The Sabres pull a disappearing act



Whew, that was quick. Buffalo Sabres fans wait two-and-a-half years to see playoff hockey again, and ... Poof! Springtime hockey does a truly incredible disappearing act in measly week and a half.

Speaking of disappearing acts, I heard today that Tim Connolly and Derek Roy were just notified that their team was playing the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

To be fair, Connolly and Roy played no small role in leading the team to the Northeast Division title. But they promptly failed the most important test, and at some point they became that goof who cheated his way to Cs in chemistry class, only to flunk the Regents exam in June.

Now, let's be sparkling clear on one important point: anyone sincerely believing this version of the Sabres—division title notwithstanding—wouldn't have been gutted by the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals is hopelessly delusional. If the Pens and Caps are Xerox, Buffalo is Rufus ''N Ed's Pitcher-Takin' Shack.

There's a long road to navigate before fans can entertain ideas of competing with those two powerhouses. (To be fair, this organization never tanked its on-ice product, effectively stockpiling top-two draft choices to whom they now owe everything. There, I said it.) But surely, it wasn't asking for the world and space for the boys to solve an injury-riddled, beleaguered Boston team that hobbled into the playoffs, tossing a rookie goalie into the mid-April Thunderdome.

And while the road ahead is a long one, maybe it's time to hop in that far-left lane and unload some of the veteran "core" players who obviously don't have what it takes to succeed in the postseason. Not to pile on Connolly and Roy, but it's time to stop living in the fantasy land in which they're top-line pivots. You'd have had more luck tracking down D.B. Cooper than Buffalo's "key forwards" (Lindy Ruff's words, not mine) in the 4-2 series defeat to the B's. Does anyone believe that will change in the years ahead? Show of hands? Anybody? Yeah, me neither.

Connolly, Roy and Jason Pominville were awesome in Buffalo's unforgettable 2006 playoff run, but what we forget is that they did so in a supporting role, firing away on the Sabres' second and third lines as opponents hopelessly scrambled to hold them off. The pressure and spotlight were nowhere in sight back in those heady days. But it's 2010 now, and they remain second- and third-line guys. No more, no less. They're sure as heck not the kind of players who can flourish when opponents can focus on stopping them; far from guys who deserve the combined $16 million a season they rake in.

The coming-to-terms doesn't stop there, of course.

It's distressing—darn near inexplicable—how sheer and nightmarish Drew Stafford's fall from highly promising to absolutely invisible has been. Should he ever utilize his size and skill to charge the net and bloody his nose for his goals, the winger may yet fulfill his potential. But it's a fool's paradise to believe it's going to happen in Buffalo. There's always chatter that the Edmonton Oilers are fixated on Stafford, leading me to believe they don't often send their scouts to this neck of the woods. Surely Darcy Regier could do lunch with Steve Tambellini sometime this summer and make something happen. If not for his team's sake, then maybe for Stafford's.

The "experts" will drone on and remind us that with so much money committed to those players, it's impossible to deal them. Phooey. Other NHL general managers make those deals every summer, provided the proper money crunching is involved. How do you think Rangers GM Glen Sather conned Montreal to take Scott Gomez's deal off his back? If the figures are right, there's no reason Roy, Connolly, Stafford, or anyone else who's worn out his welcome here can't be sent packing. Besides, wouldn't their current deals save the trading partner from the worry that he'd have to hash out new contracts anyway?

In the wake of some thoroughly uninspired and downright dreadful playoff performances from the aforementioned, perhaps dumping them for less than value wouldn't be so bad. Aren't we always reminded that nowadays, salary cap space is a valuable asset unto itself? There will already be some cap wiggle room left with the departures of Toni Lydman, Henrik Tallinder, Patrick Lalime and maybe some other expiring contracts. Is it out of the question that Regier makes a bold move to bring in a true impact forward and defenseman, rather than ho-humming us to sleep with blockbuster deals for the likes of Craig Rivet, Steve Montador, and Mike Grier?

If there's good news, it's that kids like Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy played their fannies off in their first foray into the killing fields of the NHL playoffs, offering promise that they can be important contributors in the immediate future. But the bad news, lingering above our heads like a bad SyFy Channel original movie, is that the "core" players can't be. Not when it counts, anyway.

And starting in the playoffs against a despised division rival, it counts.
 

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