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Noted Jerk’s guide to Buffalo during the 2016 NHL Draft

Filed under: NHL Draft — Tags: , — Joe Yerdon @ 1:01 PM

The 2016 NHL Draft is upon us and plenty of you are looking ahead to traveling to Buffalo and looking ahead to next season and beyond with the annual selection meeting.

Of course, the trick to going to a new city (or one you haven’t been to in some time) is knowing where the best places to visit to eat, drink, and be merry are located and just what they are in the first place.

Lots of people will tell you the old standards, but after being a Buffalo native for three years some things have changed and you can do well in New York’s Queen City if you just listen to your pal Joe. Here’s my guide of where to go in Buffalo:


Let’s just get this out of the way first. Buffalo is world-renowned for its chicken wings and, honestly, there’s not really a bad place in the city and surrounding neighborhoods to get wings, but people will have lots of opinions on where to go to get the best.

Where people will tell you to go: Anchor Bar (1047 Main Street) or Duff’s (multiple locations)

If you want to go to the home of the Buffalo wing, it’s OK to go to Anchor Bar once. Have them at the source and take a few pictures and say you did it. After all, if you’re a tourist and new to the city, you’ll want to hit that and Niagara Falls on your visit to the area. Go wild. But, you’re going to pay tourist prices there, so just know that up front. Duff’s is fine for wings and a local chain to the Buffalo area. There’s nothing wrong with hitting Duff’s, but they don’t have a location downtown, so if that’s where you’re staying during the draft and you don’t have a car to get around in, you’re going to want to test out the numerous other awesome bars that do wings their way. Such as…

Where else you should go: Gabriel’s Gate (145 Allen St.); Bar Bill Tavern (Cash Only — 185 Main St. East Aurora); Elmo’s Tavern (2349 Millersport Highway, Getzville); The Nine-Eleven Tavern (Cash Only — 11 Bloomfield Avenue, Buffalo)

If you wanted to do a “Tour of Great Wings” this list is what I’d call a good start. The Gate is where most Buffalonians will tell you to go and it’s location on Allen Street will make it very popular. The wings are great and so is the rest of the food. If you’re into beer, order the house brown ale to go with it.

If you’ve got a car at your disposal, I’d say Bar Bill is a must-visit place and worth the 30-40 minute drive to East Aurora to have their wings. They’re the crispiest and sauciest wings in the area. If you’re going alone or with one friend, you’ll have a fighting chance of being served right away at the bar. Going with a big group and in need of a table? You could be in for a long wait because it’s always busy and it’s not a big place. Lucky for you and your group, Aurora Brew Works is right next door.

Elmo’s in Getzville does stupendous wings and they do things a little different in that you can get your wings double-dipped in any of their sauces. The wings are big and meaty and adding two sauce flavors to them totally works.

While “The Gate” will get all the attention (rightfully so) from people, the new under-the-radar place locals get their wings is The Nine-Eleven Tavern. This small South Buffalo bar and restaurant with a sturdy shuffleboard table splits the difference in style between what Gabriel’s Gate and Bar Bill does. It’s saucy and just the right amount of crispy, but what makes them stand out the most is the sauce because it appears it adds a bit of chopped garlic to it for a hint of sweetness and a lot of flavor. Even though I’m not exactly a foodie, that review makes it seem like I am. That said, you go to any of these places and you’ll be eating well.


Hockey fans demand beer and fortunately for anyone coming to the NHL Draft, Buffalo is awash in beer and in the middle of a brewing renaissance. To give you a proper idea of how to go about getting your suds in the Queen City, I’ll give you both breweries and bars to find. Sadly, the No. 1 place I would’ve wanted you all to see closed its doors in April after a dispute amongst former business partners. The rest of these picks may not quite compare, but there are plenty of gems to be found.

Where people will tell you to go: Pearl Street Grill & Brewery (76 Pearl St., Buffalo); Liberty Hound (1 Naval Park Cove, Buffalo); Pizza Plant (125 Main St. #110, Buffalo); Ballyhoo (211 South Park Ave., Buffalo); Swannie House (170 Ohio St., Buffalo)

People will tell you to go to these places because they’re all within walking distance of the First Niagara Center and they all cover the bases for the kind of beer you want.

You want a place that makes their own beer? Pearl St. is the place. You want a great craft beer selection with craft cocktails and sausages? Ballyhoo is where it’s at. All the best new beers to go with great pizza? Pizza Plant is across the street from HarborCenter. Good beer and a view of the water? The Liberty Hound will take care of that. A dive bar with all the perfect dive bar beer and prices? Swannie House will do. If you want to hang at the arena and not explore more than that, you’re golden and will do quite well with food and drink. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping it close to the arena if you’re not into exploring more of the city.

Where else you should go: Big Ditch Brewing Company (55 E. Huron St., Buffalo); Resurgence Brewing (1250 Niagara St., Buffalo); Flying Bison Brewery (840 Seneca St., Buffalo); Community Beer Works (15 Lafayette Ave., Buffalo); Gene McCarthy’s/Old First Ward Brewing (73 Hamburg St., Buffalo); Amherst Pizza & Ale House (55 Crosspoint Parkway, Amherst); Lenox Grill (140 North St., Buffalo); Cole’s Restaurant (1104 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); Mr. Goodbar (1110 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); Thin Man Brewery (492 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); The Old Pink (223 Allen St., Buffalo)

Breweries, beer bars, and the best dive bar in the city: That’s what makes up this list. For the most part, these could all go on the list below for “Food That Isn’t Wings” as well as you’ll find some great places to eat here as well.

If you’re a craft beer fan, consider this your hit list on where to go. There are a lot of new breweries popping up across the city and nearby areas and, let’s face it, you’ve only got so much time. Big Ditch, Old First Ward, and Flying Bison are all reasonably close to First Niagara Center with Big Ditch located right downtown. Big Ditch and OFW have full dining menus, but Flying Bison does not. Resurgence and Community Beer Works can be found on the west side within a block of each other. Resurgence offers some snacks to order.

