ROUGH WEEKEND FOR FANS OF SABRES, SU AND RED WINGS
DO YOU THINK THE CURRENT AMERKS CAN COPY 1996 SURPRISE CHAMPS?
As far as sports weekends go, three of our favorite teams have seen much better ones.
BUFFALO SABRES – The Sabres traded popular goalie Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to St. Louis on Friday night. Much of the heart and soul of the team was cut loose. The Sabres were the NHL’s poorest team before the bombshell transaction and now they’re even worse.
But it was time for Miller and Ott to go – they deserved to move on to playoff land -- most Sabres fans understood. Buffalo is rebuilding – think the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids. This is a huge project.
But the resignation of president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine was tough to take, even for the most faithful fans. He was a rock of credibility and a reason to hope brighter days are ahead. Now he’s gone after fewer than four months.
There is speculation that there might have been a rift among the main players in the front office – including LaFontaine and general manager Tim Murray. The headline on page 1A of The Buffalo News: DYSFUNCTION RETURNS TO SABRES FRONT OFFICE.
One theory – and I’m not buying it, things couldn’t have been this bad – is that Nolan was a strong supporter of interim coach Ted Nolan while Murray has ties with former Sabres GM John Muckler, who had a falling out with Nolan long, long ago. Let’s hope such pettiness had nothing to do with LaFontaine’s abrupt departure or is a strong clue that Nolan won’t be retained as coach.
These sad Sabres developments came on the heels of speculation earlier in the week that there is a significant difference of opinion in the ranks of the NFL Bills, with coach Doug Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley frustrated with not having the control they want and need to turn the team around.
Some old school Ralph Wilson holdovers apparently still have power within the organization – why, no one could possibly reasonably explain. Simply look at the results. No trips to the playoffs in 14 years and counting.
Poll the fans and at least 95 percent would say put Whaley and Marrone in complete control and send Wilson’s loyal old standbys off to plush retirements. Since last making the playoffs in the 1999 season, Buffalo is a combined 88-136 (including 28-52 in the last five seasons) with one winning season (9-7 in 2004). It is long overdue to give the new guys complete control.
I’ve wondered which team would win a championship first – the Bills a Super Bowl or the Sabres a Stanley Cup. After last week, there isn’t much title hope on the horizon for either franchise.
If pressed, I’d pick the Sabres, because they’ve hit the absolute bottom and have a cache of draft picks the rest of the NHL has to envy.
SYRACUSE BASKETBALL – The men’s basketball Orange, top-ranked with a 25-0 record only two weeks ago, have lost three of their last four games and look like a team closer to No. 20 than to No. 1.
This is not shocking. The schedule got tougher and the team’s lack of depth was exposed, particularly with Jerami Grant hobbled with a sore back. In hindsight, it would’ve been wise to give freshman Tyler Roberson more playing time throughout the season. Poor rebounding and three-point shooting are taking a toll.
SU finishes the regular season home against Georgia Tech (13-15; 4-11 in the ACC) Tuesday night and at Florida State (16-11; 7-8 ACC) Sunday. The sagging Orange figure to get a timely confidence boost against two opponents they should beat. I hope to see more minutes for Roberson in the process.
ROCHESTER RED WINGS -- The summer of 2014 was setting up to be a fun one for fans of the Red Wings. On paper, the team looked like a potential powe house, with a surplus of starting pitching and a nice mix of proven Triple-A veterans and super young prospects such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Josmil Pinto in the starting lineup.
But now Sano’s name has been erased from the probable Opening Day lineup because of impending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. One of the game’s genuine great power-hitting prospects, he had predicted at least 45 home runs this season and most of them figured to come for Rochester.
But let’s close with some optimistic thoughts.
The Sabres will get better because they can’t get worse. They have a large number of accumulated NHL draft picks and Darcy Regier won’t be running the draft.
The Bills are getting better but still have a long way to go. If Whaley and Marrone call all the shots and make the right personnel moves and quarterback EJ Manuel stays healthy and delivers, this could be a playoff season.
SU won’t be overconfident entering the NCAA Tournament. I believe reaching the Sweet 16 is a reasonable goal. You probably think the Orange will do better than that. I hope you’re right.
