How Swede...It Might Be.

How Swede...It Might Be.

If there is one piece of the Buffalo Sabres puzzle that's questionable heading into the upcoming 2016-17 season, it is the goaltenders.

This season, the Sabres are seemingly ‘set’ with a pair of Swedes in net: Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson. This is arguably a big question mark for the Sabres, as Nilsson is new to the organization and Lehner barely played last year due to injuries, so really, what can we expect?

Let's take it one piece at a time, starting with Lehner.

The 25-year-old has played a handful of games in each of the last six NHL seasons -- but he's never been in a position to handle the majority of a team's workload. The most action he's seen in a single season came with the Senators in 2013-14, when he appeared in 36 games and racked up a 3.06 GAA and .913 save percentage.

Fast-forward to last season, when Lehner was locked in as the Sabres' starting netminder, with expectations high. That was all shattered in the season opener when Lehner suffered an ankle injury, sidelining him until mid-January.

He came back for about two months and appeared in 20 games before being shut down once again -- this time for the remainder of the season.

If all of this says one thing, it's that Lehner is largely unproven -- at least in the capacity of a starting goaltender, and that may be exactly the position he's heading into this season. The big question is whether or not he can stay healthy, and it IS a big question.

Lehner was recently named to Team Sweden for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, but was replaced by former Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth on August 26. It's believed that Lehner pulled out of the World Cup in order to have more time to fully recover from his surgery earlier this year, and to be ready for the regular season. That would certainly be a smart move; there is no reason to rush back for a seemingly-pointless tournament when the season is right around the corner. Still, it remains unclear whether he will actually be ready to hit the ice when October comes.

Behind Lehner, Nilsson is also quite untested, with just 52 NHL games under his belt since 2011.

Like Lehner, he's never been in a position to be an NHL starting goalie (and likely isn't in that position here), but has been growing through the AHL over the past few seasons.

Last season, Nilsson bounced around a little bit, appearing in 26 games for the Edmonton Oilers and two games for the Bakersfield Condors. He also played three games for the St. Louis Blues.

Now, with his journey to Buffalo, he'll suit up with his seventh team in four seasons.

Personally, I'm uneasy at best about the Sabres goaltending situation this season. Lehner hasn't proven himself as a solid starter just yet, and his injury problems last season are troubling. If he goes out early like last year, can Nilsson step up? Even if Lehner stays healthy, he won't play every single game, so Nilsson has to be able to fill in.

Obviously, what's done is done, but part of me still wishes GMTM hadn't let Chad Johnson walk away. He was an uncertain piece heading into last season, but proved himself when he had to step up in Lehner's absence, and I wouldn't have minded seeing him back in the blue and gold.

Alas, that didn't happen, and the Sabres are likely to start the year off with the Lehner-Nilsson tandem. Can Buffalo finally find some consistency in net?

Over the past three seasons, 12 different goaltenders have seen the ice in at least one game for the Sabres, including four last season and five in the prior season. The Sabres need to return to a strong one-two punch if they hope to really step up their game this season, and while I'm nervous about this season's tandem, it is all we can do to hope they both step up.

Evand-DUN-DUN-DONE!

Evand-DUN-DUN-DONE!

Over the past few months, Evander Kane’s middle name has been “Trouble.” He’s walked into several troublesome situations (which have escalated to legal proceedings,) leading to a lot of questions regarding the Buffalo Sabres forward and his future with the team – or if he should even have one.

He shouldn’t.

A variety of accusations – ranging from sexual assault to harassment and trespassing – have been levied against Kaneover the past year. These legal concerns certainly sour Kane’s reputation (which was already quite tarnished,) but more importantly, they have serious potential to make the Sabres organization look bad as well. His actions cast the team’s name into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  (http://sabres.buffalonews.com/2016/08/01/evander-kane-sued-over-december-assault-allegations/)

That is why the Buffalo Sabres need to cut ties with Kane. Their best option is to release him, so as to disassociate themselves with his legal troubles and his problematic persona.

Releasing Kane would leave the Sabres on the hook for $12 million over the next two seasons, but this financial burden is nothing compared to the trouble of having Kane on the team.

This situation has played out before; there will be those who cry out, “But what about Kane as a hockey player? He’s too good to let go!” To those people, I have to say this: Being a hockey player and being a human are not two separate things. On-ice conduct and off-ice conduct are not mutually exclusive, and you can’t separate one side from the other. Yes, Kane had 35 points in 65 games last season. Maybe he’d put up similar numbers this year.  But it doesn’t matter. NOT ONE BIT. What he can do on the ice is absolutely irrelevant when you consider what he’s (allegedly) done off the ice. Hockey is just a game.

This is the one move that the Sabres can do instantaneously. A buyout is not an option since the period has closed, and a trade could potentially take weeks – even months, to work out. Releasing Kane is the easiest chance the Sabres have of ridding themselves of his behavioral patterns, and it’s a move they can do as early as right now.

Would having that $12 million on the board for the next two seasons hurt the Sabres financially? Sure, it might sting a little, but by and large Buffalo already has some key players locked up for the next two seasons (and some, even further), including O’Reilly, Okposo, Reinhart and Eichel. Kane isn’t the building block of this Buffalo team, and releasing him wouldn’t be the end-all, be-all to the team’s offensive power. It would, however, be the end to the Sabres having to deal with his off-ice conduct.

As it stands right now, at least publicly, the Sabres haven’t dealt with it much. They did suspend him when he missed practice after the NBA All-Star Game, but that’s where the punishments end. We haven’t seen any actions taken toward Kane as a result of the December allegations or these new charges. There is now a pending lawsuit regarding the December incident, and the Sabres have been silent on the matter. If anything, it seems like the Sabres are largely publicly ignoring the entire situation.

As if the repeated occurrences weren’t enough of a PR nightmare the Sabres’ recently tweeted, wishing Kane a ‘Happy Birthday.’ It makes sense for a team to wish its players well on their birthdays on social media, but this tweet came just one day after Kane was arraigned on harassment charges. It was in bad taste – a viewpoint that’s further supported by the replies to the team’s post. Many of the replies from fans around the league are either blatant rape jokes or question who in their right mind gave the approval for that tweet. Both Buffalo fans and those around the league are already challenging the manner in which the Sabres are dealing with Kane. What they choose to do moving forward can further damage public opinion of the team, but if they do the right thing, they may be able repair their reputation.

It seems like the only public acknowledgment of Kane’s situation came back in June at the NHL Draft. General manager Tim Murray briefly addressed Kane’s legal troubles, saying the team would “deal with it” if the accusations were true. A month and a half later, Kane’s turned himself into police for the Bottom’s Up incident, and he’s been arraigned on the charges. He’ll head back to court on September 9. Currently, he  is being sued by the woman involved in the December incident at the Buffalo Marriott HARBORCENTER for physical battery, however, Kane’s attorney has announced their intent to bring a countersuit for filing false claims.

The only statement from the team has been a two-sentence whisper that was mostly a non-comment on July 22 – almost a month after the Bottom’s Up incident.

When *is* the team going to really deal with this situation? After his court date? After he’s sentenced to jail time or punished in accordance with the charges? When training camp comes around? Never?

The time is now, and the best way to do that at this point is for the Sabres to release Kane. Cut ties with him and allow the organization to start the 2016-2017 season with a clean slate. Twelve million dollars seems like a lot to pay a player who isn’t actually playing for your team, but getting rid of a player with an awful reputation and a lot of legal troubles? That’s priceless.


If you haven't yet, check out our newest show featuring 2 Sabres legends, Don Luce and Craig Muni, as they come on and discuss the new and pretty amazing Fandoozy.com and Don tells us how escaped the freaking KGB with Alexander Mogilny while helping him defect to America to play for Buffalo. AMAZING STORY!

Everything you need to know about Sabres development camp

Everything you need to know about Sabres development camp

The Buffalo Sabres are holding their annual prospect development camp this week, with on-ice sessions to take place at HarborCenter over the course of the next several days. The camp includes a Blue & Gold Scrimmage on Saturday, July 9 and an intra-squad French Connection Tournament on Tuesday, July 12.

Development camp offers a chance for the Buffalo Sabres organization and its fans to get a closer look at some of the team’s prospects, which includes the 2016 NHL Draft picks, as well as a handful of invited players the team may sign moving forward.

Though there isn’t the big draw of Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart at this year’s camp, there are still plenty of players to fans can look forward to.

Four players who spent time in the NHL last season will be at camp; forwards Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching and Evan Rodrigues will be in attendance, as well as goaltender Linus Ullmark.

Though Bailey, Rodrigues and Ullmark spent most of last season with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, they also saw limited time in the NHL. Bailey was third on the Amerks with 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) through 70 games last season, while Rodrigues registered 30 points (9g, 21a) in 72 games. Ullmark posted a record of 10-16 with a .902 save percentage and 3.41 goals against average in his first season in North America.

The notable trio also each made their NHL debuts this past season. Bailey was pointless in eight games, while Fasching put up two points (1g, 1a) in seven his games played. Rodrigues scored his first NHL goal and added an assist in two games. Ullmark went 8-10-0 with a .913 save percentage and 2.60 GAA.

A handful of other players who spent last season with the Amerks will also be at development camp this week. This includes wingers Nicholas Baptiste, William Carrier and Jean Dupuy.

Baptiste - a 2013 draft pick - posted 28 points (13g, 15a) in 62 games in his rookie AHL season. Carrier (who was acquired via trade in 2014) recorded 30 points, which included AHL-career highs in goals and assists in just 56 games. Dupuy, who was also signed by the Sabres in 2014, scored 21 points (8g, 13a) in 74 games.

The majority of the players attending development camp are the Sabres’ draft picks from the past four years - all of the players picked up in the 2016 NHL Draft are scheduled to attend, as well as several from drafts past.