Thin Man Brewery just opened within the past week on Elmwood Avenue, but their beer won’t be ready to flow until after the NHL Draft. Lucky for you their tap list is solid with local craft and other high-end craft beers. Their kitchen is fully up and rolling with great food. If you venture further up Elmwood near Buffalo State College you’ll find Cole’s and Mr. Goodbar next door to each other. Both have great beer selections with Mr. Goodbar’s having a bit more variety. You can dine in at Cole’s and there’s an outdoor patio to go with it.

Lenox Grill may not have much beer on tap, but it has hands-down the best and most vast bottled beer selection in the city. On top of that, the dining menu is stellar.

A trip to the suburbs should mean a visit to Amherst Pizza & Ale House. Their draft menu has a lot to offer when it comes to craft beers and their wings are excellent especially the Crown Royal BBQ wings. That said, if you go and you have a pile of friends with you, make sure to get the pizza fries for a full gluttonous adventure.

Last, and certainly not least, is The Old Pink. Think of a dive bar you’ve been to and think about how much you enjoyed it for all that it had (or didn’t have at all) and that’s The Pink. You’re not likely to find any fine craft beers, but you will find the finest steak sandwich in Buffalo to go with all the fine music and ambiance you’d expect from a place that has all the looks of being a grungy road house but the best cross-section of humanity Buffalo has to offer.


Since I’m not much of a foodie, I’ll just lay it out for you easier here since people are going to tell you about 1,000 different places to check out. I’ll break them down by style to make it slightly easier. Just trust me when I say this: If you don’t eat well in Buffalo, that’s your own fault and I shame you greatly for failure.

Family Italian: Chef’s Restaurant (291 Seneca St., Buffalo) – It’s probably the most famous Italian place in Buffalo and if you’ve got kids with you, it’ll make everyone happy. Make sure to put on your apron bib because the sauce and cheese explosion will be waiting.

Rooftop seating Italian: Tappo (338 Ellicott St., Buffalo) – It’s a more recent addition to downtown, but Tappo offers a more fashionable way of dining out. The food is great (I’ll vouch for the meatballs and lasagna) and it’s an ideal place for friends and a few bottles of wine. It’s going to be sunny and hot and you’re going to want to bask in the glory of great Buffalo weather, RIGHT? Head for the roof for a drink or to eat.

Good-ass pizza: Casa di Pizza (11 E. Mohawk St., Buffalo) – There’s always a chance you’ll run into me here grabbing slices to go or watching a game, but don’t let that deter you, this place has the best pizza in the city as far as I’m concerned. They also offer some Italian staples, subs, appetizers, wings and sandwiches too. Everything comes big so you’re getting your money’s worth.

Southern Eating: Toutant (437 Ellicott St., Buffalo) – Yes, you can find Southern food in Buffalo and yes you can get it better than you can in most places down South. Blasphemy?! Nope. Biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, poboys, muffaletta, greens, barbecue… Just make a reservation and get there if you can.

Seafood fine and fried: Oshun (5 E. Huron St., Buffalo); Liberty Hound (1 Naval Park Cove, Buffalo)

If oysters and a layout that would make Aquaman proud sounds like something you’d like, head to Oshun. You can find just about every other kind of seafood delight as well from fish tacos and sandwiches to lobster rolls to cod, ahi tuna, salmon, and trout.

If you’re feeling more like a basket of fried calamari, clams, scallops, or ahi tuna nachos, Liberty Hound in the Naval Park near HarborCenter will satisfy your desires. Some seating has a nice view of the water and the boats that will surely be cruising all throughout the weekend so this place will get busy. But if you get in, get one of your beers shandy-fied and relax by the water.

Taco Party: Lloyd Taco Factory (1503 Hertel Ave., Buffalo); Deep South Taco (291 Ellicott St., Buffalo); Cantina Loco (191 Allen St., Buffalo); Valle of Mexico (1586 South Park Ave., Buffalo)

People will debate over who has the best wings or pizza in Buffalo for days, but the new battle is about who offers the best Mexican-inspired food. The early favorite, and perhaps they should be called “The People’s Tacos,” are Lloyd. The long-time food truck operators opened a proper restaurant in North Buffalo and yes the hype is real and deserved. The newcomers are Deep South Taco downtown and their selections are good (a luchadore style taco is quite good) and they offer an outdoor patio to soak in the sunshine. My one wish for them was that their tacos had a bit more to them considering the price point.

Cantina Loco is a hip tequila bar that also happens to serve really good food that’s modernized a bit. You’ll find some great new stuff on the specials and the standards are always pleasing. If you want the truly authentic Mexican restaurant, however, Valle of Mexico is worth the trip down South Park Avenue but call ahead to make sure they’re open.

Burgers and Beers: Allen Burger Venture (175 Allen St., Buffalo); Vizzi’s (967 Kenmore Ave., Buffalo)

I’ll be plain about this: You’re going to pay a good amount of money for a burger at ABV on Allen, but it will be completely worthwhile to do so. Made to order with a metric ton of flavor in whatever it is you choose. You cannot go wrong with a burger there and the fantastic fries on the side are just a bonus. They also sport an outstanding tap list and have many whiskeys and bourbons to take down if you’re feeling that way.

Vizzi’s will catch your eye in Kenmore with the bright yellow and black signage, but the massive Monster Burger as well as all of their hearty sandwiches will send you home feeling fat and happy and you won’t pay a lot to do so either.

Vegan and veggieAmy’s Place (3234 Main St., Buffalo); merge (439 Delaware Ave., Buffalo); Betty’s (370 Virginia St., Buffalo); Newbury Street (470 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo)

All right, so I’ve choked you with enough burgers, tacos, pizza, and wings and now you have to cleanse your system of all that and eat healthy. Being decidedly not vegan or vegetarian myself, I had to consult a few friends who are. While many places around Buffalo will offer vegan or veggie options, these restaurants specialize in them.

Amy’s Place is another place where people would know of them from their food truck and the food truck craze that’s gone wild. But they’ve been established for a while with its own restaurant and branched out with a truck for a good reason: The food is great. You can get a lot of the regular fare there, but they also offer Middle Eastern food and a great breakfast menu. Cannot recommend highly enough.

