What Does Weber Have To Do To Get Playing Time?
Deep within the catacombs of First Niagara Center, the Phantom of the Weber waits for his time to rise again and take his place among the roster. But with the current crop of blueliners playing some very shaky defense, what’s taking Lindy Ruff so long to get the stay-at-home bruiser in the lineup?
Ruff gets criticized for a lot of his decisions – or non-decisions – through out the season, which is no breaking news. In the past, he was quick to break up lines. This season, it seems like Vanek/Adam/Pominville and (after some juggling) Leino/Roy/Stafford may very well play the entire campaign together. In the past, he was quick to abandon his backup goalie. This season, Jhonas Enroth (apart from last night’s 3GAA outing in relief) has given his coach the confidence to play his 1B when Miller looks off. In the past, he was quick to bench players who were playing badly. This season, he’s said he’s going to let slumping players play through their struggles instead of sitting them and breaking their confidence.
It’s been a good season to let line combos gel and give the backup playing time, but did Lindy Ruff pick the right time to show unfaltering confidence in his struggling players and is it going to lose him a good, young defenseman in the process?
The Sabres have had the same defensive roster – Myers, Regehr, Leopold, Gragnani, Ehrhoff, and Sekera – for every game but one. That night Gragnani sat in favor of Weber, who played his first and currently only game of the season. While there is undisputed talent on the back end for the Sabres, there’s also a huge imbalance. Myers, Leopold, Gragnani, Ehrhoff, and Sekera are all offensive defensemen. Regehr is the lone stay-at-home stalwart of the group. Because of this imbalance, each pair not including Regehr is bound to have some defensive miscues (at best). The season began with Myers/Regehr, Leopold/Ehrhoff, and Gragnani/Sekera paired together, and since the pairs have been switched to Myers/Sekera, Leopold/Regehr, and Gragnani/Ehrhoff, concerns have been not only justified but seemingly amplified. After all, after finishing the season on such strong notes, who could have seen Myers and Sekera becoming the leading cause of ulcers among Buffalo hockey fans?
One remedy for this imbalance would be to take one of Myers, Sekera, or Gragnani (the Sabres’ three slumpingest blueliners) in favor of putting Weber on the ice. But who? Myers may need to sit to get his head on straight, but he shouldn’t be out of the lineup for extended periods of time. Sekera was one of the Sabres’ best defensemen before getting paired with Myers, so maybe all he needs is to get away from him to fix his game. Gragnani has looked pretty bad since opening night, and would be the best candidate for replacement by Weber. Heck, that was who came out for Weber for his one game of action (see previous paragraph).
We’ve identified who would be the best candidate to come out of the lineup in favor of Weber, so the next question is why. Why hasn’t Lindy Ruff sat someone so that his seventh defenseman could get some action? One reason, per the coach himself, is that he wanted to change up his tactics and show confidence in players going through rough stretches this season. But, as @matthew1stewart suggested a couple of games ago, could it be that Weber is holding himself back by looking unfit in practice? While it is something to think about, if it was me coaching the Buffalo Sabres, I’d look at players having a good practice but atrocious game night in and night out and dress the guy who maybe looks less impressive during the morning skate but might bring cohesion to the unit. But I’m not an NHL coach whose wins are 14th all-time. One would assume he sees something we’re not seeing that’s missing from Weber’s game, but after all of these crapshows by the defense each night, it’s hard to imagine what it could possibly be.
So let’s say Mike Weber does play tomorrow night in Montreal. Where does he land? It would behoove coach Ruff to put Myers back with Regehr and get that pair going again. In the same vein, it would make sense to put Weber back with his first NHL bromance Sekera, who would have the same dynamic as Myers/Regehr albeit less talented. That would leave Leopold to play with Ehrhoff, who would make a fine power play pairing and offensive pair for the right matchups.
In a season where a manufactured goalie controversy threatened to split the Sabres’ fanbase in two, folks are instead focusing on how the defense is acting the fool game in and game out. It’s gotten to the point where fans only need to say two words to express how they feel, prefixed by a pound sign: