Where Did the Tank Go Wrong?

Where Did the Tank Go Wrong?

Is it too much to ask to at least expect the Buffalo Sabres to be at MINIMUM in the playoff hunt? Maybe too much has emphasis has been placed on my part with ideas for both quick fixes and long term solutions. But even with all the mock GM ideas from me and others, and with even some proposing overhauls, at the end of the day, I still do not believe we really should even have to talk about who or what we should acquire, or tanking (again).

It's even more concerning that we have virtually the same team, with a year more experience, and our key guys like Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, and Ryan O'Reilly are all healthy, yet we are even worse this year as opposed to last year from Dan Bylsma to Phil Housley. Even more disappointing is the fact that Rasmus Ristolainen, who has had back to back 40 point seasons, seasons of 21 and 25 points on the powerplay, is currently on pace for 31 points, and only has 2 points on the powerplay, and is coming nowhere near his powerplay production where he got over 50% of his points from. It may be a small sample size of only 13 games for him, but, I still was not expecting the powerplay to go from first in the NHL, to bottom three in the NHL. I am not faulting Housley, but the system he wants to play is nowhere near a fit for what we currently have. When people say we need time, oh yeah, you're damn right we need more time.

Is it too much to expect at least to be in playoff contention nearly four seasons after Darcy Regier officially kicked off Tankathon 2014, when we were going after Sam Reinhart (which four years later sounds pretty bad that that was our prize)?

Well let's look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They missed the playoffs four straight years, before the Crosby era, and it started when they traded Jaromir Jagr. The worst part of that deal is the Penguins literally got nothing in return for him that would have been used for the rebuild. To be fair Kris Beech was a top prospect when he was traded, but he flopped. Then they traded Alexei Kovalev in 2003-04, in yet another extremely lopsided deal for Mikael Sammuelson, Rico Fata, spare parts and cash. Then, we look at their drafts between 1998-2005.

1998: Rob Scuderi
1999: Ryan Malone
2000: Brooks Orpik,
2001: Colby Armstrong
2002: Ryan Whitney, Erik Christensen
2003: Marc Andre-Fleury, Paul Bissonette, Matt Moulson, and Dan Carcillo
2004: Evgeni Malkin, Alex Goligoski, Tyler Kennedy
2005: Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang

Except for 2001, Every year between 1998 to 2003, the Penguins landed a top four defenseman, or top six forward in the draft. After that, they of course bottomed out and landed Crosby, Malkin, and Staal going forward. Their 2005-06 roster, which was Crosby's final season had Ed Olczyk has coach, and also featured plenty of newly acquired veteran players such as Sergei Gonchar, Zigmund Palffy, Mark Recchi, and John LeClair. These players were added to young guys who broke in the league before the lockout in Orpik, and Malone. Crosby would score 100 points in his rookie year, and all of the four mentioned veterans would score 50, however this was also in the offense bloated 2005-06 season. Marc Andre-Andre Fleury also worked in as starting goalie.

What changed from '05-06 to 06-07?

First, Ed Olczyk was replaced by Michel Therrien. Then Evgeni Malkin arrived, along with newly drafted 18 year old rookie center Jordan Staal. John LeClair would struggle and be released, and Ziggy Palffy retired, leaving Mark Recchi, and Sergei Gonchar. Recchi and Gonchar still contributed with 68 and 67 points. They also got a career year from Ryan Whitney.

What the Penguins had was a pretty productive defense from the back end from an offensive standpoint. Sergei Gonchar, and Ryan Whitney drove it from the back end, and they also had Rob Scuderi, and Brooks Orpik as stay at home shut down options, while Jordan Staal served as a solid third line stud. Scuderi breaking into the NHL full time was a major boost to the Pengiuins defense which went from dead last in the NHL, to 15th in the NHL. Ryan Malone would also continue to develop into a solid power forward. Those early penguins teams were strong and deep down the middle, with four rock solid defenseman.

Overall the Penguins went from rock bottom in 2003-04, to rock solid in 2006-07, a four year time span, and from 1998 to 2003, the only significant players they drafted were Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Malone, and Marc Andre Fleury. Crosby, Malkin, and Staal came during and after the lockout period. They also got a huge boost from veterans Mark Recchi, and Sergei Gonchar, and benefitted from a Jordan Staal right away impact.

So what the hell happened in Buffalo?

Looking at Buffalo and Pittsburgh side by side, from 2010-present, prior to the tank, they had a playoff team in 2010, and in 2011, so clearly they had a better starting point in a seven year period than the 2006-07 playoff team the Penguins had.

It all starts with the draft, so lets look at the drafts from 2007-2014.

Now first, what defines a good draft at the NHL level? To me a good draft is when you find one good player (top six, top four D, G, or better) and one good role player (bottom six, PK spec.). Since the draft his a crap shoot, you want to at least have that.

2007: T.J Brennan (2nd rnd), Corey Tropp (3rd), and Paul Byron (6th), Grade: F
2008: Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis (1st), Luke Adam (2nd), Grade B+
2009: Zach Kassian, Brayden McNabb, and Marcus Foligno, Grade; C+
2010, Mark Pysyk (1st) and nothing else Grade; C-
2011: Joel Armia (1st), Dan Catenacci (3rd) Grade: F-
2012: Mikhail Grigorenko (1st), Zemgus Girgensens (1st), Jake McCabe (2nd), Ullmark (6th); B-
****could be higher if Ullmark makes the roster and starts
2013: Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov (1st), JT Compher (2nd), Justin Bailey (2nd) and Nicholas Baptiste (3rd), Cal Petersen (5th); B+
**** could be a solid A+ if Bailey or Baptiste can stick.
2014: Sam Reinhart, B-
**** Dodged a major bullett with Sam Bennett, could have been better with Leon Draisatl.

And how have the Sabres trades of key veterans, and assets from the previous core worked out so far?

Darcy Regier Trades:

Zach Kassian: traded to Van for Cody Hodgson
Thomas Vanek: traded to NYI for Matt Moulson and a First. That first was flipped to Ottawa for Robin Lehner, the second would become Brendan Guhle
Ryan Miller with Steve Ott:traded to St.Louis for a first in 2015, Halak, Stewart and Carrier. The 2015 first was traded to WPG for Evander Kane
Chris Stewartflipped for Minnesota's 2015 second round pick
Jason Pomminville: traded to Min for a first, Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett. First in 2013, second in 2014.
The 2013 first became Zadorov, who was flipped for O'Reilly
Derek Roy for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy.
Andrej Sekerafor a 2013 second (Car) and Jamie McBain. Compher selected and dealt in ROR deal
Matt Moulsontraded to Minnesota for Torrey Mitchell and two seconds in 2014, and 2016 (Vlaclav Karbacek and Josh Gorges)

Tim Murray Trades:

Fasching and Deslauriers for Brayden McNabb, Johnathan Parker, and a second.
Robin Lehner acquired for the NY Islanders first round pick in 2015.
Mark Pysykand a third for Dmitry Kulikov and a second in 2016 ( Rasmus Asplund)
Jhonas Enroth for a third round pick (Casey Fitzgerald)

Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn for JT Compher, Nikita Zadorov, and Mikhail Grigorenko
Evander Kane and Zach Bogosianfor Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, and a first round pick (STL)

****Signed Kyle Okposo in 2016
Jason Botterill trades:

Nathan Beaulieufor a 2017 3rd round pick
Scandella and Pomminville for Ennis and Foligno

*****Signed Viktor Antipin, Beniot Pouliot, and Chad Johnson

Basically, the Sabres turned picks acquired for Miller, Sekera, and Pomminville into Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane.
Thomas Vanek was turned into Robin Lehner and Brendan Guhle.

Where did we go wrong?

#1.) Too many draft misses in a given time period.

Joel Armia, Nikita Zadorov, and Mikhail Grigorenko were disappointments, but luckily all flipped for O'Reilly and Kane, which is good, however, we also had to add to all of those trades given the question marks the players had. However, we still got nothing from 2007, not a ton from 2009, and traded away the only decent asset we had in 2010 for Dmitry Kulikov. The good news though, is we acquired the pick to select Rasmus Asplund as apart of the deal, so there is still an asset in play.

#2.) Missed Opportunities in the draft, and trades

I don't recall many people wanting Aaron Ekblad #1, but if the Sabres would have landed that pick, there is no question in hindsight that could have been better. They could have done much worse with Sam Bennett, as he easily could have been the Sabres pick. Many people I believe wanted Sam Reinhart and there were some who wanted Draisatl. Had the Sabres taken Draisatl, the Sabres might be better off, but Reinhart should still be a good player in this league.

When you look at the New Jersey Devils, they have essentially been on the right side of some low risk, high reward deals. Did the Sabres at least try to call about Taylor Hall? Maybe they don't have the parts to get it done as they probably only could have offered Zach Bogosian and Mark Pysyk. A player they could have had was Marcus Johansson, a versatile, speedy, 27 year old forward coming off a 58 point season. He went for two draft picks in a cost cutting move.

And how about Teuvo Teravainen, C, a supremely talented forward, who can play anywhere in a top nine, and was dealt in a cost cutting move to Carolina with Bryan Bickell. Surely the Sabres could have afforded to take on Bickell's deal. He went for a couple draft picks with Bickell's deal. There may have been even more of these deals had Vegas not have entered the league as they were able to take on plenty of problem contracts.

But you have to wonder why the Sabres aren't in on some deals like this?

They also missed the boat on signing some good players for nothing in NCAA prospects. Jimmy Vesey choose to go to the Rangers, and Will Butcher who has Buffalo in his final three, choose the Devils. They also missed out on Cal Petersen, a player they drafted, and who is off to a good start in the AHL with the Ontario Reign. He's 2-3, but with a .926 spct, and 1.75 gaa.

I also did not see the harm in re-acquiring Thomas Vanek, who currently has 5 goals, in 17 games, especially on a one or two year deal. He would have been a good veteran in the locker room, and a front net presence on the powerplay.

