If that title made your stomach tighten a little bit, then you know what we’re onto here.
Relax. Let that boo go. Feel better now? Good. That’s what we’re here for.
Yes, the venerable Gary Bettman, commissioner of our NHL since 1993 (and thus being a symbolic part of the NHL94 alumni), is the namesake behind this award, given to the folk(s) with the firmest mastery of their Napoleon complexes and the talent to make us want to heckle them.
As for Bettman’s curious leadership of one of the most historied sports leagues in the world, fans needs not look any further than 1996. That’s when the Fox Network introduced the “glow puck,” which was supposed to make the puck easier to see on the primitive tv screens of the day. (We’ve come a long way since those ridiculous cathode-ray tubes, kids.) The problem, of course, with the “glow puck,” was that instead of making the puck easier to see, it just reinforced the idea that watching hockey on TV was impossibly difficult.
You can now find these things at classy eateries, buzzing and flashing wildly to alert patrons that their heart attack nacho platters are ready.
Indeed, Bettman was quick to preserve the reputation of the league when he emerged from his Penguins’ Lair to orate the following strong message to a concerned fan base:
“I don’t need it, [but] it doesn’t bother me. “I don’t like the blue dot – but if it makes it easier for [TV] fans, that’s fine.”
Bettman in his NBA days.
Since then, Bettman has employed the same resolute determination when guiding the NHL with his incredibly consistent NHL discipline plan, for injuries and scandals. (A flowchart.)
This season, there was plenty of nasty stuff out there that drew our ire. Here are our nominees; the winner receives a free platter of those heart-attack nachos, (glow-puck coaster not included), so vote wisely.
1. The Green Men and the City of Vancouver – The louder that hockey traditionalists cried foul over these green-skinned freaks, the more butt (or package) the Green Men pressed up against the penalty box glass. Loved by some, loathed by many, the Green Men set a wacko fan precedent that will lead only to god knows what in the stands next year, as circus-themed populations such as Montreal will undoubtedly try to outdo them. I would say that they were a “riot,” but what happened in the city of Vancouver after their team collapsed out of the Stanley Cup Final put the “I don’t care if I’m a sports star of my own, losing just makes me wanna’ smash stuff and blow up police cars” back into that word.
Take THAT, Boston!
2. Mario Lemieux – It’s no secret that the NHL greatly misses Mario’s
talents whining since he retired, but he was kind enough to remind us all that he still has it. After a dirty hockey game against the Islanders, Lemieux was prompted to release a statement whining doctrine masterpiece in which he warned, “If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to re-think whether I want to be a part of it.” Mario conveniently left out the fact that he employs the dirtiest little cheap shot artist in the league (who is also the most hated player in the league).
I'd say "Stay classy, Penguins," but according to Mario, they are TOTALLY classy.
3. The Thrashers’ Atlanta “Spirit” Group – There is nothing funny about this at all, so we’re going to skip the jokes. Instead, here’s a punch-in-the-gut quote from former co-owner Michael Gearon, who “broke down several times” when he assured Thrashers fans “I’ve been focused on trying to avoid this day. I spent time with possible investors going back four years ago, because I was concerned this day would come. I made a desperate plea in February. Unfortunately, that didn’t lead to any real prospects. To be sitting here today is just awful for me.” To which the disgusted fans of Atlanta responded, “Sitting there? Sit and spin, (expletive)!”
RIP, Blueland. We hardly got a chance to get to know you.
Probably shouldn’t have ended this on such a downer. Ugh. Anyway, those are our candidates. Make sure you vote with a heavy dose of spleen. I assure you, hitting one of these buttons is going to make you feel at least a little bit better.
See also: “BSN Summer Awards: The Envelopes (and Brooke Shields) are IN!“
It’s going to be a sad day in the B-lo when Rick Jeanneret finally retires.
Until then, his potential replacements are being groomed. While we already covered the likelihood of Kevin Sylvester taking over the booth, not everyone is sold on his voice talent.
I’m a fan of Kevin’s, but we like to remain objective here on Buffalo Sabres Nation.
"The Next One?"
In that spirit, here’s a couple samplings of Mark Jeanneret. While his style is very similar to his father’s, his voice is a bit higher on the octave scale. He’s been plying his trade down on the farm in Portland, after breaking into the scene with the Erie Otters of the OHL.
