Today's Edmonton Sun, with Zenon Konopka's fight against Luke Gazdic on the cover.
By Mike Harrington
VANCOUVER -- The Sabres are mired in 30th place in the NHL and the Edmonton Oilers are struggling to get out of 29th but they had been going well (10-4-3) until Buffalo's 3-1 win Thursday in Rexall Place. By the tenor of Friday's Edmonton newspapers, you'd have thought the Oil was in the thick of the playoff hunt and not washed up weeks agao.
The Oilers took a beating in their hometown media Friday, as the pictures that accompany this post show. Veteran Sun columnist Terry Jones called the game a "Grade A Large egg" in his column, pictured at left and linked above.
The win was the Sabres' 20th of the season, making them the last team in the NHL to reach that mark and ensuring they wouldn't join the 1971-72 team as the only ones in franchise history to not win 20 a season. Oddly enough, the Sabres won 22 and 21 games, respectively, in the lockout seasons of 1995 and 2013.
And the franchise record-low of 51 points from the 71-72 team that went 16-43-19 should be safe. The current Sabres have 48 points and still have 12 games to go.
Today's Edmonton Journal. Click for a bigger view.
In regulation, the Sabres have beaten Florida, Toronto, Winnipeg, Boston, New Jersey, Columbus, Phoenix, Carolina, San Jose, Tampa Bay and Edmonton. They've beaten Toronto, Phoenix and Boston a second time, all in overtime. And they have shootout wins over the New York Islanders, San Jose, Los Angeles, Ottawa and Washington (twice).
So two wins apiece over Boston and San Jose, as well as Toronto, Phoenix and Washington.
If there were a trophy for worst owner in professional sports, Terry Pegula would have that thing locked down tighter than the Buffalo Sabres’ grip on last place in the NHL.
After the latest shocker to hit the Sabres – the resignation of Pat LaFontaine as president of hockey operations this past weekend, just 3 1/2 months after he took the job – Pegula can take his place on the dishonour roll beside such meddling luminaries as Harold Ballard, Bill Wirtz, Charles Wang, Donald Sterling, Ted Stepien and at least two generations of the Bidwell and Glieberman families.
The only thing clear in the murky situation surrounding the most dysfunctional franchise in the NHL is that most of the blame can be laid at Pegula’s doorstep.
No way to PR spin out of that one, that's for sure.
A reminder that tonight's game against Boston is a 7:30 faceoff on the NBC Sports Network, which will be airing a one-hour pregame show starting at 6:30. The peacock folks will have plenty to talk about in the wake of last night's 3-2 win over Carolina, and the game itself was obviously irrelevant.
The talk of the town -- and the talk of the league -- is GM Tim Murray's pregame press conference, where he confirmed the Sabres are actively shopping Ryan Miller. And Miller's postgame admission that a trade would probably be best for all sides was the first time the veteran goaltender definitively came out with that stance.
In my column for today's editions, I wrote that the Sabres should immediately shut Miller down and not risk an injury that could derail a deal. Apologies to folks who have tickets for Friday's game against San Jose but Miller took quite a shot early last night when Marcus Foligno dumped Carolina's Riley Nash right on top of him. Those are the kind of plays where goalies get hurt and that can't happen now.
I talked about Miller some more earlier today on SiriusXM's "Hockey This Morning" with Mike Rossy and Mick Kern. You can hear the audio of that interview by clicking the file below.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Be sure to keep it here in a couple hours for the latest updates on tonight's Sabres-Wild game from the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul. We're on Central time, remember, so the Sabres' "morning" skate doesn't begin until 12:30 p.m. in Buffalo. (And I might even have another travel story or two.).
The most notable item was Miller's admission that the Olympic process has been a huge motivating factor for him to get through the Sabres' horrific rebuilding season. We didn't talk about Miller's contract status because nothing has changed with the Sabres still pursuing GM options, but it's clear he knows he's playing for a lot this season even if the team isn't.
"You can let the struggles be a distraction but I've tried to take myself to a different place here," Miller said. "The last couple years have been a disappointment career-wise not getting a chance to be in the playoffs and doing things like that I hoped to. This really gives you something that's one of your career goals."
