Is Colorado’s rise a fair example of what might happen in Buffalo?

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The Buffalo Sabres are frankly expected to be one of the worst teams in the league in 2014-15. It’s easy to see why: They’re a rebuilding club coming off of a season where they posted a 21-51-10 record. They could have added six wins last season and still finished in last place. For that matter, they could have scored 37 more goals and still ranked 30th offensively.

The short-term situation is so bleak that there are Sabres fans rooting against their team as they’ve already abandoned hope of them being competitive next season and just want them to be able to draft a potential superstar in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Chris Stewart, who came to Buffalo from St. Louis in February as part of the Ryan Miller trade, doesn’t want the fanbase to write the Sabres off.

“Look at the Colorado Avalanche two years ago,” Stewart recently said. “They were a last-place team, and they were arguably one of the best teams in the league last year. So the past is the past. You look at our team now and there are 13 or 14 new faces. So we come in and think of last year as an anomaly.”

Of course you’d be hard pressed to find a player that wants to lose or, for that matter, one that is going to paint anything other than an optimistic picture going into the season, but does Stewart have a point? Does Buffalo have a chance to follow in Colorado’s footsteps?

Let’s move past the obvious answer, which is: Of course. Anything can happen, so obviously there’s a chance that Buffalo will make the playoffs. But is it a big enough one to give Stewart’s argument validity?

Well, first off, he is correct that the team will look very different than the one that opened the 2013-14 season, which right off the bat actually makes this story a lot different than the one in Colorado. The Avalanche team that surprised the hockey world in 2013-14 wasn’t substantially altered from the one finished with a 16-25-7 record in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign.

Additionally, different isn’t automatically better. The Sabres have lost Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek for example and you can make an argument that no one on their current roster is better than those two players — at least not yet as some of their youngsters have high ceilings.

A few things did change in Colorado though. Patrick Roy took over as the team’s head coach and, in addition to giving them new hope, he joined goalie coach Francois Allaire in helping Semyon Varlamov take a huge step forward. Varlamov was at the center of the Avalanche’s success as they were bombarded with shots all season and relied on him to stand tall.

Meanwhile, Buffalo struggled largely in spite of Miller’s goaltending last season so while the new combination of Michal Neuvirth and Jhonas Enroth might prove to be solid, the single biggest change that bolstered the Avalanche wouldn’t have quite the same effect on the Sabres.

What Buffalo needs is for its defense to improve, but more than that, they need someone to find the back of the net. Colorado saw its offense improve in part thanks to a strong rookie season from Nathan MacKinnon and while the Sabres have some promising young forwards that might step up, they have a far bigger gap to overcome.

The Avalanche’s offense wasn’t great in the lockout shortened campaign, but Buffalo’s offense last season was statistically the worst of the 21st century.

It’s that gap that will be difficult for the Sabres to overcome in a single campaign. They do have some noteworthy scoring threats such as Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, but their top two lines don’t look overly promising on paper.

So maybe Colorado isn’t an ideal example for Buffalo, but the thing about a young team is that you never know quite what will happen. It seems realistic to assume that this will be a season of growing pains for the Sabres, but if they find their groove early in the season, then they might surprise people.

Penguins announce they will accept White House invite

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One day after the NBA champion Golden State Warriors announced that they would use their trip to Washington this season to celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion in lieu of a White House visit, the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins issued a statement announcing they have accepted an invite to visit the White House again this year.

The Statement from the Penguins reads as follows.

“The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.

Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.”

This comes on the same weekend that players across professional sports, from the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, have been speaking out and taking part in unprecedented protests against racial inequality and comments from the President that players that do not stand for the National Anthem should be fired.

During the early Sunday NFL game in London several players from the Baltimore Ravens took a knee during the National Anthem, while Jaguars owner Shad Khan stood and locked arms with his players. Those protests are expected to continue throughout the day.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have chosen to not participate in the National Anthem before their game against the Chicago Bears, instead choosing to remain in the locker room.