With merge and Betty’s you have a couple places that are a bit closer to downtown and do things distinctly their own. Betty’s may be most famous for their brunch and their vegan offerings are among the best in the city. At merge, things are done a bit more organically in that a lot of what they make is locally farm grown and produced.

Newbury Street on Elmwood gives you the chance to get that shake or smoothie as well as fresher versions of salads and rice bowls than you might find at chain-like locations. They also offer Crush Juicery and Public Espresso Coffee. Speaking of coffee…

Coffee housing: Perks Cafe (448 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); Spot Coffee (numerous locations in Buffalo); Public Espresso + Coffee (Hotel at Lafayette 391 Washington St., Buffalo); Paula’s Donuts (2319 Sheridan Ave., Tonawanda)

Listen, I know you can get Tim Hortons or Starbucks all over the place and that’s all well and good, but if you want the good beans go to any of these places.

Perks is new to Elmwood Village and has a host of coffee choices both hot and iced as well as sandwiches, breakfast noshing, and baked goods. The staff are lovely and it’s my neighborhood go-to caffeine hook up. I may be playing favorites here.

Spot and Public are both a bit closer to downtown and will feed your need for coffee and snacking as well. Most coffee places will take care of you that way and Spot offers up quite a few options.

Paula’s Donuts gets a mention here because, damn it, you need a good doughnut with your coffee. Lucky for you, their coffee is sneaky good if not just your regular cup of Joe. Be sure to grab a taillight to go with that coffee to really do the trick.

Breakfast of champions: Sophia’s Restaurant (749 Military Rd., Buffalo); Lake Effect Diner (3165 Main St., Buffalo)

When it comes to breakfast eats, there are two places I will always and forever recommend in Buffalo and it just so happens they were both featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”

Sophia’s only does breakfast and lunch and is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. and you’ll occasionally need to wait a bit at the small diner-sized place, but it’s worth the wait. Pancakes are dinner plate-sized, the omelets are bountiful and filling, and by all means order the home fries and get the toast with homemade bread. Tons of food at inexpensive prices and you’ll be immensely satisfied.

Lake Effect Diner on Main Street has a bit more flexible hours if you’re feeling like breakfast in the late afternoon, but the food will make you want breakfast all the time. Again, I recommend strongly getting home fries with your bacon and eggs or French toast. If you’re not there for breakfast, that’s fine too because the rest of the menu is great. Get a milkshake if you can.


There’s a lot to digest here and you’ve only got a few days to make the most of everything. Obviously there are a LOT more than just these places around the city to wine and dine and have a good time, but I want you all to leave town believing this won’t be the last time you’ll see Buffalo. After all, this is the City of Good Neighbors.


The Worst

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Joe Yerdon @ 10:48 PM

I’ve talked a bit here about some of the things that crawl into my mind during idle times and tried to sort things out as best as I can through writing. It helps.

I’ve been stuck in a rut since the season came to an end and there’s a strong sense of dread because of it and it’s all tied to the unknown. What comes of the future and all that.

When you’re doing something that you love and doing it covering a sport that you might love and obsess on a little too much, you worry about a lot of things. Job security is chief amongst them and when you only sort-of have a job (such is the way of freelance work) the worries tend to pile up quickly.

The worst part of having a lot of time to yourself and a lot to think about is being stuck with just your own mind. It’s incredible the power one’s brain has in controlling what you’re doing without even trying. The self-doubt that can overwhelm you and the way it can subvert your confidence is incredible. I’m not one to call myself a bad writer. A wordy one, sure, but bad? No way. Yet when a job possibility comes up I’m overrun with self-doubt and wondering if I’m good enough to even throw my hat in the ring for such a thing regardless of what it is.

Worse yet, that crisis of confidence trickles down into all other aspects of life and when you’re a bit of an introvert that spins things into self-made isolation. Not because I want to be by myself all the time but because I don’t want to either burden anyone else with my company or because worries about everything else make it easier to walk away when it’s time to make those good-byes later (or sooner?) down the road easier.

Getting stuck in my own head is definitely a problem. Always has been. I know what the right things to do are to combat that, I just fall back on what I’ve always done and grew up doing: Keeping to myself.

Downside of this is it makes it seem like I always want to do that. It’s not true. I enjoy being with friends immensely and even though my social circle in Buffalo is a lot smaller than it is back home, I’m not without options – I just don’t follow through on them for whatever reason it is in my head that day to not do it.

Pretty stupid, right? Yeah… But this it how it is right now. Buckled under by doubt and worries about what’s to come and whether or not I’m going to have to find some other career road to take because either opportunities aren’t there or I’m just not good enough.

It’s too much sometimes and sometimes it’s something I want to talk about with others, but then it just comes off as “first world problems” kind of whining (in my own head at least) and I don’t bother. I just sit and stew with it and that’s not great either.

It’s a tug-o-war between wanting to just vomit out all the stuff in my head and not wanting to sound like a giant weenie. I guess you’re all getting a good look at what it’s like to be stuck in my own head. Congratulations and I’m sorry.



Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Yerdon @ 3:11 PM

The Buffalo Sabres have two games left in the season and there’s still a doubt as to whether or not they’ll finish with the league’s worst record.

Consider that they have 54 points, a whole two points better than they did last season when they were 13 points behind the next worst team, and it lays out just how bad things are at the bottom. The fact the Sabres are technically better than they were last season is startling on its own and the fact whether or not they’ll secure their shot to grab Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel waits for at least the result of their game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

What’s incredible about this season for Buffalo is how the Sabres have had and may continue to have their hands in everything. Think of what may lay ahead for Saturday, the final day of the season.

A Sabres win against the Blue Jackets puts them even in points with Arizona for last. The Sabres have the tiebreaker, of course, but it would set the table for a highly uncomfortable final game at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Sabres would need a regulation loss to ensure 30th and while doing that against Pittsburgh hasn’t been hard to do in recent years, the Penguins are reeling.

