TEAM GRADE: B
Even though there is a general disappointment with the Sabres so far, overall the team is getting the early season points it needs. Unlike last year when they started in a big hole, this team is earning points. Everything else can be wiped way, getting points is the only stat that matters. However, they have been exposed earlier this year than in previous seasons. The loss to the Bruins, even before the Miller controversy, showed why they probably won’t win the Stanley Cup this year. They are built for the post-lockout NHL regular season; they are not built for the NHL Playoffs. I’m not a big fan of the word “soft” when talking about hockey and its players, no one is soft, but what they are is not physical enough. This team, with few exceptions, is not a physical team and that’s what wins Cups, period.
FORWARDS GRADE: B
First Line: A.
Vanek: A. He is my runner up for team MVP. Without him the Sabres would have, as a minimum, three less wins and be out of a playoff spot.
Pominville: A-. The player is doing everything that is expected of him and is among the league leaders in points. A surprise around the league according to the announcers on Versus (do they even know Buffalo at all?!?!) It’s not a surprise to us. He gets a minus due to being the captain. More is expected of him and I for one, was disappointed at his silence with the press after the Miller-affair.
Adam: A. Anyone who follows me on twitter knows I thought he would be the biggest addition to the team this year. So far, he’s proving me right. Would like to see him play with a bit more confidence and use that big body more often.
Second Line: C-
Roy: B+ (but rising) Derek – welcome to the season, it started in October, not November but it’s good to see the scoring touch come back. What’s most impressive is Derek the Pest is reemerging and that is something the rest of the league should beware of.
Stafford: C-. Too easy to blame others, but this guy scored 30 goals last year and I want to see that guy back, not this one. Maybe too much Drew-man-fu nonsense, but come on, time to pick it up. This team needs Stafford to score goals to be successful over 82 games and the playoffs.
Leino: D. Simply put – he’s not doing enough (anything) to justify his contract. He was brought in to be a first line center and he’s been anywhere from a fourth line winger to a second line center, and hasn’t done well in any role.
Third Line: B-
Gerbe: B. He’s a spark plug, for his line and the team. This guy gets it and he’s getting close to reaching the upper echelon of the team. Needs a bit more scoring, but that will come and on the third line sometimes scoring is a plus. It’s an essential plus on this team but a plus none the less.
Gaustad: C-. No excuses, he needs to reassert himself as a physical force in the NHL. Of all the Sabres I’m most disappointed in his response to the Lucic incident. He’s a leader, wears an A and let’s his starting goalie get plowed. Not acceptable. And his interview afterward may have been even more embarrassing than his lack of response. He’s been playing more physical since, but that doesn’t change the memo his lack of response said to the rest of the league.
Kaleta: B-. Being suspended four games has tied his hands a bit but this professional pest is more than “head butts” and I anticipate we’ll see the bull dozer Kaleta pretty soon. He’s already become more physical than the first couple of games back, but needs to regain his edge.
Fourth Line/Others: B
McCormick: A. Determination and teammate are the two words that come to mind when I think of him. Looking forward to his return.
Boyes: C. Unless he starts doing something his days in Buffalo are numbered and he’ll be looking at a drastic pay cut wherever he goes. No one pays a fourth line center and PP “specialist” $4m.
Ennis: Incomplete, but he would have had to do something special as he was clearly headed for the only F on the team. There’s a good chance he gets labeled the new Afinogenov with the way he can skate, move with the puck and not score consistently. Too much skill not to have a point.
Ellis: Incomplete, but would expect him to be in the B range given his likeness to McCormick’s style. Heart is big in this league and there are more players like Ellis than Vanek.
Tropp: Incomplete, but from what I’ve seen he is a good call up and a good fill in.
Hecht: Incomplete. Don’t really anticipate much from him. He may be able to help this team the most with cap space by being a Long Term Injury.
Regehr: B+. He has been as advertised and I like Lindy’s approach with him. He’s not getting killed with minutes in the regular season and it’s a pleasure to watch him play. He’s marked down a bit because I’d like to see him develop a better partnership with one of the younger guys. I for one, like defensemen who specialize in defense. That’s what wins championships!
Ehroff: B-. This guy is a player and as his comfort level increases so will his goals and assists. Like Regehr, he is as advertised. Not the best defensive d-man but that’s not what got him his payday. I’m not a big plus/minus guy for the people who lead their teams in ice time and that’s probably the biggest knock on him to this point.
Myers: D. Hard to believe this is the same guy that was so dominant as a rookie. To date, that has been his best year. He has all the physical attributes but his slow start is progressing into a what, “junior slump?” Ruff needs to take the kid gloves off with this player and see what’s making him tick. I’d like to see the guy from last season’s playoffs more often.
Sekera: D. Another “offensive” defenseman, but to date he hasn’t been very good on either end. Like a lot of people, wondering what the Sabres fascination is with him. Has brief periods of solid play, but the key word is brief.
Gragnani: C-. See Sekera, except with less than ½ the pay. After the playoffs last year too much was expected of MAG but there have been flashes. Flashes aren’t enough, professional players are paid for results.
Leopold: C. Much like the rest of the D there have been far too many nights where Leopold has either disappeared or appeared only to turn the puck over leaving the goaltenders out on an island. Much more is expected of him and as a real “pro” I anticipate him getting it together, probably faster than some of his counterparts.
Weber: Incomplete. I’d like to see him get more playing time. He earned it over the course of last season, more so than a couple of the others getting more playing time.
Montador: B. Oh, wait, he wasn’t good enough to play for this team.
Miller: C+. He is this year’s Tim Connolly. Everything that goes wrong has been clearly laid at Miller’s feet. As the “face of the franchise” that’s how it goes. He started off great and then, something happened. Who knows what it was, but his defense certainly doesn’t help him out often enough. The team plays noticeably looser when he’s in the net, but they do that for a reason – he’s a top-3 backstop in the league. Even with all the odd man rushes, he needs to make more saves. I’m looking forward to his return. The Sabres can’t win without him and can’t win with him playing average. They need THE RYAN MILLER, not the guy who’s been shaky the last few times out.
Enroth: A. This grade reflects his season as a back-up, not the clear number 1. My quarter pole MVP. But, the jury is out now that he’s in the number 1 slot. He gives the team the best 1-2 goalies since, who knows, Crozier and Desjardins, and could conceivably develop into a solid number 1. Key word is develop, he’s not a full season/playoff goalie at this point, but I’d take him for short stretches.