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20 May 2007

Sabres Left Wondering What Should Have Been

When Daniel Alfreddson beat Ryan Miller in the overtime of Game 5 Saturday it was an anti-climatic finish to a wild Sabres' ride. There is little solace in the two overtime losses, nor a feel good spirit about the fight the Sabres showed at the end. All that was left, in everyone's mouths, was the bitter taste of failed expectations.

Make no mistake about it the better team won. The Senators were simply stronger on the puck, more focused, hungrier and better prepared than the Sabres for this challenge. The loss highlighted some simple truths for the Sabres. Though a supremely talented team, they lacked the grit to compete against an equally talented opponent. Coaching also failed this team in the areas of special teams. The loss of Scott Arniel to the Manitoba Moose was a much bigger loss than anyone could have foreseen. While the Sabres have historically been an average power play team they have consistently been a tremendous penalty killing team. That simply was missing this year. While the players should accept much of the blame there is no way to excuse Darcy Regier, Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff for these failings.

This loss also put many players squarely at the crossroads of their Sabres' careers. Dimitri Kalinin, who has been enigmatic throughout his career, finally wore Lindy's patience to a nub. Though dressed, Kalinin hardly played in the final two games. Likewise, Ales Kotalik and Jaro Spacek played sparing minutes and performed at levels far below expectation. The two captains Danny Briere and Chris Drury may have played their last games in a Buffalo uniform. There are rumours flying around the media that tell me that Drury has already agreed on a contract with Buffalo and it is commonly thought that Briere is as good as gone.

Topping all of this off is the fact that Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff are unsigned as well for next season. I would like to have the quiet confidence that all will work out and they surely will return, but I have been burned too many times before. My gut feeling is that this team will return nearly in tact from this season. I expect Briere, Kotalik, Numminen and Kalinin to be gone and replaced by Drew Stafford, Dan Paille and some players to be named. I think it is likely that Danius Zubrus will return for a mid-level contract though it is far from a guarantee. Regier, assuming he returns, has always done his best work in the off season and there is little reason to believe this year will be any different.

The hope here is that the lessons learned from this gut-wrenching loss to the Senators will drive the Sabres to victory much as the Sabres victory over Ottawa did last year. Lindy Ruff very likely earned his second straight Adams trophy for coach of the year, but next year will be his biggest challenge as he has to re-gear this team to play in a different NHL that the league started as this year. This tougher, somewhat slower game is not one the current roster likes to, or is suited to, play. It will be interesting to see how he devises a way to keep this run and gun squad interested.

The one thing this loss doesn't do is diminish how good this Sabres team was. It was an outstanding and entertaining team for much of the year. Unfortunately, as is seemingly always the case in the NHL, entertaining does not equal Lord Stanley's Cup. They may very well be the second best team in the league, but as we in Buffalo know, second just isn't ever good enough.

3 fanatics have replied:

Bleu, Blanc et Rouge said...

That was beautiful Pat.

I really felt sorry for you guys, you were so good in the season, I guess it was all for none, I mean, how much better can you get?

Your 3rd line centre is Tim Conolly and Kotalik and Afino both played on th 4th line.

On most teams, that's a top line.

What should've been wasn't, and that's really too bad.

Have courage, my friend, have couraage...

Who you going for now?

Bleu, Blanc et Rouge said...

Oh, and senator42 got it first here

"Ottawa will win the series 4-1."

He only said that 2 games into the series though, so :D

The Ghost said...

I think I have to go with the Senators. I can't respect a team/city, Detroit, that calls itself Hockeytown yet isn't selling out playoff games and there is something fundementally wrong with a California team winning the cup.

Plus I have gained a tough admiration for the Sens. I am especially beginning to like Mike Fisher and Peter Schaeffer.

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