Archive for the 'Raffi Torres' Category

The Bandwagoner’s Guide to the Sabres, Part Three: The Forwards

The concept of “the bandwagon fan” is very controversial, but I have a fondness in my heart for the new fan.  After all, it was at this time of year that I myself hopped on the Sabres bandwagon.  Every fan has to start somewhere, and often fandom is inspired by the playoffs.  The current Sabres may not feel like a bandwagon-y situation to a longtime fan, but I’m writing this series for the “Katebitses of 2007″; the guy or gal who is suddenly drawn to the Sabres, but doesn’t know where to begin.

Begin here, Bandwagoner!

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We’ve already covered the goalie and the defense, so, today we wade into far murkier waters.  Today, we grit our teeth, roll up our sleeves, and get to work trying to decipher the mystery that is the Sabres corp of forwards.

Part Three: The Forwards

The primary role of the forward is to score goals.  Oh sure, Lindy is going to go on and on about defensive responsibility and blah blah blah, but the fact of the matter is, to varying degrees, these guys are paid to score.  When they don’t score, we are cranky with them.  When they do score, we love them.

-“Lines”

Forwards play in lines of three.  Every line has a center, and two wingers (left and right).  I invite you pay not one speck of attention to who is playing what position.  I’ve never bothered to figure this out, and I don’t think it’s hurt my enjoyment of the game in the slightest.  If faceoffs are what floats your boat (*raises hand*), you should pay special attention to the centers, but other than that, it’s all the same to you.

Some teams have fixed lines, and others don’t.  The coach of the Sabres, Lindy Ruff, tinkers with the lines quite a bit, so you never really know who you’re going to see together on the ice.  Just when you think you’ve figured out the method to his madness you’re all, “…..whaaa?  Is Ellis playing with Vanek and Roy?”  Line watching can be confusing.  When you first start watching hockey, it’s best not to get too bogged down with the construction of the lines, but I CAN highly recommend focusing on the bench to watch them hop over the boards for the line changes.  Board hopping can be foxy, and so can Lalime when he opens and closes the little bench door for the tinier Sabres.

There are several different kinds of lines:

Scoring Lines: The top two lines are the scoring lines, and they are expected to score.  Duh.

Checking line: The checking line is usually the third line, and these guys are often sent out there to neutralize the other team’s top offensive threats.  These guys are certainly welcome to score, and we love it when they do, but really, their job is to slam into the other team and make life difficult for them.

Energy Line: The energy line is usually the 4th line, or as I like to call them, “The Scrubs”.  The Scrubs are not expected to score, and they’re not even really expected to be any good at hockey, but they ARE expected to play really, really hard.  They are expected to play every shift like it might be their last in the NHL (in many cases, it really might be).  They are expected to hit really hard, to not take penalties, not bitch about being a healthy scratch, and, if called upon, to fight in order to protect the “Top Six”.   Personally, I think these guys are kind of a hoot (at a recent game I turned to Robin and said, “Mair and Ellis are stunningly good at keeping control of the puck in the offensive zone for DAYS at a time without ever actually taking a shot on net,” but lots of people get super pissy about them and like to wail continually on Twitter for their dismissal.

Now, onto the actual Sabres players.

Long ago, back when I was a bandwagoner just like you,  my innocent eyes set upon Chris Drury, and my fate was sealed.  It was love at first sight.  My Chris Drury appreciation played a HUGE role in my eventual hardcore hockey fandom.  One look at that thick, dark beard, one interview, and one last-second goal against the Rangers, and I was hooked.  At the time, Chris Drury was the captain of the team, he was the obvious leader in the locker room, and he was constantly scoring clutchy goals.  He was an obvious and perfectly acceptable first favorite player.  Any Sabres fan would have approved.  Chris Drury was an extremely safe choice. (Unfortunately, Chris Drury proved to be a revolting Ranger who is not worth one third of the money he is getting paid.  But that’s a story for another day….)

Sadly for you, Dear Bandwagoner, these are not the simple times of 06/07.  The forward situation is confusing, but I’m here to help.

-The “Top” Six

The Sabres pride themselves on “balanced” scoring (meaning their scoring is fairly evenly distributed throughout the lineup).  Balanced scoring can be a real advantage.  If the other team has no idea which Sabre is the most likely to score, the Sabres can be very difficult to defend against.  But “balanced scoring” might just be a polite way of saying “lacking a true offensive threat”.  I just looked it up, and the Sabres were 10th in the league in scoring this season (I KNOW.  IT BLEW MY MIND TOO), so, they really did score plenty of goals  Because of this “balance” it can be a little difficult to identify our top six.  Players float in and out of the top six based on their performance and Lindy’s whims.

Some teams have Thornton, Heatley and Marleau.  We’ve got these guys.

(But we love them.)  (Mostly.)

Thomas Vanek. Had bad year. I want to love him because he costs $7mil per year and he's all we can afford now. Capable of putting the entire team on his back.

Derek Roy. Ew. Can be awesome, often chooses not to be.

Jason Pominville. Often good. Girls love him, boys can be grumpy about him (just jealous). Cute as a bugs ear.

Tim Connolly. Very good at hockey. Creative player. Most likely has cooties.

Jochen Hecht. He was good, then he sucked, now he's good again. Shy likeability is his trademark. Might be injured for start of the playoffs (girly fingers).

Drew Stafford. Brain-eating zombie? Probably. Concussed. Definitely. Poor guy. "Morrre Braaains" Very rarely plays on top six now that I think about it.

Of this crew, your best bets are Connolly and Vanek.  Vanek has been heating up, and when he gets hot he really is a sight to behold. (He can make that $7 million price tag look like a bargain.)  So, Vanek could be a perfect player to set your bandwagon-y sights upon.  As for Tim Connolly, now this was before my time, but his entire legend was built on one playoff series back in 2006.  Apparently he was amazing until he got his brains scrambled, so I’m figuring he might have high playoff potential now that he’s allegedly healthy.

- Checkers, Grinders, and other assorted misfits

Tim Kennedy. Rookie. Does not look like this anymore. Now he looks like a toothless, greasy hoodlum.

Paul Gaustad. Beloved HONKer. Hard hitter. Funny looking skater. Everyone in Buffalo wants to marry him.

Mike Grier. Is a grown-up. Hard worker. Has probably played a bigger role in returning the team to respectability than he's getting credit for.

Nathan Gerbe. Is currently on the team, but probably won't be come playoff time. That flavor-saver is gross, Gerbs.

Matt Ellis. Got his roster photo taken from waaaaay across the room. Total scrub, but an appealing scrub.

Adam Mair. Less appealing as far as scrubs go, but I don't understand all the squawking for him to be fired. He'll punch you right in the face.

Of these guys, Goose is the clear choice.  Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, everyone will just nod and say “me too,” when you announce that you intend to marry Paul Gaustad.  Mike Grier is another perfectly acceptable favorite, but the problem with him is that he’s only signed through the season and he may very well leave town all, “Screw you guys, I’m going home,” in a few months.  It’s difficult to tell if Mike Grier loves us back. He’s risky that way.

-The Wildcards.

These are the guys that defy categorization.

Tyler Ennis. Might be the next big thing. Might not. *fingers crossed*

Raffi Torres. Darcy gets us one of these guys every year at the trade deadline. Torres is this year's model.

Patrick Kaleta. Pest. Hard hitter. If he were on any other team, we'd hate him passionately. But he's a Sabre, a native Buffalonian, and he's QUITE good at his job, so we pretty much love him. Plus, he seems sweet in a dopey puppy kind of way. Don't try to fight him. You'll just wind up penalized.

Of these three guys, Kaleta is the clear choice.  If you try to talk up Ennis when you’re really just a bandwagon fan, you’re going to sound like a major tool.  If you try to talk up Torres you’re going to get blank stares.  But Patrick Kaleta is the perfect choice for a new fan.  He’s VERY visible on the ice, and almost everyone in town loves him.

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Good golly.  That was a lot about the forwards. I hope that clears things up!

Tune in tomorrow (or maybe the next day) to discuss the coaches and management.

5 Things

1. The Sabres were so GOOD yesterday (except for the 3rd period but I’m totally cutting them slack for that because it was their second game in 24 hours, and because I just love them right now).  I know it’s been safe to think “playoffs” for weeks, but I think last night was the first time it really sunk in with me.  For the first time in my fandom, the Sabres (OUR Sabres) are going to make the playoffs!  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  And I will have tickets to the home games!  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  This is a big deal for me.

2. This is SUCH a big deal for me, that yesterday I told my BFF Janz that I could NOT play on his concert series on April 14th because there is a possibility that the playoffs will begin that night.  And hilariously, Janzie completely understood why I would make that choice.  He wasn’t necessarily happy about it, but he got it.  For me, being a Sabres fan has been filled with moments like, “If I could go back to 2007 and tell my myself then how my life would be in 2010…,” but really, this one takes the cake.

To recap: I told Janz I didn’t want to play Brahms B-flat sextet (which is one of my favorite pieces EVER written) because there is a possibility that a hockey team would be playing the first game in a series of seven, and Janz, who knows me extremely well, was all, “Oh, yeah. Sure. That makes perfect sense.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m at an age and stage of life where everything is all set, and I trick myself into thinking there are no more big shifts ahead.  Of course this is REDONKULOUS, and I know this is redonkulous, but thinking about how much hockey has changed my life makes me excited about what might be around the next bend.  I mean, honestly.

3. I think Panera is hugely overrated.   I would say that I have no idea why everyone loves it so much, except for the fact that I think their egg soufflé is the most delicious thing on the entire planet.  So basically, my position on Panera is that I hate it, except for the egg soufflé, which is my favorite food in history of time and space.

4. I wrote this post about Jochen Hecht in September of 2008, and I refer back to it frequently when thinking about Yo-Yo.  Last year was obviously a rough one for Yo-yo, but he’s been quietly putting together a pretty good year for himself.  I hadn’t really thought about it until yesterday, but his return to defensive respectability might be playing a BIG role in the Sabres’ season.  Probably much bigger than we give him credit for.  Like I said in that post, Jochen Hecht is someone who seems to WANT to be taken for granted.  It’s somehow a part of his persona.   But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sit up straight and take notice when he has a game like he did yesterday.  Hecht’s first goal was extra sexy because it’s was so out of character for him.  It was as if Clark Kent accidentally pulled a Superman move without first removing his nerd glasses.

5. I wrote this on Twitter last night:

Yikes. I didn’t even notice that Torres was out today. Of course, I didn’t particularly miss MacArthur either. So…whatever.

I’m tempted to call Torres a bust, but it’s not like we have a gaping hole where MacArthur used to be in the lineup.  Plus, there will be playoff this year (PLAYOFFS!) and who knows how Torres might come in handy in the playoffs.  I keep thinking about him like I think about Dominic Moore in retrospect, but it’s silly.  Torres will have a much bigger opportunity to step up than Moore every had.  Darcy didn’t get Torres for the regular season, he got him for the playoffs.  Now, there certainly isn’t any reason to expect that Torres will suddenly be a visible force in the playoffs, all I’m saying is that I think it’s too soon to get all frothy about him.  Unlike it was with Moore, Torres and Lindy have a few more weeks to try to make this work.

Welcome, New Guy!

Hey, look at this guy.  He’s a Sabre.

“Hey ladies.”
*finger guns*
“My name is Raffi Torres.  I am now Buffalo’s lead scorer.”
*wink*

Nathan Paetsch is now a Blue Jacket, and Clarke MacArthur is now a 3rd and 4th round draft pick, so we must say their eulogies.

R.I.P:

Nathan Paetsch, your face is pleasingly round, and you always seem so polite and cordial.  Your ability to play almost any position on the ice will be missed, as will your helmet that you had Chara autograph after he dented it with a slapshot.  We wish you well in Columbus.  Good luck with the co-eds and the ice girls.  Please send Rick Nash my best.  Thank you for your service to the Buffalo Sabres.  Amen.

Clarke MacArthur, you have frustrated me many times over the years, and your ridiculous hair makes you look perpetually stoned.  You do, however, have a good nickname.  “The General” will be missed.  We wish you well in Atlanta.  I’ll look for you in the Atlanta airport when I fly Delta.  Good luck with the traffic and the heat.  Please send Max Afinogenov my best.  Thank you for your service to the Buffalo Sabres. Amen.

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In other news, we probably all owe Darcy Regier a wee bit of an apology.  He DID something!  Yay!

So, Darcy, sorry we all doubted you, and thank you SO MUCH for not re-signing Henrik Tallinder and telling us it’s the same as a big trade.  Seriously.  This is so much better than that would have been.


…A Blog About the Buffalo Sabres

Observations 2
I can be reached at: willfulcaboose [at] gmail [dot] com

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