The Penguins are 3-5-2 in their past 10 games and may need to win that game Saturday should they lose to the New York Islanders on Friday. A Penguins regulation loss would put them in peril of missing the playoffs. On the upside, they have one more point than the equally flailing Boston Bruins, but with everyone in action on Saturday leaving things to chance means potential playoff mayhem with the Bruins, Penguins, and Ottawa Senators all looking to secure the wild card spots.

Think of the drama that could unfold in Buffalo on Saturday… Buffalo fans desperate for their team to lose to secure their spot in the standings coupled with the Penguins desperately needing a win to make the playoffs. How do the fans react to that?

Sure there will be a lot of Penguins fans there because Pittsburgh isn’t too far from Buffalo, but the surreal atmosphere that could come about would be even stranger than what happened against the Coyotes weeks ago. The desire by the Sabres fan base to land either McDavid or Eichel is at a fever pitch and if the Sabres pull out a win against Columbus it’ll be a virtual panic situation.

Think of the absurdity of that. Of all of it. To root for a team that has done nothing but lose in unfathomable fashion the past two seasons only to have them not lose enough for the pay off. It’s enough to make you want to have the Sabres lose to Columbus just to make sure it doesn’t happen.

But the drama… The drama is too rich to ignore. Just thinking of how that game could play out with so much on the line for both teams is incredible. It’d be a fitting send off to what’s been a ridiculous season in regards to racing to the bottom one way or another.

Maybe the Blue Jackets and Penguins take care of things tonight and make that final game just another throwaway game on the final day of the season. Then again, maybe they don’t and we’re all treated to one final fascinating spectacle in what’s been a season straight out of Bizarro World.


When losing means winning

It seems goofy to point out that no one likes to lose. It’s obvious.

If you lose a game, a competition, a debate… Anything. When you feel defeat and you’ve been bettered by an opponent it irks you beyond belief. Even more so if you’re wired with a competitive streak that drives you to keep going until you succeed and then continue coming out on top.

That ability is what drives most professionals in their career. That wont to be the best at what you do and to stand at the top of the hypothetical mountain above everyone. Others may want to go about life peacefully and not deal with the rat race a competition can be, but a lot of people, especially professional athletes, feed off the desire to win.

Winning is the ultimate high and the euphoria that goes along with it is intoxicating. Winning is the dragon everyone chases and that’s what makes everything about the race to the bottom of the NHL standings so bizarre.

Whether it’s team executives, fans, or both, the goal for teams out of the playoffs is to secure the best shot at getting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. For teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, and Edmonton Oilers that means finishing dead last in the league guarantees your team of landing one of them. Both are generational talents and both will make whatever team they land on vastly improved next season and beyond.

To win this race it means losing. A lot.

For the Sabres and Coyotes, they’ve done that the most this season. Now they’re five points apart with Arizona sitting 29th and the race for 30th essentially hanging in the balance based on what happens when they face each other twice in five days.

What’s twisted about all this is that being the ultimate loser this season may reap the biggest reward, the thought of benefiting from defeat is abhorrent to the players and coaches. The Sabres and Coyotes both practiced in Buffalo on Wednesday and couldn’t be more crystal clear about how they felt.

“The guys in this room are proud guys,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “We battle hard and we’re not content with where we are. No one is happy with it. But each day you’ve got to try to bring something better and improve in different areas.”

Gionta is in an awkward position because he’s won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils. He was captain of the Montreal Canadiens for five season before he signed with Buffalo in July. His counterpart in Arizona, Shane Doan, has spent his career with the Jets/Coyotes organization. Losing doesn’t sit any better with him.

“It’s difficult. Like I said, if you’re a player and you’re competitive you don’t like to lose,” Doan said. “When you lose, that makes things not near as enjoyable. But at the same time you’re getting to compete in the NHL which is, I think every, I mean it was my dream growing up and as long as you get to do it it’s going to be fun.

“By no means am I enjoying the losing at all. It’s awful, it’s disgusting, and you hate it, but at the same time you love the fact you get to play in the NHL. You love the NHL and you love the game of hockey and so you want to keep playing.”

It’s a grounded perspective from a guy who’s seen the ultimate in highs and lows with the Coyotes. From starting his career in Winnipeg with the original Jets and moving to Phoenix followed by three years of ownership-based drama to an appearance in the Western Conference Final in 2012, it’s been an unbelievable ride. But the losing and the desire by many for the team to lose is something he won’t accept.

“Nobody wants to be in the position that our two teams are in,” Doan said. “Not one player. Not one player. It’s… You’re embarrassed, you have to be. Nobody ever wants to be considered the worst and obviously both teams are being considered the two worst teams in the league. That’s not encouraging.”

Fans in Arizona have warmed up to the thought of landing McDavid or Eichel at the draft, but in Buffalo it’s something that’s seemingly been in the sights of management going back to 2013 when former GM, and current Coyotes assistant GM, Darcy Regier told Sabres fans, “there’s going to be some suffering” as the team began a rebuild.

That rebuild began in earnest when the Sabres traded captain Jason Pominville to the Minnesota Wild. Now there’s a new regime in charge with GM Tim Murray and coach Ted Nolan. With the fan base whipped into a fever pitch about landing McDavid or Eichel thanks to Regier’s fateful words and the constant discussion of what it would mean to Buffalo to land one of them, it’s fallen on Nolan to lead the Sabres through this.

“Every once in a while you go through years like this,” Nolan said. “The only thing I can control, and what I talk to the players about every day, is what they can control was: They can play as hard as they want, they’ve got to practice, and they’ve got to work on some of the things. And as a coach, that’s what I do every day. I can only do what’s humanly possible to get the team ready and hopefully it’s enough and that’s all we do.”

Nolan has frustrated many fans by sticking with a hot goalie, be it Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth, or now Anders Lindback, as they’ve withstood a historic barrage of shot attempts and somehow helped the Sabres win 20 games this season. At the rate they’ve been outshot and outscored, it’s a wonder they’ve won that much. Yet still, some haven’t been happy that Nolan wants to put his best team on the ice.

“I can’t control what other people think and what other people do,” Nolan said. “The only thing I know is what I feel. And I’m not speaking for anybody else, I’m just speaking for myself. Who wants to finish last? I never went into anything in my entire life wanting to finish last. You go into it with the right intentions and it’s the integrity of the game. That’s the line for me. So you just do what you have to do and feel the way you feel and if someone wants to finish last, then good for them.”