First-round selection Alexander Nylander will give Sabres fans a first glance at just what this left winger can do on the ice. Last season, Nylander recorded 75 points (28g, 47a) in 57 games with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League.

Meanwhile, second-round selection Rasmus Asplund will bring his talents to North America after recording 12 points (4g, 8a) in 46 games with Farjestad BK through 2015-16.

Asplund (3rd from the right) and Nylander (2nd from left) have history of playing together. 

Asplund (3rd from the right) and Nylander (2nd from left) have history of playing together. 

Third-round picks Cliff Pu (31 points in 63 games with London, OHL) and Casey Fitzgerald (defenseman out of Boston College who recored 27 points in 39 games) will also both be at the camp.

Left wings Brett Murray and Brandon Hagel, and defensemen Philip Nyberg, Vojtech Budik, Austin Osmanski, as well as center Vasily Glotov are also scheduled to be in Buffalo for development camp. Of all the Sabres’ picks, Osmanski undoubtedly is the most familiar with the area, having grown up in East Aurora and played with both the Buffalo Regals and Buffalo Jr. Sabres organizations.

Aside from the 2016 prospects, five of the Sabres’ six picks from the 2015 NHL Draft will be at this week’s camp; Jack Eichel is the lone exception.

Before joining the Amerks for a short time, center Giorgio Estephan put up 74 points in 59 games with Lethbridge last season. Stepan, as well as defensemen Brendan Guhle, William Borgen, Devante Stephens and Ivan Chukarov, will take the ice with the Sabres' best and brightest.

Continuing to go back in the Sabres draft history, seven of the team’s 2014 draft selections will be at camp. Although Reinhart isn’t on the list, there are still some notable names to watch here, including steady defender Brycen Martin, QMJHL right winger Vaclav Karabacek, and Boston College center Christopher Brown. Centers Eric Cornel and Maxwell Willman, right wing Victor Olofsson and goaltender Jonas Johansson round out the crop of 2014 picks.

In addition to Bailey and Baptiste, a trio of other players from the 2013 NHL Draft will be at this year’s camp. Center Connor Hurley, defenseman Anthony Florentino and goaltender Cal Petersen will all be in attendance. Petersen may be one of the top goalies to watch this year; he went 19-11-7 with a .927 save percentage and 2.20 GAA at Notre Dame.

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from Ullmark, only one 2012 draft pick is heading to camp - right winger Judd Peterson, who just wrapped up his second season at St. Cloud State. He more than tripled his point totals from his freshman year, recording 23 points (16g, 7a) in 38 games.

The rest of the roster for development camp consists of invited players - a handful of whom come from the Ontario Hockey League. The list includes a teammate of Nylander and Osmanski, who played in Mississauga - 20-year-old right wing Daniel Muzito-Bagenda. The forward put up 37 points (20G, 17A) in 63 games last season with the Steelheads and signed an AHL contract with the Amerks on July 2.

Defensemen Jalen Chatfield (Windsor,) Frank Hora (Kitchener,) and Ryan Mantha (Niagara) round out the OHLers on the camp roster. Chatfield just wrapped up his second season with the Spitfires, where he registered 37 points and 45 penalty minutes, and finished the regular season a plus-22.

Hora, another Western New York native, recently finished his third season in the OHL with the Rangers. He registered 15 points and 55 penalty minutes and was a plus-15 in the regular season. Hora has prior experience playing in the Buffalo area, including with the Jr. Sabres of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Mantha, originally a 2014 pick of the New York Rangers, just finished his second OHL season with the Ice Dogs after spending three years in the USHL, split between Sioux City and Indiana. He registered 10 points in 17 playoff games with Niagara, after scoring 25 points in 65 regular season games.

Two players from the QMJHL also join development camp this year - defenseman David Henley and goaltender Antoine Samuel. Henley split last season between Charlottetown and Val-D’Or and registered 138 penalty minutes as well as 18 points in 61 games played.

Samuel, 18, went 5-16-2 with Baie-Comeau this past season, recording a 3.62 GAA and .887 save percentage. The Lac Etchemin, Quebec native previously played with Shawinigan of the QMJHL and Granby of the QJHL.

Finally, the Sabres have invited several college defensemen (or alumni) to this year’s development camp.

That list begins with former Clarkson Golden Knight Paul Geiger, who just wrapped up his fourth season at the university. Over four years, Geiger appeared in 150 collegiate games, recording 51 points in that time. At 23, Geiger will be the oldest player at this year’s camp.

Another name to look for is defenseman Michael Campoli. Campoli played last season with the USA U-18 team and the USNTDP in the USHL. He’s not a big point-scorer, but was once among the top prospects in the QMJHL draft. Campoli is a dual-citizen who committed to joining Boston College this fall, and he’s said that he hopes to become a lawyer after his hockey career wraps up.

Twenty-one year-old defenseman Daniel Brickley also joins camp out of Minnesota State - Mankato. The Utah native recorded 11 points and 20 penalty minutes and was a plus-9 in 36 games in his first season playing in the WCHA.

Rounding out the development camp roster out is St. Lawrence University blueliner Nolan Gluchowski. The 22-year-old registered a plus-17 and 47 penalty minutes in 37 games this season, adding 16 points along the way. He’s previously played in the USHL with Sioux Falls and Tri-City and in the NAHL with Kalamazoo.

There you have it -  a whole host of prospects to check out at this week’s Sabres development camp. On-ice workouts begin Wednesday afternoon, with sessions from 2:15 - 3:30 and 4:15 - 5:30. Thursday, sessions run from 9:50 - 11:20 a.m. and 1:20 - 2:50 p.m., with Friday’s sessions running from 9:50 - 11:15 a.m. and 1:45 - 3:05 p.m. All those sessions are free and open to the public.

Camp continues on Saturday, July 9 with the Blue & Gold Scrimmage at 1 p.m. Tickets are $20 each.

The final day of free on-ice workouts is Monday, July 11, with sessions from 9:50 - 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 - 2:50 p.m. Camp then wraps up with the French Connection Tournament at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, July 12. Tickets for the tournament are $10 each.

For a printable roster and to purchase tickets to either the scrimmage or the tournament, visit: http://sabres.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=888056&navid=DL|BUF|home.

Kyle Okposo: Pros and Cons

Kyle Okposo: Pros and Cons

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray didn't let disappointment from the end of Stamkosmania have any carryover into the start of Free Agency, as the Sabres were quick on the draw following the noon start of the free agent rush.

Buffalo reeled in the name at the top of many experts' lists of available players with today's announced signing of former Islanders winger Kyle Okposo to a 7-year, $42 million deal ($6 million AAV). The twenty-eight year old  right winger is coming off his third twenty plus goal season, a season that saw him seeing more second line minutes as opposed to benefiting from the strong playmaking skills of Isles captain John Tavares.

Pros - Although the Sabres top six for next season is still in flux, Okposo is a strong finisher who would fit in well alongside whatever center he ended up with. At 217 pounds, Okposo is strong on the puck, and able to win physical battles for  contested spots on the ice. Whether it's in the corners or in front of the net, he's not shy about getting his nose dirty to make a play. 

Okposo is also in possession of a lethally accurate shot. In comparison to another recent Sabres acquisition, Evander Kane, Okposo had two more goals last season while also taking 70 less shots (10.9% of KO's shots tickled the twine, as opposed to 7.4% of Kane's). This accuracy also translates well to a powerplay unit he's likely to be featured on, where he had 7 powerplay goals, and 16 powerplay assists last season.

PRO: Kyle also loves canines!

PRO: Kyle also loves canines!

Cons - For someone who possesses all the talent that he has, a feeling throughout the league is that he's never really lived up to his potential. While the best may still be yet to come, as the years go on, fans may begin to wonder if he's reached his ceiling as a second line winger who's good for 20 goals a year, or if he can actually produce longterm at a top line level.

His defensive awareness isn't as sharp as it is in the offensive end, as he's been a minus player in all his seasons with the Islanders, except the lockout shortened year.

Durability is a concern over the course of an 82 game season, as he tends to miss games towards the end of the year (he's never played a full 82 games). 

Below is a chart comparing Okposo to other early day one signings Andrew Ladd and Milan Lucic (thanks to @RK_Stimp for the awesome graph.)

 

 

Oh, Steve. What Could Have Been...

Oh, Steve. What Could Have Been...

Thanks,   @garretw5

Thanks, @garretw5

Dear Steve,

Damnable damn, Stamkos. Whence last we spoke, I regretfully said I couldn’t come up with a fantastic, personalized goal call for you. Now that I have (STAM JAM!) it’s all for naught. You’ve committed to the white and blue for 75% of what we would have paid you here in Buffalo - the legendary ‘hometown discount,’ though, we all know Buffalo is closer to home than any other city in the big 50.

What could have been? History. That is precisely what you’ve missed out on. Not only would Buffalo have made you the highest paid player in NHL history, we would have taken you to the next level in your personal history. Your legacy would have been the one piece that Tim Murray needed to take his team all the way. For the first time in Buffalo. Ever. Did you watch the Cavaliers’ celebrations? The Lebron parade in Akron? It would have been like that. But way, way better. Ask Alex Nylander. He got a taste this weekend.

Believe us, we understand the idea of loving the city you play for. Dozens of former players and coaches stay here in Buffalo because they came and they couldn’t leave. They couldn’t leave because once you go to Hockey Heaven, you can’t leave. The actual body of Tim Horton is bronzed and placed on a street corner, per his final wishes. That’s how much hockey loves Buffalo.

Of course, Buffalo loves hockey, as well. You probably heard the collective swoon as Tim Murray swore he’d be chasing the big fish in free agency. He didn’t say ‘big fish.’ He said “THE BIG FISH.” THE=YOU. And Buffalo fell hard - eyes popping out of heads, hearts pounding out of chests HARD. For one shining moment, we believed.

Perhaps our adoration was a bit premature, but it’s what we do. We fall in love hard and fast, and so we get burned. A lot. You’re not the first and you won’t be the last, so it’s almost an afterthought just to be writing this letter. But here we are.

I’d like to say good luck, but it would be quite insincere. You are now our direct competition - the perennial Eastern Conference semi-finalists; we’re going to meet in some meaningful games soon, and I do not wish you luck in those matchups. I wish you a broken skate blade and sticks that snap like...well...twigs….

And finally, because it’s the most Buffalo thing I can think of, I want to thank you. Thanks for keeping us in the news. Thanks for giving Murray a reason to smile. Thanks for now giving him a reason to create the best hockey team ever to take the ice, if only to bury you with the rest of the bodies in some Saskatchewan wasteland, probably. That cold, dead stare…*shudder*

Peace out, Stamnope. Enjoy your early bird dinners and your shuffleboard. And your mosquito outbreaks. And Zika. Probably.

Much love;

The 716 Sports Podcast

91 REASONS STEVEN STAMKOS SHOULD COME TO BUFFALO: THE 5TH AND FINAL EDITION

91 REASONS STEVEN STAMKOS SHOULD COME TO BUFFALO: THE 5TH AND FINAL EDITION

We've all heard the big news - GMTM and T-Pegs are prepared to offer former Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos 12 MILLION CLAMS a season to come hockey for the blue and gold. Everyone has weighed in on whether it's a good idea or a bad idea or an OK idea; opinions are like...well...you know. We here at the 716 Sports Podcast have been the leading edge to get 91 into the Buffalo history books. At midnight tonight, NHL general managers can begin to talk with a free agent's representation, and so there is no better time to present our final episode of "91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo."

Here's the rest!  PART 1   PART 2    PART 3    PART 4

73. Butter Lambs! They are buttery and look like a lamb? Have you ever seen or heard of such a thing? Right? They don’t have that in Toronto (probably). And Stamkos is probably Polish, so go to the Broadway Market and mingle with your (probable) people!

Thanks, BuffaloButterLambs.com

Thanks, BuffaloButterLambs.com

74. You already know to avoid towns with a ‘W’ in the second to last syllable! We’ve made it easy for you. There is zero reason to ever visit Lackawanna, Tonawanda or Cheektowaga. Just trust us!

75. The Buffalo Destroyers! It’s like the Argonauts, but instead of playing inside a dome, they play in a super small dome. Hey, that’s where you will play too! I’m going to look up the sched…ooooohhhhhh…uh, let me get back to you on this.

76. Chain restaurants! And they are way better than Swiss Chalet! We have at least four different chains, including Applebee’s, where you can eat good in the neighborhood!

77. Carl Paladino! He doesn’t apologize for anything and you will definitely be cooler and more popular than him, so feel free to start brushing up on the First Amendment, because that’s your new gravy boat!

78. Hospitals! Unlike Tampa or Toronto, we have honest to goodness hospitals that don’t have lines for old people or socialized healthcare! That’s pretty nifty, in my opinion, even though you won’t get hurt and have anymore ribs removed (pleasepleasepleaseplaseplease)!

79. Niagara Falls International Airport! A majestic tribute to modern architecture, this hidden gem is located on Niagara Falls Boulevard so you don’t even really need to remember a dumb address like Bay Street! And it has cheap prices as long as you don’t have luggage and want to go to Naples (Florida)!

80. Basically everyone in the division is in Florida or Canada already! So why bother? You don’t have to live in either of those places, but you can still visit (if you want to live in Canada, then ok that’s cool too)!

81. Doug Allen will sing at your birthday party! Now, he only knows two songs, and neither is Happy Birthday, but still…imagine a rousing rendition of The Star Spangled Banner before you blow out the candles (please do not blow out the candles before he points at the cake)!

Doug Allen wants to sing Happy Birthday to YOU!  Thanks, AnthemGuy.com

Doug Allen wants to sing Happy Birthday to YOU!

Thanks, AnthemGuy.com

82. We pretended to be New York City in that brief part of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie trailer! I know! The 33 finally got some shine. And you can drive on it, too! We can close it if you want to drag race Evander sometime!

83. Above ground pools! Way more convenient than those dumb ones in the ground, the above ground pool is a true sign of awesomeness here! And it’s usable for almost an entire two-season cycle!

84. If you and I ever were together at the express checkout line at Wegmans, I will totally let you budge! Looks like you only have some almond milk and a sixer of Alexander Keith’s, my man. Nah its fine, you go ahead. For real! I insist. You have a good day too!

85. We can come up with a new nickname! Stammer or Stamer is cool and all, but new beginnings call for a new image. May I suggest Steve the Sniper? Or how about Steve the Best Hockey Player?! That’s pretty good!

86. Tim Horton’s! This is a local café and bake shop that started in Buffalo and is only in Buffalo and is important! We retired the founder’s number, too! Buffalo!

87. Lots of local colleges! Canisius, Niagara, St. Bonaventure, Medaille, Daemen, Buffalo State, SUNY University of Buffalo at Amherst near Canada but not in Canada since Buffalo 14226 College of Education…they are all great!

88. Chicken wings! Did you know that before 1960, chickens didn’t have wings? Crazy! But now they do, and it’s all thanks to the ingenuity of the Nickel City! All modern chickens have them, and it makes the world a little bit tastier!

89. It’s a simple drive to Rochester and Syracuse! There are so many gems on the I90 with famous people from there, like George Eastman and Jim Boeheim and probably a whole bunch of others, I bet!

90. Bunch of old buildings that now have lights and stuff on them! Hey Steve, quick question for you…what should we do with this abandoned grain silo? How about paint some beer logos or shine some lights on them?! Boom! Problem solved, plus they can still put grain in there. Or all of your money and Hart Trophies!

91. We really want the Stanley Cup! Like, a lot! Our entire sense of self-worth as a community is basically dependent on you coming here and winning big. This is not an exaggerated statement. Please. Steve. Steven. Stamkos. Kos. Come here. Please. 

91 REASONS STEVEN STAMKOS SHOULD COME TO BUFFALO: PART 4

91 REASONS STEVEN STAMKOS SHOULD COME TO BUFFALO: PART 4

Here at the 716 Sports Podcast we are on a bit of a recruiting mission for the city.  We put together 91 reasons why superstar, Steven Stamkos, should bring his talents to Western New York. Here is part FOUR. Numbers 55-72. You can links to parts, 1, 2, and 3 below:

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

55. We Might Name A Cereal After You - Whether it’s a box of TO’s or the classic Flutie Flakes, we have no issues mixing our sports with our breakfast food. Do you prefer “Stamk-O’s” of “Frosted Skates”?
56. We Don’t Get Hurricanes - While yes, we do host Carolina, we manage to avoid the weather phenomena. I know snowstorms aren’t the greatest, but they usually don’t level entire cities, and Tampa was recently rated the most vulnerable city in the nation to hurricanes so…
57. You’re Used to Playing In Front of a Big Goalie - Allow me to introduce you to Robin Lehner. He’s like Ben Bishop, only a little shorter and 300% more crazy.
58. The Sabres Have More History - The Lightning have only been a team since 1992. Are you even trying, Tampa Bay?
59. Championship Caliber Roommates - The Buffalo Bandits are the most successful team in Buffalo sports history, and bring an amazing atmosphere to the FNC. Lacrosse is the official summer sport of Canada, as you surely know.
60. Toronto is Already Moving on - If your name isn’t Auston Matthews, good luck on getting your face on the game program opening night.
61. Rasmus Ristolainen - We’re in contract talks to lock down our number one defenceman of the future. The foundation of this team is more than just Jack and Sam. Also worth mentioning Jack and Sam again.
62. The Jays Minor League Team is Here - You can get your GTA sports fix just down the road from the arena by watching the future stars of the Toronto Blue Jays hone their skills for the Buffalo Bisons.
63. Architecture is Actually Super Cool - Whether it’s the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Darwin Martin House, City Hall, or any number of other awesome buildings, we have a smattering of many different schools of architecture on display.
64. Canadian Radio - If you’re ever feeling a little homesick, your radio will bring you tunes and talk from the Great White North
65. Our Tailgate Scene is Unrivaled - Ever taken a powerbomb through a table delivered by a drunk Bills fan in a Batman mask? Would you like to? If you answered yes to either of these, have I got some good news for you.
66. Quality Power Play Minutes - The Sabres finished the year 12th in Power Play efficiency, a good bit ahead of the 28th place Lightning. Just close your eyes in picture all those cross-crease one time feeds Eichel will give you, Stammer.
67. Pizza - I’m no globetrotter, but I’ve never found the pizza anywhere else in this country to be nearly as good as it is at any family run place here in the 716. You don’t even know what you’re missing out on, and that’s what makes this so sad.
68. Cap Room - Not only do we have a dump truck full of money to deposit on your doorstep, we also have a few smaller dump trucks to surround you with Terry’s Tons’O’Talent (™) 
69. Our Theatre District is Top Notch - Buffalo is home to upwards of twenty different theatre companies that run the full gamut of anything you could ever want to see on a stage.
70. Ryan O’Reilly - Not to be lost in the shuffle of talented teammates you’d encounter, as we’re still pretty excited to see this man get another season in the blue and gold. You’ll get a nice selection of linemates to gel with.
71. Canadian Bands Frequent Us - If you’re aching to see some stars from the great white north, you won’t have to go far, as everyone from the Tragically Hip to Billy Talent cross the border with regularity. The shows are also full of Canadians, so you’ll feel even more at home.
72. Outdoor Rinks - Miss the days of your youth when winters were spent outdoors on a sheet of ice that wouldn’t last a minute in Tampa Bay? Fear not, because you’ll find ice at Canalside, Fountain plaza, and a bunch of your neighbor’s houses in all likelihood. We’ll even help you construct one of your own as a thank you.  

