The Sabres' defense got quite a bit bigger Wednesday night as 6-foot-8, 260-pound Joe Finley got called up from Rochester to replace the injured Jordan Leopold, who will miss Friday's game against Detroit and Saturday's game in Nashville.
Finley, 24, has made a quick rise in the organization from training camp tryout to AHL contract to healthy scratch in Rochester to the No. 1 defense tandem with the Amerks to his first NHL callup. And that came two days after the Sabres signed him to an NHL deal!
An intriguing player. Lindy Ruff said in training camp Finley is the second-best big man skater he's ever seen behind Tyler Myers. There are good reports down in Rochester. I want to see how his foot speed at his size translates to the NHL level. Never hurts to take a look.
Ryan Miller felt good today after his first full workout with the Sabres in nearly three weeks and coach Lindy Ruff wouldn't automatically rule him out of this weekend's games. For his part, Miller wasn't sure about this weekend -- but he was more than definitive when asked his long-term future with the team in the wake of recent rumors.
A paragraph deep in a long Edmonton Journal piece by Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson on Sunday said Miller "wouldn't mind" a trade, and it's known the Sabres and Anaheim Ducks are talking about multiple scenarios. The Ducks had three scouts on hand Tuesday night, including GM Bob Murray, and it's believed Miller's name has come up.
"I think it's funny when you hear things like 'wouldn't mind,' " Miller said today. "That implies somebody's asked me and I've never made a comment about my status with the team. My comment about my status with the team now is I'm proud to be a Sabre, I'm excited for what we can accomplish moving forward and I want to be a part of it. There's no reason for me to want to leave the situation. We have great new ownership who's excited to put a winner on the ice and I want to be a part of it. For me to want to change that situation and get out, I think the grass doesn't get much greener than it is here."
Miller, who has two years left after this season on a deal that pays $6.25 million annually, has a limited no-trade clause in his contract where he can submit a list of eight teams he would not accept a trade to.
"I've never in my time here talked to Lindy, Darcy or ownership about a trade and they've never come to me asking for any options," Miller said. "I can understand why there's speculation. I went through a tough stretch of hockey and didn't have a chance to dig myself out yet because of the injury. I know I need to be better and I'm working on that. For me to say I don't want to be here just because of that? I have a long history here. I feel like I've grown up here and this is where I want to win.
"... The fans love hockey. I've worked hard as a player and I've worked hard to be part of the community. I feel part of things here. Why would I want to leave that?"
As for the daily walking wounded report, Jordan Leopold and Patrick Kaleta were not on the ice at practice. Leopold is out for this weekend but could return next week. Kaleta and Tyler Ennis could both play Friday against Detroit. Paul Szczechura was returned to Rochester, likely in an effort to save salary cap space with no game again until Friday in case he's still needed.
Click below to hear Miller's interview, which also includes his thoughts on often being apart from his wife, California-based actress Noureen DeWulf:
The Sabres came out for warmups tonight minus Patrick Kaleta. Paul Szczechura is back with the team wearing No. 58 so Kaleta's groin strain has him scratched again tonight. Drew Stafford and Robyn Regehr, who did not play Saturday, are both back in the lineup tonight.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been much better of late since the injured Jeff Carter got back in the lineup and have put together a 4-2-2 stretch. So right now, there is nobody in the NHL worse than the New York Islanders but the Sabres can't take them lightly tonight in First Niagara Center.
Buffalo lost three times to the Isles last season -- and gave up 20 goals in the four meetings. But the Islanders are currently in crisis and owner Charles Wang even gave the vote of confidence to GM Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano, who has to be a little nervous today given what happened to Bruce Boudreau after his visit here Saturday.
Since starting the season 3-1, the Islanders are just 3-10-3. Scoring has been their trouble this year as they sit in last place in the Eastern Conference standings.
In going 6-11-4, they're last in the league with only 41 goals, a paltry 1.95 per game. The Isles have been shut out six times and scored just one or two goals in nine other games! John Tavares leads the team with eight goals -- but has none in his last 10 games -- while Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner have seven each. That's 22 of the 41 from just three players.
With no offense, the Islanders can't fall behind. They're 1-10-2 when opponents score first, 1-8-1 when trailing after one period and 0-10 when trailing after two.
They are, however, coming off a win. The Islanders eked out a 3-2 victory Saturday in New Jersey after Zach Parise's apparent tying goal in the final two seconds was disallowed by video replay.
"They'll look at using this last game against New Jersey as a stepping zone in the right direction," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said today. "(Last year) they were scoring goals and obviously now they're having a tough time in that area. They have some tremendous young talent out there. ... I think it's a matter of time before they click."
Paul Szczechura is on his way back to Buffalo from Rochester, with the Sabres recalling the forward from the minors this afternoon.
