If you want to know who the Bills should take with their first pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft, who better to talk to than the architect of some of the franchise’s best ever drafts? Former Bills General Manager Bill Polian is working for ESPN these days and he was a guest on the WGR morning show on Tuesday.
As far as having the tenth overall selection, Polian said it provides a bit of a challenge for the Bills. “Its right on the cusp of impact guys. It’s a tough position to be in. You can’t always get the guy you want and you can’t always get an impact guy” Polian told WGR. “I don’t know if it will be a difference maker like (Marcell) Dareus but it will be a very good player.”
From a philosophical standpoint, the former Indianapolis Colts President has 4 tenets about what you should be looking for from a top 10 draft pick. “You want to draft a guy who can score touchdowns” Polian said. “You want to draft a guy who can sack quarterbacks, you want to draft a guy who turns the ball over or get a cornerstone position on defense.”
After having said that Polian then pointed out the Bills might want to take care of a spot that doesn’t fit into one of those tenets. “The Bills clearly, clearly have a need at left tackle” Polian said. “If they took a left tackle at that position I wouldn’t quarrel with it at all. I think it would be the right pick in fact. All 3 guys that are there would be fine players at that pick.” Polian was referring to Jonathan Martin, Riley Reiff and Cordy Glenn.
As far as the number one pick in the draft, Polian(who did extensive work on Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III while still working for the Colts) said he has the two quarterbacks in a dead heat but Indianapolis is taking Luck because he is the proper system fit for the Colts. As opposed to the year he took Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, Polian is convinced both Luck and RG3 will have very successful careers because they have all of the intangibles you need in a quarterback like intelligence, leadership and character.
As far as his former franchise qb is concerned, Polian said Manning will do fine in Denver and that his recovery is right on schedule and moving along exactly as the doctors had predicted. Polian added he was told by a very reliable source that Manning was healthy enough to have played a game by mid March.
We also spoke to Polian about the Bills blockbuster signing of Mario Williams who Polian used to see twice a season when the Texans faced the Colts. “He was a handful for us” Polian said. “He’s a problem for any offensive tackle but particularly for speed tackles like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nate Solder and people like that in the division because he can turn speed into power instantly. He’s as powerful as he is fast. It’s the best move of free agency. The only cautionary note is he was injured the last couple of years so you have to worry a little bit about that. If he stays healthy and is playing well, they’ll(Bills) have some people on defense that can now cause some problems for people in that division.”
Polian also spoke highly of the new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt and thinks Williams, among others, will flourish in his system. “He plays a style that players like to play. He plays a style that gets a lot of people to the football. Most Important its easy to learn and easy to play therefore players can cut it loose, use their abilities and not have to worry about this, that and other things before you make a move.”
We closed the interview by asking him when the Bills will end their NFL long playoff drought and Polian said they are “as close as keeping (Ryan) Fitzpatrick healthy. He’s a good quarterback but he has to stay healthy.” He added they need to take a step forward defensively and are on the right path to do that with Wannstedt. Polian concluded by saying he’ll always have a special place in his heart for Bills fans and Western New York.
As the NFL Draft draws near, both media and fans can’t get enough information from their favorite teams as we all try and decipher comments from General Manager’s and scouts in an effort to figure out who they’ll be selecting.
Bills G-M Buddy Nix was on the WGR morning show on Thursday with Joe Buscaglia and me and what I heard was a team that will not likely trade down from the tenth pick and will likely select a cornerback.
On the topic of trading down, we asked Nix if he was sure there will be a guy the Bills love when they are on the board. “100%”, Nix responded. “I’d say 100% that there’ll be one there we like. I think there’s at least 10 top players and with 9 picks before us, one of them will be there.
For those of you who believe the Bills will take a wide receiver with their first pick, you might feel differently based on Nix’s comments: “Look at the number of wide receivers that play great in the league and when they were drafted. Stevie Johnson was a 7th rounder, Victor Cruz was a free agent. Those guys come up every year. We think you can get a good sized, speed receiver in the 3rd or 4th round.”
What about offensive tackle? Nix was asked his opinion of the depth at that position in the 2012 draft class: “I think its better than a lot of people say it is and its better than it normally is. Normally you got 3 or 4 guys that can come in and play and we think there’s twice as many this year. So if we don’t get one at 10, we got a chance to get one after that.”