An animated GIF of the Sabres' Christmas gift from SBNation
By Mike Harrington
The ButtGoal is everywhere.
The Sabres beat Phoenix last night, 2-1, as Mark Pysyk was credited with an overtime goal after the puck landed in the pants -- and on the butt -- of Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith, who slid back into the net with it in tow. As I wrote in my column for today's paper, it was an early Christmas present (or at least a Festivus Miracle!) and seemingly the start of a reconciliation of a team and its bedraggled fan base.
We covered a wacky hockey game and went home. It snowed. Then I woke up and checked my computer and phone and the crazy finish is the toast of the Internet.
The surprising season of the Tampa Bay Lightning now seems to be hanging in the balance after star center Steven Stamkos suffered what clearly looks to be a serious leg injury during today's Veterans Day matinee in Boston.
While backchecking in his own zone, Stamkos was ridden into the goalpoast of the Tampa net and his right leg appeared to whip around the post in an ugly contortion. He tried to get up on the leg but collapsed in pain and started to pound the ice with his hand in agony as trainers and a Bruins team doctor attended to him.
So Sportsnet Insider and ex-NHLer Nick Kypreos, joined by John Shannon and Scott Morrison, set Sabreland on its ear last night with his "report" that Darcy Regier is on the hot seat. If you missed it, click below to play it and then keep reading for some thoughts.
"No truth to the report" is the official comment from the Sabres today, given to both yours truly and WGR Radio in the 8 a.m. hour. Fair enough. You wouldn't expect them to say otherwise for one thing. But at the same time, if something was in fact going down, they wouldn't say that either. You'd get a no-comment or you might not even get any answer to your inquiry.
(I'm not going to get into the credibility of another media outlet other than to say if you're going to breathlessly make a claim like this, it would be nice if you didn't identify Ken Sawyer as the Sabres' team president. The president, of course, is Ted Black.)
So let's think a little deeper on this one. Should Regier be fired? In the eyes of just about everyone, sure. But why now and not, say, July 2, 2007? But more seriously, why now and not May, 2013?
If you're going to endure "suffering" and you're going to rebuild, why would you let the same old GM hire a coach without interviewing anyone else, run the draft, do little in free agency, do nothing with Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, go through training camp -- and then fire him eight games into the season?
And on the other side of things, if the Sabres did put Regier on some kind of notice, why would he not have spent the summer stocking up on some veterans trying to win a few games to make sure his job stayed safe so he'd be able to see through the rebuild?
Regier, remember, got a contract extension from owner Terry Pegula that was announced the day before last season's opener. And in his one "interview" after the season on the Sabres' paid program on WGR, Pegula rhetorically asked host Kevin Sylvester, "What has Darcy done wrong?" Those would be pretty embarrassing statements to have to backtrack on so quickly. Talk about changing on the fly.
(Pegula wouldn't want to hear my answer to his question but that's not the point. That's what he said. So be it).
It's obvious to anyone who has been in First Niagara Center lately that the "clarion call" (apologies to Black) has never been louder for Regier to get pink-slipped. Those "Fi-re Dar-cy" chants eminanting from Section 317 near the press box spread around the upper level during that dreary Columbus game. And fans can have impact with such actions, as they did with Ron Wilson in Toronto. If it continues and if the number of empty seats grows, you wonder how far Pegula will feel his back is against the wall. After all, he did once say "Lindy ain't goin nowhere" and we know what happened there.
Sabres fans are going to hear a lot of these kinds of reports in the coming months, especially about Vanek and Miler, and will need to ferret out what's legitimate from what seems to be just thrown at the wall hoping something sticks. Last point: Kypreos had Miller about to be traded any day in May. Seems like No. 30 got a win on Long Island last night in the game I was watching.
The Sabres started a major transition on their broadcasts over the summer with the announcement that Dan Dunleavy will be replacing Rick Jeanneret in 2016. More big on-air news came today with the word that longtime analyst Mike Robitaille will be retiring after the season and former Sabres forward Brad May will join the crew this year on a limited basis before moving into Robitaille's slot in a full-time role next year.
