Unless you win the Stanley Cup, every NHL team ends the post-season with some level of disappointment. This year it just seems more pronounced for the Buffalo Sabres. A return to the playoffs for the first time in three years raised the hope of many. A Northeast Division title, the expectations. Now the reality. Today's locker clean-out for a team that simply didn't play up to it's potential in a 6-game loss to the Boston Bruins.
And so it begins.. another long off-season filled with questions for the Sabres. A chance to make changes. A chance to look for flaws. The team had a list against the Bruins. Pick your poison. The power play (0-19 in the series) and the penalty kill. Missed opportunities, and giving up two goal leads.
To me the biggest disappointment was the disappearance of key players. Players the Sabres counted on to contribute, not only in point production, but also with leadership. Simply put the Sabres "Core Group" failed.
I had a chance to sit down with Lindy Ruff the Monday before the post-season started. Among the topics we discussed was the need and expectation that the likes of Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Tim Connolly would lead the way. We talked about how their roles had changed since the teams last playoff runs. Chris Drury and Danny Briere were gone... and it was now up to to his "core group" to push the team through the playoffs. It didn't happen.
The injury to Thomas Vanek didn't help. He looked playoff ready before the slash in game two. Pominville finished tied for the team lead with 2 goals and 4 points in 6 games, but the Sabres needed more. But where were Connolly and Roy? It's unacceptable that the teams top two centers couldn't produce a goal between them. Roy finished with two assists, Connolly with a single point. Both will tell you it's not good enough, especially in the playoffs. They're right.
Monday night Ruff wasn't shy in saying that Connolly and Roy were outplayed by his youngsters. Tyler Ennis was tied for the team lead with four points. Patick Kaleta, Tim Kennedy, Tyler Myers and Nathan Gerbe all scored against the Bruins. It's unacceptable that Connolly and Roy couldn't find a way
Losing a tough, hard fought first round series to the Bruins is one thing. Losing when several of your key players didn't show up is another. So now it's on to a long off-season, where you would hope that Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff take a long hard look at the make-up of the team. Especially the "core group" that didn't make the grade in it's first post-season test in three years.
Some of the cornerstone pieces are in place. Ryan Miller and Tyler Myers should bring home some NHL hardwear this summer, and for years to come. You have to love the fearless play of some of the young players, Kaleta, Kennedy and Ennis, but this team could benefit from both addition and subtraction this off-season.
How about adding another big physical forward that has been known to produce come playoff time?
It should be an interesting summer.