Weirdly, and perhaps prophetically, enough Nolan’s been down this road before in the OHL.

“My first coaching experience in Sault Ste. Marie we finished last, I believe, two years in a row,” Nolan said. “And one of the years Eric Lindros was up for the prize of the first pick. He didn’t show up to Sault Ste. Marie so we didn’t end up having him, but I think here because there’s so much media hype and there’s so much attention put to the National Hockey League, there’s a little bit more talk about it.

“I’ve been through it before and, like I said, nothing’s changed as far as the approach which hockey teams go through. I never met a player that wants to lose.”

When losing means perhaps getting the next generational talent, it all depends on your point of view is when it comes to winning. For the players and coaches who might see their future altered because of the desire by some (many?) to lose, they’ve about had enough of the talk about the positive parts of finishing last.

“You don’t accept losing,” Gionta said. “You’re not content game in and game out coming up short. No matter how close it is or what you’re doing, you’ve got to find ways to get wins. That’s what this game is about. That’s our main focus game in and game out – trying to get a win. It’s not good enough to be close.”


Throwback Rant

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Yerdon @ 5:55 PM

I got inspired today.

I read this piece by Igor Larionov at The Players Tribune and it made me feel a lot of things.

It made me feel like I care too much at times about hockey and the state of the game. It made me feel like spouting off a bit on Twitter. Which I did.

To sum up Larionov, he lamented how creativity in hockey was being virtually eliminated in favor of playing the perfect North American system. Part of his critique was how the majority of coaches these days are guys who were grinders when they played and that’s the sort of hockey they’re making the next generation learn how to play.

Not coincidentally, the NHL is having one of the lowest-scoring seasons in a long, long time. With the great play of some individuals (Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos) and the brilliant play of some teams over the past few seasons, this alarming statistic has gone almost ignored. Someone on Twitter graphed out how dire things have been.

If there’s something that seems to chap fans asses, it’s complaints about penalties. Take a look at Twitter or Facebook on any night and you’ll see fans of all kinds up in arms about it. It’s not for nothing now though, calls aren’t being made and teams aren’t getting the opportunity to make their opponents pay for their misdeeds.

Larionov’s observations are tied to this decline in calls being made. After all, the North American game is about being tough and playing the blue collar way and that means doing whatever is necessary to make sure the elite players don’t beat you.

It seems the mantra every year from everyone is that they want the players to settle it on the ice without the help of officials. Well that’s great in theory, except that players will do whatever it takes to get an edge. Hook, hold, interfere, obstruct. All of it. Before, it was only the playoffs where calls would stop getting made. Now it’s happening all season long and the NHL is as successful as it’s ever been.

Anyone else having a bad case of déjà vu?

We’ve seen this happen before in the mid-90s, only this time there’s not the Neutral Zone Trap bogeyman to point at and curse. Instead, it’s the same problem that allowed “The Trap Era” to take root. Calls aren’t being made and the inmates (the players) are running the asylum while the wardens (officials) let them hash it out. Meanwhile, offense has dried up and goals are at a premium.

Only Ovechkin and Rick Nash have a true shot at scoring 50 goals this season. Ovechkin has 38 and Nash has 37. Stamkos is third with 32. Patrick Kane and Nicklas Backstrom lead the league with 64 points. Can they get 36 points in the final 22 and 21 games respectively to break 100? They could, they’re universal talents, but they’re not going to.

The last season in which the NHL points leader had fewer than 100 was, not coincidentally, 2003-2004 before the season-killing lockout when Martin St. Louis had 94 for Tampa Bay. Do Kane or Backstrom even get to 94 this season? Maybe, but the prospects look grim.

Even going back to last season, Sidney Crosby was above and beyond the league’s best player and still had just 104 points. He was 17 points better than Ryan Getzlaf. Ovechkin scored 51 goals and only two other players broke 40 (Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski).

This is a big problem.

The NHL has perhaps the greatest level of talent the league has ever seen and these guys can’t score goals like they did after the lockout in 2005-2006. Don’t you want your elite players looking the part? Don’t you want to be dazzled by Kane, Ovechkin, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, and the growing list of other brilliantly talented players? Of course you do. So why aren’t they allowed to flourish?

Make the calls. Open the game back up. Let the players be elite instead of dragging them down to be like everyone else.


Witness missives on losing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Joe Yerdon @ 2:10 PM

It’s incredible to cover a team that loses as much as the Buffalo Sabres do.

I mean that. Something that’s been said often amongst fellow writers in Buffalo is if you’re going to be following a team you want to have a championship squad or the absolute worst because you’ll never be without a story. And really, when you’re a writer that’s all you’re looking for is the story. Something of interest.

When covering a team that’s lost as much as the Sabres have the past two seasons, it felt like I’d reached that Twilight Zone moment where it dawns on you that, yes, you’re covering the best hockey league in the world after the Sabres dropped a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

It was Buffalo’s 14th straight loss, all in regulation. Their last win came on Dec. 27, 2014 against the New York Islanders in a shootout. Let’s flash back to that game, shall we? The Sabres were down 3-0 in the third period but stormed back with a three-goal third to force overtime and then went on to win in the shootout. It’s the kind of win a team can rally around and be beyond proud of. It was also a win that ended a four-game losing streak.

Think about that. If they’d gone on to meekly lose that game to the Islanders, this losing streak could’ve been at 19 straight. They would’ve broke the NHL record for consecutive losses, 17, held by the 1974-1975 Washington Capitals and 1992-1993 San Jose Sharks. It’s gotten to the point now where they’re the butt of jokes while the season is still going on.

When I got to Buffalo before the start of last season, I knew they weren’t going to be a great team. That wasn’t the point of this after all. The point was I needed another gig to help make money and I wanted to do more reporting. Win-win situation and the experience has been incredible.

But this year is different. This season, fans want to see the Sabres falter and finish dead last in the league. I get why. Generational players don’t come along much and the only way to guarantee the best shot at getting Connor McDavid is to be the absolute worst.

