Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

03/25/2015

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.”

01/31/2015

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.

03/03/2010

Deadline Day – Deal 11: Buffalo-Atlanta

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Joe Yerdon @ 2:42 PM

Trade:

Buffalo gets: 3rd and 4th Round picks

Atlanta gets: Clarke MacArthur

Analysis:

MacArthur seemed to run out of rope in Buffalo and he was buried on the lower lines. There’s talent there but perhaps this is just a change of scenery move for him going to the Thrashers.  Not much really happening here.

Deadline Day – Deal 10: Raffi Torres to Buffalo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Joe Yerdon @ 2:29 PM

Trade:

Buffalo gets: forward Raffi Torres

Columbus gets: defenseman Nathan Paetsch and a 2nd Round pick

Analysis:

Buffalo adds a sandpapery forward with a little scoring touch and a high energy guy in Torres. The guys on TSN love Torres but he’s a guy whose effect will be better felt come playoff time.  As for Nathan Paetsch, he fell out of favor with Lindy Ruff and he’s a middling defenseman that will come off the bench. The key here for Columbus was the draft pick even though the Blue Jackets could use all the blue line help they can get.  Sabres fans will go nuts for Torres’ style come playoff time.

02/26/2010

Pirates Setting Sail For Albany?

I am by no means an AHL blogger nor much of an AHL fan, but when stories about the local team come to rise, I can’t help it I get involved and have to write a little bit.  This time, rather than a team departing Albany and leaving fans out in the cold, it’s one coming in from elsewhere and attempting to do their part to fill up the Times Union Center.

While Times Union Center general manager Bob Belber has been playing coy about which team(s) he’s been in contact with about potentially moving to Albany to fill the void by the soon-to-be Charlotte Checkers, the Times Union has actually done something productive and asked some questions and gotten a few sources down to find out that it may be the Portland Pirates who will be bolting out of Maine to move a little bit closer to their parent club in Buffalo.

To quote the TU:

The Pirates managing owner, Brian Petrovek, attended a game at Times Union Center Friday. In an interview with staff writer Pete Dougherty, Petrovek would not directly discuss moving the team to Albany, but said the team is exploring options and addressed how hockey could work in the Capital Region.

At the moment, the Pirates are just one of a handful of teams who may or may not be looking to get the hell out of their current Dodge meanwhile others already have (from Springfield, MA and Albany respectively).  So what does this mean for Albany?  The TU is already asking folks for comments on their site about whether they should keep the name “River Rats” or not and that’s a logical progression given the circumstances.

The upside to this situation is that it helps out the Adirondack Phantoms who, without an Albany team to play rivals with, would’ve been left alone on a virtual island in the middle of the Adirondacks with no real rival to deal with.  Travis over at Broad Street Hockey looked into this a couple weeks ago and came up with some keen observations.

Long term, though, a strong rivalry with a team in Albany is a major player in hockey succeeding in Glens Falls. The current incarnation of hockey there isn’t expected to last longer than the next couple of years, as the ownership is on record saying that the ultimate goal is to get an arena built in Allentown, PA.

Obviously that sounds ominous but that’s been the goal all along when it’s come to the Phantoms in Glens Falls.  Don’t act shocked here folks.  As Travis states in his piece, there’s the possibility that there’ll be a boost for the Phantoms without a team in Albany, but when you look at the Phantoms attendance numbers this year, there’s not a whole lot more they can do, the team is doing great in Glens Falls.

If there’s no local rivalry to spice things up, you’d have to worry about the potential adverse effect it would have on the Phantoms.  If things go bad, Phantoms ownership wouldn’t wait a moment to just pull the plug and wait for their arena to materialize in Allentown, Pennsylvania so there’s certainly something at stake here for the people in Glens Falls.

As for the situation in Albany, the better way to look at things is how could this possibly seem like a great situation for the Pirates franchise.  Portland averages a little over 4,100 fans per game in Maine and the River Rats haven’t averaged that many fans in a few years (05-06 they averaged just over 4,000 per game).  Is Pirates management that unhappy with the situation in Maine or is it just a case of doing the bidding of the parent organization at play here?  I’d suspect the latter is the case here.

A few hundred fans does make a bit of a difference  but what is likely being banked on here is the allure of having an actual New York State team being the parent club. This move will bring a few more fans out to the arena in Albany so that effect can’t be discounted. After all, the River Rats were the farm team for the not-so local Devils for years and the really not local Hurricanes for the past few and if you can find a tried and true Hurricanes fan here in Albany I’d like to meet them. I know Devils fans exist in this area for sure now and that has everything to do with the success of the Rats early on as well as the excellent players who have at one time called Albany home. That’s the expected and natural effect of having a farm team in another area and that’s why this move would make 1,000 kinds of sense for the Sabres/Pirates.

The Sabres already have an established fanbase here and a lot of that is due to them having a sweet cable deal with the Madison Square Garden network that airs a hefty number of Sabres games in the Albany area, sometimes booting the Rangers (and Devils and Islanders as well) off of their own network in most of upstate New York.  For the Sabres it’s created a new set of fans across upstate New York mainly thanks to the inabilities of the Rangers and Islanders (and occasionally the Devils) to hold new fans interests. Moving the farm team of the Sabres to Albany, right in the heart of the newly created Sabres viewership, could provide an unexpected boon to the potential Albany franchise, something I’m sure Bob Belber at the Times Union Center has been sure to mention a few times to Pirates GM Brian Petrovek.

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