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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tank.... - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Tank....
There was a plan.  It worked in Pittsburgh, it worked in Chicago, it worked with the current Stanley Cup champion Kings: in the current economic and labour climates of the NHL, the only way to build a long-term winner is to lose. Early and often. Get those high draft picks, especially in years when "generational" players like Crosby and Kane are coming out.  It's what the Sabres told us would work, and, last year in a relatively weak draft, it worked fine: we got the second overall pick (doing nicely in hockey minors now) to add to relatively high picks from the previous two years of "suffering."

But this was the year to really turn on the suck: Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are the Next Great Ones, and finishing dead last again would guarantee one of them, with a 20 percent chance of the pick of the litter.  For October, the Sabres were well on that path: they couldn't score, they couldn't stop shots, their goaltending was average, and they immediately found their comfortable place at the Way Bottom despite several teams also competing to be just as bad.

So how, then, do you explain them winning five of their last six games and moving all the way up to 26th out of 30 teams?  Until last night, some was the (lack of) quality of the competition, but last night's opponent, Tampa Bay, is one of the top teams in the league now, building its own team through the same formula of Recent Suckage and having an incredibly potent offense....

until, as we said, last night. Our perfectly average (until recently) goalie shut them down for almost the entire game, and the offense overcame a late Tampa goal to tie it and, eventually, win it in a shootout.  They have a first line of relatively young recent draft picks that's tearing up the ice, and a #1 defensive pairing that's better than anything seen back there in years. And there's the coach, brought back in last year's putsch of the Regier regime, who has a long history of getting more than expected out of his players. The Hardest Working Team in Hockey may well be back- much to the seeming dismay of those who called for outright suck.

I'd been among them, but now I'm starting to think it's better this way. They still won't make the playoffs- this push is too late, with the season fast approaching the halfway point and them still way out of the final Eastern conference slot- but that means they'll still have a shot at the top pick in the lottery. They also have two other teams' #1 picks in the draft, and while the Islanders are playing out of their minds and probably out of the lottery, the other team we traded with last deadline, St. Louis, may be the one which winds up with the highest pick. Their goalie is injured, they signed a retired Devils legend as a short-term solution, and they could easily fall apart in the very competitive West.  Or, depending on who does get the first two draft picks, Buffalo's bundle of three first-rounders could turn into a trade-up to the top.


Speaking of top: Buffalo is also leading an unusual charge, and the Powers that Be are not pleased about it.

Among their recent high-round acquisitions is a very nice forward named Zemgus Girgensons. He's doing well- on that suddenly-scoring top line- but he's no Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane yet. And yet he's leading the entire league in All-Star ballot voting in the early going, thanks to his legendary status in his native Latvia:

You're allowed to vote 10 times a day on NHL.com and what's clearly happening is that Girgensons is getting humongous numbers from  his homeland, where he is already a national icon at age 20. When the league announced its first totals last week, Girgensons wasn't even at 22,000, so something big is going on.

I tweeted the vote and here's a reply I received:  "Some people take shower when they wake up, some eat, we Latvians vote."

Voting concludes Jan. 1, with the top six vote-getters by position -- three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender -- named to the game Jan. 25 in Columbus.

Girgensons has seven goals, six assists and a plus-5 rating in 24 games thus far. He's been playing great. He might be future captain material. But let's be honest here: This isn't a good look for the league. He seems to know it too. He was very sheepish about it when I asked him about the tally Saturday in Montreal, and was the same way when the Buffalo media asked him Monday, noting that Latvias routinely are up at 4 a.m. watching Sabres games on television.

On the national broadcast of the Sabres-Lightning game last night, NBC analyst Mike Milbury was Not Impressed. He joins a growing list of WTFers about it (several of them named in this piece) who are concerned about the integrity of the vote and all that....

in a system that allows, indeed encourages, fans to vote for their favourites ten times a day.

At least the draft lottery isn't susceptible to such shenanigans. I mean, the lowly Maple Leafs would never get the #1 overall pick, right?


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greenquotebook From: greenquotebook Date: December 3rd, 2014 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

With all that's going on in my life these days, I don't have time to follow hockey like I should. Thanks for keeping me posted. :)
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