#3.) Not enough high quality prospects on defense

We dont have anything remotely close to what the 2006-07 Penguins had on defense with the established roster.
They rolled out a top four of Scuderi, Whitney, Gonchar, and Orpik, and also had high quality prospects in their system.
These prospects include: Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski. Later on the Penguins would also draft Simon Depres. Goligoski would be traded for James Neal with a young defense prospect in Matt Niksanen. Ristolainen remains the only stud defenseman on the roster, although Brendan Guhle shows promise to be a top four mainstay.

#4.) Lack of a high quality third line center.

There is a reason why a lot of people had interest in the Sabres signing Nick Bonino, but the problem with him, is at age 30, you want to be careful with adding too many unrestricted free agents over age 30. There really doesn't seem to be a clear solution to the problem yet. Rasmus Asplund could be an answer. Another option could also be Casey Mittelstadt, and rolling out three lines with Eichel, Mittelstadt, and O'Reilly down the middle.

#5.) Three different General Managers with their hands in the rebuild, with three different approaches.

Currently, only Zemgus Girgensens, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Jake McCabe are the last players remaining who were drafted by Darcy Regier on the active roster. There are still a couple more key players who could make the NHL full time soon in Bailey, and Baptiste. The end of the Darcy years were also the time when the Sabres were looking at bigger players.

Tim Murray has the biggest footprint on the current roster with the trades for Kane, and O'Reilly. Okposo is locked up and here to stay. Aside from Reinhart, his 2014 draft has not yielded much, and shows little promise. In 2015, he landed Eichel and Guhle. His 2016 draft looks very promising after Nylander. Asplund, Pu, Fitzgerald, and a potential late round steal in Brandon Hagel. Murray surely felt like he wanted to do things as fast as possible.

With Jason Botterill as GM,I am not going to expect a lot of long term deals with cap ramifications because this simply isn't what the Penguins did a lot of while he was there.

And here is a fun fact about the Penguins you may not realize: when he joined the Penguins as both director of hockey administration, and then assistant GM, very rarely signed free agents from outside the organization to big long term deals. However, they have made their fair share of big trades including, Marian Hossa, James Neal, and Phil Kessel. Paul Martin was one of the few UFA's they acquired from the outside. So I expect much of this to be an inside rebuild. However, I do think if John Tavares hits the open market, that the Sabres will at least try to talk to him as it's extremely rare such a player hits the open market. So unless it's an exceptional talent like John Tavares, im not expecting any huge contracts like Okposo's deal.

Q: How do we fix this?

A: Patience and Caution

If you are planning on trading Evander Kane or Sam Reinhart, you must proceed with great caution. If you do trade him, you must get the proper return. Milan Lucic was traded to the Kings with one year left for Martin Jones and Colin Miller. Lucic's trade may be the fairest templete for a potential trade. Sam Reinhart is trickier. If you wait too long to move him, there's a risk his value may fall. If he breaks out with another team, you will never hear the end of it. If he turns into a career 15 goal, 40 point player, and that's his ceiling, you'll take heat for not dealing him sooner.

The best move may be doing nothing.

We might need to see how the season plays out, and how the NHL draft plays out. If the Sabres end up with a top five pick in a very strong class, they might not have to trade Reinhart or Nylander for a defenceman. If they are dead last in the league by the trade deadline, maybe you decide to keep Evander Kane because the point to moving him is to acquire assets, maybe like oh I dunno, a good defenseman, but if you know you're getting a potential NHL ready stud in June in Dahlin or Boqvist, why give up an asset?

If you do make moves, the next best thing to do may be, "think small, hope for big results"

Is there another Teravainen type deal out there? Mr. McGee seems very big on acquiring Philipp Grubauer, just as I am big on acquiring Jordan Subban. Both of these players probably can be had for not a lot of assets. Is there a diamond in the rough out there?

There is good news though! The Rochester Americans are 8-4-1, good for 6th overall in the AHL under Head Coach, Chris Taylor. This is also without Alexander Nylander in the lineup. Brendan Guhle has 9 points in 14 games. Kyle Criscuolo, and C.J Smith both lead the Amerks in scoring with 11 points. They will also get a big boost with the return of Justin Bailey to the lineup. And Linus Ullmark has been one of the AHL's top goalies early on with an 7-3-0 record, 1 SO, and a .921 spct. Botterill believes in building a strong farm system, and bringing along key prospects slowly, as we saw in Pittsburgh. When you look at Anthony Mantha in Detroit, he looked like a first round disappointment early on in his pro career, but he spent two years in the AHL, before finally sticking around in year three. Now in year four, he looks like a budding superstar in the making. Justin Bailey will be entering his third year in Rochester, and he may need one more year in the AHL to develop. Alexander Nylander, and Brendan Guhle may need this season, and maybe part of next year.

Of course, maybe another tank isn't a bad idea as maybe we should try to go after a generational defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, or the ultimate second prize in Andrei Svechnikov.

This is a FanPost written by a member of the community. It does not necessarily express the views or opinions of Die By The Blade.

Source : https://www.diebytheblade.com/2017/11/15/16653004/where-did-the-tank-go-wrong

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