Vulgar Opinions: Pigeonholed
I had a revelation the other night when trying to figure out what the Sabres are missing that keeps them from translating their talent into wins. It’s actually pretty simple: very few players who can do a lot of things well.
How many one dimensional forwards do we have on this team? Tyler Ennis is a good stickhandler (weak shot, average vision). Paul Gaustad is good on faceoffs (hands of brick, overrated tough guy). Matt Ellis hustles. Cody McCormick fights. Patrick Kaleta hits. Ville Leino is good at holding onto the puck (poor shot, average vision with flashes of talent). Derek Roy is a good skater (okay shot, good stickhandling countered by stupid decision making). Drew Stafford is…?…big? (Stopped doing the one thing that made him successful, going hard to the net.) (And you can make an argument for Nathan Gerbe is scrappy (overrated as a scorer), and Brad Boyes is good in the corners (wildly inconsistent shot)). Some of those are more fair than others, but for the most part they ring true. You can get away with a few players like that, especially if they’re going on your energy line, but not sprinkled throughout the forward corps. There are not enough players that can do many things well.
Thomas Vanek has great hands, is tough, can shoot, and has great vision. Jason Pominville has an underrated shot, is deceptively fast, and sound defensively (and can now win faceoffs). Jochen Hecht can produce offense, is the best defensive forward on the team, and will fight if he has to. It’s no surprise that the most well rounded veteran forwards comprised the best line this season. They simply have more than everyone else does. It’s no surprise that players like Zack Kassian and Luke Adam have come up to produce great seasons (though it’s still a bit early to judge Kassian), they’re bringing more to the table than the players I listed in the previous paragraph. Even if Kassian scores 10-20% fewer goals than Stafford, isn’t he more valuable because of everything else he brings? How many Penguins and Bruins can you name that can do about four things pretty well?
There are too many guys on the Sabres where the opponent can say “this is what this guy does, and this is how we can stop it.” We lack dimension.