Szczechura made his Sabres debut Saturday with a two-assist showing against Washington. He was sent back to the Amerks along with Corey Tropp and T.J. Brennan as it appeared the Sabres were getting healthier.
However, with Szczechura's recall, it is likely that either Drew Stafford or Patrick Kaleta isn't ready to face the Islanders tonight in First Niagara Center. Another possibility is a sudden illness to another forward. The Sabres will begin their pregame skate at around 6:30 tonight.
Get out your spellcheckers. The Sabres have just recalled Paul Szczechura again from Rochester to be on hand for tonight's game against the Islanders. That means that either Drew Stafford or Patrick Kaleta are probably not going to be able to go. Szczechura had two assists in Saturday's game, his Buffalo debut.
Robyn Regehr will be back in the Sabres' lineup tonight against the New York Islanders and the veteran defenseman said this morning he went through some concussion testing after taking a hit Friday night from Columbus' Derickk Brassard. Regehr was one of nine Sabres who sat out Saturday's win over Washington.
"Their guy finished his check from the side and hit my head from an angle," Regehr said. "I didn't feel good after that. I felt better the next day but as a precaution the training staff thought it would be better to take a little time. With those injuries, you just never know. They don't pronounce themselves right away and can come back to haunt you."
Coach Lindy Ruff wouldn't confirm the Sabres are getting three players back tonight but it's expected that Regehr, Patrick Kaleta and Drew Stafford will all return tonight. Cody McCormick took the morning skate and continues to improve after missing the last six games with what's believed to be a concussion. Ryan Miller took shots as scheduled and should practice fully Wednesday.
Cracked Ruff: "I had a good conversation with Ryan today and he was looking forward to taking some shots. I told him I wouldn't take any today but I would take some tomorrow."
Fans are happy to see the Sabres getting bigger by developing players such as Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb to the organization and they signed another one to a deal Monday night by giving 6-foot-8 Rochester Amerks defenseman Joe Finley an multi-year NHL contract. Finley was on a one-year AHL deal after making the Amerks lineup via a training camp tryout.
The Sheehy Hockey agency tweeted the deal earlier today and the Sabres confirmed it around 9:50 Monday night. It's a three-year deal believed to hold the NHL minimum salary of $525,000 per season if Finley is in Buffalo.
A former No. 1 draft pick of the Washington Capitals, the 24-year-old Finley has been dogged by injuries in his first two pro seasons but has become a revelation in Rochester. He has one goal, one assist, 57 penalty minutes and a team-high plus-10 rating in 18 games and has pushed his way onto Rochester's shutdown pairing with veteran and former Sabre Shaone Morrisonn.
Medical updates are front and center these days around the Sabres and Monday was a good day at First Niagara Center. The biggest news was the brief pre-practice appearance by goaltender Ryan Miller, who took a few shots and then called it a day on the ice at least.
Miller said he expects to take part as an extra goalie at Tuesday's morning skate and hopes to practice fully on Wednesday. And while there's no timetable yet on him seeing game action, rejoining practice is a huge first step. Miller also said he's no longer sure if he suffered a concussion from the Nov. 12 hit by Boston's Milan Lucic, but that disc problems in his neck were a bigger issue. (It should be noted, however, the Sabres pointed out later in the day that Miller was, in fact, diagnosed with a concussion)
"I feel good symptom wise," Miller said. "It was more neck and something where I aggravated a disc in my neck pretty good and we had an MRI and CT-scan showing that which kind of backed that up and was the source of a lot of the tension and a lot of the discomfort. It definitely was limiting my range of motion."
Coach Lindy Ruff said he thinks it's realistic Miller could practice Wednesday but added: "In his situation, it's really how he feels. If he'd like to practice, I'll get a practice plan together so that he can face some shots."
Ruff was encouraged by Miller and several other players. Robyn Regehr, Patrick Kaleta and Drew Stafford might all play Tuesday against the New York Islanders. Tyler Ennis (high ankle sprain) told me he won't play in that game but it's possible he could be ready by this weekend.
Click below for audio from Miller and Ruff, with the coach's wide-ranging interview touching on the injuries, the play of Thomas Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff and Jochen Hecht, and his reaction to the firings of Bruce Boudreau and Paul Maurice.
With all the injuries, this is going to take a while. The Sabres have just opened stretching at First Niagara Center and here's what I can tell you so far.
---Ryan Miller took a few shots before practice and then left the ice before the regular session began. You would think that's a good first step for him.
---The injured Robyn Regehr, Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta are all back and appear to be taking part in practice fully. The same goes for Tyler Ennis, who is clearly getting close to returning from his high ankle sprain.
---Mike Weber remains skating in a non-contact role. Cody McCormick skated some before practice and left. Tyler Myers not skating yet. Brad Boyes remains out longterm.
