Archive for June, 2012:

Sabres New Media Summit III: Part One

Halfway through June, its very difficult to stay in hockey mode. I admit I clocked out of hockey when the Sabres did (and I REALLY clocked out when Nashville was eliminated) and figured there would be a few weeks about complaining of the heat before the weeks of complaining ‘ is it October yet?’

So, it was nothing short of perfect timing when Ted Black decided to bring forth another bloggers summit, not so much to reflect on last season, but what changes are under way before the new season gets going. Ted, like few if any other hockey executives, expresses his appreciation for what bloggers do, and how they keep doing such in the offseason. There was mention that passes for bloggers to attend games in the press box will continue (I promise this blog is going to be making attempts for that this year) as well as locker room access post games for those who attend often enough.

In fact, the players and the team themselves were a small topic if it was even discussed. Instead, Mr. Black wanted everyone to bring forth questions about how to change Sabres games experience, the physical experience and the like.

I actually joined the 21st century this time around, and brought my laptop to the event, not just a notepad and a pen. I was able to take quicker, and thus more, notes, and I never know where to start when actually putting the blog post together. The most exciting part of the evening, I thought, was the summit actually taking place in the locker room. The first question I got after announcing that on Twitter, was if any tables, chairs, bloggers etc were on top of the logo embedded in the carpet.

Give the Sabres staff the credit, people. We were placed around it, the barrier of tables keeping anyone from having the chance to go anywhere near it. At the last summit, we all had the tour of the locker room, when at the time recently used gear was being aired out at the time.

Fortunately, this time the air had been well cleared. But even with all the gear and equipment having been cleared out, it still felt like hockey season in there, and I was half expecting Jordan Leopold to come out of the shower, wondering what we were all doing there.

Maybe more than half. 600w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres Twitter, because I left my phone in the car

Similar to the last summit, it began with announcements of new things that were coming to the organization, things being listed so quickly our tweets could hardly keep up. The one that got my attention, and may have caused me to smile to myself, was that Rick Jeanneret signing a multi-year contract. Of course, the term ‘ multi-year’ is a commonly used term on the Sabres, sometimes the never number is actually revealed, but anything that is at least one more year with Mr. Jeanneret is plenty enough.

In his 42nd year calling Sabres games, he will be doing more games than last year, and Rob Ray will be taking over in color commentary full time. I really thought this game at the most perfect time, especially since Rick is on his way into two hall of fames. To quote Mr. Black when asked if we will honor Rick in any other additional ways, he said the best way it can be done is to give him the chance to say that the Sabres have won the Stanley Cup.

Not to be late to the party, but starting on Monday WGR, who has been working with the Sabres for 26 years overall, will begin airing a live broadcast entitled Sabres Hockey Hotline. The show will air Monday through Friday, 10 am to noon, with adjusted hours during the football season, and hosted by Kevin Sylvester It’ll be especially nice for a summer program to chase away the offseason blues.

One last thing to focus on with the broadcasting aspect for the Sabres, we will no longer get the downstate MSG feed during home Rangers and Islanders games. Maybe I’m the only one who is this excited about it, since it really is only four games a year, but the only thing worse than watching the away feed is when your team loses.

The first topic of discussion, which were pre-determined ahead of time by email responses to avoid all of us running off on tangents, was changes coming to the First Niagara Center as well as the surrounding area. Last year, with the arena name change, there was some rush to get the First Niagara Sign up that an exterior paint job is due for the building. I was never under the impression that there was a concern with the color of the arena, if anything it makes it easier to find in a snow storm, but changes are coming.

There are plans to spruce up the surrounding area of the arena. Terry Pegula recently paid the $100,000 bill for a garden neighboring the area of the arena, adding something to the waterfront plans the rest of us are waiting for. There are other ideas for the area, including the parking lot directly across from the front of the arena. Ideas that are still in the making, of course, or unable to be announced at this time. Ted did however say that there are no plans to bring forth any kind of business to the area, as to not hurt the local ones that market with Sabres game nights.

It was mentioned that enhancing the area around the arena is most important important with the thousands of people who go inside the building 42 nights a year.

