Darcy Regier was absolutely, positively 100 percent accurate earlier this week when he said there were pros and cons to keeping rookie center Mikhail Grigorenko in the NHL. OK, so we agreed on something for a change. It’s good to see the Sabres general manager is growing wiser with age.
Yes, that was a joke, but this is not: There was no right or wrong answer when it came to determining the short-term future of the 18-year-old rookie. But there is a right and wrong way it can evolve from this point forward. The chore for the Sabres is winning while developing a young star at the same time.
And it can be done.
First, let’s start with the pros of keeping him:
1. Grigorenko was ready for the next level. The center was dominating the QMJHL and had little to gain, other than a 100-point season, by staying there. He’s big enough and fast enough to play in the NHL. He didn’t look out of place through his first five games any more than most rookies.
2. Buffalo should accelerate his development. The Sabres will see him in practice daily and can make sure he’s on the right path. In turn, he’ll learn at an earlier age what’s expected. Plus, he’s around older players with more experience who can teach him how to become a professional.
3. He’ll develop better habits. Grigorenko had a reputation for being lazy, which caused a decrease in his draft stock. Young players can look lazy when they’re actually bored. Lindy Ruff isn’t going to allow him to be lazy, and the competition should be enough to keep his attention.
4. The Sabres need him. Buffalo is still thin down the middle, but this kid is loaded with talent. He showed flashes in the first five games even though he didn’t have any points. The production will come with time. Whatever he brings will be more than what they had without him.
5. Age doesn’t matter. Numerous teenagers have entered the NHL and played well right away. A list of examples in recent years: Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins. Patrick Kane, Tyler Myers. Grigorenko isn’t far behind some and could be better than others.
1. The “next level” doesn’t mean the NHL. Grigorenko would have been better off playing in a league between juniors and the NHL. Not allowing kids with junior eligibility to play in the AHL is a good rule. The AHL is a jungle, and he’s better off avoiding a league in which players show little respect for one another.
2. Failure is a possibility. Another year in junior would help him build confidence and allow him to attempt moves he would dare try in the NHL. It also can help development. The last thing he needs is getting his confidence crushed to the point where he needs another season to repair his psyche.
3. Money matters. There is no way of knowing how $1 million will affect any person, including hockey players. Grigorenko is 18 years old and will have more money than he can comprehend. If I had $1 for every player who lost a certain degree of hunger after striking it rich, I would be a millionaire.
4. He’s a boy among men. He’s big enough and old enough to succeed, but is he strong enough and tough enough to handle the punishment in the NHL? Every team in the NHL has 20 players who are better than anybody he would play against in the QMJHL.
5. Constant pressure. He’s a first-round pick, a teenager and a center the Sabres need to be successful this season. It can be a heavy load under any circumstances, but it can become much more difficult if players put too much pressure on themselves. How will he respond to a lengthy scoring slump?
The job this season for Ruff will be putting Grigorenko in situations where he can succeed. It doesn’t mean burying him on the fourth line or benching him because he has defensive lapses. Ruff will need to live with his defensive mistakes, knowing they’re part of the learning process and will eventually make him better.
It’s a tall order for Ruff. Ask Luke Adam, who was productive on the top line, was pushed to the fourth line, was sent to the minors and is barely mentioned these days as a possible NHL center. Adam played a role in his own demise, but Ruff contributed to him losing his confidence and his career going backward.
Ruff can’t treat him like any other player. Why? Because Grigorenko isn’t like any other player on his roster. He also can’t treat him like a child. What he can do is hand him off to Kevyn Adams and let Adams watch over the kid. Grigorenko will become a mature, polished player under Adams’ watch.
This season doesn’t revolve around Grigorenko’s development, by the way. The Sabres have missed the playoffs three times in five years. Calls for Ruff and Regier to be fired grow louder with every season, if not every loss. The best way to quiet the masses is turning around their record, and Grigorenko can help them.
Grigorenko is a gifted offensive player, and he should be able to help the Sabres on their power play while getting his feet under him. He could become their No. 1 center, assuming his game continues to mature. Ruff should consider putting him between veteran Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville when he gets an opportunity.
If you’re looking for evidence of how an 18-year-old can develop and contribute to a team winning, rewind the tape and examine how the Bruins handled Tyler Seguin in 2010-11. He had 11 goals and 22 points in 74 games that season. Fourteen times, he played fewer than 10 minutes in a game.
Seguin watched, listened and learned and was a healthy scratch for the first two rounds of the playoffs. He played the final two rounds and helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup. Last year, he was their No. 1 center and had 29 goals and 67 points. Now, at 20, he’s one of the better young players in the league.