Part 5 will be up very soon. It's by far the best and most funny. You DON'T want to miss it! Come back on Wednesday! In the meantime, listen to out most recent podcast where we re-drafted the 1st round of the 2007 NHL Draft! Did Pat Kane stay at #1? Who went 2nd? Find out!

AS ALWAYS, we are brought to you by the Lockhouse Distillery and Bar in the Cobblestone district.

 

 

91 REASONS STEVEN STAMKOS SHOULD COME TO BUFFALO: PART 3

91 REASONS STEVEN STAMKOS SHOULD COME TO BUFFALO: PART 3

The continuation of 91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo. This is part 3.  If you've missed parts 1 & 2, you can find them here --> PART 1 - PART 2

37.) We gave Terrell Owens a key to the city!
T.O. was a washed up WR when he signed, imagine what we’ll do for one of the NHL’s top goalscorers.

Thanks, ESPN.

Thanks, ESPN.

38.) Party with the Ryan boys!
Your new biggest fans (see what I did there?) are Rex and Rob Ryan, Buddy Ryan’s twin large adult sons and  the head coach and defensive assistant head coach (or whatever) of the your favorite NFL team, the Buffalo Bills. They’ll be watching you from the stands while wearing XXXL #91 jerseys and will take you out on the town after the game!

Thanks, ooyuz.com.

Thanks, ooyuz.com.

39.) You’ll get to know ALL of your teammates.
Thanks to Dan Bylsma’s strict policy of never keeping a line together for more than one game, you’ll have the chance to skate on a line with each and every one of your teammates, and half of the Rochester Americans.

40.) You’ll be famous, unlike in Tampa.
Those Florida people are too busy, like, going to the beach or whatever to pay attention to hockey. We love our hockey here, so you’ll instantly be one of the most well-known guys in town.

41.) But we won’t be dicks about it, unlike in Toronto.
Sure, we love hockey, but we don’t pretentiously call ourselves “the centre of the hockey universe,” and our media market has never been described as a “pressure cooker.” Score some goals, visit kids at Roswell Park occasionally, and we’ll love you forever, no matter what Jerry Sullivan and Mike Harrington say about you.

42.) Our weather is exciting and interesting!
Day after day of 75 degrees and sunny must get really boring. Come to Buffalo, where if you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and it’ll change!

43.) Deer just come right up to you in your backyard.
I mean, if you’re into hunting and stuff, just visit Jim Kelly’s house and there will be deer to shoot. This approach worked with Mario Williams, so we’re just covering our bases here.

44.) Markham, Ontario is 1 hr, 55 min away.
If you need Mom’s home cooking, it’s just a straight shot up the QEW to your hometown. Of course, with the money you’ll be making, you can take a private jet north, like your new teammate Evander Kane did for the NBA All-Star Game. Just make sure you wake on-tine for practice the next morning!

45.) We’re basically Canada anyway
Buffalo gets some of the highest TV ratings in the US for hockey, and Labatt and Molson are basically considered domestic beers here, so you’ll feel right at home.

46.) Cheap real estate
Buffalo is a great place to buy an amazing house for a fraction of what you’d pay in most other cities. Ask Ryan O’Reilly, who bought Tyler Myers’ old place in Parkside for $1.3 million. Basically, get one of the nicest houses in Buffalo for the price of a decent apartment in NYC or Toronto.

47.) Once you come here, you’ll never want to leave
Former Bills and Sabres live all over the area. From Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas to Jay McKee and Martin Biron, once you’ve suited up for a Buffalo team, you’re part of the family even after you retire. 

48.) Old School Stories
At this year's Sabres alumni dinner you can hear Gilles Hamel talk about that sweet goal he had against Boston in the 84-85 season

49.) Again, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart will be your teammates
Once more, with feeling. We really can’t stress this enough. Maybe Bylsma will put you guys on a line and you can start setting scoring records.

50.) The Letter Z(ed)
We understand the difference between Z and Zed and we’re cool with it.

51.) Exchange Rate
If you stand at the foot of Hertel ave. in Buffalo you can wave American dollars at your Canadian brethren and yell “Exchange Rates Matter!!!”

52.) Ice Time Matters
Barry Melrose will never be the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres

53.) Home Ice
Your first game in a Sabres sweater won’t be in the Czech Republic.

54.) Birthday Parties
October 28th 2017 Jack Eichel doesn't need a chalked ID to enjoy a beer in Buffalo. Remember your 21st birthday party? Time to relive some memories.

Be sure to tune in to parts 4 and 5 that are coming VERY soon! 

 

91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo: PART 2

91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo: PART 2

Thanks to Sabres Talk 365 and NHL 365 for the photo! Find them on Facebook and YouTube.

Thanks to Sabres Talk 365 and NHL 365 for the photo! Find them on Facebook and YouTube.

Our feedback says that all of you loved part one, so, it's time for PART 2 of "91 Reasons Why Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo"  Below are reasons #19-36.  If you enjoy this, please share it with your friends!  Parts 3-5 will be releasing throughout the week. Be sure to keep coming back. You won't want to miss PART 5!

19.) Haaaaave you met, Jack?

Have you seen this prodigy, Steve-o?  Jack will willfully supply you with endless tape-to-tape passes at the top of that there circle for you to fire away at-will. Can you say, “PP1 unit?”

^^ Thanks to @LindyRuffsTie for the GIF!! Made it just for us! ^^

20.) Sam Reinhart

Samson is pretty okay at hockey too. If you want to play center as you so desired in Tampa, Sammy  will likely be your flank and assist you on your merry way to many more 30-40 goal seasons.

21.) HarborCenter

Look at that palace that Terry built! I’m sure he’ll put you up in said palace while you find a cozy spot to call home. You won’t have very far to go for practices on home games! Just an elevator trip away :)

22.) Grain Mills!

Speaking of finding a home, we have a wide array of state of the art grain mills circa 1842 that you can convert into a modern, contemporary, open concept, huge waterfront mansion!

23.) Buffalo has hardworking preservationists.

That amazing home that you and a developer collaborated on -  just got shut down by Buffalo’s finest preservationists. They’ve just saved you millions of dollars!

THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!!  -Thanks to WGRZ for the photo.

THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!!  -Thanks to WGRZ for the photo.

24.) The city board can be helpful.

Congratulations! You’ve won your case against Buffalo’s pesky preservationists! Proceed with that conversion and fix up that eye sore!

25.) Buffalo has great birds.

Unfortunately, environmentalists have just shut down all progress on your home again because birds fly at that elevation.  Sorry, Steve!

AGAIN,...THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!!

AGAIN,...THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS!!

26.) We just got Sonic!

Not the video game character. The fast food restaurant! With the great milk shakes. And those 2 kind of witty guys in their Soccer Mom van. Unfortunately I don’t think they come here, but, the restaurant is OK at best.

27.) Jack Eichel

Did you know that Jack Eichel plays for us?

28.) You’re a huge Bills fan! Terry Pegula owns them too!

Make sure you have a clause in your contract that allows you 24/7 access to Terry’s owner’s box. We just hope you can deal with Rex Ryan for a little bit longer. We’re trying.

Thanks to @BuffaloCorey for the picture!! 

Thanks to @BuffaloCorey for the picture!! 

29.) The Bills might make the playoffs soon!

I give Tom Brady 2 more years TOPS. Then we’re in!

30.) Pegula Force One

The perks of Mr. Pegula keep adding up. He’s got his own private jet. One time he personally picked up Robyn Regehr all the way from CALGARY! I’m sure you’ll get the same treatment ;)

31.) Our professional athletes get away with most crimes.

If you ever get into trouble, contact Paul Cambria.   

32.) We’re so close to Canada that we get some Canadian TV channels!

Feeling a bit homesick? Great news, Steve! You can catch those old obscure Canadian sitcoms on CTV! There’s Hockey Night In Canada as well. That’s pretty neat, eh?

33.) Mighty Taco.

Taco Bell sucks.

34.) There are some real BEAUTS right next door.

There’s a professional women’s hockey team right next door! The Buffalo Beauts of the newly founded NWHL plays right in the HarborCenter.

35.) Megan Bozek

The NWHL’s hardest shot contest winner is a Buffalo Beaut.  You two can trade tips and improve those clappers. We’re going to need to see some power play production for this kind of money, Steve. Maybe Megan can help!

36.) T.O. came here!

He’s a pretty big deal. At least he used to be. He gave Buffalo a shot. But then, Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick….well, you know. You’re a Bills fan.

Thanks, zimbio.com

Thanks, zimbio.com

Part #3 will be posted in a couple of days. If you missed Part 1. Click HERE .  Thanks for reading and please share with your friends if you enjoyed this! 


As always, the 716 Sports Podcast is brought to you by Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in the Cobblestone District just 2 blocks from First Niagara Center and HarborCenter

 

 

91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo: Part 1

91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo: Part 1

91 Reasons Steven Stamkos Should Come To Buffalo

Here at 716 Sports Podcast, we like to consider ourselves ambassadors for our city and its sports teams. With the Sabres season over, general manager Tim Murray is likely frenetically working the phones and running draft simulators to try to establish his off-season strategy. While he is working furiously to see his greatest plan come to fruition, we thought we’d give him a bit of a break and do some selling on his behalf.

Steven Stamkos is all swank and suited up in the press box, watching Jonathan Drouin light up the Red Wings. With each point Drouin scores, Stamkos is watching dollar signs fly away. He could probably use a distraction, or a reminder that his value is not diminished – at least in the eyes of a certain bordertown fandom. Without further ado, 716 Sports Podcast presents:

1.) We will pay you. A lot of money.

