This is where it should be, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take some times to think about those players that will probably never play another game with the Buffalo Sabres.
Each player that dons the blue & gold generates talk, you form your opinions and they earn a special place in your heart. This is a tribute to those players that won’t be back.
Patrick Lalime: I will start with a player who had a very two-sided career in Buffalo. When Patty arrived in Buffalo I was excited. Here was a backup goaltender who used to be a starter and carried the Blackhawks when their starter went down with injury. I remember him being my top backup free agent that summer. He got to Buffalo and he won his first game and all was right with the world. Then he sat on the bench to rot.
He didn’t play much and his skills began to deteriorate. When he did start he was inconsistent, bordering on terrible. Lindy Ruff lost all faith in him. When Ryan Miller went down with an injury during the playoff stretch in his first season they decided to replace him with Mikael Tellqvist.
Lalime was resigned because Ryan Miller absolutely loved him and he was a great locker room guy. He didn’t win a game in 2010-2011 and was replace by Jhonas Enroth as the season progressed.
What is Lalime’s legacy in Buffalo? He recorded his 200th win with the Sabres and served the team faithfully for three years. What’s more is that he was the ultimate teammate. From what everyone has said, there isn’t a nicer guy on Earth and he was the type of guy you want around your team.
I will always remember Lalime supporting his team with tons of positive energy from the bench. The last moment for me will be his excitement for Jhonas Enroth’s first NHL shutout, even though it was Enroth who had taken his job. Congratulations on a wonderful career to Patrick Lalime.
Mark Mancari: Mancari was drafted by the Sabres and became an AHL dynamo. He consistently was able to post points in the top 20 overall and was a perennial all star. A gifted shooter with a slap shot that could reach over 100 MPH many wondered why he wasn’t in the NHL.
Inconsistency and a lack of defensive effort kept him out of the NHL. Managing to see action enough times to make himself notice, Mancari’s Buffalo career culminated with a 20 game season in 2010-2011. Congratulations to Mancari on getting a shot to earn a full time job in Vancouver next season.
Steve Montador: Steve Montador was a depth defenseman, his contract and resume told us that much. He was a character guy who would defend his teammates and his goaltender. He was exactly as advertised. He was a great character player in his two Sabres’ seasons. He blocked shots and took punches like a champion. What’s more he was a leader in the locker room.
Montador’s downfall was actually his excellent play early in the season. Montador played so well that even after his play fell off late in the season he still finished with a team high +16 and had career highs in goals and assists.
He was bad down the stretch and the Sabres realized that they wanted a player that played like Montador at the beginning of the season all year. The trade for Robyn Regehr sealed his fate and he was shipped to Chicago.
Montador will always represent a character guy, he lost more teeth than any player I’ve ever seen over a two season timeframe. He never won a fight and couldn’t break up a 2-on-1. More troubling was his penchant for tripping over the blue line and passing in front of the net with reckless abandon. Even with all his flaws I’m proud that he had his first stable NHL job in Buffalo, he’s a Buffalo type of player.
Chris Butler: Chris Butler came on like a roar and left like a whimper. Butler was drafted by the Sabres and was called up during the inevitable defensive parade to the DL. In his first season he was a great asset for Buffalo, playing sound defensively and chipping in some offense as well. He was immediately dubbed the future partner of Tyler Myers. After that first year however, things changed.
Butler was given tons of ice time early in his first full NHL season. Unfortunately, he couldn’t handle the pressure. His physical play was lacking and his coverage skills began to become suspect. He was eventually relegated to the press box and struggled to battle for a spot on a team that has incredible depth at defense. In his final season as a Sabre he struggled to find consistency and was labeled a liability in the playoffs against Philadelphia.
Butler will be just another defenseman who almost got there with Buffalo. I think that he might and fans may become upset that he was traded. He was just a piece that didn’t fit the system. The Sabres needed a big tough defenseman who was ready now, not a question mark.
I was the closest person in the stands to Butler’s first NHL goal and that will be a lasting memory for me. I think my favorite image will be his last Sabres’ goal. It was against Carolina in a game with huge playoff implications. The emotion on his face after the goal shows the character this kid has. Good luck Chris, on what I’m sure will be a successful NHL career.
Paul Byron: While Byron wasn’t a Sabre for long, he was an exciting player to watch. He was drafted by Buffalo and is one of the few players who will have played all his minor league games as a Sabres’ prospect in Portland. While in Portland he never lit it up offensively like he did in juniors.
However, he got an NHL call up in 2011 and made the most of it. The diminutive scorer threw his weight around and made a big impression. He scored his first NHL goal against Ottawa in his home town in a wonderful feel good story.
Byron was a player who didn’t have time to fully develop or the luxury of size when trying to make an already small Sabres’ roster. He will be a big time NHL producer in the future and Calgary fans will come to love him for his skill and his grit. Paul, you are an entertaining player and I’m glad that you got started in Buffalo.
Rob Niedermayer: When Rob was signed I was skeptical. He had a down year in New Jersey and he was not getting younger. Then he played really well in the preseason and I was encouraged. Then I spent the entire regular season trying to figure out how he wasn’t in the press box. I saw his first Sabres’ goal…on March 6th. That’s unacceptable for a forward. He was an asset in the playoffs and looked like the player he once was.
Rob will go to Switzerland as a player who became a joke to Sabres’ fans, but who gave it his all in the playoffs. This was his curtain call in the NHL and though he didn’t awe Sabres’ fans he had a solid career.
Mark Parrish: His stay with the Sabres lasted two games, he will likely be a trivia question footnote on Sabres’ history, but Mark Parrish played for the Sabres. As a man fighting to get back to the NHL I don’t think Parrish handled himself too badly. He was fun to watch, there just wasn’t room for him on the NHL roster. Good luck in Ottawa Mark, if there was ever a team you could make a comeback with, it’s them.
Tim Connolly: I will not lie and tell you I always wanted to write this letter, but it’s been awhile since I’ve wanted Tim Connolly on the team I cheer for. With the departure of Connolly we can finally put to rest the Michael Peca trade. A trade that the Sabres clearly lost. Connolly was supposed to be a superstar and he was unable to even make the all star game in Western New York. His inconsistency, injuries and lack of toughness made him the bane of my existence long before he played his final game in blue & gold.
Connolly is the type of player that can make a team better. In some of his good games he was simply exceptional. His highlight reel goals and performances were some of the best in Sabres’ history. Yet at the end of the day his tenure in Buffalo is tarnished by his play.
He would disappear for large stretches, especially in the playoffs. He couldn’t stay in the lineup, frequently dealing with concussion issues. Finally his personality was that kind that would make me grind my teeth, he was lazy defensively and had no toughness. He wouldn’t fight, he wouldn’t check, he wouldn’t lead. This is not what you expect from the longest tenured player on your team.
I’m glad to finally be rid of Tim Connolly. There were some good times, but they are barely visible in the rearview mirror. Some moments I will always remember is his game against Ottawa in the playoffs. I will also remember the few moments he showed emotion on the ice: when Jason Pominville was hit by Nikolas Hjarmalsson and Connolly attacked him, or when Jhonas Enroth lost his helmet and Connoly threw his own hand in front of Enroth’s face to protect him.
These moments were few and far between for Connolly and good riddance to him. It is fitting that he would go to Toronto where Sabres’ fans can continue to be frustrated by and hate him. Goodbye Tim, I’m glad I could finally write this.
Michael Grier: When I think about the idea of “Hockey Heaven” and how Buffalo came to transform itself I will always think first and foremost about Mike Grier. A player who left the organization because he was unhappy with the direction it was going in returns to lead it to the playoffs for two years. Grier brought players in and made many give Buffalo a second thought. He brought respect back after the departures of J.P. Dumont, Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Brian Campbell. You may say Pegula, but I say Grier.
In Grier’s second stint in Buffalo he added character and grit to the lineup. He filled a role in the bottom-6 and was stellar in the 2009-2010 playoffs. He recorded his 1000th NHL game and was a vital leader in the locker room. More than that, Grier helped bring Craig Rivet and several other plays to Buffalo that would serve the team well. He was not just a great member of the team, but a great member of the community.
I hope Grier can get another shot in the NHL. If not, I’m sure they’d love to have him in Rochester next season. When Rivet and Grier were on the bench Lindy Ruff treated them like assistant coaches. If he can’t find an on-ice job, I’m sure he will be behind a bench in the NHL soon. Thank you Mike, if Buffalo wins a Stanley Cup in the next five years, they owe you a ring.