0Posted by Scott Michalak on July 13, 2011 at 9:35 am
By now, the UFA buzz in your brains should have cleared up.
It’s officially Summer for hockey fans. Time to sit back, re-set our rosters on NHL ’11, and hunker down for what should be a quiet offseason from here on out (barring a sudden trade, of course).
It’s also a good time to re-visit the signing of UFA Ville Leino. Sabres fans are not convinced that we landed the true #1 center that we all wanted in Brad Richards, but the Sabres did manage to sign the second-highest scoring UFA on the market. He can play center, and should provide a good one-two punch at center with Derek Roy. He’s a player that we’re to feel very excited about, so at least we’ve been told:
”We felt very strongly about Ville, and we felt that it was important to make sure we didn’t allow a quality player like him to slip by us,” (Darcy) Regier said. ”He was someone we identified early and moved him to the top of the list.”
It's Blue and Gold for Ville for the next 6 years.
Well then, what about our counterparts in Philadelphia? What do they think about the Leino signing? I dropped in on a few Philadelphia blogs to find that out, and once I survived that journey into that Heart of Darkness, the intel I brought back with me was both good and bad.
Ville Leino was a freakin’ deal the last two years. The Flyers resurrected his career, he turned into quite the offensive power in the 2010 playoffs, and then had a decent 2011 season in which we learned that he’s as one-dimensional as one-dimensional players get in the NHL.
We knew he was going to get a raise, and the Flyers were apparently willing to pay him a four year, $12 million contract (as reported by Frank Seravalli). They weren’t going over that, and damn, we should be thankful for that.
The Buffalo Sabres signed him to an unbelievably obscene six year, $27 million contract today. The deal was announced by the team and the details were reported by TSN. It’s overpayment in every sense of the word, and it’s $1.5 million more per year than the Flyers were willing to dish out. Can’t blame him for going after the money at all… but holy crap, Ville Leino is not worth that much money.
We loved the guy during his time here and it was fun while it lasted. Not upset about losing him when all is said and done, though. Everybody is overpaying this year, but think of it this way: Jaromir Jagr for one year at $3.3 million, or Ville Leino at $4.5 million for the next six?
Uh-oh. I think we all knew we overpaid for this guy, but when I see the phrase “he’s as one-dimensional as one-dimensional players get in the NHL,” I start to feel that nagging anxiety of “buyer’s remorse.”
There is only so much cap space to go around. So when the Buffalo Sabres offered Ville Leino a six-year, $27mil contract, the Flyers were forced to say farewell to the dependable two-way forward. The Sabres hope that Leino will take up the same clutch goal scoring role for them that he did playing against them during these past playoffs.
Oh, he’s a “dependable two-way forward.” Good. I feel better about that now.
Leino, the 27-year old native of Finland, was toiling away in obscurity back in the 2009-10 season with the Detroit Red Wings. A late season trade brought him to the Philadelphia Flyers, and on a line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, Leino turned into a hero in Philly’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
The same chemistry with those two linemates wasn’t really there in the 2010-11 season, but Leino still managed to put up 19 goals and 34 assists in 81 games with the Flyers this past regular season. Flyers fans learned that he’s quite the one-dimensional player, as he started over 60 percent of his shifts in the offensive end of the ice, unable to be trusted with defensive zone minutes.
That’s why the money seems so high. Leino can score and has some of the best hands in the game, but that’s all he can do. Will it be worth it to the Sabres? It seems like any price is worth it to new owner Terry Pegula.
What? Which is it, Philly, good two-way or bad two-way? Stop jerkin’ us around! “One dimensional… 60%…unable…to be…trusted…” there’s that anxiety again.
I need an rx. Is there a doctor in the house?
In order for Leino to be successful in Buffalo, he must produce – and not just in the offensive zone. The Sabres play a dogged “System” of hockey under Lindy Ruff, one that is focused on control of all three zones. While Leino has shown in the past that he can do this, he’s apparently shown more recently that he can be a liability in at least 40% of the ice surface. It won’t take long for this style of play to earn him a place in Ruff’s doghouse.
And then there goes that one-two punch.
If there is one stat that I have focused on since this surprise signing, however, it has been his playoff stats. 28 points in 37 career playoff games makes me feel much more confident and relaxed (even if one of those points was that goal he scored in the overtime of Game Six this past season, which pretty much ended our playoff hopes).
Another reassuring statistical pill is the fact that Leino put up a +14 over the regular season, despite the fact or opinion that he lost his two-way game somewhere in that stretch. That +14 would have been good enough for 2nd best on the Sabres, under the recently-departed Steve Montador’s +16. Drew Stafford was the forward closest in this category, at +13 (it’s pretty downhill from there).
It also helps to remember that bolstering the defense was one of the top priorities of Lindy Ruff in this offseason, and that was done in a huge way with the additions of Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff. Adding Leino (and subtracting Tim Connolly) feels more like a little bonus on top of that upgrade on the blueline.
We have to wait until October 7th until we find out which Leino emerges for Buffalo. There will be no excuses for him: he is just entering his physical prime and will have a larger role here than he did with the Flyers, who were overflowing with offensive talent last season.
3Posted by Scott Michalak on July 11, 2011 at 10:28 pm
So you wanted Brad Richards?
Then the Sabres might just bring him to you: on a platter. Ain’t no Brad on the face of this earth that wants to go up against the defense that the Sabres just put together. Just ask Mike Weber.
He’s always been a fan of Robyn Regehr. In fact, Weber has modeled his game after Regehr, the newest and arguably the best defenseman on the roster right now (though he has yet to play a game for the Blue and Gold).
Regehr is going to make us cringe. Regehr is going to make us yell things such as, “REGEHR SEZ NO!” when some complacent forward tries crossing the blue line on his side of the ice (bad idea).
Hey fans – there’s a sign/banner idea for the 300’s – “Regehr sez NO!”
"Teeth, meet fist. Fist, teeth."
Something tells me that the Sabres defense will be very eager, and very expedient, at expelling NHL forwards from the defensive zone in the coming years. If a certain Danny Briere wants to angle his brakes on Ryan Miller after a save, maybe giving Ryan the old “snow job,” or just getting close enough to sniff a whiff of his pads, it’s pretty certain that Briere might find himself knocked a few strides back.
Yea, Myers, Weber and the boys are going to have a heckuva time this season. We are all very much acquainted with the hulking Myers (see aforementioned GIF). We’re getting to know what Regehr brings to the ice: 180 hits in 79 games, along with 142 blocked shots – he would have lead the Sabres in each category last season. Mike Weber piled up 158 hits and 99 blocked shots – but he did that in only 58 games.
All we can say is no goodness, nor gracious, will come upon those that dare enter our half of the ice this coming season. You better believe that opposing teams are already taking notice: no one wants their stars on the ice when these guys are on patrol.
And I say to those teams: good luck. You’re all staring down the three-barreled cannon that is Regehr-Myers-Weber (in no particular Lindy Ruff pairing order).
Folks, these guys hit hard, and these guys hit smart. Regehr’s 180 hits were accompanied by a miserly 58 penalty minutes. Weber’s 158? 69 PIM’s.
Weber also knows how to feed some fist.
For years, Mike Weber has been following Regehr’s footsteps/bodychecks on the ice. Now, Terry Pegula and Darcy Regier have brought the two together. Could they be the best one-two punch in the NHL? I’m sorry, it should be one-two-three, right? Don’t forget Tyler (Myers). He had 107 hits with just 40 PIM’s last season.
"No one makes me bleed my own blood since this. C'mon. Try it."
Hits and PIM stats aside, only the blueline will let us know in 2011-12. They’ll let us know, and they’ll let the NHL know – things are about to get very loud in the B-lo. I say, bring it on. Screw Brad Richards – we score plenty enough. It’s about time we put enough snarl into this league to make teams regret a frown at a face-off.
2Posted by Scott Michalak on July 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm
We had a lot of great entries here, folks. Thanks to all who participated in our “What ‘Hockey Heaven’ Means to Me” contest. Our first winner is Brendan McIntyre, who is rooting for the Blue and Gold deep from within the United States Capitol. Take it away, Brendan!
Hockey Heaven is a life-long Sabres fan, raised on the French Connection-led Sabres of the old Memorial Auditorium, buying the team and preparing it for greatness.
Hockey Heaven is a jam-packed HSBC arena, boiling over with blue and gold Sabres fans, screaming at the top of their lungs the most amazing cheer in all of sports, “Let’s Go Buff-a-lo.”
Hockey Heaven is a horde of blue collar Sabres fans rallying out front of 1 Seymour H Knox III Plaza, watching playoff games on enormous big screens.
Hockey Heaven is turning down Versus and turning up the living legend, Rick Jeanneret.
Hockey Heaven will soon be a mob of humanity gathered from around the country to see the Sabres bring Lord Stanley’s Cup down Delaware Avenue.
Let’s Go Buff-a-lo!
Brendan, and ally, invading the Verizon Center.
Brendan also has an Ovechkin Sound Board on his blog. Goodtimes! I know, I should have typed “Ovechkin Sound Board” at the beginning of this post. Ovie is, after all, such an attention grabber: the “Can you give me some shots vodka please?” button on the sound board is a keeper. Hit it a few times in a row, and tell me you ain’t ready to dance.
While the entries are read, re-read, and read again, let’s take a moment to refresh our memories on one of the most outstanding Sabres’ moments in recent memory.
Sometimes, a whole playoff series can be summed up by one moment. In this case, it was one moment, and three names: Jason Pominville, Daniel Alfredsson, and Ray Emery. But enough from me. Hockey Heaven, the sponsor of our contest, put together a great video that takes us back to that moment in time between Buffalo and Ottawa in the 2005-06 playoffs.
Without further ado:
It was the first time in NHL history that a series was decided by a short-handed goal.
0Posted by Scott Michalak on July 9, 2011 at 6:55 am
Our Odyssey begins in the 2002-03 season.
Back in 2002, Sabres’ owner John Rigas was indicted on fraud charges. The team was seized by the NHL, as it slid into bankruptcy. For Rigas, he would began serving a 15 year sentence in 2007 for concealing $2.3 billion in corporate loans, and using them as his personal “piggy bank.” He’s in “Canes’ Country” now, in a federal corrections facility in Raleigh, NC.
In a single day, Rigas used funds for a $17,000 monthly mortgage payment, $3,000 in beauty treatments, and 100 pairs of slippers. Well, we won't fault him for trying the beauty treatments.
Meanwhile, in Sabreland, no one – not even the players – knew who might buy the team, or where the team would play. From the Buffalo News:
“You couldn’t get away from the speculation about which group was buying the team,” said assistant coach James Patrick, who was a defenseman on the 2002-03 club. “You were reading this owner was going to do this, or this owner was going to come in and clean house. Different names were being thrown about. That was certainly a bit of a soap opera.”
As new owners were sought the Sabres’ struggles in the locker room spilled out onto the ice. They were sitting in last place almost from the start of the season until the end posting a horrible record of 27-37-10-8. As the season wound down, Tom Golisano purchased the team for $92 Million, ending the anxiety amid rumors the Sabres would relocate, or fold up operations entirely.
The 2003-04 season was a season of recovery for the team. The team had a dismal 18-25-5-1 start, but the addition of Chris Drury helped to turn things around. The Sabres had a 37-34-7-4 record in the second half, and would miss the playoffs by 6 points. Things were finally starting to look up.
…then the lockout happened.
Because things can always get worse.
The entire 2004-05 season was cancelled.
There weren’t many fans eager to fill the seats at the HSBC at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, but who could blame them? They had been brained by the jailing of an owner, bankruptcy, possible relocation/folding, a terrible product on the ice, and then no hockey at all for an entire year.
Then, something magical started to happen. The team started to outperform anyone’s wildest predictions, and raced into the Eastern Conference Finals. Most would argue that the Sabres would have won that series, heck, they would argue that team would have won the Cup – if not for a rash of injuries that took almost every starting defenseman off the ice.
2006-07 was another wild ride, as the Sabres went an astounding 53-22-7 to win the President’s Trophy. Fans were a bit besmirched by Golisano’s introduction of the team’s new “slug” logo, but cheered for the team that just had to win that Cup this time. (They had to, because as every fan knew, the man that saved the franchise was not willing to pay to keep it competitive. Fans knew that either Danny Briere or Chris Drury would be lost to free agency after the season was over.)
After the Sabres bowed out of the Eastern Conferece Finals again, this time to the Ottawa Senators, fans held tightly to their Briere and Drury “slug” jerseys that they had bought in good faith and team spirit. We knew we couldn’t afford to keep both Drury and Briere, but at least we might hold onto one of them.
On Sunday, July 1st, 2007, we lost them both.
It felt like all the blue and gold drained from our hockey hearts that day.
So, a quick recap on our nightmarish Odyssey:
Relocation/folding rumors abound as NHL sells team
A sudden rush to the edge of the Finals, and the Stanley Cup
The Golisano Era was now in full stride, as the seasons wound on. Yea, we had a team – a team that nobody wanted to play for. Players like Mike Grier and Brian Campbell bolted in free agency as the team floundered under its miserly savior, missing the playoffs in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
The Sabres of 2009-10 made the playoffs, but failed to capture much of the fans’ passion, (or whatever was left of it after the ceaseless shell-shocks that started in 2002).
Well, we all know the story from thereon out. The 2010-11 team was one of the worst in the league, but began a slow comeback that became an epic surge when new owner Terry Pegula came virtually out of nowhere (actually, somewhere in Pennsylvania) and improbably made the playoffs.
Since then, it’s been all about Hockey Heaven. Players are actually choosing to come to Buffalo now, as Pegula fulfills on his early promises to build a fantastic experience and a Stanley Cup Champion.
The Cup can’t be guaranteed by anyone, but deliverance from this nightmare is finally at hand. Fans that survived of this horrid stretch of trauma deserve a medal, but they’re happy just to be a part of something real again – no more nightmares, anymore.