It’s one week before the NHL trade deadline and I’m asked quite frequently at games and on Bitter (my name for Twitter) what the Sabres are going to do, and what can we get for so and so? They’re great questions and I wish I had the answers (if I did I’d be working down the hall in the hockey department). However, I do have a few opinions to offer. I think this year is a really difficult year for General Managers across the league to navigate this deadline, especially in the Eastern Conference. It’s close. The Sabres sit (today) seven points out of the final playoff spot in the East, but with six teams to overtake for the spot. It’s possible, but oddsmakers say highly improbable. Anything can happen, as we witnessed last year. The deals to date have been for pending UFA’s heading to teams that are in good playoff position right now in exchange for draft picks. Tampa Bay sent two players (Pavel Kubina and Dominic Moore) packing despite being only 6 points out. Is Tampa GM Steve Yzerman giving up on the season? I doubt it. I think he received good draft picks for players that he didn’t plan on re-signing. To me, that’s the right approach when you’re not currently in a playoff spot. If you get a good offer for pending free agents (UFA or RFA) that you have no future plans for, then trade them. Other than that, I’d be very cautious with other players you still have under term or that anybody else does.
Sometimes you’re too close to the forest to see the trees. I feel that way about Sabres captain Jason Pominville. I knew he was a good player, but I was blind to how good. I guess it’s because he was always in the line-up as the Sabres “iron man” until being blindsided by Niklas Hjalmarsson last season. The coaching staff knew, and that’s why he was named captain in Helsinki, Finland, back in October. His numbers are tops on the team with 23 goals and 57 points. He kills penalties, and can move around on the power play from the point to the front of the net, and averages 19:29 of ice time per game. Those numbers speak for themselves. What really convinced me was talking to Thomas Vanek, and seeing what Ville Leino was able to do playing with Pominville. Leino has played his best hockey for the Sabres during stints on Pominville’s line. I think it’s because Pominville adjusted to Leino’s style and can read what Leino is going to do with the puck. I recently asked Thomas Vanek if we don’t realize how good the Sabres captain is. His response (and I’m paraphrasing): ‘We all know how good he is and I think the fans in Buffalo do too. I personally love playing with him, because he’s always in the right spot. He puts in himself in great position.’ I also asked Sabres assistant coach Kevyn Adams the same question. Adams said (once again paraphrasing): ‘I know from having played against him how good he is. Believe me, guys in the league are aware who Jason Pominville is and how tough he is to play against.’ I always knew he was good, but am a little embarrassed that it took a letter on his sweater for me to notice.
I was reading the results of the Hockey Night in Canada/NHLPA 2011-12 Player Poll today and wanted to share a few items. Judging by all the categories he won, Pavel Datsyuk is regarded as the best player in the league by his peers. Datsyuk was voted the smartest player, most difficult to play against, hardest to take the puck from, most difficult to stop, cleanest player, and the toughest player to play against. The only one of those I would take exception to would be smartest player. My vote is for George Parros of the Anaheim Ducks. He played four years at Princeton (no dummies allowed), and has figured out how to stay in the league for seven years and counting, while becoming a fan favorite in Anaheim. That’s smart. He’s a fighter, and that’s the other thing I would like to share from the survey. The poll also said that 47 percent of the players are in favor of getting rid of the instigator penalty, while 98 percent want to keep fighting in the game. Count me in on the latter.