Last season, Buffalo was bad. They finished 21-51-10, the worst record in the league, and then added one more loss when the Florida Panthers won the NHL Draft Lottery. That didn’t hurt because the Sabres still got the guy at the top of their board at No. 2 in Sam Reinhart.

Still, watching a team you see day in and day out as part of your beat solely in Buffalo lose is hard.

The Sabres went 12-20-5 at First Niagara Center with me in attendance as I split my duties between Buffalo and Toronto in 2013-2014. They also lost 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on my one road visit (outside of Toronto) on Jan. 27, 2014. Buffalo scored 150 goals last season, less than two goals per game. Their goal differential was minus-93 and they dressed nine different goalies during the year.

This season somehow has been worse and incredibly I haven’t seen the worst of it in Buffalo proper. The Sabres are 10-13-2 at home and an astonishing in the shootout era 4-20-1 on the road. They’re the worst team in the league and yet they’re 6-1 in shootouts. They could be that much worse.

They’ve played 50 games and have 88 goals. Their goal differential is already minus-90. They’ve nearly caught last season’s abysmal total and there are 32 games left to go. They have the NHL’s worst power play and penalty kill. They give up an average of 35 shots per game and take 22.9. They’re outgunned in all aspects and no matter how well the goalies play, they have to be perfect.

It’s astounding. I get that it’s a blessing as a writer to get a situation like this to witness, especially when there might be a big payoff with McDavid or Jack Eichel in the end, but it doesn’t make the part about paying witness to the process any easier. It’s like the old cliché about not wanting to see how the sausage is made, but we’re right smack on the killing floor watching it happen anyway.

Harvey Dent would say the “night is darkest just before the dawn” but you can’t help but feel that maybe you’re stuck in an Alaskan winter.


Like a drug

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Yerdon @ 1:40 PM

When I got back into writing, blogging was the way to do it. I did a bit of beat work at my college newspaper and also wrote an occasional column about… Anything really.

After college it was about finding whatever job you could lock down so you could get your career underway. For me, that was radio. The writing stopped and my chops as a producer were more necessary, but the itch to write came back as my frustration in radio grew. An outlet was needed and off to Blogspot I went to write and, well, you can see plenty of that stuff here with other more tersely worded things I spit out while trying to figure out what to do with my life.

But the blogging you know all about. That helped fire up a dormant sensation inside of me. I wanted to be more in the know. More on the scene of what was happening. I wanted to report more.

Blogging is/was fine work, but the desire to do something that’s more your own is a strong one. I got to do a little bit of that at NBC when on location for events or other games. I’ve done nothing but report for the NHL since I started there last year and all it’s done is made me want it more. Like a drug, once you get a taste the urge for more can take you over.

Of the things I’ve gotten to write over the past five years or so, it’s the ones I’ve dug in and talked with players, GMs, and other executives that have felt the most rewarding and remain to this day the pieces I am most proud of.

One of my biggest frustrations now being in a rotten kind of limbo is that what you think you’re best at or do the best work with isn’t what’s asked of you – for whatever reason that is.

It’s hard not to get frustrated when “news” like a referee vomiting during play or some sort of wacky occurrence is what produces the web hits and viral attention companies so desire. Hell, even when you wrote something about a team or player only to have a drop in production or a losing streak make what you just wrote look foolish, it makes it all seem like a Sisyphean task.

It’s all a drug of some kind and it all produces a high of some sort. The thing I hope for my future is the opportunity to keep chasing the stories myself.

I don’t know if this is a crossroads moment for me or not, but this college reporter turned blogger turned hybrid writer monster wants to keep chasing the dragon.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and finally the light bulb went on over my head after a recent discussion with Florida Panthers captain Willie Mitchell. I asked two questions to him and got over three minutes worth of thoughts on the record. I could’ve done so much more with that, but for what is asked of me at the sites I’m writing for, most of it wasn’t necessary and it made me instantly frustrated.

Sometimes you get really good stuff from players because they’re earnest, honest, and love the game that much. As some jerk that’s never played but loves the sport immensely, helping to share that feeling is a good thing.

There are great stories to be told and it can be frustrating to not be asked to help tell them for one reason or another. But hey, at least we can get a GIF of a referee with food poisoning out there everywhere.



Pent up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Yerdon @ 4:29 PM

It’s a weird feeling when you lose a job you’ve had for so long. After doing something you’ve genuinely enjoyed for multiple years, it’s like losing part of yourself.

All the time spent, the effort put into it, the constant stress of wondering whether or not anything you’ve done is good enough – all of that is gone and while that might seem like a relief, it’s not.

Instead, you’re left on your own to find another gig as soon as you can because, in this day and age, you’re either working freelance or in a deal that means getting unemployment isn’t an option available to you. It also means you have too much time to sit around and do self-analysis.

“Am I any good at this?”

“Have I ever been a good writer?”

“Am I out of touch?”

“Is it time to just pack it up and get out?”

With all the time now afforded to you, those questions never stop and neither does the comparing. You compare yourself to others still dutifully chugging along and wondering what it is you do that makes you not good enough to continue doing what you love. That kind of self-analysis doesn’t do a lot of good when you’re already feeling low about being cut loose.


The strange part about going through all this is keeping track of how often your own identity gets lost in being part of something else. You cease being just your own person – you’re the main guy for that group.

When that happens, it makes scouting around for other work when you know your own foundation is crumbling beneath you a lot more difficult.

It’s something I didn’t really think about in that particular way at the time, but while interviewing for another position the first question I was asked was, “Why in the world do you want to work here?”

Whether it was because they viewed their position as me taking a step down or they thought since I was with the Peacock that I’d be crazy to leave there I don’t know – but it’s that connection with the latter that made me wonder if places who saw that on my résumé figured it meant I’d ask the world of them in salary talks and figured it’s easier to just pass and say “No.”

These are the idle thoughts left behind now that my future is undecided and it’s unpleasant. Something has to fill the void eventually, right?


That’s essentially where I’m at now. A guy with a lot of free time to write and report and not enough outlets to do that. When you’re a writer all you want to do is write. Same goes for reporting. You hear great things being said and you’re busting at the seams to get that out there – you just don’t have a place to do that.

I could do that here but that’s not helping me pay bills. Perhaps it could eventually if it grabs someone’s attention but then it’s back to square one:

“What if I’m not good enough?”

It takes equal parts shameless self-promotion and ability but there’s also a massive amount of good forture, too. That’s how I wound up with the Peacock in the first place after all. Luck can run out and maybe I’ve used all of mine up in other situations and areas of life. I mean, it’s fortunate I’m even here to write this, never mind everything else life offers up.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t really belong to any particular group. It’s not an unfamiliar way of being for me. In high school there wasn’t a particular clique I belonged to – I was just there. In college, I spent so much time in the media center that that was my social circle. It made sense and it was natural and so many of those people are dear friends to this day.

In the professional world, it’s different. You have a lot of colleagues and plenty of people you’re more friendly with than others. There’s even some people you just can’t stand though and the feeling is likely mutual, but that’s never a hindrance, it just is.

There are cliques though and that’s just not really something I’ve fallen into. Maybe that’s to my own detriment, but it is what it is. Maybe that comes from not being as open as others, but something it does do is limits your support system.

Being a writer means always doing things on your own, but there are days where you have to escape your own headspace and breathe. Not having that go-to group makes it harder when you’re trying to escape your own brain. I guess that’s when some people will turn to the bottle or to drugs to just get away from themselves, but that’s never been my means of relief. Being stubborn to myself sometimes comes in handy I suppose.


I’m not asking for compliments and “atta-boys” for what I do. I’m just trying to sort through my very frustrated headspace. To have something you love doing and, for one reason or another, not being able to do it is the kind of thing that gives you ulcers and makes you feel 20 years older than you really are.

I keep saying, “This too shall pass” and “Things will get better” but those mantras get worn out and the reality keeps swarming day-by-day.

I’ve chosen this path and I know I can deviate from it anytime I want to, but sometimes you’re just caught up in knowing that this is what you’re meant to do. It’s the thrill of doing something you love to do and knowing deep down, despite the self-doubt and the anxious mind, that this is what you’re good at.

It’s like I’ve made myself into Sisyphus and damn it all, that boulder is going to get all the way up the mountain even if I die trying.

The season starts next week and then I can feel more normal, but for now it’s tough.


2014 NHL Mocked Draft

Filed under: NHL Draft — Tags: — Joe Yerdon @ 1:01 PM

2014 draft logoEvery year, picking the NHL Draft is like a semi-educated game of darts after a few pitchers of your favorite beer. You have an idea of what you’re aiming for but whatever you hit you have to own it whether you like it or not.

This year’s draft is almost certainly like that. After feebly throwing together a mock draft in the past (in which I think I missed on all 30 picks) I figured I’d give it another go to see how terrible I could do again.

Here are my semi-educated guesses as to how this year’s draft will shake out, trades be damned. If you want my reasoning behind any of the picks here it is: “Why not? Get a life, nerd.”

1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad – D – Barrie (OHL)
2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart – C – Kootenay (WHL)
3. Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl – F – Prince Albert (WHL)
4. Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett – C – Kingston (OHL)
5. New York Islanders: Kasperi Kapanen – RW – Kalpa (SM-liiga)
6. Vancouver Canucks: Michael Dal Colle – LW – Oshawa (OHL)
7. Carolina Hurricanes: William Nylander – RW – MODO (SHL)
8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Nikolaj Ehlers – LW – Halifax (QMJHL)
9. Winnipeg Jets: Brendan Perlini – LW – Niagara (OHL)
10. Anaheim Ducks (via Ottawa): Nick Ritchie – LW – Peterborough (OHL)
11. Nashville Predators: Sonny Milano – LW – USA U-18 (USHL)
12. Arizona Coyotes: Jared McCann – C – Sault Ste-Marie (OHL)
13. Washington Capitals: Haydn Fleury – D – Red Deer (WHL)
14. Dallas Stars: Jake Virtanen – RW – Calgary (WHL)
15. Detroit Red Wings: Kevin Fiala – LW – HV71 (SHL)
16. Columbus Blue Jackets: Dylan Larkin – C – USA U-18 (USHL)
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Alex Tuch – RW – USA U-18 (USHL)
18. Minnesota Wild: David Pastrnak – C – Sodertalje (SHL)
19. Tampa Bay Lightning: Julius Honka – D – Swift Current (WHL)
20. San Jose Sharks: Thatcher Demko – G – Boston College (Hockey East)
21. St. Louis Blues: Josh Ho-Sang – F – Windsor (OHL)
22. Pittsburgh Penguins: Jakub Vrana – RW – Linkoping (SHL)
23. Colorado Avalanche: Robby Fabbri – C – Guelph (OHL)
24. Anaheim Ducks: Adrian Kempe – LW – MODO (SHL)
25. Boston Bruins: Ivan Barbashev – LW – Moncton (QMJHL)
26. Montreal Canadiens: Roland McKeown – D – Kingston (OHL)
27. Chicago Blackhawks: Conner Bleackley – C – Red Deer (WHL)
28. Tampa Bay Lightning (via NY Rangers): Travis Sanheim – D – Calgary (WHL)
29. Los Angeles Kings: Nick Schmaltz – C – Green Bay (USHL)
30. New Jersey Devils: Nikita Scherbak – RW – Saskatoon (WHL)


Lottery outrage rankings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Yerdon @ 12:32 PM

2014 draft logoDon’t ask why, but I love sports draft lotteries. When you grow up with the NBA Draft Lottery and the wild conspiracy theories that abounded with the Patrick Ewing draft, you can’t help but get sucked into the hype and hysteria.

The NHL Draft Lottery isn’t quite as adventurous as the NBAs, but it has its own quirks. Every year we seem to get the Edmonton Oilers lucking out and winning while the Florida Panthers are left to claim the booby prize.

We’ve seen the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche come away with the No. 1 pick in recent seasons when Edmonton wasn’t scoring it and this season it’s the Buffalo Sabres who have the best chance to win it after they finished with the league’s worst record.