The difference, of course, is that the Bruins had the luxury of good players around Seguin to help him along the way. They made the right moves before he arrived. They made the right move to get him. And that’s where Regier has largely failed, in my opinion, but I’m guessing he would beg to differ.
Beilein’s success story grows
Michigan’s climb to the top of the AP Top 25 basketball poll might have surprised even its most loyal supporters, but longtime Western New York basketball fans would argue the Wolverines’ success was only a matter of time under coach John Beilein.
Beilein is most remembered in Buffalo for turning around Canisius in the mid-1990s and taking the Griffs to the NCAA tournament. He started his coaching career at Newfane High and had his first college gig at Erie Community College. In between, he coached at Nazareth and LeMoyne.
The DeSales High graduate has won at every level, but this week marked the first time he coached the top team in the country. Michigan, which hired him in 2007 after stops at Richmond and West Virginia, improved to 19-1 with a win over Illinois. Ohio State handed Michigan its only loss.
“I remember specifically having the conversation with my father,” said Ryan Collins, who grew up in Michigan, played for Beilein at Canisius and now teaches at Frontier High. “Within four years, he would have his guys in place, running his stuff, with his culture of basketball. I’m not surprised – at all.”
Michigan had not been ranked No. 1 since 1992, when it had the Fab Five. It hasn’t been a comfortable place for any team this year. Indiana opened the season atop the rankings. Duke has been there twice. Louisville suffered three straight losses after taking over. Michigan plays Indiana this weekend.
“Our goal at Michigan is to be No. 1 in the Big Ten,” Beilein told reporters in Ann Arbor. “When you achieve that honor, you will have a chance at the national championship. All through the year, polls will spark great interest among college basketball fans everywhere and that is always good. [We’ll] remain focused on our goals of improving daily and competing for the championship within our conference.”
Your move, Danny
Look for Celtics GM Danny Ainge to spend more time considering his options after losing guard Rajon Rondo than it took for news of Rondo’s torn ACL to make the rounds in Boston. In fact, it’s already been longer.
Longtime NBA columnist Jackie MacMullen broke the story for ESPNBoston.com during the Celtics’ win over the Heat, so thousands of fans knew Rondo was gone for the year before Rondo’s teammates found out.
From the Department of Misleading Stats, the Celtics actually have a better winning percentage (.618) in 34 career games without Rondo than they do with him (.604). Boston now is forced to play the rest of the season without him. The Celtics weren’t built to win a championship, anyway, which leaves Ainge with several decisions.
It wouldn’t be a total shock if the Celtics traded Paul Pierce before the deadline with the idea they can still get something for him. Pierce has one year remaining on his contract, or a $5 million buyout. If Ainge doesn’t believe Pierce fits into their long-term plans, look him to move his veteran leader before next season.
Already, there’s been talk the Celtics are trying to get their hands on J.J. Redick and Rudy Gay if the asking price isn’t too high. However, several teams are interested in Redick. Rumors were rampant in Toronto that the Raptors would make a pitch for Gay.
Big Hurt talks baseball Hall
Former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas believes his career stands out even more because he didn’t use steroids during the steroid era, which should be enough to reac the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Thomas never has been connected to the scandal.
“Watching all the nonsense unfold and not really knowing what was going on, it makes me much more proud of my career,” Thomas told AP. “I competed in that era. I played at a high level in that era. There are a lot of great players, but as it unfolds, a lot of it was not the real deal. I know 100 percent I was the real deal.”
Thomas will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he was one of the strongest players of his time. He twice was named MVP and finished in the top five three other times. He retired in 2008 with a .301 batting average with 521 homers. For eight straight seasons, between 1991-98, he batted .300 and scored at least 100 runs and had 100 RBIs and 100 walks.
ESPN analyst Antonio Davis, on the role of Celtics’ guard Jason Terry: “He’s either coming off the bench or he’s starting.”
7 billion – Dollars that Time Warner Cable agreed to pay the Dodgers over 25 years for a new television channel that will include broadcast of their games.
22 – Hat tricks in 235 games by Lionel Messi, who became the youngest player to score 200 goals in La Liga, the top professional soccer league in Spain.
50 – Hat tricks in 1,487 NHL games by Wayne Gretzky, including 10 each during the 1981-82 season and 1983-84 season.
• Ravens coach John Harbaugh was given heavy praise for turning things around after firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and rightfully so. The genius was little about the play-calling itself and more about snapping his players to attention.