My take on the Sabres, Pavel Datsyuk’s recent performance, a dubious potential anniversary for Scott Gomez, the Oilers in line for another high draft pick, an apology to Senators GM Bryan Murray, and the Blues improvement this season.
You know things are getting ugly for the Buffalo Sabres when they’re being compared to the woeful 2002-03 version, which is considered “the worst Sabres team ever”.
At least that Sabres team was rotten for a reason, the result of a crooked owner who squandered millions, forcing management to dramatically slash payroll and rebuild.
This year’s version, however, was built in part by management going uncharacteristically spend-happy in the free agent market, wasting millions on overpriced help like Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff, in what was billed as building a Cup contender.
Of course, it’s easy to make those two the scapegoats. They’re not the sole reason for their team’s decline. Looking at the Sabres record, they haven’t been the same since that fateful November 12th game against the Boston Bruins, when Bruins winger Milan Lucic bowled over Sabres goalie Ryan Miller with little retaliation by Miller’s teammates. That suggests there more problems than just a couple of high-price underachievers in the mix.
Maybe there needs to be a change in the GM chair and behind the bench. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have been there almost fifteen years, and stagnation may have set in.
Whatever the reason, it appears significant could take place in the near future for the Sabres.
After an uncharacteristic slow start, Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk is regularly lighting up the scoresheet.
As of January 22, Datsyuk has 51 points thus far, tied for third in the league scoring race. 41 of those points he’s netted in the last 30 games.
So much for critics (of which, regretfully, I was one) speculating Datsyuk was slowing down with age.
If you’re looking for reasons why the Red Wings overcame an inconsistent start to this season, the increase in Datsyuk’s production is a significant one.
Disillusioned Montreal Canadiens fans who’ve been using overpaid center Scott Gomez as their favorite pinata for the club’s woes this season intend to stage a special “anniversary party”, to celebrate the one-year anniversay of his last goal, dating back to February 5, 2011.
I get the idea behind this little scheme – Habs fans are frustrated, not only with Gomez’s poor play, but that of his teammates – but as Greg Wyshynski observed, the piling on is getting emphatic.
Yes, I know, Gomez brought it upon himself, and I believe the fans have every right to express their disdain, but this particular act just doesn’t sit well with me. It’s one thing to voice displeasure, it’s another to single out a guy and humiliate him publicly like that.
It makes a bad situation worse, won’t motivate Gomez to improve, and will likely be cited as yet another example of the kind of fan pressure in Montreal that most free agents prefer to avoid.
Earlier this month, Oilers GM Steve Tambellini he wasn’t interested in his club finishing so low in the standings they’re in line for another draft lottery pick, but as we approach month’s end, the Oilers appear headed toward that scenario again.
The Oilers had the first overall pick in the last two NHL entry drafts, and if the season were to end today, they would finish with the second-worst record, guaranteeing them a pick in the top three for the 2012 entry draft, depending on the lottery selection.
If the Oilers don’t make any significant improvement over the remainder of the season, the possibility of another first overall pick for the third straight year, or at the very least one in the top three, appears quite likely.
Oilers fans have been patient, and are obviously pleased with the performance of 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall and 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and will in all likelihood be pleased with whatever player their club lands with a top three pick this June.
But after six straight seasons without a playoff appearance, that patience must be getting tested. This team was supposed to make significant improvement this season, and while injuries have been a significant factor in their disappointing performance, it’s apparent there’s still some depth issues, especially on defense, which must be rectified soon.
I’ve addressed this earlier in the week on my Canadian Corner page, but I’m going to repeat it here for good measure: I was wrong when I said Bryan Murray wasn’t the right man to manage the Ottawa Senators rebuilding programme.
It was Murray’s moves which led the Senators to miss the playoffs two of the last three seasons, forcing them onto the path of rebuilding, which is why I believed Senators owner Eugene Melnyk was mistaken for not replacing Murray as general manager.
Instead, Murray has done an impressive job in reversing the Senators fortunes. Acquiring goalie Craig Anderson and Kyle Turris, drafting and developing young talent (Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, Zack Smith), resisting the temptation to trade Jason Spezza, and hiring Paul MacLean as head coach has all been contributing factors to the Senators impressive turnaround.
Murray’s reputation as a shrewd general manager had taken a battering in recent years, but the moves he’s made to improve the Sens over the past year have salvaged it.
Looks like all the St. Louis Blues needed to reach their full potential was the right head coach.
Over the past three seasons the Blues were considered a promising young team poised for big things, but they came up flat each time, leading to speculation some of their younger players weren’t fully committed to doing what was needed to reach their potential.
Since Ken Hitchcock took over the reins as head coach, the Blues have become one of the top teams in the Western Conference, playing a well-disciplined game based upon responsible defensive play and strong goaltending. The Blues have given up the fewest shots-against per game, and the fewest goals-against per game, of all NHL teams this season.
Offensively, the Blues still need work. Only eight teams have scored fewer goals, and their power-play is the third-worst in the league.
But teams with strong goaltending and a stingy defense are miserable to face in the playoffs, and if the Blues maintain their current pace, there won’t be anyone in the Western Conference looking forward to facing them in the post-season.