Evaluating the Damage: A Sabres Mid-Season (sort of) Report Card and a Podcast

(Joe P’s note: Sorry to bust in on Brandon’s post. Make sure you read on and forward this piece to your mom. In the mean time, here’s a podcast I did with Double Z (Zach Zielonka) from Die By the Blade. Pretty much we aren’t buying the Sabres 5 out of 6 point surge and think they need to sell at the deadline. We also dive into the hotelgate involving Tom Brady. If you want to download the podcast as a MP3, just goto this site and copy the podcast link from Youtube.)

With the All Star break now in the rear view mirror, there’s never been a better time to reflect back on the repulsive previous four-month span more affectionately known to some as the 2011-12 Buffalo Sabres season.

In an effort to put the first half behind us, below you’ll find a lengthy, yet brilliant evaluation of each and every individual who has played one role or another in the disappointment thus far. Indulge and enjoy.

The “Core”:

Jason Pominville (51 GP, 17 G 30 A, Minus-7)

Grade: A-

If this we’re just another season for Pommer, I probably would’ve given him an “A” or something to that effect. But this season is anything but just another season for the long-time Sabre. Being named captain is no easy job by any means. If anything, especially for a team that struggles like the Sabres have, donning the “C” on your chest may be one of the biggest burdens in sports. From a statistical standpoint, Pominville has been outstanding. He’s finally developed into the point-per-game player we hoped he could be. However, it is a logical point to make that perhaps his “leadership” or, lack thereof, is playing a role is the team’s disappointing season. That dark spot is the only factor keeping Pommer from a perfect grade.

Derek Roy (49 GP, 9 G 16 A, Minus-12)

Grade: D-

What can be said about Derek Roy that hasn’t been said already? He’s had a horrific season during the year he was expected to prove to the world that he’s capable of centering a first line. He can’t score. He refuses to sacrifice himself for the team in every way imaginable. And now, even Ruff’s patience with Roy is growing thin. After sending an arrant backhander just to the right of a wide-open net that would have earned the Sabres two point over the Eastern Conference’s best team, Ruff called Roy out, saying there’s no excuse for missing that goal. Well, frankly, there isn’t. The Sabres rank 27th in the NHL in scoring, and Roy is essentially what all the Sabres’ struggles boil down to.

Paul Gaustad (45 GP, 5 G 8 A, Even)

Grade: C

Sadly for Goose, you can’t talk about his season without mentioning the Lucic fiasco that blew up in November. Even if he did man up and drop the gloves with the big, bad Bruin the following meeting, it wasn’t anywhere near enough to save the season. Like most Sabres, Gaustad has played well at times. But the lack of offense from a guy who’s expected to contribute 10-15 goals per season can’t happen. He does the little things great, and when he’s on his game (ala Montreal), he’s usually the difference maker. Goose’s days in blue and gold may be numbered. That’s unfortunate for a guy as likable as Gaustad is.

Thomas Vanek (50 GP, 19 G 22 A, Minus-5)

Grade: B+

Had I written this piece in the beginning of January, Vanek would have been an unquestioned “A”. But lately, he has struggled to produce offensively, to say the least. Whether it be injuries or fatigue from carrying the team on his back for much of the season, Vanek was pretty unnoticeable during the Sabres’ miserable January road disaster. Of course, the entire team was miserable during that span, so take from it what you will. Otherwise, I feel this season proves Vanek belongs in the discussion with other top goal scorers around the league. I drool every time I think about the production this guy could put up with someone other than (insert name of underachieving “center”) feeding him passes.

Drew Stafford (49 GP, 8 G 15 A, Minus-6)

Grade: F

I didn’t give Roy an “F” because, at times this season, he has shown some signs that he does actually know how to play hockey. But when it comes to Drew Stafford, sadly, I think all hope is lost when put him under the same spotlight. He’s exactly what everyone said he would be: A lazy, sporadic player who would simply become satisfied after earning his first big paycheck. Unlike Roy, I can’t remember a single instance all season long where I thought Stafford has played well. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but the point is Stafford isn’t what everyone hoped he would be. Instead, he’s exactly what we expected, and that earns him a big, fat “F.”

