Buffalo Needs Bangers
While watching the Sabres flounder again on Thursday, the broadcasters for the opposing Washington team echoed the sentiments of Sabres fans and insiders alike. Buffalo needs bangers.
The Capitals' broadcast analyst laid it out perfectly in saying that Buffalo tries to be a finesse team but they fold when faced with a solid defensive, physical effort. The Sabres have no counter for it.
Buffalo's rivals have their number.
For most of the 1990s the Sabres had Matt Barnaby, Brad May, and Rob Ray in the lineup. Those three played with the club for six seasons and at least two of them were on the roster for eight seasons. What would you give to have any one of them right now? Tell me the highest value current Sabre you'd trade for one of those players or if you wouldn't do a trade at all.
Opposing teams of that era knew they were in for it should they take a run at a Buffalo skill player. A team with that kind of backbone is fearless and motivated. Nothing lights a fire under a team more than a teammate who sacrifices his body for them, giving 100% every shift. Can't begin to imagine the things this team could do right now if the skill players were motivated by the role players and vice versa, holding each other accountable.
It's what our top line needs (even though there are no top or bottom lines, wink). LaFontaine and Mogilny had Brad May. No one wanted a piece of Brad May. Hall and Eichel need that guy. Especially Hall, with the way he digs hard in the corners, he sometimes gets pummeled to the ice. An enforcer disrupting the opponent would put an end to that and might also be the ingredient needed for the skill players to gel.
I'm not at all trying to diminish Reinhart's contribution. He is a solid complimentary player averaging goal totals in the low 20s each year. That's not easy to do in today's NHL, even though he does benefit from playing with Jack. Still, I'd trade him in a heartbeat for an enforcer who can skate.
Kevyn Adams has more work to do. He did a great job filling gaping holes up front. Yet when trailing, the players seem to completely give up and just go through the motions. They remind me of the goalie in the movie Slap Shot. On a shot attempt, he'd make a standard goalie pose; an arm extended and a leg outstretched, in the hope that the puck would hit him and not go in the net. He made a great show of it but he was just posing. He never really zeroed in on the puck in an effort to make the save.
That's how the Sabres often look to me, like their posing and making a show of it as opposed to giving the extra effort needed to make the play. It was hilarious in the movie, but not so much in real life.
At the presser after the first Islanders game, when asked what the solution is, Jack Eichel said, "We just gotta make a play. That's what it comes down to. I mean, that's it. Just gotta make a play." On the nose, Jack!
So, since Kevyn Adams reads everything I write and then acts accordingly, I've laid out a plan for him. First, get in the locker room and motivate these players. Pass around your Stanley Cup ring, Mr. Adams. Let each player hold it and try it on. Meanwhile, give them a speech, a long storied speech about what it takes to become a champion. You more than any previous GM in the last twenty years have the swagger to do something like that. Use it.
Next, keep working on getting some bangers to the team, some gritty heart and soul guys. You already started with Rieder, Sheehan, and Eakin. Keep going. They aren't enough. You still need a heavyweight or two. But please, avoid players who are past their prime and amount to not much more than "good locker room guys". The Sabres need players who set fire to the ice.
Third, motivate coach Krueger to motivate the team. Everyone loves this coach and wants him to succeed, but he isn't. When it comes to the pregame leveling up of team intensity, Ralph comes off as milquetoast. Now, I'm not in the locker room. However, I do watch the games. When the Sabres lose their drive, it doesn't come back. That's on the coach and it looks like it's not in his toolbox. It needs to be. Motivation, much like momentum, can carry the day. You're the coach's boss now. Get after him.
There's a story told by a player from a Vince Lombardi coached Super Bowl team. I'd name the player but at the moment his name isn't coming to me. He talks about how great Lombardi was at getting the team motivated just before heading to the field. In contrast, he recalls a game where Lombardi gave his speech, left the locker room, and then the Defensive Coordinator held up the team to say a few words.
Now, Lombardi had his team's intensity leveled up. The DC, Phil Bengsten, who later replaced Lombardi as Packers head coach, was brilliant in his role as DC but perhaps lacking in the motivational speech department. For just the couple moments in which he addressed the team, he managed to level down their intensity, or so it is told.
Green Bay got clobbered in the first half of that game. One will never really know how much, if at all, coach Bengsten had to do with that. It's intangible. There are no stats to prove it. However, motivation and concepts of that ilk are generally accepted as very real things.
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." - Mark Twain.
Ralph Krueger embodies the same spirit as Phil Bengsten. Great guy. Loved by the players he coaches who will indeed play hard for him, or at least appear to. When it comes to whipping his team into a frenzy though, not his strength.
I will say this regarding coach Krueger which is slightly off topic, fans need to stop calling him a soccer coach. Ralph Krueger is Canadian born and bred. He spent his life involved with hockey except for a five year stint as Chairman of the Southampton Premier League club in Great Britain. Club Chairman is the rough equivalent of President Of Hockey Operations.
Krueger was never a soccer coach. It is erroneous to label him as such. The only relevance it has is that he was not involved with hockey during his time in England save for a head coach job during the 2016 World Cup Of Hockey tournament. If you want to hold the hiatus against him, that's fair. Calling him a soccer coach is not fair.
Either way, Kevyn Adams and Ralph Krueger have some work to do.
Get well, Risto.