"It’s never an easy decision to walk away from doing something that you love,” Robitaille, 65, said in a statement. “Hockey and the Sabres have been a major part of my life for the better part of 33 years and I felt now was a good time for me to step away. Many things factored into my decision, one being that the health effects from my car accident a few years back have become more of a struggle to work through. More importantly, however, is my desire to have more quality time to spend with my family.”
Robitaille, a former Buffalo defenseman who spent four of his nine NHL seasons with the Sabres, was hired in 1980 to join the Sabres radio/TV crews. He has served multiple roles and one of his most well-known was as the original host of "Hockey Hotline", the popular Empire Sports Network postgame show that reached its zenith in the late 90s and early 2000s when Robitaille was teamed with Brian Blessing.
"Roby epitomizes hockey in Buffalo and he’s treated the fans here to more than three decades of his incredible knowledge and passion for the game,” said Sabres President Ted Black. “His insight and humor will be missed on our broadcasts next season but he will certainly be around our Sabres family for years to come. It will be special to see Roby pass the torch to Brad, who brings a similar players’ perspective to his analysis, and have another great Sabres player behind the microphone.”
May, a former Sabres first-round draft pick, will work approximately 25 road games and some home games. He will continue to work this season for Rogers Sportsnet in Toronto, where has been an analyst for three seasons.
“It’s very exciting to see my career come full circle,” May said. “I was drafted by the Sabres 23 years ago and now I’ll have the opportunity to come back to Buffalo to start another chapter of my hockey life and my broadcasting career. My goal is to bring my experiences as a player to the broadcasts and help fans get another perspective on the game. I was honored to have been offered this job and I’m happy to be back in Buffalo.”
May won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and, of course, scored one of the most famous goals in Sabres history in 1993. Do we need to explain? Nope. Do we ever need an excuse to post this video? Nope.
Be sure to pick up Sunday's editions of The Buffalo News to read our annual NHL Preview Section, chock-full of great reads, sharp photography and eye-popping graphics from The News' award-winning design department.
The cover story by John Vogl is a fascinating look inside the mind and hockey background of The Professor, Sabres coach Ron Rolston. He has graduated from the ranks of U.S. colleges and the National Development Team program to get his first full-time gig in the NHL and be the Sabres' first new coach since Lindy Ruff took over 1997.
The story features the insight of several Rolston contemporaries topped by Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson, who gave Rolston his first coaching job as an assistant at Lake Superior State.
"It's like getting a doctorate, basically, working under Jeff and learning about the game," Rolston said. "I was very fortunate because a lot of people don't get that mentorship right away. I was able to right off the bat learn from the best and then have a good foundation moving forward."
My main assignment was a feature on Sabres agitator Steve Ott, a mouth that roars and never stops while he drives opponents crazy. Said teammate Patrick Kaleta of Ott: "It would be funny to see what his Google searches are, that's for sure."
"It's nerve-wracking for me. That's my dad out there," Ott told me last week. "I know he's highly competitive and he's going to go to the max, to the edge to win. His mindset is where I got my mindset from. There's only one way. For him, he's got his own boat race going. It's win or swim. He's either flipping or going for a win. To watch him sometimes barrel roll or flip that boat going 100 mph, things get pretty nerve-wracking. I never want to see him banged up."
Also in the section, Vogl provides an incredible travelogue with restaurant and sight-seeing recommendations in every NHL city and I take a look back at the wild history of the Sabres uniforms. There's also Vogl's reasons for optimism and pessimism on the Sabres and full capsules of every NHL team.
Be sure to pick it up. Only in Sunday's Buffalo News.
The first is a collection of clips from the 2010 game in Anaheim that Dunleavy called with Harry Neale on MSG while filling in for Jeanneret and the latter is a pregame interview with Neale that Dunleavy did last season for Leafs TV.
Bright and early this morning, the Sabres answered a significant question in the minds of their fans that's been lingering around First Niagara Center for a few years: When is legendary play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret hanging up his microphone?
We now know the answer. Jeanneret has signed a new three-year contract that calls for him to reduce his schedule through the 2015-16 season before retiring to become an ambassador for the team.
The club has also announced a succession plan for Jeanneret that includes the hiring of veteran Toronto sportscaster Dan Dunleavy (left) to be his heir apparent in the play-by-play role. Dunleavy will come on board this year and will work the games Jeanneret does not travel to, eventually becoming the team's full-time voice for the 2016-17 season.
“This decision was obviously very difficult for me to make,” Jeanneret said in a statement released by the team “It has become a yearly deliberation, deciding if the coming year would be my last or what season I would finally step away. I initially thought doing a full year of games this coming season and then retiring was the way to go.
"After discussing it with my family and with the Sabres, we all thought signing this new deal was the right choice. I get to continue to do what I love while slowly reducing my workload and eventually turning the reins over to Dan, who I greatly respect and believe Sabres fans will grow to love.”
The Sabres won only 21 games last season. They've picked nine as their best and will re-broadcast them on MSG.
The two-hour, condensed broadcasts begin at 8 p.m. Monday and will run every week through Aug. 26 on MSG. The games, in order of airing, are: Tampa Bay (played Feb. 26), Florida (Feb. 28), New Jersey (March 2), New York Rangers (March 12), Montreal (March 19), Toronto (March 21), Montreal (March 23), Pittsburgh (April 23) and New York Islanders (April 26).
Hockey fans in Buffalo tune in regularly to hockey broadcasts. The tradition continued in a big way Wednesday night.
The Buffalo market ranked fourth in the United States with an 8.5 rating for Game One of the Stanley Cup finals, NBC Sports said today. Buffalo was No. 1 among cities without a rooting interest.
Boston led the way with a 28.1 rating, while Chicago was second at 25.1. Providence, which is home to the Bruins' minor-league affiliate, was third with an 18.5 rating. Milwaukee (6.1) rounded out the top five.
Chicago's 4-3 triple-overtime victory posted a 4.8 overnight rating, which NBC said was up 100 percent from last year and the best in 16 years. Detroit and Philadelphia put up a 5.2 on Fox in 1997.
NESN has a tiny camera in its TD Garden booth trained on wacko Bruins play-by-play guy Jack Edwards, and it captured this over-the-top reaction from Edwards to Patrice Bergeron's overtime goal in Game Seven against the Leafs Monday night.
Close your eyes and listen and it's actually a pretty good call but Edwards, clearly knowing the camera is there, added some major mustard to his hot dogging too.
But the Stanley Cup playoffs did, in fact, start this week and that means CBC's annual montage to get your blood flowing. As usual, the folks north of the border did an incredible job.
This one has gone all over the Internet the last couple days but since I don't get CBC (Verizon FIOS, work on that!!!), I had not seen it until yesterday.
Great stuff. Campbell-Umberger makes it. So does an old black & white interview with Tim Horton at 2:20. And Chills when you hear the voices of the likes of Danny Gallivan and Foster Hewitt. (Don't know? Google 'em, kids)
WASHINGTON -- Rick Jeanneret has been calling Sabres games for more than 40 years. The butterflies have long since disappeared.
Still, he's a little anxious as the puck gets ready to drop for the Sabres and Capitals.
"We’ll find out how rusty I am very shortly," Jeanneret said this afternoon during a broadcast booth chat in Verizon Center. "I’m long past
the days of being nervous, but I am anticipating it quite a bit because I’m not
so sure I’m going to be right up to snuff to begin with here. I think once
things get under way, I’ll be fine."
Jeanneret is back after missing the opening four games with an illness that required a brief hospitalization. He's spent the last week recuperating and following doctor's orders.
"I spent a lot of time with the iPad and a lot of time on the Kindle reading," he said. "I really didn’t do a whole lot more than that. I was told to
rest, and I tried to keep my nose to the grindstone and obey the orders. That’s
basically all I was doing.
"I did keep in touch with the team, and they were
letting me know what was happening. Mostly, from the top down, they just said, 'Stay away and get better. Don’t even think about coming back until you are.' It
was the typical Buffalo Sabres’ treatment of employees. It was top shelf."
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, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. 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.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.