 2 younger defensemen in the lineup with a goalie like Miller. However, defense is a priority every single season, not offense.
Darcy may convince us with saying, (after every season), that the goal is to build a championship team, and to evaluate what the Sabres need.
So far, it isn't happening.