Jochen Hecht (22 GP, 4 G 4 A, Plus-1)

Grade: D+

I thought it might be unfair to grade Hecht’s season. Things don’t look good for the guy right now. Hecht’s concussion might be so bad it keeps him out of the game for the remainder of his career. But, he like everyone else, he hasn’t played well while on the ice this season to escape criticism. Like Gaustad, I’m beginning to think his days are numbered in Buffalo as well, even if he does make a comeback from the injury. Simply put, Hecht gets paid to score like a second-line forward while typically his production is more comparable to that of a third, and more often a fourth-line role player.

Ryan Miller (32 GS, 13-15-3, 2.89 GAA, .904 SV%)

Grade: B-

Sorry, haters. I’m still holding out in the “you can’t blame Miller for everything” camp. At times this season, he’s looked downright sensational. But others, he’s looked 100-times worse. After watching this team play defense all season long, I’m convinced there’s no possible way Miller is the only one responsible for his poor numbers. However, I do believe in accountability, and there’s no doubt that there have been countless nights where Miller has appeared to be completely lost. Given his recent play, it looks as though the former All Star may be on his way to re-gaining his form. Time will tell, but let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The “Future”:

Tyler Ennis (17 GP, 3 G 2 A, Even)

Grade: C-

If you ask me, I say that aside from Miller’s concussion, Ennis’ injury may be the one that has affected the Sabres’ season the most. When you reflect back and try to figure out why the Sabres have been so atrocious, you see the team’s lack of scoring. His play during the first half wasn’t indicative of it, but you’d have to think, had he have been healthy, Ennis would have provided some spark offensively at the very least.

Tyler Myers (31 GP, 4 G 6 A, Minus-9)

Grade: C

You can only grade the season Myers is currently having based on one thing: The way the team looks without him in the lineup. And if you think the team is bad with Myers on the ice, you haven’t seen them when missing their young star. His numbers aren’t sexy. In fact, they’re dreadful if you put them side-by-side with previous seasons. Almost everything the Sabres do as a team rests on the shoulders of Myers. Granted, he hasn’t always been great while on the ice this season, but I’ve noticed more good out of him than bad when he’s been healthy. And when he’s healthy, the Sabres at least have a chance.

Nathan Gerbe (40 GP, 4 G 13 A, Plus-2)

Grade: C-

What I like most when I look at Gerbe’s season is his plus/minus rating. A minus-2 on this team is pretty damn good at this point, especially if you’re a forward. Everyone loves Gerbe for the energy he brings, and that’s great. But going forward, Gerbe will be expected to be more than just a 5’6″ wrecking ball. One day, he’ll have to score goals in order for this team to be good. And he’ll have to do it far more consistently. Until then, he gets a “C.”

Andrej Sekera (43 GP, 2 G 6 A, Minus-2)

Grade: C+

Typically, I’m one of the biggest Reggie-bashers around. But even I’ll admit that he hasn’t played all too poorly this season. Now, I still don’t think he’s worth the contract he received in the off-season, but Sekera has been fairly consistent with his ability to not make terrible mistakes. I’ve always said if you don’t notice a defenseman on the ice, than they’re probably doing their job right. I have to say, I haven’t noticed Sekera much at all this year.

Marc-Andre Gragnani (43 GP, 1 G 11 A, Plus-10)

Grade: B-

It still amazes me how this guy has a plus-11 rating on this team while virtually everyone else is in the negatives. As previously brought to my attention, what makes this case even stranger is power-play points do not factor in to plus/minus. I give up trying to figure this one out. All in all, his stats aren’t terrible. And, he does work well on the power play. So he gets a “B-” for now. He came extremely close to earning a “C.”