No one here is underestimating the value of your abilities. We know what you’re worth and we’ll pay you all of it. Like Terry Pegula is fond of saying, “I’ll just dig another well!”

2.) Millions of American dollars.

Not that strange, colored Canadian stuff (which is only worth .79, anyway.) Greenbacks. Lettuce. Piles of it. And no $2 coins, either – we’re not weirdos.

3.) You can rip a slapshot from Canalside and hit Canada.

We’re so close to home, but better. You won’t need to navigate the QEW or sit in tight Toronto traffic. Buffalo’s average commute is, like, 20 minutes. That’s not even enough time to grow to hate sportstalk radio callers.

4.) Lower cost of living.

Not only will we give you a mountain of cash that is far more valuable than any purple currency, you won’t have to spend as much to live here. Lower housing costs, lower taxes, lower stress on your bank account.

5.) You can play wherever you want.

I know you’ve struggled in Tampa with positioning this season, and we were sad to see that happen. We don’t have the rigid line assignments of other coaches – in fact, our coach can’t decide where anyone should play and moves people all over. Want to try defense? No problem. Wherever you feel comfortable.

6.) You don’t have to play with Nazem Kadri.

Seriously - do you really want to watch that fool diving like Louganis every time someone comes near him? No. You don’t.

7.) You won’t be the market’s focus.

For 2/3 of your season, no one cares. Fans, media – they’re all focused on the Bills. You have more than 40 games to get a feel for your teammates and find your groove before anyone even notices.

8.) The media’s not good.

By and large, they’re too busy arguing with out-of-market writers, in-market callers, each other, the wall, and random inanimate objects to be too critical of your play.

GIF from BuffaloWins.net

GIF from BuffaloWins.net

9.) No Damien Cox.

That guy sucks, right?

10.) The fans are pretty good.

Have you seen the trainwreck that are the Maple Leafs fans recently? People were throwing sweaters on the ice. Sweaters! Imagine someone else’s stinky shirt floating down and landing on you. No one wants that. Luckily, we save all of our indiscriminate outbursts for podcasts. No throwing stuff here.

11.) The food is pretty good.

Two words. Chicken Finger Sub.

12.) The beer is EXCELLENT.

Top notch beer brewed fresh a block away. A proper pint might run you $6. That’s what you’ll pay for a Labatt in Toronto.

13.) Tim Horton’s

Yeah, we have them here. EVERYWHERE. Including one less than a block from the First Niagara Center.

14.) Full access to the Pegula family yacht.

I mean, I assume. TPegs seems like the kind of guy that would allow for that type of thing.

15.) A clever goal call from Rick Jeanneret.

You’ll get your own unique callout every time you score a goal. Stamkos coast-to-coast? Stamgoals? A hammer from Stammer? I don’t know. RJ is better at it than I am.

16.) No one in Sabres history has ever worn #91.

As soon as you step on the ice, you’ll be making history. HISTORY.

17.) You could eat a hot dog from Rob Ray’s pocket.

I mean, I assume. Razor seems like the kind of guy that would allow for that type of thing.

18.) If you come to Buffalo, we’ll sing the Canadian anthem before every game.

Just for you, to honor your hometown. Because we like you that much.

 

Please be sure to come back for Part 2 w/ reasons 19-36 from Justen Ehrig!


Check out our latest episode featuring @BradleyGelber from BuffaloWIns.com


716 Sports Podcast is brought to you by Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in the Cobblestone district.

McEichel Day? More Like Borophyl.

At this point, it’s hard to say which is more disappointing – the snoozefest that was trade deadline day or battle for the basement that is McEichel day; though, at least deadline day got some media coverage. NBCSports dropped McEichel day from their programming because even Pierre McGuire realized he didn’t have anything to drone on endlessly about.

Don’t get me wrong; deadline day was a dud for most of the league as much as it was for the Sabres. I’m sure Murray did the best he could to find a home for his other UFAs, but for some reason, the market stayed quiet for goaltenders and Legwand has likely aged out of a role as trade bait. Murray did find one team willing to deal a pick, and so Jamie McGinn will finish the season in Anaheim, and the Sabres will head into this year’s draft with a possible 12 picks.

As the sun rises on McEichel day, it is likely that most fans are a lot less excited than they were when this matchup was announced. Edmonton has been busy Edmontining all over the place; they’ve proven unable to bolster their defense, and have thrown several decent goaltenders to the wolves. Unfortunately for the Oilers, McDavid missed nearly half of the season with a shoulder injury, and unfortunately for McDavid, his presence on the ice is indeed awe-inspiring, but has not translated into wins for the team.

Eichel has had a great season in his own right. His possession statistics are far-and-away the best of his rookie class, and he still manages to stay at the top of the scoring charts. His unique and powerful play has resulted in just as many highlight-reel goals as his counterpart McDavid, but he is a far more responsible player, and therefore, more important to his team – especially now.

With McGinn gone and O’Reilly out for at least two, probably three more weeks, Eichel will have to step up as a leader on the team. It’s not that Eichel can’t lead, or that he shouldn’t lead, but it’s a lot to expect of the 19 year old rookie. At a time when he should be focusing on his individual play and finishing his first season strongly, he’s going to have to put this young team on his shoulders and charge up the steepest of hills that is the home stretch of the NHL season. This extra weight is definitely not something that McDavid has to contend with.

With so many forwards injured, Buffalo’s strength lies in their defense. It will be interesting to see if they can hang with McDavid and shut down the talented skater, minimizing his breakaway abilities, tying him up, and keeping him to the outside. The same can definitely not be said about Edmonton – their defense is a loosely laid pile of swiss cheese. It’s going to fall on Edmonton’s offense-first forwards to shut down Eichel, and I think they’re going to struggle with that; Eichel has brushed off players that are far more experienced, far stronger, and…well…better.

The game would have a completely different tone if it were played a month ago, but tonight’s showdown is lackluster at best. We’ll get to see McDavid try to go coast to coast. We’ll get to see Eichel break through the zone, fighting off weak attempts to stop him. What we probably won’t see is anything resembling good, systematic hockey played by two teams who, by all rights, should be contenders in a few years. Buffalo is a few years short of the necessary experience and Edmonton is…they’re just Edmonton. They’re half a dozen good decisions away from being a quality hockey team. I think Buffalo wins, simply because I think Buffalo’s defense will be able to handle the Oilers, but I don’t think Edmonton’s D can hang with Eichel, Kane, and Reinhart. 5-3 Sabres. When I’m wrong, you know where to find me.

Champions Aren't Born - They're Raised

Champions Aren't Born - They're Raised

It has been a disappointing week for the Buffalo Sabres – that much is certain. The loss to Florida was to be expected – one of the hottest teams in the league facing the Sabres, who hadn’t been able to shoot a puck through a wet paper bag, much less an NHL goaltender. But, Buffalo did manage to score four goals in the loss, and Reinhart looked good.

Then came the game last night in Philadelphia. Wowzers. That was…not good. Lehner looked bad – like, really, REALLY bad – and the team did very little to help him out as they struggled through yet another game without a power play goal. They face a streaking Montreal team tonight, and if social media is to be believed, we’re talking ‘T’ here.

What if I told you, this is all a part of the process? What if I said we should have been expecting this all along? Phooey, you’d say. Pshaw. We got Eichel and got rid of any hockey player over the age of 25, so we should be the best team in the universe. THE BEST, I SAY!

Whoa, Buffalo. Slow your roll. Does anyone remember last year? How record-settingly terrible we were? You don’t just snap out of that. Becoming a champion takes time. Think about American Pharaoh. Yes, the race horse. The TRIPLE CROWN WINNING race horse – the first to do it since 1978. The last Triple Crown happened before Brian Gionta was born. That’s a long time ago.

American Pharaoh didn’t drop out of Littleprincessemma fully grown and ready to thunderously pound the quarter-mile track to historical glory. In his first year, thoroughbred championships weren’t even on his mind – he was learning the basics, like, y’know…how to walk. Sound familiar? It is. It is very familiar. After this team gestated for the entirety of last season, this team is like a newborn colt. This team is very young, and it is just learning to walk. It is just learning to get all four of its legs working together at the same time. It’s not ready to decimate opponents or set history – it’s not even really ready to run yet.

When can we expect the Sabres to be race-ready? That’s hard to say. American Pharaoh’s first races were incredibly disappointing, and he ran them when he was two years old.  By the end of his run as a two-year old, though, American Pharaoh was named American Champion Two-Year-Old Male Horse. Not in his first year, or even his second really – heading into in his third year on this planet, he was growing into the champion that everyone knew he could be.

We have to stop expecting this newborn Buffalo team to be a thoroughbred racehorse. It is not natural – it makes no sense. We have to allow this team to grow into its strengths, but more importantly, develop a system to handle their weaknesses. Only one other team has had more man-games missed to injury this season, and that’s not helping any sort of development. Until the team can all play together, learn to work as an entire unit, they will not be great. More than anything, and like a newborn racehorse, the team needs time to become a champion. Sure it’s hard to be patient, but the wise person sees the potential above the blemishes, and has the patience to allow the horse to grow. Let’s put away the riding crop and let this very young Sabres team grow into its greatness.

Thank You, Brian Gionta

There was a time, not-so-long ago, that the Buffalo Sabres acquired a guy in his mid-30s, at the tail end of his career, who had some leadership experience with the Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres were a young team who needed someone with a little grit, a lot of work ethic, and who could help to bridge the gap between terrible and mediocre.

That man was Craig Rivet. You thought I was going to say Brian Gionta, right? Well, I am. But not yet.

Rivet had a couple of decent seasons with the Sabres, and his leadership showed as the team started to develop. He was the face of the team in hard losses, and he’d let the stars get the press for the good wins. Rivet was 37 in his last year in Buffalo. He was old. He was tired. He spent some time in the press box. He didn’t complain about it. He kept doing what he was brought here to do. If that meant sitting down for a game or two, so be it.

