If you examine trends, the Sabres’ chances of winning the game decreased greatly Saturday when Kyle Turris scored on a wraparound with 63 seconds remaining in the second period. Ottawa had a 9-1-1 record this season when leading after 40 minutes while the Sabres were 2-10-1 when trailing in that situation.
The Sabres this season had allowed 14 more goals than they scored in the second period going into the game while the Senators had scored 14 more goals than they allowed. It wasn’t just some crazy coincidence the Senators scored three times in the middle period. It was a continuation of the same.
Turris is the Senators’ leading scorer, so was it really a surprise when he scored in overtime to beat the Sabres, 4-3? Not any more than the Senators reaching overtime in the first place. Nine of their 27 games had been decided in the extra period or shootout before they visited the First Niagara Center.
Buffalo hasn’t won two straight games in regulation since the first week of the season, which is one reason they’ve taken up residence between 12th and 15th place in the conference. In sticking with the math, the Sabres would need a 14-4-2 finish to reach 54 points and have a crack at the playoffs.
Allow me to ask again: Where is this going?
By the look of things, Darcy Regier still believes he can save a few jobs, starting with his own, if the Sabres nail down a playoff spot. Ron Rolston has been tagged with the title of interim coach. You would think the gap between them and the curb narrows the more the divide between the Sabres and the playoffs widens.
It becomes dangerous when Regier, the man entrusted with making big decisions, is compromised by his uncertain future. There’s been a sense for several years now that he’s doing whatever is possible to save his fanny. It’s the only conclusion I can draw because clearly he has no idea what’s required to build a winner, a Stanley Cup contender.
The greater good of the organization is left suffering, not to mention the thousands of fans who boo the Sabres off the ice after every other home game.
At this stage, the Sabres should be figuring out what they have and where it can take them in the coming years. It means giving their younger guys more playing time and finding out what they can do with increased ice time. Instead, they sent prospects T.J. Brennan to Florida and Mikhail Grigorenko back to his junior team.
Let’s start with Brennan, who had major deficiencies. He failed to play defense to any respectable standard. But he’s also a 23-year-old who had played a grand total of 21 games on the varsity. He was an NHL infant. For many defensemen, if not most, it takes several years to learn how to play defense in the NHL.
Certainly you remember Brian Campbell, who like Brennan was a good skater and passer but generally lost in his own zone. He was a healthy scratch for 29 games during the 2003-04 season, when he was 24 years old. Many questioned if Campbell would ever come around. He blossomed the following year and grew into a terrific player.
It could turn out that Brennan doesn’t succeed in the NHL. Nobody knows for the sure until he plays at least 100 games at the highest level. Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who was largely responsible for building the Blackhawks into a Cup winner, obviously found value in Brennan. Campbell will be there to help him.
In return, the Sabres received a fifth-round pick. The chances of any fifth-round pick ever reaching the NHL are exponentially less than Brennan finding success. Yes, there are plenty of examples of players who did. Ryan Miller was a fifth-round pick. Campbell was selected in the sixth round. There’s a longer list of players who failed.
Brennan was caught in a numbers game. It’s true, but the Sabres have veterans in Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr, both 32 years old, who are going to be unrestricted free agents after this season. They give the Sabres a better chance to win now, but they don’t figure in their long-term plans.
If the Sabres couldn’t trade either, they should have waived one to make room. After all, winning now accomplishes little. Anyway, they already had lost enough with them in the lineup. Rather than keep him in the press box 17 times in 27 games, they should have played Brennan and learned more about him.
Rather than do what was right for the long-term health of the organization, Regier did what was better for the short-term security of his job.
Grigorenko was in a different situation that included positive and negative side effects to staying in Buffalo or returning to juniors. But once the Sabres started falling apart, they should have given him more playing time and accelerated his development. The timing of their decision to ship him back to junior was stranger than the decision itself.
It goes back to Regier failing to address obvious flaws and needing to win now. His answer for the shortage down the middle was re-signing Jochen Hecht, who has two goals in 28 games this season while making $1.25 million. He was invisible again Saturday, the continuation of yet another trend.
Regier mumbled something the other day about how the ice time couldn’t be given to Grigorenko and taken away from players who earned more. Tell me which players deserved big minutes on the 14th-place team in the conference. If it were about the organization as a whole, the Sabres had numerous options for Grigorenko.
They knew enough about Cody Hodgson, for example. The intelligent move would have been giving Grigorenko more time between veterans Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and seeing how he would fare with their best wingers. It doesn’t mean playing him every shift or an entire game, just more often in general.
Who knows? Maybe the Sabres overall would have fared better. Hodgson might have sparked one of the other lines that have failed miserably all season. And perhaps Tyler Ennis would have found chemistry with a different combination, too. Of course, there was an equal chance that Grigorenko would have flopped.
But there was only one way to find out.
The Sabres are wasting opportunities to plan for the future.
They wasted one with Brennan and another with Grigorenko. They wasted an opportunity after building a two-goal lead Saturday and ended up losing another game.
And that’s a trend, too.