Another important aspect in entertaining those thousands of people, is the presentation of the game, which was a popular topic of the night. Jenifer Dunford, the Sabres Director of Game Presentation, sat in on the summit and was open to any ideas that were brought forth, and said that she always is, especially with the amount given to her weekly by Mr. Black. There are teams that have in game host, and various other quirks that go on during games, like the necessity of keeping a toddler entertained. But Ms. Dunford says, that in an effort to make the game experience balanced, they want to keep the focus on hockey, not so much the surrounding environment.

After all, we all know the music selection is much better after a win.

For more on Buffalo Sabres Nation’s take on the third blogger summit, including how no one benefits from ticket sales, if the Winter Classic is coming to Buffalo again, and which member of the Sabres organization is not allowed below the 13th row in the 100 level, stay reading for the next post!

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The ‘Stache, The Bills New 4-3 Defense and Bad Things, Man

I love the moves the Bills have made recently. Of course it’s all “on paper” and nothing guarantees more success than last year. But there’s a lot to love about the new defense.

And of course if you’re going to talk about the defense, you’ve got to mention the man behind it, the new defensive coordinator, “The ‘Stache”, Dave Wannestedt.

The ‘Stache is one of those guys we’ve had to hate with other teams, and I can’t think of worse ones than Dallas (during the early 90s) and Miami. I could appreciate him during his stint with the Chicago Bears from 1993-98. He always had that Bill Cowher-esque scowl while he contorted his mustache into various configurations – all of them implying anger. 150w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />

It's not true that the eyes say it all, nor the eyebrows... mustaches convey more emotion than either of these.

I love the guy as our D-coordinator. He’s one of those guys that never quite translated as well as a head coach but can be awesome as a coordinator. However he actually had decent success as a head coach: he was only 41-57 with Chicago, but he was 42-31 at the helm in Miami and that was with QBs such as Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas and Brian Griese. He actually made the playoffs his first two years at Miami (remember 2000 when our own Thurman Thomas played there? Ugh.) It’s worth mentioning that his NCAA record is 42-31.

His defenses typically rank pretty high in terms of yards allowed, points scored and takeaways. He had some off years with Chicago, but his Dallas and Miami defenses were amazing.

With Wannestedt though, everything is predicated on the defensive line, as it should be. That’s where the action starts, and if you can control the line of scrimmage you can typically control the game. As The ‘Stache says in this TBN article:

It’s going to be a defensive-line friendly scheme, and by that I mean we’ll be as good as our guys up front play,” he said. “That’s how it was at Dallas, at Miami, every place where we’ve run this scheme. The guys up front, it all starts there. If we can get a good rotation going, keep some guys healthy, you know that kind of sets the foundation for what we’re trying to get done here.

The Bills’ 4-3 will be an attacking defense as well. Not one that reads and reacts, but one that uses the talent we have very well. Says Wannestedt:

Our defensive linemen will never hear the phrase, ‘You gotta use up a double team or use up a block.’ We want them making plays.

By going to the 4-3, the Bills also get players back to their natural positions. It’s likely that the 4-3 defense was planned when Chan Gailey and buddy Nix took over but they didn’t have the personnel for it. We have the talent now. I couldn’t say it better then Pat Kirwan does:

Kelsey returns to his natural position (DE) but relegated to backup, too, and this improves depth. Andre Davis is gone. Barnett is better suited to play in a 4-3 front (scheme he played when originally drafted by Green Bay) and Merriman becomes a situational pass rusher which adds length to his career which has been up and down with injury. The only change in the secondary is McKelvin, who is now third string.

So a new defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills and a new scheme in the 4-3. According to Wannestedt, there’s no reason whatsoever to worry that the switch to the 4-3 will be difficult or won’t happen in time for the regular season (from the same TBN post):

Every day we’re putting in something different. Every day it’s a different coverage, it’s a different front. It might be a different blitz and we’ve got it organized pretty good,” Wannstedt said. “I think when we get to about Day 11, 12 [of spring practice] we’ll be about ready to play a game, really. And then the key will be to come back in training camp and start over again.

SuperMario, Marcel Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mark Anderson… if those guys can stay healthy it could be the harbinger of very, very bad things for opposing QBs and RBs.

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