Detroit’s new arena hosts Red Wings game for the 1st time

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Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard crouched in net and gazed up at the largest videoboard in the NHL.

“I caught myself a couple of times, especially in the first and halfway through the third, watching on the big screen,” Howard said. “I got to remind myself that there’s actually a game going on in front of me.”

Little Caesars Arena made its debut as a sports venue as the Red Wings beat the Boston Bruins 5-1 Saturday night.

And even the Bruins came away impressed.

“I don’t think there’s another arena that can compare to it,” Boston goaltender Zane McIntyre said.

That was the goal.

Ilitch Holdings president and CEO Chris Ilitch went on a mission to build the world’s finest arena. He traveled all over North America to borrow ideas from other arenas and stadiums. Ilitch also drew on experiences from trips to Europe to create an experience in, around and outside the building that is truly unique.

“To be state of the art, you have to know the state of the industry to truly be innovative,” Ilitch said recently in an interview with The Associated Press. “We want people to come and be amazed.”

So far, so good.

Kelly Mulley, a 25-year-old fan, made the trek from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to make the first preseason game without missing the birth of his daughter.

“Her due date was too close to the date of the first regular season game in a couple weeks,” Mulley said before pulling up his right sleeve to show the Red Wings’ winged wheel tattooed on the inside of his right biceps. “This place is a definite upgrade from Joe Louis Arena. It reminds me of the Bell Centre in Montreal because of how on top of the ice the fans seem to be and with the organist.”

The Red Wings said goodbye in April their former home, known as The Joe , where they raised four of the franchise’s 11 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded rafters. The team and red-clad fans in the stands will be excited about Little Caesars Arena for a while, but the feel-good vibe will fade if the team doesn’t win.

Detroit failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990, ending the NHL’s third longest postseason streak in league history.

“One of the guys on the team said there are no excuses not to win,” Olympia Entertainment President Tom Wilson said. “It’s a dream come true for players in terms of facilities.”

Kirk Malty agreed.

The former Red Wings player, who works for the organization as a pro scout, said the size of the dressing room is only one of the many upgrades.

“Not to be rude or mean, but it’s like the players are going from living in the back of a truck to moving into a mansion,” Maltby said.

The Pistons, who are moving downtown from The Palace of Auburn Hills in the suburbs, will take the court in the same space Oct. 4 against Charlotte in an exhibition game. Bob Seger’s concert on Saturday night was the arena’s final scheduled event.

“It was a very bold move for Tom Gores to move his team from his own arena,” Ilitch told The AP during an exclusive tour last month. “He has tremendous vision and knew he could take it up a notch and make a bigger impact on the community. This isn’t just an arena. What we’ve created is very, very special.”

 

Ekman-Larsson suffers lower-body injury vs. Sharks, will be re-evaluated today

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The Arizona Coyotes lost to the San Jose Sharks in preseason action Saturday. What will matter more is the status of defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

According to reports, Ekman-Larsson suffered a lower-body injury during overtime and had to be helped off the ice.

“He will get re-evaluated tomorrow — lower body,” said head coach Rick Tocchet, per Arizona Sports. “See what happens tomorrow. I don’t think he will practice tomorrow.”

At 26 years of age, Ekman-Larsson is a huge piece of a rebuilding Coyotes team and, based on previous comments from general manager John Chayka, is expected to be heavily relied upon on the blue line this season.

It’s also expected that he will be named the new Coyotes captain, taking over the leadership role from Shane Doan.

Rangers’ Desjardins faces hearing for ‘dirty’ hit on Miles Wood

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Just hours after delivering a two-game preseason suspension to Tom Wilson, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a statement on Twitter, this time saying Andrew Desjardins will have a hearing.

That hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood during Saturday’s preseason game between the Devils and Rangers.

The incident occurred before the midway point of the first period.

Wood was slow to get back to his feet, but did eventually return to the game. The hit resulted in a melee in front of the Rangers net, with John Moore also getting called for roughing.