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Sabres Central

What's the real reason behind the Sabres demise?

By Rick Anderson
January 10, 2008


The reasons for the Sabres demise this season has been widely discussed. Many have given their theories for the fall from grace. After much thought, I’ve come up with what could be the reasons for the Sabres sliding from first to last in their division this season. 

Drury – Briere connection

This is the obvious choice for most Sabres followers. The two former co-captains combined for 69 goals and 164 points. That’s a huge chunk of offense to cut out of the Sabres offense.


There are two other big factors that hurt the Sabres with the loss of Drury and Briere. The two provided leadership that has not been replaced in the locker room and on the ice. The “captain of the month” that Lindy Ruff has installed just doesn’t cut it.


The last, and maybe most important factor that has hurt the Sabres by losing Drury & Briere is the fact that teams had a hard time concentrating on the 3 top lines the Sabres put forth the past two seasons. With those out of the lineup, the Sabres new top line of Roy, Vanek and whoever is the winger is getting the focus of the opponents top line. That certainly has hurt Vanek the most, who is way down in his production this season.


Clutch & grab hockey is back


NHL has regressed to the prelockout, prehistoric style of hockey where clutch, grab and interference is allowed once again. The regression back to the old-rules has hurt the teams with the speed. Buffalo was built on the contingency that the NHL was going to stick by its promise to enforce the rules and try the hardest to let talent be showcased, not thuggery and the boring trap.

All the owners and GMs who complained about the free-wheeling style of play and too many penalties, have gotten their way. Colin Campbell listened and he instructed the refs to put their whistles away and let the goons back into the game.

As a result of the trap, Left Wing lock and zone defenses, hockey is back to being a very boring, unwatchable game. People are avoiding watching hockey like the plague on TV and it may start to show in the stands too. But Campbell and Gary Bettman seem happy with the caveman style of play and that has convinced fans that the league has broken its promise to improve the game.

The Sabres, who won the President's Trophy last year with their speed and scoring, are now dead last in their conference. They haven't found a way to get free from all the holding, clutching, interference, trap and other zone defenses. Their scoring is way down and so is their confidence. In just one year, they have dropped from first to last.


Everyone who knows the history of the NHL knew that it was too good to be true. The NHL, after the lockout, opened up a new game, one that was exciting and fun to watch. Scoring was up, as was the speed of the game. It fell right into the lap of the Buffalo Sabres and their fortunes soared.

The NHL is rooted in the prehistoric age. With disciplinarian Colan Campbell in charge, the NHL refs started to put their whistles back in their pockets and let the thuggery creep back into the game. Even more important to the re-emergence of the trap and boring hockey were the coaches themselves. The teams without the speed and the gunners found a way to bring back the trap and devise even more elaborate defensive systems to shut down the speed and the high octane offense. Now because of these genius coaching schemes, the fans are stuck with the hated low-scoring boring games that plummeted the TV ratings and sent fans flocking to the NBA and other sports.

Since the NHL has its head in the sand and wants boring 1-0 or 2-1 games and loves the neutral zone gridlock, we are stuck with this style of play until Campbell and Bettman are replaced with competent hockey people who know what's right with the sport.

Sabres out of shape

All the injuries that the Sabres have had the past few years may have something to do with their off-season training program. I remember how successful former Bills trainer Rusty Jones was at getting the Bills in great shape during the offseason.


Bruce Smith was a prime example of how Jones was able to transform an already good athlete into a mean machine that had little body fat. He set up an exercise and healthy diet program for all players to follow during both the offseason and regular season. It is known that a player in top shape is less prone to injuries. Also, a player that has followed a vigorous workout program during the off season will perform much better the next season.


The Sabres have 3 examples of how players who have had a great summer training program have come back and had outstanding seasons. A few years ago, Tim Connolly worked himself into such great shape that he had an outstanding season two years ago. Unfortunately, that open-ice hit he received in the playoffs against the Senators knocked him out for almost the entire season last year.


Next example of how a vigorous training program can help a player is Thomas Vanek. Vanek worked out extra hard before last season and it paid off as Vanek had an great season, scoring 43 goals and 83 points. He also led the league in the +/- rating.


The final example of good conditioning is Jaroslav Spacek. Last season was a very disappointing one for Spacek, but he was determined to increase his physical strength and worked out last summer. Now, Spacek is one of the best Sabres out there, scoring 8 goals and 12 assists thus far.


The Sabres need to strengthen up and get a better nutrition program going. Not sure exactly who the Sabres strength & conditioning coach is, but they sure could use someone like Rusty Jones getting them in shape.

In conclusion, it is my belief that these 3 factors are the main reason for the Sabres crash this season. Losing Drury and Briere certainly hurt, but if the league did not go back to the clutch & grab, trap style of hockey that bogged down the game for years, the Sabres would be right there in the thick of things. The physical conditioning of this club also has to be questioned. The success stories of Connolly, Vanek and Spacek after their summer conditioning programs shows that the entire team must get with the program and build itself up into better shape.


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