Ruff Should Let These Young Buffaloes Roam

When people talk about what is wrong with the game of hockey and the trap and all that stuff, many point out how coaching is the biggest evil today. Defence first is what almost all teams preach and it has gotten the NHL into the mess it is in today.

An excellent example is in Buffalo. Lindy Ruff is a very good coach…..a very good defensive coach. That is what he has preached from the beginning. That is how he played too. But that is a bad strategy for a team like the Sabres.

Sure they do not have Dom Hasek in goal but the 3 young goalies they have are very solid. Marty Biron, Ryan Miller and Mika Noronen are all NHL calibre netminders. Miller is and has been one of the top prospects around at any position. But contractually he was the easiest to dispatch and keep down on the farm. But one of these days he will be the team’s number one guy. But Biron and Noronen are hard to overtake. Biron has had an up and down career but when he is hot, he is as good as the other top french canadian goalies around. Noronen has been a solid player for them and could be trade bait to help the Sabres at other positions. I think sooner rather than later one of these guys is going to emerge and be able to carry a team by himself.

Alex Zhitnik has been the Sabres anchor on defence the last several seasons. But in all likelihood he will leave via free agency. But the Sabres have some other fine talent back on D, fine offensive minded talent good enough to emerge as one of the better bluelines around. Brian Campbell is an excellent skater. He is adept at joining the rush and is very gifted offensively, however his sometimes suspect defence puts him in Ruff’s doghouse. The same can be said for Jeff Jillson. He too is a fine offensive talent who can quarterback a powerplay but due to defensive breakdowns, he is not given much ice time to show what he can do on a full time basis. Dmitri Kalinin is probably the Sabres best talent on D. He is a horse able to play a ton, provide offense and also be the team’s shutdown guy. Hendrik Tallinder is in the mold of Kalinin. He can play lots and be steady in his own end, and chip in a bit on offense but he isnt great at any one thing, just solid in all areas.

These four guys all have one thing in common in that they can all generate offence. They can all lead the rush, all make a good first pass, all are adept at playing the point on the powerplay.

The story is the same at the forward position. Some gritty players but mostly speedy offensive minded skaters.

The Sabres have been led in scoring by one man, Miro Satan. The devil child simply goes out and scores. One day he has zero goals in a long stretch of games, then suddenly he has about 20 goals in 10 games. He can get hot as H E double hockey sticks. They may lose out on him due to his high pay but if he remains, you can count on 30 goals.

Chris Drury and Daniel Briere are an excellent one-two punch at centre. both are terrific playmakers, can skate like the wind and are wizards with the puck. They both may be small but are very slippery and hard to contain in open ice.

There are plenty of finishers like JP Dumont, Max Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht whom Drury and Briere can get the puck to. Kotalik may be the most complete player they have. He has good size and speed and fine hockey sense. He plays more often than other forwards because he can be sound on defence, yet has the potential to score in bunches. Afinogenov is a world class talent. he has all the tools with game breaking speed, dazzling hands and a nose for the net, but he is inconsistent and not strong in his own end which leaves him planted on the Sabres bench most nights. Dumont gives the Sabres a different look with his size and ability to handle himself in front of the net and score plenty of garbage goals. But he also has the speed and skill to keep up with all the fleet footed players Buffalo has. Hecht is another terrific skater, who is hard working and gritty and really generates alot of chances with his energy. He lacks the hands though to be a true finisher but he can pot 25 or so goals a year.

And there is also Taylor Pyatt who has yet to fulfill his potential. He has the talent, size, speed to be a Clarke Gilles type of player who will wear defensemen down in the corners and in front and simply be punishing. yet he fails to do that on a full time basis. Much has to do with his poor defensive play that leaves him in the press box most nights. and he has a regular seat on the bench without much ice time to show what he can do.

And even the young prospects the Sabres have are full of offensive potential. Tomas Vanek has all the tools, size, speed, skill, smarts, to be a top end talent. In time he should develop into a top line sniper. Drew Stafford, their 2004 top pick has power forward potential. His size allows him to work the corners and in front of the net, he has good speed and nice soft hands to finish. he will add a nice balance to the smallish Sabre players. Jason Pominville is another smart offensive player who has an abundance of skill. He scored lots in junior and the Sabres hope that trait continues in the pros. All 3 have the ability to score and that should really help the Sabres in the future.

