BUFFALO (LGS) — Over the past month, the Buffalo Sabres have mustered up a miserable 3-9-1 record including the most recent three-game losing streak that started last Saturday in Montreal and continued into this week.
It got so bad that Lindy Ruff told his players he was giving everyone a fresh start heading into Thursday's night game. What Ruff and the Sabres really need is fresh talent, and they need it now. We're talking about a trade – or trades – as well as a serious look at the dynamic talent the organization has stockpiled in Portland.
One change that seems out of the question that of the coaching staff. You won't find anyone better than Lindy Ruff. There is a reason why he has coached this team for as long as he has. The only available coach that would make sense – should you look to replace Ruff – is Peter Laviolette, who has won a Stanley Cup in Carolina. But a more desperate team will go after Laviolette and the Sabres simply have their man in Ruff.
It's the roster that needs some altering. It is time to ship Maxim Afinogenov out of town. Afinogenov will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and getting something in return for him before losing him to free agency should be a priority. The sooner you get rid of him, the better. Here are some other players that the Sabres should trade or consider trading:
+ Tim Connolly - Connolly will also be an unrestricted free agent after the season and there has to be a team out there that might find the reward greater than the risk. The risk is obvious: If you acquire Connolly and sign him to a short-term or long-term deal, how much of that time will he spend recovering from injuries? Connolly is injury-prone and the Sabres know it, the fans know it and so do other teams. Connolly is a great player when he is in the lineup, so that might be enough for a team to take a chance on him. It's worth a try.
+ Ales Kotalik - Kotalik is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. At times, he can be a very strong scorer with that lethal shot of his. But if he doesn't get his shots in, he is virtually non-existent. He is someone worth shopping to see if there is any interest. Certainly a team could use that shot and we could use someone who is a true power forward. Kotalik might be a nice bargaining chip in any trade discussions.
+ Jaroslav Spacek - Spacek will also be an unrestricted free agent after this season and he could certainly draw a lot of attention on the open market. He also might be worth trading. The Sabres are very deep on the blue line. With Andrej Sekera's rise and other defensemen like Mike Weber and Chris Butler waiting in the wings, it might be time to start shopping Spacek.
+ Drew Stafford - We have seen the best and the worst from Drew Stafford. He is a good player with the potential of being a great player. He has the offensive prowess and the size to be a real force in this league. Whether he does that with the Sabres remains to be seen. Stafford is a restricted free agent after the season and he will be worth assessing after the season. However, if the Sabres think that Stafford needs a fresh start, they shouldn't hesitate. He would be a nice draw and teams would be a hungry for a player of his stature.
Trading players isn't the only way to turn a team around. I have repeated one word during my Postgame Power Plays and columns throughout the season: Consistency. The Sabres have lacked it. Consider this fact: The Sabres won their sixth game on October 23rd to move to 6-0-1 on the season. Since then, it has taken 18 games for the Sabres to win five games. That highlights the trouble this team has had winning on a consistent basis.
The Sabres are also lacking physical players that are strong offensively. It's one thing to have a Patrick Kaleta or Adam Mair. Both players have their roles with the Sabres, but they aren't offensive threats. Paul Gaustad fights for pucks in the offensive zone and wins battles along the boards. There aren't too many players like that on this team that can do that effectively every game. That should be something the Sabres look for when trying to trade one or more of their players.
In the NHL, you are going to lose games. You play 82 games a year and you play a lot of great teams with very talented players. The teams that make the playoffs are able to play 82 games in a consistent manner. In 2005-06 and 2006-07, the Sabres limited their losing streaks lasting two games or more.
In 2005-06, the Sabres only had six losing strings of two games or more, and in 2006-07, they only had five such streaks. Last season, however, the Sabres racked up 12 losing skids of two games or more. This season, the Sabres have already racked up four losing streaks of two games or more and it is only early December.
Consistency is the name of the game. The Sabres need it if they want to make the playoffs. To get consistency, they have to play better. To play better, they need to make a change or two.