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Hamilton TAKE2: Sabres top talent not producing

WGRZ/WGR550's Paul Hamilton examines the true reasons behind the Sabres' offensive struggles.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner (53) is tripped by New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech (3) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Sabres started off the season playing six pretty good games, but then they came home for six games and they haven’t played well since.

In the beginning of the season they were second in the NHL with shots on goal and they had amazing scoring opportunities, but they missed on many of them. Now the chances have dried up and they’re floundering in the East Division.

I find it interesting how every single time things go wrong with this team, a good number of people want to blame and fire the coach immediately. For some reason the nine-year drought of no playoffs is all on Lindy Ruff, Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan, Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley and Ralph Krueger.

Around here if you don’t agree with a coach’s line combination, you’re right, and he should be fired.

The only two players that join the coaches in being blamed for everything are Carter Hutton and Rasmus Dahlin. None of the rest of the players are responsible for their poor play.

Krueger’s being crucified for being too soft. Housley was ripped for being too hard, so which is it? Housley was ripped for having very little structure. Krueger is being ripped for too much structure. Again, which is it?

Jeff Skinner has scored three goals since December of 2019. Until the last three games where he played with Jack Eichel and Eric Staal, Skinner was getting amazing scoring chances and missing on each and every one of them.

How is it when a former 40-goal scorer misses on all of his Grade-A chances it’s the coach’s fault? The last three games with Eichel and Staal have been Skinner’s worst. He was pretty much invisible.

Now, are there things that Krueger is teaching not working? I would think yes, there are, but if you watch the game do you really think Krueger is telling Skinner when he’s one-on-one with the goaltender to try to pass through two New York Islanders to Eichel?

Do you think Krueger is telling the players to go offside with the goaltender pulled and a minute left in the game? Do you think Krueger is telling the players to stay away from the crease and in front of the net and play on the perimeter? I know for a fact he’s begging them to get where goals are scored, but he’s stuck with too many players that it’s not in their nature.

Do you think Krueger is telling the players not to play with any emotion when things go bad?

This is a season where the Sabres' best players aren’t even close to their best players. You’ve heard me on the radio saying that for years. It’s so simple but so true. This team is going nowhere with Eichel, Taylor Hall and Skinner combining for three goals.

Playing good or saying they’re playing better isn’t good enough. Those players have to produce and they’re paid the type of money where they must produce.

This isn’t all on Eichel, but he has to be better. This is his team. He performed like a superstar last season, and it’s his responsibility to put this team on his back and to get them through it. He’s that good and very capable of doing it.

By putting their trust in the wrong people, the Pegula’s continue to get stuck with free agent contracts that just strangle this franchise. Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, Skinner. I talk about July 1 free agency being stupid time for the NHL and teams wind up regretting the majority of the contracts signed.

This team is stuck with Okposo and Skinner’s deals. They’re a few years from being out from under Okposo’s contract, but I don’t have an answer for getting out of Skinner’s. There’s zero chance that you can trade that contract. I was warned by many in Carolina that there would be buyer’s remorse with him.

He showed up and scored a career-high 40 goals, and it looked like the Hurricanes would have egg on their face, but now it's Carolina having the last laugh. They knew the Sabres severely overpaid this player and are just laughing.

In the beginning you’d wonder why did Carolina accept so little for Skinner, and now we know why, they just wanted him gone.

Now, don’t get me wrong. He’s not a bad guy, and from everything I’ve heard, he is a very good person and a very good teammate. He works very hard in the offseason to try to better himself, but right now he has no confidence and it just seems to be getting worse.

I’d be tempted to start sitting him out since he’s not contributing, but this organization is so thin at forward, there really isn’t a better option.

They would need Tage Thompson or Casey Mittelstadt to start developing to be able to do that.