Here’s a call from his Erie days. You might want to ensure that all of your crystal and any skittish cats are in the other room before you hit the play button.
Since then, his style has certainly matured, but that Jeanneret passion simply cannot be tamed. Here’s his play-by-play for the Sabres, when they took on the Flames on December 27, 2010.
Despite who I might prefer, it’s hard to root against either Sylvester or Jeanneret – I’d be happy with either making the calls. Also, it sure would be a real heart-warmer if Mark was able to continue a family legacy.
We’d like to hear what our readers think about these two candidates, so we’re sticking a poll in this post. Vote away!
For Father’s Day, BSN is going to take a slight detour to the world of football, and family.
There aren’t too many words that remain the same across all the languages on this world, but those are two of them.
Then again, there’s sports. Some would argue math is the universal language, and they’re right – but it’s application to the world of sports is what makes it so widely spoken. The box score is common ground for all of us. The results at the end of games, season upon season, weaves up an emotional fabric that criss crosses through all of us.
For fathers and sons, common grounds can be hard to come by. Language only gives us “taxi” and “radio.” That’s simply not enough to connect the generations. I am not claiming that sports is the best venue for communication – but it is very ingrained with passion, want, and hope. A place where emotions can exist and be worn on the sleeve.
What a great year this turned out to be.
Thanks for everything, Terry. A Stanley Cup wasn’t a possibility in my grandfather’s lifetime, but now, it is a possibility in my father’s lifetime. For that, I thank you.
Enjoy a day off! Tomorrow, we turn back to our business that is getting that Cup.
Note: this is being re-posted today (October 4th) as part of our 2011-12 season preview. While written in June, the information below is more relevant now than ever.
I’m donning my professor’s cap today.
Remember my cute little “picket fence defense” lecture?
No? Sigh. Well pay attention now kids, because this stuff is important. And it will be on the test – the test that is a Stanley Cup Final. Got your attention now, I bet. Good. Moving on.
Back before the playoffs started, I analyzed what was one of the more glaring weaknesses on the Sabres roster – their young defense. Since then, the Sabres collapsed out of the first round, and Lindy Ruff didn’t waste much time in declaring that one of the team’s top priorities in the off-season will be to “develop a lockdown pair.”
When all else fails, buy the school a building. Or in our case, a new defense.
I know that many Sabres fans would love for Darcy Reiger to take his new, fat, diamond studded Sabres wallet and hand it straight over to Brad Richards’ agent when UFA negotiations open up on July 1st. Admittedly, I’m one of them. I’m a glutton for goals, and could only imagine how many we would be all gorging on if Richards was lined up between Vanek and Stafford.
But folks, we must remain focused. Our problem at defense hasn’t gone away. And it’s a big problem.
From that initial lecture:
(On March 18th) The Sabres have 203 goals for and 202 goals against. This equal ratio is a stat that has been dogging them for months. They can’t seem to score more goals then they allow, and I find that disturbing. What is more disturbing is every team ahead of Buffalo, save Tampa Bay, enjoys a wide winning margin in that category. (Carolina posts a terrible 198/212.) Brad Boyes was a nice addition for the stretch run, but this team is going to learn to have to finish as well as play smarter defense – and quickly – if they are to make the playoffs, or survive the 1st round.
Since the 18th, the Sabres have gone 5-1-1. Accordingly, their goals for/goals against ratio improved dramatically, to 226/214. It’s a telling stat: Carolina has gone 4-1 since the 18th, and their ratio has markedly improved to 220/228.
Stick with me here, class. I’ve gone back and bold-faced the key points, and will continue below:
So what does it all mean?
For Buffalo, it means that the Sabres, for the greater portion of the regular season, have not been able to score enough goals to keep up with the amount that they let in. Their offense has scored enough goals (226) to be ranked 4th in the East in that category, trailing only Philadelphia (243), Boston (232), and Tampa Bay (230).
The Sabres’ offense is great, but their defense is, well, not so great. The teams ahead of them, those considered to be front-runners for a shot at the Cup, all show a commanding mastery of the goals for/goals against ratio, and it’s no coincidence – teams control the scoreboard by keeping all three zones under control. It’s the Sabres’ play in their back end – the first step of every hockey rush, and the front lines of defense against a flurry from the opposition – that have kept them out of Cup talk, let alone much playoff talk.
The obvious statement from the professor troll in the front row here is “Ah yes, defense does win championships.” This is where I glare at said troll and say “Don’t cheapen my lectures with cliches.” There really is a lot to consider when putting a championship defense together, folks – and we’ll look at how that has been done over the last 10 years. Let’s quickly finish up reviewing this previous lecture, first. (Exasperated raspberry sigh from the dude in the back row, and pen clicking all over the place, I know, I know – stick with me.)
Buffalo is no lock for the playoffs, and the reason for this is the failure to be reliable in all three zones of the ice. Lindy Ruff has implemented a style of play – “The System” – which is supposed to keep all players, at all times, focused on controlling the puck, the play, and the game. The Sabres do their best, but their young defense just isn’t smart and experienced enough yet. In fact, Buffalo only has three defenders over the age of 24. A disturbing list:
- Steve Montador, 31
- Jordan Leopold, 30
- Shaone Morrisson, 28
- Chris Butler, 24
- Andrej Sekera, 24
- Marc-Andre Gragnani, 24
- Mike Weber, 23
- Tyler Myers, 21
Of those guys over 24, Morrisson has hardly been a defensive stalwart this season, and Leopold/Montador have not been able to stay on the ice. Indeed, if there is a weakness of the Blue and Gold that teams are going to expose until the end of this hockey year, it is going to be the green defense corps. Of all places, it is in their own zone, from where the team must take it’s most important steps, where their Achilles Heel is exposed.
I put that last sentence in bold because I really dig it.
Anyway, the Sabres problem is not effectually at center. Yes, they certainly need to add more talent and depth at that position, but last season proved that they certainly have no problem scoring goals. Brad Richards is a sexy idea, I get that – but if adding him means ignoring the need to augment our defense corps, then our Stanley Cup dreams are likely doomed.
Now, let’s talk about how a championship defense is made.
Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton Journal wrote a smart piece that not only confirmed my worries about our green defense, but provided an analysis of all Cup-winning team defenses from the last ten years (this year’s Bruins excluded). The results of his study are truly damning of our current roster.
Please welcome our guest lecturer for the day. Take it away, Bruce:
My own approach here will (namely be) to examine the defence corps of all Stanley Cup champions over the last decade. How did the winners go about assembling their blueline crews? Let’s have a quick look team-by-team and then draw some broader conclusions.
Bruce's first slide.
(After referencing the next 9 winning defenses, McCurdy went on to assess his findings):
As a whole, the champion defencemen were a veteran group. The average age was something over 30, with the top-pairing guys averaging a year or two more than that. Among 28 minute-munchers who averaged over 20 minutes a night (highlighted in bold), fifteen were 30 or older, just three 25 or younger.
Each of the last four Stanley Cup champs has featured a major UFA signing on the back end.
Thank you, Bruce. I’ll take it from here.
This season, our defense was exposed. It was exposed in the regular season. It was exposed in the playoffs. This is not a defense that gets to the Big Dance. This is the kind of defense that your own offense has to outscore.
I do believe that Sekera, Butler, Weber, Gragnani, and of course, Myers, are all going to evolve into top-notch defenders in their own niches, as they get older. The problem right now, however, is Ryan Miller is 31, and he is getting older too. The “old core” of Roy, Pominville, Vanek, et al simply cannot afford to wait for this group of young defensemen to mature. Pegula has this team on a very specific course right now – to win a Cup in three years. In order to make that possible, balance has to be restored between the offense and defense.
There are plenty of UFA defensemen available this summer that fit this very simple but desperate need. Meanwhile, the Sabres do have good trading power with these kids on the back end – as well as several blue chip defensive prospects. Buffalo would be wise to use this cache to either regain that 2nd round pick that they lost in the Brad Boyes trade – or dare I dream, to make a package deal to lure a stud center like Paul Stastny away from a team.
From here, what needs to be done is clear. The defense has to be bolstered. It can be done, and at the same time, the center position can be improved.
It’s now up to Headmaster Darcy to make it happen.
See also: “We’ve got a lot of Defensemen: How to Add Bieksa, Ehrhoff, or Wisniewski;” “Target: Brent Burns;” “Target: Paul Stastny“