Jhonas Enroth (23 GP, 8-9-3, 2.59 GAA, .919 SV%)

Grade: B

Remember when just a few months ago you were all clamoring for the Sabres to trade Miller because Enroth was clearly better? Well, now I bet you’re glad they didn’t. While Enroth has taken a fall back down to earth over the past few months, his numbers are still among the rookie leaders and, in the main scheme of things, he’s actually putting together a very solid season for a backup netminder. After all, that is what he is. Remember? And, for now, that’s all that he is.

Brayden McNabb (20 GP, 1 G 4 A, Minus-2)

Grade: B

McNabb has had his ups and downs as a rookie. Recently sent back down to Rochester after finally getting healthy, McNabb got an extended taste of the pro game which I think will serve his future well. The kid has talent, there’s no doubting that. Projected out over a full season, McNabb scores about 4-6 goals and finishes with 16-20 assists. Not bad for a 20-year-old rookie.

Zack Kassian (19 GP, 3 G 3 A, Minus-1)

Grade: C

The problem with Zack Kassian is that everyone’s expectations are so high for the kid, that it seems each day that passes he becomes more and more destined to fail. He started his career off with a bang, highlighted by a beauty of a goal on a breakaway in one of his first games. But Kass struggled mightily since, spending most of his time on the fourth line as the Sabres awaited their injured to return. He has talent. There’s no doubting that. But I think his time up here showed us all just how raw he still is.

Luke Adam (50 GP, 10 G 10 A, Minus-7)

Grade: B+

Before the season began, I predicted Adam to emerge as the Sabres’ unsung hero this season. Of course, there haven’t really been any heroes on this team just yet this year, but one thing Adam has done is exceed expectations. While he’s shown that he still has a way to go before he fills out his potential, he’s also shown that, if you place talent around him, he’s a guy who can succeed.

The “Sandpaper”:

Matt Ellis (42 GP, 3 G 3 A, Minus-7)

Grade: B

What can you really say bad about Ellis? He does his job and keeps mistakes to a minimum. He’s not expected to score… at all, really. So, when he does, it’s just a nice little bonus. Of course ideally, if you’re a contending team, a player like Ellis probably doesn’t crack your roster.

Cody McCormick (35 GP, 0 G 2 A, Minus-7)

Grade: B-

I’m distributing these grades based on expectations and whether or not the individual has lived up to them. With that said, although it would be nice to receive a few goals from him, you can’t really knock McCormick for producing a big goose egg under the goals stat. He earns his “B” here simply because he can rattle opponents and has really been the only guy who hasn’t hesitated this season when called upon for a fight or to defend a teammate.

Patrick Kaleta (35 GP, 4 G 2 A, Minus-5)

Grade: C

I can’t lie. I’m probably one of the biggest Kaleta fans out there. Maybe he deserves a lower grade. If fact, I’m convinced 90 percent of you believe I graded him too high, but you’ll have to deal with it. Honestly, it’s difficult to grade Kaleta’s season. At times, he’s committed unbelievably bone-headed mistakes. But typically I feel he fulfills his duties. Unlike McCormick, the local boy has managed to chip in a few goals this season, but I need to see more fights from Kaleta in order to boost his grade up. It seems he’s been reluctant to drop the gloves this year for whatever reason, which obviously can’t happen. 

Mike Weber (25 GP, 1 G 1 A, Minus-14)

Grade: D

For a guy who is supposed to be a “defensive defenseman” in the NHL, Weber’s minus-14 stat is simply unacceptable. I’m actually relatively surprised his plus/minus is so terrible because, aside from his terrible stretch during the January road trip with Leopold, I can’t remember ever really noticing him playing poorly. Oh well. The stats don’t like. He’s got to be better.

The “New Guys”:

Ville Leino (40 GP, 4 G 8 A, Minus-8)

Grade: F

Can’t think of a stretch where Leino has looked good for more than one game. It seems every time he pieces together a productive effort, he disappears off into oblivion for games on end, only to pop up and make another appearance weeks later. The whole fact that Leino completely blew off Ruff’s plan to convert him to center effects this grade even worse. There’s not much I can’t stand more than a lazy hockey player, but a lazy hockey player who can’t score, gets paid a lot of money and whines when he’s asked to do his job is probably something that trumps it.