They also have some decent two way talent in Derek Roy and Dan Paille. Roy should be soon among the better two way, third line centres in the league. He has blazing speed which helps him generate chances on offence but can play a smart checking game if needed. Paille is similar. not as fast but consciencious on defence yet able to grind out a goal or two. He is good on the PK but his offensive skills could make him a shorthanded threat. You throw in a guy like Clarke McArthur who should develop into a solid checking role forward and Ruff has on his hands some steady defensive minded forwards.

Here is where the problem is. Ruff favors such players who will play defence first and will sacrifice scoring to accomplish that. He really only has 3 on his current roster who fit that kind of description. The tough Jay McKee who is unforgiving to any forwards venturing into the Sabres zone, the gritty Mike Grier who uses his size and speed in a strong checking role and Adam Mair who loves hitting anything that moves. This is how Ruff played when he was a player back in the 70s and 80s.

But that is not how the current Sabres should play. With game breakers like Drury, Briere, Afinogenov and puck rushing Dmen like Campbell, going on the offensive should be how the Sabres should play. Playing that way, may net them as many if not more wins, and would certainly put people in the seats. Any hockey fan would appreciate seeing an open style of play. The Sabres have the guys to do it. Ruff sees otherwise and coaches like that have turned the game into the most boring game on ice. He should turn his players loose. Ruff isnt the right guy to coach this team. The best coaches use what is given to them to the fullest advantage. That is why expansion teams play a trap game because they lack enough scoring. Instead Ruff holds his players back and really doesnt play into what he has. It is like telling a home run hitter to bunt. A complete waste.

Hopefully new rules will be implemented to open the game up. Whether that will change Lindy Ruff’s mindset remains to be seen.


11 Responses to Ruff Should Let These Young Buffaloes Roam

  1. ranger_fan says:

    I agree Lindy Ruff must go. I think Joel Q. Would be a great fit. The Sabres could be a very fun team to watch.

    I did catch the Amerks games three times this year. One went into a shootout, which Hamilton won… Vanek was great to watch, and Derek Roy will be a 2nd line center in his career. I don’t think he has the size to be a #1.

    Its been so long since I have followed hockey, and have forgotten most of season moves, but is Jay McKee still around? I know injuries have gotten to him, but he is a solid guy on the blue line, and if I recall he is only 27 or 28, just getting in his prime.

    Great article.

  2. Aetherial says:

    I believe that the Sabres were an up and coming team.

    In fact, I plan on cheering for them when my Leafs hit the basement when hockey begins again.

    Yeah a lot of teams need different coaching, for the good of the league. The league needs a whole new philosophy.

  3. nordiques100 says:

    unfortunately for the Sabres Joel Q is now coach of the Avs.

    McKee should be back to full strength for next season. he has had a year and a half to recover from injuries.

    get ready, your blueshirts are next on the article train.

  4. SabresAreCool says:

    Great article Nord’s but i have to disagree with your opinions of Ruff. Yes in seasons past Ruff has always been a defense first coach. But i think he alters his style with the players he has.

    Back when we had Hasek and we went to the finals our whole team was made up of defensive minded forwards who needed only to score two goals a game and then help hasek shut down the opposing team….but those guys are gone now; with the trading of peca, varada, dixon ward, stu barnes, warrener, curtis brown, we lost most of our top defensive minded players. Up until last season i would have agreed with you, but the sabres were in the top-ten (i believe) in goals for last year. while it took ruff a little too long to coach offense, he did turn the guys loose last year. The sabres began scoring on the rush, and on the power-play. I can’t tell you how exciting these sabres are to watch compared to the old teams….briere, hecht and dumont must have scored have of their goals streaking in on net, not by the old way of chipping the puck down low and grinding in a garbage goal. toss in afinogenov and roy on a line and i realize that ruff did let them go, and i think he’ll stick with that as long as they win

  5. SabresAreCool says:

    While we are talking about the Sabres I’ll take the time to preview the upcoming Sabre Team:

    Dumont-Briere-Hecht

    *Vanek*-Drury-Satan

    Kotalik-Roy-Afinogenov

    Pyatt-Mair-Grier

    Extra forwards: Peters, Connoly (returning from missed season with post concussion syndrome). Vanek Will start with the Sabres after leading the Ahl in rookie scoring (42 goals). He might not start the season as a top six forward but he will get pp minutes and by the end of the season he should be skating with Satan.

    Defense-

    Kalinin-Mckee

    Tallinder-Jillson

    Fitzpatrick-Campbell

    extra’s on D= Brad Brown(when ruff wants physical line-up) James Patrick (40 years old but may return for another season). Obviously the d is weak…Zhitnik’s return is questionable at best but the Sabres really could use him or a different #1 d-man like Hamrlik, Brewer, Jovo, etc…Also Tallinder’s status is foggy due to the sexual allegations from sweden.

