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Bob Matthews' Column

Rave Reviews For Buffalo Sabres' Draft

 

 

RAVE REVIEWS FOR BUFFALO SABRES’ DRAFT

 

The 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres aren’t going to be good. They might be headed for the NHL’s worst record for the second straight season.

 

But throw in billionaire Terry Pegula’s desire to win and willingness to spend money to improve the product on the ice, and it no longer seems absurd to use “Buffalo” and “future Stanley Cup” in the same sentence.

 

The Sabres have been stockpiling draft picks and had nine selections in last week’s draft. By all accounts, there were more probable hits than misses.

 

ESPN Insider graded all 30 NHL teams on this draft and only Buffalo and Florida received a grade of “A”.

 

Frank Provenzano of ESPN Insider wrote: “The Sabres used this draft to continue their trawl of the hockey talent ocean, adding the highly-talented center Sam Reinhart (No. 2 overall) to go along with five other picks in the subsequent two rounds. With probably the best prospect pipeline in the NHL and oodles of cap space, the Sabres are poised to rapidly scale the NHL standings ladder in the near future.”

 

Can you smell Calder Cup “in the near future” for the Rochester Amerks? 1996 was a long time ago.

 

The Sabres have plenty of picks – including three first-rounders – in the 2015 draft. It already is touted as a strong one, featuring super prospect Connor David.

 

Veteran Ottawa center Jason Spezza is trade bait but, under the circumstances, one wonders if Buffalo would be a bidder. He wants to go to a winning team. Right now, that wouldn’t include Buffalo. But within a few years, the Sabres might not need him.

 

NO SURPISE: NFL MAGAZINES NOT HIGH ON THE BILLS

 

The flood of NFL 2014 magazines has begun at newsstands across the country. Not surprisingly, they aren’t nearly as optimistic regarding the Buffalo Bills as many of us are.

 

Here is how four prominent publications forecast the AFC East (Athlon Sports, Lindy’s Sports, USA Today Sports and Sporting News Pro Football):

 

New England Patriots: 1st—1st—1st (11-5 record)—1st

 

New York Jets: 2nd—3rd—2nd (10-6)—2nd

 

Buffalo Bills – 3rd—2nd—4th (3-13)—4th

 

Miami Dolphins: 4th—4th—3rd (8-8) – 3rd.

 

Some comments about the Bills:

 

Athlon Sports: “Many NFL teams adopt a ‘playoffs or bust’ mentality, but how many actually live it? With the franchise for sale and its future uncertain following the death of team founder Ralph C. Wilson Jr., in March, the Buffalo Bills seem to be going for broke…With no first-round pick in 2015 and a future new owner to impress, there is immense pressure on EJ Manuel and the front office to win now…This team has enough ability to legitimately get into the fight with Miami and the N.Y. Jets for second place in the AFC East, but almost everything will hinge on the play of the quarterback.”

 

Lindy’s Sports: “The Buffalo Bills are in win-now mode after 14 straight non-playoff seasons and with an ownership change looming…It would help everyone’s job security if the team made the post-season for the first time this century…New owners generally like to hire their own football executives. A playoff berth would provide tangible evidence the organization is on the right track…It’s easy to say it’s all about the quarterback, but it’s all about the quarterback. EJ Manuel showed promise as a rookie. Can he stay healthy and make a significant step forward in Year Two? If the answer is yes, the Bills probably are a playoff team.”

 

USA Today Sports: “Fans in Buffalo might have to wait another year for the postseason, but things could at least be trending in the right direction…The franchise is likely still a few pieces from being a legitimate contender in the AFC East.”

 

Sporting News: “GM Doug Whaley has pushed all of his poker chips into the middle of the table on EJ Manuel—although it’s hard to see why…If Manuel can make the leap the Bills believe he’s capable of, the team just might have enough talent in other places to make its long-awaited return to the postseason.”

 

JOSE ALTUVE DEFINITELY NOT COMING UP SHORT

 

Last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated touted the Houston Astros as “Your 2017 World Series Champs.”

 

I’m not buying that, but the Astros are on the upgrade and one of the biggest reasons is Major League Baseball’s shortest player – 5-foot-5 Jose Altuve.

 

Altuve enters Monday leading the American League in batting average (.347) and the majors in hits (116…second-most is 103 by Toronto’s Melky Cabrera).

 

Altuve also is a solid defensive second baseman (only 2 errors this season) and has 36 stolen bases in 39 attempts. He also has some pop (25 doubles, 2 triples and 2 HRs).

 

Houston signed Altuve as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He is only 24 years old and one of baseball’s great bargains: four-year contract for $12.5 million (2014 through 2017).

 

Altuve won’t start at second base for the AL in the All-Star Game – Robinson Cano will, and he deserves to. But Altuve should be high on list of reserves.

 

CLAYTON KERSHAW BASEBALL’S BEST PITCHER – BY A LOT

 

Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw is ridiculously good.

 

Month of June: 6 starts…6-0 record…0.82 ERA…44 innings pitched…26 hits allowed…4 walks…61 strikeouts. He’s currently on a streak of 28 consecutive scoreless innings. His next start will be a challenge even for him – at Coors Field vs. the Colorado Rockies.

 

At age 26 and without a history of arm problems, the two-time NHL Cy Young Award winner appears destined to become one of baseball’s all-time best pitchers.

 

His career pitching line: 86-48 record…2.57 ERA…1259 1/3 innings…958 hits…404 walks…1313 strikeouts…1.08 WHIP (walks + hits per inning)… .211 batting average against.

 

He’s even excellent at holding runners at first base: allowed 47 stolen bases; 42 caught stealing.

 

Among active pitchers with at least 1,000 career innings, the second-best ERA is 3.025 by Adam Wainwright (St. Louis).

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

The Rochester Red Wings continue to lead the 14-team International League in pitching with a 3.23 earned-run average. Second-best Syracuse is 3.38. The Red Wings also have allowed only 632 hits in 713 1/3 innings. They’ve allowed the fewest runs (300). Rochester’s +52 run differential is third-best in the IL, behind only Syracuse (+80) and Columbus (+75).

 

The best pro basketball foul-shooter could be Elena Delle Donne of the Chicago Sky (WNBA). She’s connecting at a .968 clip this season (61-for-63). She led the WNBA last season(.929; 157-for-169), too. Brian Roberts (New Orleans) led the NBA in foul-shooting last season at .940 (125-for-133), followed by Dirk Nowitzki (.899; 335-for-376).

 

Odds on the remaining matches in the World Cup Round of 16: Monday, France 4-to-9 (bet $9 to win $4), Nigeria 17-to-2 (bet $2 to win $17), draw 19-to-5…Germany 1-to-3 (bet $3 to win $1), Algeria 21-to-2 (bet $2 to win $21), draw 19-to-4…Tuesday, Argentina 1-to-2, Switzerland 7-to-1, draw 7-to-2…Belgium 20-to-19, USA 10-to-3, draw 5-to-2.

 

Ladbroke odds on winning the World Cup (entering Monday): Brazil 2-to-1, Argentina 4-to-1, Germany 9-to-2, Netherlands 9-to-2, France 9-to-1, Colombia 14-to-1, Belgium 22-to-1, Costa Rica 40-to-1, USA 100-to-1, Switzerland 100-to-1, Nigeria 200-to-1, Algeria 300-to-1.

 

The Rochester Rattlers are undefeated (5-0) at home this season. So are the Denver Outlaws (5-0) and the New York Lizards (4-0). Home teams in the eight-team Major League Lacrosse are 27-9 this season…Rochester Knighthawks fan favorite and local hero Joe Walters had 4 goals and 4 assists to help the Chesapeake Bayhawks record a rare MLL road victory Saturday night, 18-11 at the Florida Launch…The Rattlers will play at Chesapeake Thursday, July 17. It will be strange to see Walters playing against Rochester.

 

Jeff Sluman’s  $237,600 second-place check in last week’s Senior Players Championship boosted his 2014 earnings to $889,125. That’s fourth on the Champions Tour money list for 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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