Fast forward to, well, now. Brian Gionta is 37 and at the tail end of his career. He was brought to Buffalo prior to the 2014-15 season to be a leader, bring a little grit, demonstrate a lot of work ethic, and bridge the gap between terrible and mediocre. And he’s done exactly what he was brought here to do.

A lot of criticism has been piled on Gionta. Some of it is deserved, but most of it comes from unreasonable expectations. At 37 years old, there is no way he should be playing top-six minutes, and to start the season, he was. The 14-year veteran of the league has seen his best ice time, and those long, grueling years have taken their toll. Some of you may be thinking, “But…Jagr,” and to you, I have no words. It’s like comparing Star Wars to..well…any other movie ever. There is no comparison. One is in a league of its own, and the rest are just the rest.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Gionta just needed to play fewer minutes, and I stand by that. We’ve seen his ice time reduced, and in that time, we’ve seen Gionta return to form. He has three points in the last three games, and he was on the ice for the six-on-five to end the game in Montreal last night. Scoring is definitely a plus, but being trusted when down a man means even more, and fans should take notice. His physical play has picked up since his ice-time diminished. He seems sharper – especially in the defensive zone. He seems less fatigued, and because of that, he’s a better player.

I want to be the first writer in Buffalo to thank Brian Gionta. Since the start of the season, he’s been through the wringer – especially now that O’Reilly has taken a leadership role with the team. Gionta hasn’t made a big deal of it, he’s stepped back and let O’Reilly shine, and the team has benefitted greatly. Humility is a characteristic rarely seen in sports, but Gionta’s humility and wisdom prove that he’s exactly the kind of leader that Buffalo has needed.

This may be Gionta’s last season in Buffalo – maybe even in the NHL, but the city owes him a huge debt of gratitude. He graciously bridged the gap between terrible and mediocre, and when the time came, he quietly passed the torch on to the next team leader. It is perhaps unfair that when the Sabres finally do hoist the Cup, Gionta’s name will not be on it, but it is his leadership that has helped to right this ship and get it sailing toward its destination. Thank you, Brian Gionta. 

Sabres In Spring: What The Next 32 Games Can Provide

Sabres In Spring: What The Next 32 Games Can Provide

At this point last season, Buffalo Sabres fans and media personalities were engaged in a, ahem, “spirited” discussion about what the team should be doing. Tanking was the big debate, with moralists ashamed of the product on the ice and advanced stats fans acknowledging the goal was to not win. This all culminated on March 26th, the infamous Tank-A-Palooza matchup between the Sabres and Arizona Coyotes that resulted in fans cheering ‘yotes goals and Mike Weber calling out Sabres fans for voicing their opinion (Weber committed a tripping penalty late in the 3rd period of that tied game that ultimately led to the Arizona power-play winner in overtime. How meta.)

A season later, the blue and gold have moved all the way from 30th to…29th, one point ahead of the smoldering tire fire known as the Columbus Blue Jackets. Without listing every exception, the majority of the league has played between 49 and 51 games. While much closer to the playoff picture, Buffalo is still only at 44 points, and the current second Wild Card battle is a tie between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils at 57.

Barring a miracle drive a la Ottawa and Andrew Hammond, it appears to be the fifth consecutive season sans playoffs in the Nickel City, and yet...things appear to be better. Much better, actually. The argument is purely subjective, of course. The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington and I got into a minor tiff a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, and we are both correct based on the metrics we chose to bring to the table. The sellouts in the arena aren’t happening nightly, but the television ratings appear to be up. There is some increased interest in the squad, and that shows the kind of hockey-starved town that exists in Erie County. So let’s focus in a few storylines post John Scott Party Time…and what the near future holds.

Oh look - a penny!   Photo from NHL.com

Oh look - a penny!   Photo from NHL.com

ROBIN LEHNER: The top of the list for Sabres storylines has to start with what exists in goal. An unfortunate ankle sprain robbed the big Swede of ice time for the majority of the first half of the season. The record is 1-3, and it was tenths of a second away from possibly being 0-4 in Ottawa. But instead, Lehner won the last game before the All-Star break, and things are looking up. The save percentage is at .936 (with a minimum of 33 saves in the last three games), the angles are now more adventurous after an extremely cautious start against Boston, and he even has an assist to his credit, showing a willingness and ability to handle the puck. Chad Johnson played surprisingly well, and Linus Ullmark showed flashes in net. However, a strong string of games for Robin Lehner, starting Wednesday in Montreal, could mean the Sabres have their best netminder since the Vezina Trophy campaign of Ryan Miller in 2010.

RASMUS RISTOLAINEN: In an interview on the podcast in November with WGR’s Matthew Coller, he mentioned a good comparison for Risto would be Victor Hedman. So far, so good for this one. Averaging a ridiculous 25:11 of ice time at just 21 years old, the mighty Finn is starting to show signs of being an all-timer for the Sabres on the blue line. Most impressively, of his 31 points so far this year, 14 are coming on the Power Play (4G, 10A), showing that he is beginning to take command of the special teams aspect of the game as well. The possession numbers still aren’t great, but he is showing progress from last season, with the Fenwick increasing from 38.5% to 43.3%. He still is figuring out the game, and everything is trending up. In two years, Risto could be a top ten defenseman in the league, and that continued progress this season is exciting.

MANDATORY JACK EICHEL MENTION: He’s good, he’s 19 and the more he plays, the more comfortable he seems to be. Eichel is second on the team with 34 points, averaging one minute less ice time per game than his age, and is truly the next great American hope in the sport. Plus, Matt Moulson’s kids like him and Tim Horton’s made him a spokesperson. But we aren’t selling out games and we suck still so the tank wasn’t worth it and its Eich’s fault. JK, JK love you all.

HOME RECORD: If I told you Buffalo would scrape together an 11-11-2 record on the road…well surely the team would be over .500, right? Nope. 9-15-2, including some ugly performances along the way (7-2 loss to Montreal in October, 5-1 loss to Florida in January), have left Sabres fans feeling empty walking out of First Niagara Center. In fact, since a December 17th 3-0 victory over Anaheim, the record is 1-7-0, with only an admittedly impressive 4-1 victory over Washington where the team chased Braden Holtby. In many matches, the offense just isn’t there. A four game stretch in November against the Western Conference (San Jose, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville) resulted in 5 goals and a 0-3-1 record. Is there any reason behind this? For those that desire to play armchair psychiatrist, of course. We always seek reason for things beyond our understanding and control. The reality is that it is probably just a statistical fluke, and that the Sabres will play better in this final batch of games.

TRADE DEADLINE: General Manager Tim Murray always has a move ready in February as the deadline for trading approaches. He’s traded Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. He moved Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick, and then resigned them both. He sent out former cornerstones Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford for a disgruntled but talented Evander Kane. Even Brian Flynn and Torrie Mitchell weren’t safe in the fire sale last season. So…now what happens? The playoffs aren’t realistic, so what’s the point in trying to grab a few extra points, which in turn take away a few number combos from the team’s lottery chances? It makes sense to trade away the few extraneous pieces remaining on the team, which this season may not even make the team that much worse. If any team came calling for Mike Weber, Chad Johnson or David Legwand, why wouldn’t you grab a mid-round pick or C+ prospect? With Buffalo hosting the 2016 NHL Draft, the more assets the better for the Sabres to make a splash. It may not be the mammoth trades of the past, but expect GMTM to turn nothing into something.

Are there other storylines? Absolutely. Can Sam Reinhart keep showing improvement? Will Ryan O’Reilly become the first Sabre with 70 points since Jason Pominville from 2011-2012? Can Zach Bogosian become the consistent top pairing partner the team envisioned? Can Evander Kane pick up that conversion rate? There’s a lot to look for, as long as one understands that the playoffs as a true goal should be tucked away for one more season. But that glimmer is there, and the Buffalo Sabres are in rising in a fashion that will be the envy for most other franchises. Just be patient one more time…

Next Chapter: Never Say Die

There has been a lot of negativity thrown around in regard to the Buffalo Sabres. Poorly managed expectations led to widespread disappointment, and thanks to social media, this disappointment is right in everyone’s faces. Whether we like it or not, we’re all standing, drenched in your disillusionment, but I’m here to tell you: (1) The Sabres are not going to make the playoffs; and (2) That’s REALLY ok.

People scoffed at the “Next Chapter” moniker the Sabres glossed themselves with this season, and given their record to this point, any misinformed casual fan might think it’s been business as usual at the FNC, but the truth is that this is a whole new Sabres team – the page has truly turned. We are witnessing the next chapter.

The title of this chapter could easily be ‘Never Say Die.’ Buffalo’s play – even with a less-than-stellar record – generally has a distinct urgency to it, which is something that was sorely missed in the most recent Nolan Era. The Sabres have become a team that can easily flip a switch – they can go down by two goals and fans aren’t reaching for the remote to see what’s happening on The Bachelor. They’re staying tuned in to see if it will be Eichel or O’Reilly who will spark the comeback. They’re staying tuned to see if a big hit will turn the tides. Fans are staying tuned because Buffalo is never out of a game.

The Sabres aren’t just picking off bottom-feeders, either. After losing five in a row to some pretty hefty competition, Buffalo has won four of their last five. These victories include the fifth place Minnesota Wild, the first place Washington Capitals, and the red-hot Arizona Coyotes.

Each of these wins was impressive for different reasons. The win in Washington not only avenged a 5-2 loss from a few weeks ago, it was also the first time in 23 games that Caps netminder Braden Holtby had lost a start – a win streak dating back to November 10th. The win in Winnipeg was a great team win. Sam Reinhart scored his first career hat trick, and Evander Kane shrugged off all of the mockery thrown his way to set Reinhart up for the empty net goal, which completed his hat trick. The win in Minnesota had Buffalo coming out hot, scoring three goals in the first. And then there was the win in Arizona.

