Maine Hockey Journal

Sabres need to do better in Portland as deadline approaches

Portland, ME – The natives are getting restless with the Portland Pirates and some of the blame has to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Pirates’ NHL parent club, the Buffalo Sabres.

The Pirates are heading into the final full month of the regular season and while they’d like be making a strong push up the standings, they’ve been a sinking ship for the better part of two months and the playoffs are no longer a sure a thing as they might have looked at the beginning of the season.

No one can fault the effort of the Pirates nor should they as they have given their all in every game, even games that have been complete stinkers. However, that said, it’s perfectly ok and expect to evaluate the team from a talent prospective and the question does have to be asked.

Does this team have enough talent to compete on a night in, night out basis in the American Hockey League?

When the puck dropped in October, it would have been a resounding yes. The Pirates are a team stocked with talent and no one in the AHL could compete with them. If you asked that same question now, the answer wouldn’t be so resounding.

The Pirates have skated with five defensemen for a large part of the season and the Sabres have done nary a thing that about it.

To be fair, who could have seen the Pirates go without the services of Mike Card, Mike Funk and now Mike Weber, but that doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo recalled Chris Butler and have had eight healthy defensemen, while the Pirates have to scrap the ECHL barrel for warm bodies.

How does that benefit Mike Kostka or Marc-Andre Gragnani when they are forced to play significantly more minutes, in a schedule that often see the Pirates play four games in five nights or three games in three days?

It doesn’t help. It wears them out to the point where they make mistakes, not learning the Sabres way of doing things and it creates a potential hazard for injury because players are not aware of their surroundings.

It’s ok to admit that Chris Butler has earned a spot on the Sabres blueline. No one will argue that he shouldn’t be playing in the NHL, but not at the expense of Nathan Paetsch or Teppo Numminen because Sabres’ GM Darcy Regier’s inability to make to a trade or roster move because he doesn’t want to play X or Y.

That’s just the fact of business. Ask the Los Angeles Kings how they feel about losing Matt Ellis in October.

While the Pirates current role is to develop players for the Sabres, it’s not their sole purpose.

The Pirates are in the entertainment business. They exist to provide entertainment for the residents of the Greater Portland area and Southern Maine and while many in Buffalo land may not like to hear this, developing player’s is secondary in the minds of those who sit in the stands.

As the paying customer, they are the one’s who matter.

The trade deadline is Wednesday and Regier has indicated that they are looking at making moves. This will be good first step, as he will have an opportunity to extend a sign of goodwill to the fan base in Portland.

A defenseman would be a good place to start.

This is only a shot over the bow of the Sabres, as many Pirates’ fans will remember last season when the Pirates were struggling under the Anaheim Ducks banner.

Ducks’ GM Brian Burke knew he needed to do something so he struck a deal with the Norfolk Admirals to bring veteran defenseman Jay Leach in exchange for Brandon Segal.

At the time, the trade was questioned, but it may have been the best trade made by Burke that season because it turned the Pirates fortunes around. It settled a young defensive squad that was in over their head. Just getting Leach into the lineup help settle down Brendan Mikkelson, Brett Festerling and Brian Salcido – all who have gone on to the NHL at times this season. It gave the Pirates what they needed as they’d make a late May run into the playoffs missing the Calder Cup Finals by one game – some would say by one period of play.

It would be nice to see the Pirates get back into that position with a chance to finish what they started regardless if it was the Anaheim Ducks or Buffalo Sabres. It will be interesting to see if Regier has the same willingness to help out the Portland Pirates as Brian Burke did as GM of the Anaheim Ducks.

Only time will tell, but Pirates fans will be watching.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply