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21 May 2007

Was The Loss of Scott Arniel the Biggest Loss of Last Offseason?

Much was made of the fact that the Sabres lost Jay Mckee, J.P. Dumont and Mike Grier in the last off season. Relatively little of any attention was paid to the loss of Assistant Coach Scott Arniel to the minor league Manitoba Moose where Arniel became head coach. Of course assistants change all of the time and it would seem hard pressed to say that the loss of an assistant coach damaged the President Cup winning Sabres.

That is until you look deeper. While losing Mckee, Dumont and Grier removed grit from the lineup losing Arniel seems to have cut deeper. Two years ago the Sabres had the #2 ranked Power Play and Penalty Kill units in the NHL. This year with the power play under the tutelage of Brian McCutcheon and the penalty kill under first year coach James Patrick each unit slipped dramatically. One could point to the loss of Grier on the penalty kill and Dumont on the power play, but the results seem to be bigger than that. It often appeared that the Sabres couldn't adjust quickly to strategy changes other teams initiated and it hurt them at critical times, especially in the playoffs. Unfortunately the failings of both units led directly to the downfall of the Sabres' Stanley Cup dreams this year.

I guess it just goes to show that in the fickle game of professional hockey even the most minor change can have resounding effects down the line. Ironically the Sabres' failings may have helped vault Arniel even higher in the eyes of prospective bosses around the NHL. One only need to see the negative effects his departure had on the Sabres to see the value he can bring to another NHL franchise. For the Sabres, who have shed old guard people like Arniel, Don Luce and Terry Martin, hopefully this isn't a harbinger of things to come.

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