A lot of passionate discourse has taken place following this win. As the final horn sounded, the ‘Yotes Antione Vermette gave Ristolainen a little extra shove, and got one back. While nothing got started immediately, an old school line brawl ensued – or, at least as close as it gets these days. Vermette, Risto, Bogosian, Shane Doan, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Anthony Duclair all received game misconduct penalties for their individual efforts in the war of attrition. The absolute best part, though, was the look on Zach Bogosian’s face as the scrum dissipated, and the look on the Sabres’ faces as they went back to the locker room.


The smiles, the passion, and the pack mentality have all been missing from Buffalo for the last few seasons. The next chapter Sabres don’t take kindly to an extra shove. The next chapter Sabres won’t hang their head when they go down by a couple of goals. Most importantly of all, though, the next chapter Sabres are a team. They win as one and they lose as one – whether it’s a game, a battle, a power play, or a good ol’ postgame throwdown, these Sabres are coming strong, and they’re having a blast doing it.

Remember the purgatory of last January? The Sabres not only lost every game, they failed to gain a single point. Not one. The beginning of the month was ugly, for sure, but these Never Say Die Sabres weren’t giving up. They’ve climbed out of their downward spiral and they’re taking down giants in order to do it. The Sabres are having fun. It’s about damned time we had some fun, too.

Trade Talk: Keep Ennis in Buffalo

With the trade deadline approaching, the talk of propspective trades is heating up - not just from fans and media, but from GMs. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Sabres GM Tim Murray is ready to make a deal. “If I can acquire younger assets or future assets for some of our veterans, I’m going to pursue that for sure.”

This nearly started a riot on social media, and no name was pecked out by more thumbs of iPhone GMs than Tyler Ennis. For two seasons, Ennis has been anchor for a team who’s ship has been floating aimlessly on a dark sea of dismal results. He’s been open with the media, who have been critical of his struggles. He’s been willing to shoulder the blame when the team couldn’t score. The fact is, though, that he’s been the only player on the team to really produce in the treacherous years of the tank. Ennis was second in points in the 2013-2014 season with 43(21G, 22A) and was the team’s leading scorer in the 2014-2015 season with 46(20G, 26A.) First Darcy and then TM began to liquidate his veteran talent, and Ennis stayed through it all. 

Trading Ennis would be foolish. There is no player that has bought into this team more than Ennis, and if anyone deserves a chance to prove himself, Ennis is the guy, and the truth is, he’s not playing as poorly as everyone suggests.

It would appear that Ennis’ production has fallen off this season, but in 23 games, he’s got 11 points(3G, 8A.) Carried out through a season, though (basically, multiply by four) he’s right in line with his production in the last two campaigns. 

The two seasons that Ennis saw success, he played mainly as a center. Being moved to the wing, he’s working with a new set of responsibilities. He’s done his best work when he’s starting the play - the whole system is turning on his vision. As a winger, he’s got to try to feel out the center, and anticipate the play - that’s not his strength. He’s definitely a victim of the growth of the team - there’s no way he’s going to center a top line with O’Reilly, Eichel and Reinhart on the team. That’s not to say, though, that he couldn’t center Girgensons and Moulson on the third line. Does that bump Gionta? Yes. Is that OK? Absolutely. Gionta needs fewer minutes - that’s not an insult, it’s just a fact. He’s played infinitely better with diminished ice time.

The most important thing we can do at this point is manage our expectations. It really isn’t unreasonable to assume he’s still injured. Just because he’s returned doesn’t mean he’s 100%, and if he’s any less than that, the daily grind of an NHL hockey player is going to slowly diminish that number.

In no way do we need a GM with a quick trigger finger right now. Murray absolutely knows what he’s doing - he knew what he was doing when he designed the team as it is this season, and he has a vision for the future. It obviously includes Ennis and the skill set that he brings to the team. Let’s give the mighty mite a chance to fully recover from his injury, to settle into a line, and to show Buffalo that he’s still the same dynamic player he’s been for the last two seasons.

Tanks For Reading, And Not Overreacting

Tanks For Reading, And Not Overreacting

Mike Weber: "What's this defense thing? Somebody told me one time. I just can't remember."

Mike Weber: "What's this defense thing? Somebody told me one time. I just can't remember."

Holy Shit.  WHAT is going on with the Sabres?! They’re back in the bottom of the league. One point out of LAST place for crying out loud.  They’re on a 5 game losing streak as my numb, fanatical fingers scribe this piece out to you.  Tim Murray is a bum.  He’s made us an embarrassment of the NHL for the past 2 seasons and now – THIS?!  He needs to be fired.  Dan Byslma too.  B-U-M.  Why would Murray even hire him? I mean, anybody who’s had Geno Malkin and that Sidney guy can be a successful NHL coach.

NO.

Stop. Please. Just stop.

29th place or not, this team is MUCH improved.  Struggling? Sure. They can’t score their way out of a brothel right now.  This is a young team and young teams go through rough patches.  There are a lot of new faces, players are learning to play with new teammates, and some are settling into their new roles. 

So, what’s the deal?

DEFENSE:

OUCH. Outside of Rasmus Ristolainen and Mark Pysyk, the Sabres defensive roster is like reading off of a list of obscure Kardashian ex-boyfriends.  We’ve got guys playing defense on this team that even the NHL’s queen of mediocrity, Elisha Cuthbert, wouldn’t consider dating. 

Injuries have surely had an important factor in this.  Zach Bogosian, who is considered a top 4 D man, has left a lot to be desired up to this point.  He started the season on the injured list and missed 17 games. He may not be entirely healthy and that could be his issue, but he is a defenseman that is heavily leaned on and he needs to pick his game up. 

Mark Pysyk – whom I consider the Sabres #2 defenseman, has been hobbled with a broken bone in his foot since November 17th.  That’s 23 games. Tonight will make 24.  He is being sent down to the AHL this weekend for conditioning and will be back in the lineup soon.  As former Chippewa Street regular and current Skittles advocate would say, “I’M THANKFUL.”  The Sabres lose a lot when Pysyk isn’t in the lineup. First of all, when either Bogo or Pysyk miss a game, Mike Weber or Carlo Coliacovo are somewhere close behind grinning about their next opportunity to show people exactly how not to play defense in the NHL.  He brings a steadiness to the back end and instantly improves the transition game with his speed and incredible first passes.

Cody Franson is a good player.  He’s not a defenseman that you bring in for his stifling defense however.  He’s had a good year for himself offensively and has done his part defensively as well.  At times he has been a defensive liability.  Being paired with Mike Weber so much has not helped his case.

Josh Gorges has not been what he’s been expected to be.  He’s an aging defenseman and is struggling in a faster and younger NHL. He could definitely be better for his team.  He was brought in for his leadership and to help along youngsters in a questionable locker room during a “suffering” time for the franchise.  He’s done just that and has been a great example for the kids in the system to follow.  Unfortunately, that’s about it though.

GOALTENDING:

I’ve seen black holes with more bright spots than our current goaltending situation. 28 minutes into the season, starting goaltender Robin Lehner went down with a high ankle sprain.  I’m confident that Robin Lehner can be a successful NHL goaltender.  Don’t count on it this season though.  Those high ankle sprains LINGER.  I injured mine playing hockey 3 years ago and I can still feel effects from it.  I also don’t have a professional training staff and I’m about 20 pounds overweight, but, that’s not the point.  Lehner likely won’t be back into full form and fully confident on that ankle until next season. 

In Lehner’s absence Dan Bylsma has been forced to rely on career back-up, Chad Johnson and a rookie fresh off of a double hip surgery in, Linus Ullmark.  Both goalies have had good stretches and showed flashes but they’ve also had their fair share of struggles. The Sabres have lost 12 games by one goal (3 by way of shootout loss). If you consider that and then consider how many times you’ve heard Razor and Rick utter the phrase, “He’s gonna want that one back.” Or, “That’s a save he’s gotta make.” The Sabres could easily have an extra 6-7 W’s with just a few more saves.  It’s not all the goalies fault though. The Sabres could be scoring more. Buffalo has scored 1 or zero goals 11 times this season - and that leads me to my next subject….

OFFENSE:

At times scoring has been tough to come by.  Ryan O’Reilly is pretty good though, eh?  How many of you were losing your minds over that mega contract that Tim Murray gave him?  Looks pretty good now.  The spotlight has been put on him and he has shined brightly. You’ll see him rocking that blue and yellow at the All-Star weekend as wellJ. 

Jack Eichel has also shown that he has been crafted by hockey Gods.  How about those hands? The deadly release on his shot paired with his impeccable skating stride and top echelon hockey IQ are pretty phenomenal too.  You can now find him tied for 2nd in points on the team with 26 points.  It’s been a streaky 26 points, but he’s been great offensively nonetheless. He generates uber scoring chances for himself and his teammates.  Anybody who touches the ice with him is instantly better. While his offense has been great, he’s proven that being a dependable 2 way center in the NHL is very difficult.  He’s struggled in his defensive zone. Don’t fret though. Sidney Crosby was awful defensively to start his career and he is great defensively now. More good news: The guy who coached Crosby through that is now coaching Jack.

Evander Kane has been off a bit this season as well. Don’t get me wrong though. He’s been playing great. His speed is insane and he finishes ALL of his checks. The puck just isn’t going in for him. He’s extremely snake bitten at the moment. Just ask Brayden Holtby.  He also might be JUST A BIT distracted by real life things at the moment as well if you know what I mean.

Dear Tyler Ennis, Matt Moulson, and Zemgus Girgensons,

Where are you? Please come back to us. Your team misses you.  They need your scorning touch.