Brad Boyes (38 GP, 3 G 9 A, Minus-5)

Grade: D-

Three goals is not acceptable for a guy who earns a $4-million yearly paycheck. It’s really as simple as that. At least at this time last season Boyes had 10/15-something goals and was only having a “down year” with the Blues. Now he’s just horrendous to watch and, the way I see it, does very little when it comes to helping this team. 

Robyn Regehr (46 GP, 0 G 2 A, Minus-12)

Grade: B+

I didn’t put it up there, but the most telling stat about Regehr’s season isn’t his point total, but rather his hits. He leads the Sabres with 113, and the next guy below him isn’t even close. Of course, that minus-12 is an ugly stat, but I think that’s more so a product of the guys he’s playing with than a reflection upon his own play.

Christian Ehrhoff (40 GP, 3 G 16 A, Minus-9)

Grade: B+

What I don’t understand is the need for national guys to blast Ehrhoff’s play this season. Personally, I think he’s sometimes the best player on the ice for the Sabres, and certainly the best defenseman. Of course, his 19 points are a far cry from the 40s and 50s he’s put up elsewhere in his career, but there have been far, far worse players for the Sabres than Ehrhoff this season. Often, Ehrhoff looks like the only player on the roster who knows how to execute a power play and his shot is still ridiculous. At this point, I’d say any criticism is sorely off-based.

Jordan Leopold (48 GP, 8 G 9 A, Minus-4)

Grade: B-

You can’t consider Leopold a “new guy,” but I had no idea where else to put him. He’s more or less just there; an auxilery piece. I digress. If it weren’t for his inablity to play hockey with Mike Weber, maybe Leopold’s plus/minus stat is a rare positive for the team. Not to mention, he always seems to have a nack for finding the back of the net. I can’t dispute that.

The “Bosses”:

Ted Black

Grade: B-

Is it just me, or is Ted Black becoming mildly annoying with his “just be patient, everything will be alright” spiel he feeds to the WGR guys each week? Look, I love Black. I think he’s incredibly intelligent and obviously is very good at what he does. But, when it gets as bad as it has been for the Sabres, the last thing anyone wants to hear him preach about is patience. All we’re asking for is a little acknowledgment that he and Pegula are aware their product sucks and that changes are forthcoming. If they continue to play the injury card, I’m afraid I may have to start comparing them to the Bills. And that frightens me.

Terry Pegula

Grade: B

I remain partial on Mr. Pegula. I think the man has already taken far more criticism for this season than he deserves (way to go, TBN) but, at the same time, you’ve also got to wonder if he was just talking out of his ass when blaming the season on injuries or if he was for real. I think anyone who believes the Sabres’ biggest problem is extremely naive, so I can only pray Pegula has a nice plan up his sleeves come June.

Lindy Ruff

Grade: B-

With what he’s had to work with this season while dealing with that crazy injury bug, I’ll be the first to give Lindy credit where credit is due. Through all this crap and what he’s been given to work with from Regier, Ruff has somehow managed to keep this team somewhat afloat. Although I often cannot stand the constant line changes and lackluster press conferences, I can’t dispute the fact that Ruff is a good coach who deserves more than he gets. If he makes it out of this season alive, I think we’ll all be pretty happy Pegula kept him come this time next season.

Darcy Regier

Grade: F

Aside from Stafford, Leino and maybe Roy, this “F” was the easiest to hand out. Sorry, @FakeDarcy. To me, it’s no coincidence the team Regier has assembled is finally falling apart at the seam. The draft track record defense is nonsense. Look at how those draft picks are performing now. His signings and re-signings have generally all sucked. And, to top it all off, he allegedly has established himself as one of the worst GMs to work with among his peers which, if true, has surely led to a great deal of missed opportunities via the trade market. That alone is reason for firing. There isn’t a guy in the organization right now who needs to lose his job more than Regier does.

You almost certainly don’t agree with Brandon’s opinion on this matter, so please, let him hear about it in the comment box or be sure to follow him on Twitter @THWGoldSchlager and express your distaste.