The fun of a lottery is, of course, that the best chance of winning means having just a 25-percent chance of doing so.

Anyhow, I’m rambling and that’s stupid. There are 13 different teams that could come away with the No. 1 pick (New Jersey can win the lottery but can’t move up – thanks Ilya!) and I’m going to rank out how the outrage would go on the Internet depending on who won.

14. Buffalo (25% chance to win) — Let’s face it, if the Sabres win the lottery, no one is going to grumble about it. They were the worst team in the league and need all the help they can get. If they win, all will be right in the world.

13. New Jersey (1.5% chance) — This would provide a lot of schadenfreude if the Devils won the lottery. They can’t claim the first pick, so Devils fans would be pissed and have more reason to be mad at Ilya Kovalchuk, but this keeps the draft order in tact as it is meaning Buffalo picks first, Florida second, etc. If the Devils win it’ll be the second time they’ve done that in the past five years. They moved up to fourth overall in 2011 when they won and selected Adam Larsson. That was before they changed lottery rules so anyone in the pool could get the top pick. Skunked again, Jersey!

12. Phoenix/Arizona (0.8% chance) — Bet you’re thinking I’ll go with the cheap joke about the team not having fans or enemies enough to care, right? Wrong. Let’s face fact though, after missing the playoffs two years in a row, the Coyotes just aren’t on anyone’s “Give A Crap” meter. If there’s a team that could use a happy ping pong ball to get a franchise forward though, it’s the Coyotes.

11. Nashville (1.1% chance) — The Preds had lady luck on their side last year when Seth Jones fell to them at fourth overall. Now they need a new coach and lots of skill up front. If the Preds hit the lottery, chances are you’ll read a lot of things that start with, “Good for them!”

10. Winnipeg (2.7% chance) — The Jets hitting the lottery might cause the rest of  Canada to grumble, but on the whole they just don’t punch the collective conscience of NHL fans in the head the way, say, the Maple Leafs do. Things are trending up for the Jets and getting the top pick would speed that up. Maybe then they’ll start drawing more ire.

9. Carolina (4.7% chance) — Much like the other teams that rank out low on this list, Carolina just doesn’t make people angry on the whole. The caveat here if the ‘Canes won the lottery? Fans in Buffalo will have all the more reason to hate them. Yes, memories of the 2006 Eastern Conference Final still run deep in Buffalo and misery in this case would hate company.

8. Calgary (10.7% chance) — Calgary has been bad for a while and haven’t had a No. 1 overall pick in their history. Seeing the Flames jump over Edmonton would be worth it on its own and the Flames have enough former Sabres on the roster to be considered Buffalo’s Western Canada outpost. So why are they this high up? Easy: Everyone seems to hate Brian Burke despite him being the best quote in the business.

7. Florida (18.8% chance) — No one really hates the Panthers, with the exception of some old school Pittsburgh Penguins fans. The Panthers have been bad for a while and have been consistently landing in the Top 5 of the draft, but haven’t picked No. 1 overall since 1994 when they took Ed Jovanovski. Now, Jovo is the team captain and the team has some hopeful youth. Problem with the Panthers is they’re always in the lottery and, as you’ll see as this goes on, being a repeat lottery team means people are probably rooting against you.

6. Anaheim (via Ottawa) (2.1% chance) — Teams that are already the best in the conference tend to not get any sympathy and if the Ducks came away with the No. 1 pick, chances are Western fans would be up in arms that a team that’s already loaded gets to add another big piece. Only question here is whether fans would be more annoyed with Anaheim or Ottawa for forking over their first-round pick for Bobby Ryan.

5. Washington (0.5% chance) — The Capitals have the lowest odds in the lottery and yet… All my mind goes back to is when the Orlando Magic hit the lottery twice and got to snag Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. If the Caps won the top pick, how quickly do Flyers/Penguins/Rangers fans start crying foul? Immediately? Probably, because they’d announce picking defenseman Aaron Ekblad on the spot.

4. Vancouver (6.2% chance) — The Canucks had a bad year, no doubt, but they’ve still got a lot of (aging) talent and after years of thumping on everyone, seeing them get to reload their youthful prospects with a top forward like Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett would cause much consternation. Of course we don’t know who the GM will be or maybe even who the coach will be, but that’s beside the point for outrage. Anger here comes from a great team that many people dislike that finally went bad getting the chance to turn it around immediately.

3. New York Islanders (8.1% chance) — The Isles’ one year away to make the playoffs turned into a mess. Fans on the whole are pretty sick of the Islanders always winding up in the lottery and getting the chance to pick first again (they did previously in 2009 and got John Tavares) will make people wonder when the hell things are going to change. Shame for the Isles there isn’t a must-have goaltending prospect at the top of the draft this year.

2. Toronto (3.6% chance) — The Leafs are back in the lottery and they rank out this high because of a few reasons. First off, they were pretty good for most of the season. It would seem “unfair” by some fans if they got the top pick. Secondly, the Leafs are a hated team and their failure to make the playoffs caused much joy. Seeing them rewarded for just missing out would make heads explode. Finally, the Leafs hiring Brendan Shanahan away from the NHL would have conspiracy theory nuts losing their minds. You’ll hear junk about a fixed lottery, frozen envelopes, weighted ping pong balls, and voodoo witch doctors being involved in helping make it all possible.

I’m almost rooting for this to happen just to bathe in the conspiratorial mayhem, but there’s one team that most everyone will be rooting against in this lottery…

1. Edmonton (14.2% chance) — The Oilers have had the No. 1 overall pick in three of the past four drafts. They’ve been supposedly rebuilding their team “the right way” for years now and have yet to make the playoffs because of it. They haven’t been to the postseason since they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. They’re teeming over with young talent up front and would have a shot to pick Ekblad if they land the top pick.

Problem is, most everyone is worn out with seeing a team that continues to shoot itself in the foot get rewarded with the best player available every year. If the Oilers come away with the lottery win, “AGAIN?!?!” might start trending on Twitter because of it. At this point in the rebuild, fans are in the “Figure it out already” part of it while the rest just wants them to go away.

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