I really just think that all 3 of these players are struggling adjusting to their new roles.  Tyler Ennis was a top center on this team the past 2 seasons.  He was the go to guy and controlling the play at center.  Now he’s been forced to the wing where play is being dictated to him. Tyler is a guy who should doing the dictating.  His insane quickness and dazzling hands need to the guy creating from the pivot and not waiting for the play to come to him. I believe this has been his biggest struggle and that he will get through it.  He does not and SHOULD NOT be traded. When he hunkers down into his new role he will be the milk loving Enzo we’ve come to love. 

Same thing with Moulson and Girgensons.  Both have been heavily relied upon in the past and are now playing mostly 3rd line roles.  Zemgus has been moved back to center and I think he is more effective on the wing for the Sabres.  In my opinion, put Ennis between 26 and 28 and we’ll have a very effective line with all 3 guys producing again.

One last thing. Can Brian Gionta not be a Sabre anymore? Love the guy to death but he is not helping at all. Let him finish the season and give the C to ROR. Hell, if he wants another shot at the cup GMTM should trade him to a contender for 3rd or 4th.

In conclusion; there’s some work to be done.  They are INSANELY improved but circumstances on defense and goaltending have been the issue this season. Outside a few names on this young defense, the pieces are in place.  While we are a point out of last place and currently on a 5 game losing streak, this team could just as easily go on a 7 game win streak and get back in the picture. If not, another top 4 pick surely won’t hurt.

This team WILL be great.  And they will be great with Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma at the helm.

Thanks for reading. You’re a peach ;)

Another Year Has Passed: A Sabres Retrospective

What a crazy year, eh, Sabres fans? From the depths of the hell that was the tank, to the joy that the team has become to watch - though it was predictable, in a way (I mean, isn’t this what the tank was for?) it comes naturally as a Buffalo fan to just expect the worst. Yet, here we are, playing real, actual hockey. Even tonight’s game, a 2-0 loss to the league’s hottest team, a tie didn’t seem unobtainable until Holtby robbed Kane on the goal line with just seconds remaining. A lot can happen in a year. Here are some of the best (worst) things that did.

5.) The month of December, 2014. As the year ended, Sabres fans breathed a sigh of relief. The team had actually played well in November, and beginning December with a record of 8-14-2 - 27th in the league, and inching toward .500! We weren’t expecting mediocrity, we wanted terrible! Awful! Treacherous! Instead, they were busy defeating teams like Montreal and Tampa Bay - top teams that should have easily dismissed the pitiful Sabres. As the month progressed, though, the Sabres returned to form. Winning only six games in the month, the team had fallen to 28th and the fall was seemingly unstoppable.

4.) The month of January, 2015. Thank god for small miracles, right? Or giant ones, even? I mean, if Buffalo were going to make a move toward the bottom, they had to do something drastic. And surely, they did, failing to win a single game in the month of January. Not one.  The  team went to overtime a couple of times, though right? Nope. Not once. 12 games. 24 points up for grabs, and the Sabres snagged...none. Perfectly imperfect, the team did exactly what it was supposed to do. And it never looked back. Up? Never looked up? I don’t know. They were the worst, and they ended up the worst. That’s really the point, isn’t it?

3.) The Lehner injury. Before everyone gets all ‘headline happy’ and reacts to the first three words of anything without reading the whole thing, may I offer some advice: READ THE WHOLE DAMNED THING. Am I happy Lehner was injured? No. I want to see this team playing with the goalie that cost the team a lot – not in money, necessarily. That pick, though…but I digress. We learned a lot from the Lehner injury. We learned that Chad Johnson is a worthy backup goalie, and that Linus Ullmark is going to be a very good goaltender in a couple of years. At the outset of the season, Johnson was considered by many to be all but useless, and most fans that Andrey Makarov would be the next goalie out of Rochester, but was sent back down after one game in exchange for Ullmark. The Swedish youngster has a lot to work on, but he has proven that he’s NHL-ready sooner than expected, especially after double hip surgery earlier in the year.

2.) Ryan O’Reilly. I don’t even know where to begin. When Murray pulled the trigger on this trade, Buffalo was excited, but I don’t think the city understood exactly what they were getting. In Colorado. O’Reilly was overshadowed by flashier names like Duchene and Landeskog. His leadership ability was perhaps muted, and so when he came to Buffalo and instantly became a leader, the true genius of Tim Murray was on full display. Murray locked him in for an extended contract, and O’Reilly was off and running. Currently, he’s 21st in the league in goals and 20th in points – not bad for a team that is 26th in goals-for. We were very lucky to get him and his acquisition is a highlight of 2015, without a doubt.

1.) Risto’s Hatty. You thought I would say Eichel, didn’t you? Maybe I should have. Feel free to craft your own list of highlights. I am excited for Eichel – both the player that he is at 19 and the player he’ll be at 24, but the story of the season so far HAS to be Ristolainen’s climb to the upper echelon of defensemen in the league. 10th in the league in points. 13th in power play points. 13th in time on ice.  And the first Buffalo defenseman to score a hat trick in nearly 30 years. The last man to do it? Phil Housley, who is the most recent Sabre to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Quite a feat for the 21-year old.

As we hit the end of 2015, I just want to take the time to thank everyone that reads and comments on these. It’s been a fun year, Buffalo, but the best is yet to come. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A Sabres Carol: Redemption

A Sabres Carol: Redemption

AND NOW, THE THRILLING CONCLUSION OF

A SABRES CAROL

If you haven't read part 1 yet, Here it is -->  Part 1

POP! A cork flew across the bridge of Murray’s nose, and his eyes flew open. To his left, the fire cast dancing shadows onto his curtains. The smell of fantastic foods filled the room, and he swore he could hear music. If he listened hard, ‘Let Me Clear My Throat,’ thumped through the floorboards. A jolly, bearded man sat upon a velvet chair, smiling broadly. He plucked a grape from the bunch next to him, tossed it into the air, and caught it in his mouth. He bit hard, and juice misted the air. “Ryan? Is that you?”

O’Reilly smiled. “It is. How are you, Tim? You look unwell. Unhappy. Why are you unhappy?”

“I...but...what? Unhappy?,” Murray straightened up in his bed. “This is just...how I look.” This made O’Reilly laugh heartily. “True enough,” he said, slapping his knee. “Do you know why I’m here?” Murray tried to answer, but words escaped him. “I’m here to do exactly what you brought me in for, Tim. This was your design. This was your plan. I’m here to score. I’m here to lead. I’m here to teach these kids how to play as a team - to teach them hard work and loyalty. I’m here for you, Tim. You can rest easy, my friend. I’m here for you.” With the snap, it was all gone. The room was empty, but the last words echoed about the room...the only thing that made these events real at all.

After either seconds, or what seemed like an eternity, the room filled with a strange glow. The third apparition that Nolan predicted had arrived, and was taking its time entering the room. As the tension built, the vision became more clear. First a cherubim face. Then tangled locks of curly red hair. Finally, the body of a young man came into full sight. Murray adjusted his glasses, and waited for the spirit to speak, but the vision just frantically chomped on his mouthguard. The fire popped and Murray jumped, but still, the spirit said nothing. “Spirit? Will you not speak?” The figure shook his head, his hair bobbing back and forth. “But, why? What message have you if you will not say it?” Suddenly, a stick appeared, and the figure mounted the stick. He motioned for Murray to join him. As Tim climbed on, the stick took off, like a broomstick beneath a witch in a child’s cartoon. They flew out the window and the Cheerio-rich air warmed Murray’s lungs, despite the freezing temperatures. They soared above the city, and below, a celebration of epic magnitude was taking place. The streets were blue and gold, everyone was happy, shaking hands, waving pom-poms, hugging and such. They had gathered by the arena, and were chanting something that Murray could not understand. The two returned to Tim’s quarters and Murray dismounted the stick. He turned. “Still, spirit, I do not understand. Do they cheer for me? What have I done?” The young figure pointed his stick at Murray’s nightstand. Upon it sat Lord Stanley’s Cup, shining brightly in the night. Murray slid across his bed like a Duke boy across the hood of the General Lee. He gasped as he peered at the cup, and saw his name etched into the silvery trophy. “Is it true? Tell me, spirit. Is it true?”

The figure finally spoke. “IT IS TRUE, TIM MURRAY! THE MOST BELOVED MAN IN BUFFALOOOOOOOO!” The spirit reared back his head and let loose a screeching giggle. Murray could not believe his eyes. He took the Cup, embracing it. He and his precious climbed into bed. Murray slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

The clock struck seven, and his alarm sounded. He looked at the empty spot next to him in the bed, but was saddened to find the Cup was not there. Suddenly, he remembered it - all of it! The past, the present, the future - it was all so precious! All building toward joy for an entire city. He threw open the window and found a young boy passing by. “Young boy, young boy - what day is it?”

“Why, it’s Christmas, Mr. Murray,” Ennis answered.

“Christmas? CHRISTMAS! FANTASTIC,” Murray shouted, “Now, go to the corner and get me the finest mascot you can find - a blue and gold cat, perhaps. Come back in 10 minutes, and I’ll give you second line minutes. Return in five, and it’s up to the first line with you!”

Ennis ran off to find Sabretooth, barely able to contain his happiness. Murray jumped into his pants, threw on a shirt and tie, and headed to the streets. He had a high-five for each passer-by, a handshake for the gentlemen, a wink for the women. The citizens were afraid at first - this was not the Tim Murray they were used to. He called a press conference for that very day. “First of all, I’d like to say thanks, to the city of Buffalo for their support.” The media gasped, unsure of what they were hearing. Murray smiled. “I mean it. Thank you. I will deliver on my promise. I will bring a championship to this city.” He turned away from the microphone, hesitated, and then turned back. “MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERY ONE OF US!”