The full Buddy Nix interview:
That brings us to cornerback which might not be on your mind as much as wide receiver or left tackle but it is an area of need. Drayton Florence had an up and down 2011 season. Former first round pick Leodis Mckelvin is entering the final year of his contract and has not given the Bills any reason to believe he should be re-signed. Terrence McGee was re-signed but has been unable to stay healthy the last few years. Nix said you should draft a cornerback every year because it is the hardest position to play on the defensive side of the ball.
“Its guys going up against an elite athlete with great speed”, the G-M said on WGR. “He’s got to react to what the guy(receiver) does and he’s on an island out there. If he messes up everybody knows it. Its mental plus physical.”
If corner is the pick, and the Bills have taken a cornerback with their first round pick 6 times going back to the 1990 draft, there are 2 possibilities. Stephon Gillmore who is 6-1, 190 and played at South Carolina and 6 foot 2, 200 pound Dre Kirkpatrick from Alabama.
Nix on Gillmore: “Big, strong kid, great speed. This guy is a very good tackler, a very good run player which is unusual for a lot of them. He can play man and is strong enough and big enough to play bump and run.”
Nix on Kirkpatrick: “Tremendous ability. For a guy his size he’s a short armed guy and that might work against him a little bit but he makes up for it with his feet and tenacity.” Nix added Kirkpatrick is also good in run support.
There is a potential red flag on Kirkpatrick. In January he was arrested and charged with possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana. Kirkpatrick was a passenger in a truck driven by a former Alabama player who was pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road. The marijuana was found on the floorboard of the passenger side at Kirkpatrick’s feet. But the decision was made not to prosecute.
Nix said the Bills researched the incident as much as you possibly can. When it comes to any player with a character question, Nix said it comes down to whether or not you feel you can trust that player. If you can’t then you probably don’t draft him.
We asked Nix if he feels he can trust Kirkpatrick. “Yes, I do”, he answered immediately. “I think he made a mistake, was at the wrong place at the wrong time but he’s a solid person and has been at Alabama.
In case you weren’t depressed enough with the Sabres missing the playoffs, how would you feel if the next NHL season didn’t start on time? What if there wasn’t a 2012-2013 season at all? From the league that scrapped an entire season due to a lockout, will we get Labor Armageddon Part Two?
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement which ended the season long lockout in 2005 is set to expire on September 15. To this point it appears no substantive talks have been held although NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman doesn’t appear to be concerned.
“I’m not worried” Bettman said during last month’s General Manager meetings. “Whatever will be, will be. The fact is when the Union is ready to negotiate, we’ll sit down. I’m not particularly concerned about the timeline.” The Commissioner told teams to conduct “business as usual”and operate going forward according to the current agreement.
The NHL Players Association is under new leadership with former baseball Union Chief Donald Fehr taking over and Bettman says when the Union completes its due diligence, the talks will likely begin. The NHLPA recently requested financial information from the league and they are currently reviewing that information.
“We are continuing to meet with players across the league as part of our preparations for the upcoming CBA negotiations” the NHLPA said in a recently released statement. “While we do not have a set date for formal negotiations to begin, we expect negotiations will begin when we have players available to participate in bargaining sessions.”
As far as how smoothly or how badly these talks could go, no one knows but keep in mind the NHL is in MUCH better financial shape than it was prior to the 2004-05 lockout. The league also won a number of battles back then with the biggest being the advent of a salary cap.
But management will still be looking to enhance its own bottom line and they will likely attempt to follow the lead of their NFL and NBA brethren. Both of those leagues had work stoppages of their own after the expiration of their most recent CBA’s and both were successful in reducing the amount of revenue players receive.
NHL revenues, which have increased in the post lockout years, reportedly are in the neighborhood of three billion dollars and the players share is 57%. Many expect the NHL will attempt to reduce the players share closer to the 50% level that is now the rule in the NFL and NBA. That discussion could get ugly.
“I’d like to think, compared to the other sports, we’ve already made our concessions” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said when asked about the CBA during locker clean out day earlier this month. “I’m sure they’ll take a crack at it. Why not, everyone else did. Football, basketball, it’s a business and you can’t fault anybody for trying.”
Miller says there is a lot of positive energy about the sport because they have made great strides post lockout and this is not the time for NHL to shut down for any amount of time. “The NHL’s making a record amount of money. They’re very successful in a lot of areas. The last thing they need to do is have some sort of work stoppage. We can’t alienate them(fans), we can’t have a disagreement at this point in time” Miller added. “It’s up to the NHL and NHLPA to just get it right, just do it the right way.”
Even though Bettman told clubs to operate “business as usual” and Sabres President Ted Black told WGR that is exactly what the Sabres will do, there is already one casualty to the labor uncertainty. The NHL has cancelled the season opening games in Europe. This marks the first time since 2007 that teams won’t begin the campaign overseas. As many as six teams have gone over in the past including the Sabres who played in Finland and Germany last October.
The entry draft, scheduled for June 22-23 in Pittsburgh will go on as scheduled as will free agency which will commence on July 1. As of now the salary cap is around $64 million but it could go up before the free agency signing period opens.
According to Capgeek.com the Sabres cap number for next season is just under $58 million with 18 players under contract. However it is possible the cap number could go up before July 1 and then come down depending on the rules of the new CBA. The NHL could put transition rules in place to help teams manage their way through that scenario.
In addition to the percentage of revenue given to the players, other CBA issues are expected to include the entry level system which sees players sign three year contracts upon entering the NHL. There is a faction of management which would like to see the length extended to four or five years.
Owners might also be looking for some changes to arbitration rights and getting more control of their salary management through those systems. While you’d think the revenue percentage would be the biggest point of contention, there are reports suggesting the entry level contracts and arbitration rights will be the deal breakers for some.
The two sides might also talk about realignment and the playoff format. The league announced changes to both last December but quickly terminated the plan to put those in place next season once the NHLPA complained. That whole issue degenerated into a “he said, she said” series of stories and it could be an omen of things to come.
Scott Burnside of ESPN.com reported the players association has always believed the “partnership” that came out of the previous work stoppage is on many levels “a farce”. Players feel they have been excluded in various important discussions including franchise relocation and expansion.
There are some who believe the objections raised by the players was Don Fehr’s way of telling both management and his own constituents, the players, that there is a new leader in town who has quite a bit of experience running a powerful players association. The NHLPA has gone through multiple leaders and a considerable amount of internal turmoil since losing to the owners seven years ago. Perhaps Fehr was setting the tone even before the realignment issue stare down with the NHL.
In an interview with Yahoo Sports last September, he said “The players made an awful lot of concessions in the last agreement. It’s pretty hard to see them being willing to do that again.” In addition to signing off on a salary cap, the players agreed to a 24% roll back in salaries.
My advice is to enjoy the rest of the playoffs even though the Sabres are mere bystanders because who knows when NHL games will be played again.
I've always been a huge fan of the behind the scenes shows like Hard Knocks and 24/7 because we have access and see things we normally wouldn't know about. But I've also said there is one downside to the shows. It can change my perception of players, coaches, and franchises that I detest. When you see these people and they come across as real human beings, you tend to think "he doesn't seem like a jerk after all."
During the 24/7 featuring the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, they showed the Flyers Scott Hartnell(universally disliked by fans outside Philadelphia) inviting some of the young players over to his house for Christmas Eve and going out to Mass that night. I figured Hartnell might spend Christmas Eve acting more like the Grinch, before he brought all the toys back to Whoville. Even if he goes to church, I figured he might punch people on their way in.
But the Hartnell example now pales in comparison after watching a recent edition of "The Coaching Life" on NFL Network. I can't believe I'm actually writing these words but maybe Bill Belichick isn't the villain we make him out to be. Even though its 2 hours about the franchise and the Head Coach we love to hate, it was very interesting and showed a side of Belichick we don't see and perhaps felt didn't even exist. I recommend you see if the show is airing again and make sure you watch it.
It didn't start out well as they showed Belichick relaxing on his boat just days before training camp opened in 2009. The name of the boat is V Rings for the 5 Super Bowl rings he owns. Thankfully he hasn't been able to change it to VI rings after the last 3 seasons. The human side of Belichick comes through in scenes with one of his sons who is with him on the sideline at many games and who is shown getting some tips on his throwing motion from Belichick the Dad, during a break in camp sessions.