    In goal: Biron, Noronen and Miller. One of these guys will be gone by december. Miller has been groomed as the goldenchild so i’d look for biron to be dealt if noronen and miller can step-up. Hopefully Biron could bring in a top-flight d-man.

    In summary the Sabres fell one win from missing the playoffs last yeaR, and are one of the few teams who have been prepping for the lockout for years. so the future is looking bright for them as a young team on the cusp of greatness. I say 7th or 8th seed, unless top teams in the east are really decimated by the new cba, which would only make the sabres stronger and could help them finish top 5.

  6. nordiques100 says:

    I did notice the Sabres playing a bit of a different brand of hockey the last half year of 03/04. it helped them be 10th in goals for. the previous 4 years they finished in the bottom half in scoring. But Afinogenov still seems too restricted in Ruff’s system despite the ability to be an exciting game breaker. drury seemed a bit lost too after years of offense first in colorado.

    and 3 consecutive last place finishes in their division usually spells doom for a coach. and the fact that he has been there for 7 plus years, it appears perhaps the sabres need a fresh face behind the bench.

    but i shouldnt just blame ruff. i mean regier has done a good job piling up youngsters but he should either let ryan miller play or trade him for help in other areas. he is slowly losing his rank as the top young goalie prospect not in the nhl. he should either be given a chance to play in the nhl or moved out. or at least move noronen for the same reasons.

    and if afinogenov and dumont and pyatt continue to end up in the doghouse, perhaps moving them for help would be best. i am sure he could get a big return for those players. they are still young and have lots of talent. i think they just need a change in scenery.

    and if he loses satan for nothing when there was many chances to move his contract out, that would be a shame.

    and he is the one who moved peca out. that was a mistake. i think that is why he is so gun shy to trade anyone again.

  7. adambuffalo says:

    I’ll start by saying I completely agree that Ruff should go. I would like to see a good young coach in there who will let themhave some offensive freedom. I really liked Nolan as our coach and wish he didn’t get fired in the first place.

    Second, I don’t know why people keep saying Zhitnik is our best defenceman. He is horrible. I believe Buffalo should have traded him 5 years ago. They always miss their chance at then end of the year when teams are looking for veteran players for the playoffs. I am so glad he won’t be back next year.

    Now for goaltending. Ryan Miller was named the 2004-05 recipient of the Aldege “Baz” Bastien award as the American Hockey League’s Outstanding Goalie. He is also the first goalie in the AHL to record 40+ wins since Gerry Cheevers won a league-record 48 in 1965. He also set a team record of 8 shutouts in a season. Looking at this, how can anyone say “he is slowly losing his rank as the top young goalie prospect not in the nhl?” I think he will be a starter next season with Noronen. I think Biron will be the traded. Hopefully we can deal him with Zhitnik and get a good defenseman in return.

    I think Buffalo has a good young core of players, especially with Vanek who led the AHL in rookie scoring. I look for them to finish around 6th in the East next season. That is if Lindy allows them to play like they are able to.

    Good article nord, thanks for taking my request.

  8. nordiques100 says:

    well you did ask nicely for the sabres to be next so i delivered.

    what i meant to say about miller is either play him or trade him and get top value for him. otherwise he just looks like a guy who is a good minor league goalie if he cant beat out biron or noronen. they are burying him down there. he is really only kept down in the minors cause of his two way contract. the longer he plays full seasons in the AHL the less of a prospect he becomes. he is not getting any younger. he is already 25. i really think miller is the guy who will push the sabres over the top. sure biron and maybe noronen could get them to the playoffs but miller may be the one who can succeed there. problem is regier is too reluctant to do anything about the logjam in goal.

    i think miller has proven himself already in the A and needs to be at the NHL level. Ruff gives him a game or two and sends him down after a bad period. since they were last place finishers the last 3 years, they should have at least given miller several games to get NHL experience. basically he is a wasted talent in Rochester.

    yet another reason for buffalo to get rid of Ruff

  9. hockeyhead says:

    nords, may i have a bruins article…before june 15th? summer is a bad time for me to visit the site. thanks in advance.

  10. ranger_fan says:

    hooray.

    Joel with the Avs? Ive lost all recent transactions lol.

    Is Granato back to assistant or did he get the pink slip?

  11. nordiques100 says:

    granato got demoted. he was in over his head as the head coach. he should have started in the minors or jr hockey at least. that series against the wild was proof enough

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