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A Man Needs Support

07/27/11

I’m happy for Cadel Evans that he won the Tour de France.

Wha…Whoa, whatch’ya talkin’ bout there, son? And what in the name of Bob Sweeney does this have to do with hockey? I’ll get there.

See, I know that for the most part, the Tour de France, and professional cycling is looked down upon if for no other reason than having participants with a higher pharmaceutical content than anything this side of the North Korean women’s soccer team (Update: Oh, they were hit by lightning. Sorry, that explains it.) However, I like it. It takes place during what’s the traditionally slow time of year on the sports calendar. The scenery is gorgeous. And, believe it or not, there is strategy involved – more than just “Ride real fast and get to the finish line first!”

If you’re a cycling team and have a rider that is considered an all-rounder & threat to win an event like the Tour de France, you build your roster around that individual. Team members may make a go of winning a stage, or another classification like “King of the Mountains”, but at the end of the day, they are there for one reason primarily – help the team leader win the race. Cadel Evans is an all-rounder. And until this year, he never had the team around him that was quite good enough to get him over the top and win the TDF. He’d come close , finishing in 2nd twice. But not until this summer was Evans able to break through, when he had guys like one of Lance Armstrong’s old right-hand men, George Hincapie, on his team.

Which brings me to Ryan Miller. Lots of opinions out there about Miller Time. It seems though that most of the experts and fans land on him being good enough to take a team to a Cup. The Sabres have certainly made a commitment financially that agrees with that line of thought. His performance during the ’09-’10 season backed it up. But he’s not Dominik Hasek. He’s not gonna pitch 8-10 shutouts a year, or post sub-2.00 GAA a season (Yeah, I know. Dead Puck Era). If the Sabres are with Ryan Miller what Martin Rucinsky would call “an average team with a great goalie”, than the Sabres are not going to win the Cup anytime soon. Miller, as good as he is, has shown he needs better support than what has been provided to him the last 4 years.

Even the great ones need some extra help now and thenEvery now and then, even the great ones need extra help.

And thanks to the unshackling of the front office by Pegula regime, support appears to have arrived, on paper at least. Miller may have the best group of defensemen in front of him since the Sabres last won a playoff series. Sure, there had to be some element of post-Olympic burnout for #30 last year that lead to his statistical drop. But it couldn’t have helped that he had a hot mess in front of him playing defense on waaaaaaaay too many occasions.

Oh, and you know what else should help him out? That the Sabres appear to have found a capable backup goaltender, and seem to take that spot on the team seriously for the first time in like, forever. For much too long around these parts, the guy playing that role was here more for what he brought to table in the room, regardless whether or not there was much left to offer on the ice (see: Essensa, Robert; Thibault, Jocelyn; Lalime, Patrick). Enroth’s role in getting Buffalo to the dance did not go unnoticed. Darcy said it last week when announcing Enroth’s new contract: “But the fact that he came in, played the way he played, had the record he had with Ryan [Miller] being injured, really gave him and us a lot of confidence in him.” Key word there is “confidence”, because as we all know, it doesn’t take very much for Lindy to lose it in his #2 goaltender. Having someone he is comfortable with playing 15-20 games a year would also be a boost to Miller. Not having to play 31 games in a row would be a boost. Based on what we have seen so far, Enroth should provide that support.

This being professional sports, it could all go pear-shaped. The blueline looks like the Keystone Cops, The Next Generation. Then Enroth gets pulled twice in a row by Lindy, who promptly drives railroad spikes through Jhonas’ hockey pants into the HSBC Arena bench. Followed by Miller giving up a few softies, becoming his own worst enemy. But this is Pegulaville. Nothing’s guaranteed, but it’s hard not to be positive.

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