---T.J. Brennan, Paul Szczechura and Corey Tropp are not here so it can be inferred they've been sent back to Rochester. Three minutes after I write that update: The Sabres confirm those three have been returned to the AHL
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau looked beaten here Saturday morning and sounded befuddled Saturday night when he said of his struggling team, "It's got to come from within I've got to believe. Because if I've got to teach them how to be tough, then I don't know quite how to do that."
Hunter, 51, is one of four Caps to have his number retired by the team and appeared in 872 games with them from 1987-1999, including the 1998 Stanley Cup final team that beat the Sabres in the Eastern Conference finals. Hunter, of course, is best remembered in Buffalo as the chief pest of the old Quebec Nordiques during those classic 1980s battles in the regular season and playoffs.
Since starting the season 7-0, the Capitals are just 5-9-1. Alexander Ovechkin is a shell of his former self and has openly battled with Boudreau over ice time. Alexander Semin has been a healthy scratch. The Caps lack any semblance of passion and, of course, have the mental issues involved with two straight early playoff flameouts when a lot of people thought they were the best team in the East.
Hunter takes over tomorrow night against St. Louis, which has been surging the last two weeks since hiring Ken HItchcock. Mark Hunter, Dale's younger brother and a former NHLer himself, will take over in London.
As for Boudreau? He just wore out his welcome in DC but he'll certainly get another job at some point. And if he doesn't, he'll always be famous for that great F-bomb rant in the dressing room last year on HBO's 24/7.
Next coach on the hot seat? It's still pretty warm for Paul Maurice in Carolina but I'm betting Randy Carlyle is in his final days in Anaheim, where the Ducks lost their seventh straight last night and are quickly falling out of the Western Conference race. They are 14th and have won once in their last 14 games. Ouch.
10:15 a.m. update: Two Southeast Division coaches down today as the Hurricanes just fired Maurice and will replace him with former NHL player and assistant coach Kirk Muller, who had been the head man with Milwaukee of the AHL. If I'm Carlyle, I stay away from the phone today.
The Sabres have just taken the ice for warmups in First Niagara Center and Drew Stafford is apparently the mystery injured forward Lindy Ruff referred to this morning who will not play tonight against the Washington Capitals. Stafford, who has only four goals and eight assists in 22 games, is believed to have a minor lower-body injury.
Paul Szczechura, called up late this morning from Rochester, will be in the lineup wearing No. 58. Brayden McNabb will make his NHL debut on defense wearing No. 81 in place of Robyn Regehr. Be sure to come back for our live game blog beginning at 7.
Lindy Ruff had to resort to pained smiles and gallows humor to describe the injury situation facing the Sabres tonight against the Washington Capitals in First Niagara Center.
Asked if he's concern his team's play may suffer if it starts to feel sorry for its plight, Ruff cracked, "I don't think there's enough of them there to feel sorry for themselves. There's enough guys [from Rochester] now that they overnumber the guys feeling sorry. That pack is even. It's 9-9 now."
Yep, the Sabres will be without nine regulars tonight. Robyn Regehr (upper body) was hurt last night in Columbus and 20-year-old Brayden McNabb has been called up fromm Rochester. Ruff then said an unnamed forward was hurt last night and will be replaced by a callup but would not elaborate.
The scuttlebutt out of Rochester is that center Paul Szczechura is on the way up from the Amerks. (2:15 p.m. update: The Sabres officially announce the callups of McNabb and Szczechura) As for who's hurt, we saw all four centers (Derek Roy, Luke Adam, Jochen Hecht and Paul Gaustad) in the locker room area this morning following the players' meeting. I'd be concerned about Thomas Vanek, who took a hard hit in the final seconds last night, and Jason Pominville, who did not play over the final 5:14 of the game. We'll see.
So the injury rundown is this: Ryan Miller (concussion), Tyler Ennis (ankle), Tyler Myers (wrist), Cody McCormick (upper body, believed to be concussion), Brad Boyes (lower body, believed to be ankle), Mike Weber (upper body), Patrick Kaleta (lower body, believed to be groin), Regehr (upper body) and Mr. X No. 9.
Ennis, Kaleta, McCormick and Weber all skated today. Ruff said Kaleta is progressing and Ennis might be the furthest along of anyone.
McNabb has one goal, nine assists and is plus-5 for the Amerks and marks the third straight game an Amerk has made his NHL debut (following T.J. Brennan and Zack Kassian). Szczechura has one goal and six assists in nine games and is plus-7. He missed all of training camp with a knee injury and his return to the lineup has helped Rochester up front.
Szczechura, who turns 26 Wednesday, has played the last six years in the AHL. He played 83 games for Tampa Bay from 2008-2010, collecting nine goals and seven assists.
"It's definitely nice to be comfortable in the room knowing a lot of guys," McNabb said. "It's unfortunate for all the injuries but it gives us a chance."
"It's a hell of an opportunity for some of our young guys," Ruff said. "I know it's tough. Nobody in the league is going to feel sorry for us. We're in a tough stretch where we have to try to win games. I think young players playing can help you win games."
Look for Jhonas Enroth to meet Tomas Vokoun in goal tonight. The Sabres are 2-4-1 in their last seven and winless in three (0-2-1). The Caps are 3-6-1 in their last 10 after a 9-2 start.
Brayden McNabb has been called up from Rochester to replace the injured Robyn Regehr, whose status is unknown. But Lindy Ruff just dropped this bombshell: The Sabres are calling up a forward from the Amerks today to replace an unnamed forward who was injured last night in Columbus. Ruff wouldn't give up the identity of either party.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Not since Ryan Miller's first game in 2002 has a Buffalo player's NHL debut been so anticipated. If anyone thinks the fans are excited about Zack Kassian playing tonight, they should see Kassian.
The big right winger was full of smiles and hearty, tight-gripped handshakes this morning while getting ready to premiere against Columbus. He was one of the first players on the ice for the morning skate in Nationwide Arena, and he's ready to return to the rink tonight to face the Blue Jackets.
"You dream about this since you were a little kid. To finally have it come true, I’m very excited,'' said the 20-year-old. "My first NHL game, I’m going to try to have as much fun as I can and not put too much pressure on myself and just play hockey."
Folks in Sabreland have been waiting to watch Kassian since the team selected him 12th overall in the 2009 draft. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder has the rare combination of skill and a physical presence. He had seven goals and 14 points in 18 games with Rochester.
"He’s played well," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Offensively, he’s got it going pretty good down in Rochester. He can really hang on to pucks. He might be as strong a player as we’ve got. He’s a big man."
Kassian will start the game alongside center Luke Adam and left wing Matt Ellis. Kassian and Adam spent much of training camp and all of the Traverse City prospects tournament together.
"When I got sent down I just wanted to work my butt off down there and try to play as best as I can and hopefully get the call," Kassian said. "The call came. Now it’s time for me to show what I’ve got."
The Sabres' top prospect appears set to make his NHL debut.
Zack Kassian, Buffalo's first-round pick in the 2009 draft, has been summoned from Rochester to play for the injury-plagued Sabres, according to the Twitter accounts of Kassian's friends and teammates.
"Congrats to my best friend zack kassian on getting the call up with the Buffalo Sabres!#lighterup!!" wrote Daniel Maggio, a junior player who lives in Kassian's hometown of Windsor, Ont.
Neither the Sabres nor Amerks have announced a transaction.
Kassian leads the Amerks with seven goals and 14 points in 18 games. An ankle injury to right wing Brad Boyes suffered during Wednesday's 4-3 loss to Boston coupled with a lower-body injury that kept right wing Patrick Kaleta out of practice today created the need for a forward.
Somewhere in Rochester today, one of the Amerks forwards will get a telephone call with his turkey. The Sabres are hurting up front, and they're going to need another reinforcement.
Buffalo practiced with only 11 healthy forwards today during a short holiday session in First Niagara Center, and they'll need to boost that number to 12 before they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
Tyler Ennis, who is still recovering from Oct. 22 ankle sprain, practiced on a line but said he is not ready to return. Patrick Kaleta (lower body) was unable to skate again after missing Wednesday's 4-3 shootout loss to Boston, so he's out. Brad Boyes got hurt against the Bruins, and he's not expected back for sometime.
That leaves Amerks forwards Colin Stuart, Zack Kassian and Derek Whitmore among the likely candidates to join the Sabres, who return home after the trip to Columbus to host Washington on Saturday.
"We’re really going to have to grind through a session here where we’re down a lot of manpower," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said today. "Playing against a healthy team last night, a full lineup against six guys out, that effort was worthy of a win. We didn’t get it. We’re disappointed. But I’m just telling you, we play that way, play that hard, we’ll get the W’s."
The Sabres' lines were: Thomas Vanek-Jochen Hecht-Jason Pominville; Ville Leino-Derek Roy-Drew Stafford; Nathan Gerbe-Paul Gaustad-Corey Tropp; and Ennis-Luke Adam-Matt Ellis.
The sixth healthy defensemen were joined by injured Mike Weber, who can skate with the team but has an upper-body injury that will keep him out for weeks still.
To hear Ruff's Thanksgiving chat -- which includes comments on Hecht, T.J. Brennan and the Blue Jackets -- click the audio file below.
John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, is in his sixth season covering the Buffalo Sabres. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.