You wouldn't think it based on his seemingly full time dour expression and personality but Belichick has a sense of humor. During a pre-season game where Wes Welker was sitting out due to an injury, rookie 7th round draft pick Julian Edelman returns a punt for a touchdown and Belichick proceeds to ask Welker if he knows who Wally Pipp was? For those of you who don't know, Pipp was the Yankees first baseman before Lou Gehrig. He left a game injured one day and never got his job back as Gehrig went on to play 2,130 consecutive games.
As the show moved into the regular season, it was hard to watch the scenes from the prime time opener with the Bills. Obviously I knew what was coming but I did yell at Leodis Mckelvin to take a knee and cringed as he headed out of the end zone. Even if he went down on first contact, the Bills would have been fine but he fought for extra yardage and...well...you know the rest.
The most stunning part of the 2 part series took place during Belichick's last trip to Giants Stadium which was about to be replaced by Met Life Stadium as the home for the Jets and Giants. Belichick gave a tour of the Giants portion of the facilities and while reminiscing about his time as Defensive Coordinator he got really choked up and had to fight back tears. Like I said, when you see the human side of these guys it can really change your perception of them.
It isn't exactly humor but Belichick made me laugh during a game with the Baltimore Ravens. The Pats were winning but there's Ravens receiver Derek Mason trash talking the Pats coach and laughing at him as he walks upfield for the next play. Belichick tells him to "shut the (expletive) up" and then says "can you look at the scoreboard?" Very funny stuff. He even had nice things to say about an opponent as he told Ed Reed before that game that he's the best free safety to ever play the game.
The show chronicled the influence of Belichick's father, Steve, who coached at Navy. The cameras even followed Belichik on a visit to his father's grave site and once again he got choked up as he talked about his Dad. There was a scene where Belichick is joking with Randy Moss about the players upcoming Halloween party.
You might remember that was the season where the Pats were leading a game at Indianapolis late in the 4th quarter and facing a 4th and 2 at his own 28, Belichick decided to go for it rather than punt. They were held short, turned the ball over on downs and gave up a game winning touchdown to Peyton Manning but Belichick, who made a similar decision in a game with Atlanta earlier in the season, said he didn't want to give the ball back to Manning and in his day after the game meeting with the players, explained that decision by saying "One thing I won't be is scared."
If you are a Belichick hater you will definitely enjoy the scenes from their blowout loss at New Orleans where Belichick and Tom Brady are in misery on the sideline and Belichick complains that the team has no mental toughness on the road. After their 17-10 win over the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, he tells his son who is on the sideline "We sweated that one out like we always do against these guys." See he actually said something nice about the Bills.
Again if you despise the Pats, this story has a happy ending as they are blown out at home by Baltimore in the playoffs. There's another Buffalo Bills reference as the show closes. When asked how long he will coach, Belichick says he won't be like Marv Levy and coach into his 70's and adds you don't have to worry about that.
I still want the Pats to crash and burn and enjoy any game day when they lose(same with Miami) but despite the fact he cheated in Spygate, I have a different perception of Belichick after watching this show. That might be reason enough for you not to see it but its well done and very interesting.
When a team misses the playoffs by as narrow a margin as is the case with the Buffalo Sabres, there is a tendency to do “what if” and find a game or two that will then make you crazy. In the minutes after the Sabres fate was sealed on Thursday night, there was 1 game that came to my mind.
It was November 12th in Boston when Milan Lucic knocked out Ryan Miller. Obviously there were lots of games(66 to be exact) left on the schedule but it was the injury to Miller sustained in that collision that will always make me think of that game.( I’m still obsessing over Scott Gomez injuring Miller 3 years ago so I don’t get over these things easily.)
The Sabres were off to a good start at 10-5 and the night before had drilled Ottawa 5-1 for their 4th straight victory. I don’t know if that incident with Miller affected him because no one came to his defense or if it at least temporarily fractured the locker room but I do know the concussion sustained by Miller changed the course of the season.
Remember it was the 2nd concussion suffered by Miller in about 10 months. He came back in 3 weeks but he sure didn’t look right. He admittedly had a hard time focusing and staying mentally sharp and in hindsight, maybe the Sabres should have given him more time to recover and just stayed with Enroth. He was only 3-5-1 in Miller’s absence but in 4 of those 5 regulation losses, Buffalo scored 2 or fewer goals.
From the December 7th overtime loss at home to Philadelphia through a January 21st defeat in St. Louis, Miller just didn’t seem right as he recorded a 5-9-2 record. Numerous injuries to other teammates is partly to blame but if Miller was completely healthy and at the top of his game, he probably would have had a better shot at stealing some additional points for a beat up hockey club.
As far as some other what ifs:
What if they hung on and beat Colorado in regulation instead of losing in a shootout?
What if they didn’t go 0-3 in Toronto?
What if they didn’t go 1-3 against Tampa Bay?(0-2 at home)
What if they did better than 0-3-1 against Philadelphia?
What if they didn’t set a franchise record with a 12 game road losing streak? 24 points up for grabs from December 17th in Pittsburgh through January 21st at St Louis and the Sabres got zero points. Injuries had taken a number of regulars out of the lineup but they managed to go 3-1-1 over that time in home games and you’d think they could have done better than score a measly 17 goals in those 12 road losses.
With Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff still sidelined by injuries, expect Jordan Leopold to get plenty of ice time tonight. In fact, he’ll probably log the most minutes amongst the Sabres. He’s not Myers or Ehrhoff but Leopold has provided a steady presence along the blue line down the stretch.
Leopold is 3rd on the team in ice time, averaging a little over 22 minutes a game which leaves him behind only Ehrhoff and Myers. But the 9 year veteran has seen his minutes go up with the injuries on defense. The Minnesota native has recorded at least 25 minutes in each of the last 4 games including 28 in last week’s win at Washington, his 2nd busiest game of the season.
The 9 year NHL veteran came to Buffalo known more as an offensive defenseman but has improved in his own end this season and has been more reliable. Leopold is a plus 5 going into tonight’s game against the Flyers after recording a minus 11 last season. He also leads the team in blocked shots.
As far as his offensive numbers, his 10 goals leads all Sabres defensemen and his 24 points is 2nd behind Ehrhoff. His 77 games played leads all defensemen as well. The crazy goal mouth scramble, game tying goal against Toronto meant back to back double digit goal seasons for the first time in his NHL career.
Leopold has been pretty consistent too. His roughest stretch came during the franchise record 12 game losing streak in December and January. He was a minus 9 over 5 games but had a goal in the streak busting victory at New Jersey.
The one area in which he has been less effective is the power play. Last season he had 5 goals and 6 assists on the power play while this season he has only 1 goal and 4 assists. That drop off is likely due to the presence of Ehrhoff who has been a mainstay on the Sabres power play. Leopold is under contract for one more season at 3 million dollars.
A number of things were changed in the day to day operations of the Buffalo Sabres after Terry Pegula assumed ownership. One was their approach to the amateur player side of hockey operations.
While video scouting as part of their overall scouting operation was doing just fine, Pegula put more money into that part of the hockey business and the Sabres nearly doubled the number of their amateur scouts.
They also stopped using their philosophy of waiting until the last possible minute to sign draft picks in hopes the leverage would save them some money. As Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine told The Hockey News, “we don’t have to nickel and dime them anymore.”
Armed with the “if you like a guy, go sign him” mentality, the Sabres wasted no time in signing Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, a 3rd round pick in the 2010 draft. They even gave him a $90,000 signing bonus.
It appears the money will be well spent. The 19 year old defenseman has had a tremendous season for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior League and was listed as the number 6 prospect in the Sabres organization in The Hockey News Future Watch 2012.
Listed at 6-2, 194 pounds, Gauthier-Leduc has been one of the best offensive defensemen in the Canadian Hockey League this season with 28 goals and 74 points in 62 regular season games for the Oceanic.
His offensive numbers have increased each of the last three seasons in “The Q” and the 28 goals and 74 points represent career bests in both categories. An early cut from Canada’s World Junior team, Gauthier-Leduc has improved his foot speed according to the Prospect Report in The Hockey News but needs to mature physically and add muscle to his frame.
Gauthier-Leduc and his Rimouski teammates are about to start a 2nd round playoff series in the Quebec League. The Sabres prospect had 4 goals and 8 points in a four game 1st round sweep.