The Red Wings still figure to be very good this season, even without Sano. But I love to watch power hitters. Maybe he’ll be hitting cleanup up at Frontier Field on Opening Day 2015.
1996 AMERKS PROVIDE HOPE FOR 2014 CALDER CUP
I recently wrote that the current Rochester Americans have a chance to win the Calder Cup. I noted that “with 30 teams in the AHL now, it would the most impressive” league title in franchise history.
A reader quickly responded, “They’re nowhere near good enough to even get close this year.”
I assume the reader wasn’t around for – or doesn’t remember – the 1996 AHL season and playoffs.
Here are Rochester’s six Calder Cup champions:
1965 – 72 games...48-21-3 record...99 of 144 possible points in the standings (most in the AHL)...outscored opponents 310-199 (+111)....9 teams in the AHL (6 made the playoffs)....8-2 record in the playoffs; beat Quebec 4-1 and beat Hershey 4-1.
1966 – 72 games...46-21-5 record....97 of 144 possible points (second-beat in the AHL; Quebec had 98)...outscored opponents 288-221 (+67)...9 teams in the AHL (6 made the playoffs)....8-4 record in the playoffs; beat Quebec 4-2 and beat Cleveland 4-2.
1968 – 72 games...38-25-9 record...85 of 144 possible points (most in the AHL)...outscored opponents 273-233 (+40)...8 teams in the AHL (6 made the playoffs)...8-3 record in the playoffs; beat Hershey 4-1 and beat Quebec 4-2.
1983 – 80 games...46-25-9 record....101 of 160 possible points (most in the AHL)...outscored opponents 389-325 (+64)...13 teams in the AHL (8 made the playoffs)...12-4 record in the playoffs; beat Binghamton 4-1, beat New Haven 4-3 and beat Maine 4-0.
1987 – 80 games...47-26-7 record...101 of 160 possible points (tied for 2nd most; Sherbrooke had 102)...outscored opponents 315-263 (+52)...13 teams in the AHL (8 made the playoffs)...12-6 record in the playoffs; beat Hershey 4-1, beat Binghamton 4-2 and beat Sherbrooke 4-3.
1996 – 80 games...37-38 (4 OT losses)-5...83 of 160 possible points (9th in the league)...outscored by opponents 297-294 (-3)...18 teams in the AHL (16 made the playoffs)...15-4 record in the playoffs; beat Adirondack 3-0, beat Cornwall 4-0, beat Syracuse 4-1 and beat Portland 4-3. The Pirates had an even worse regular-season record -- 32-38 (with 4 OT losses)-10 – than Rochester.
Those Amerks were 11 games under .500 in late January before turning it on. The team included feisty veterans (including Scott Metcalfe, Dan Frawley and Doug Houda), feisty youngsters Scott Nichol, talented scorers (including Dixon Ward, Craig Charron, Rob Conn and Brian Holzinger), star defenseman Terry Hollinger, hard-nosed defensemen Ruman Ndur and Dean Melanson and a goalie w ho got hot at the right time (Steve Shields).
Assuming the current Amerks qualify for the playoffs, they might be the second-most surprising Calder Cup champion in franchise history.
How popular is departed Sabres goalie Ryan Miller in western New York? The St. Louis Blues probably have a lot of new fans in this part of the NHL world. Buffalo always is among the leaders in NHL viewership – even when the Sabres aren’t involved. Now many Buffalo9 fans will be rooting for St. Louis in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Many analysts felt the Blues lacked the stellar goalie needed to go all the way this season. Now they have one.
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the Hickok Belt winner for the month of January. He averaged an NBA-best 35.9 points for the month....NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the favorite for February
TV viewing tip: “Requiem for the Big East”, an EASN documentary, will debut Sunday, March 16, 9 p.m. Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim will get plenty of attention.
Most NFL talent scouts are raving about this year’s college draft, rating it the deepest in many years. While the crop of QBs is turning out to be slightly below original expectations, the first round looks especially deep in terrific prospects at offensive tackle and wide receiver – two of Buffalo’s biggest needs. Don’t be surprised if the Bills make an OT and a WR their first two picks.