Here’s an easily digestible set of three opinions for you.
It’s the 3-2-1, which is my way to fire out some takes while continuing to raise awareness for the 3-2-1 point system, which should have been adopted by the National Hockey League about 15 years ago, but they’re too oblivious to see the benefits and too focused on the idea that forced parity is good to see straight.
Long live the 3-2-1.
The three-point win: Signs of life
Maybe it’s the weather talking, but my optimism for the future of the world, nation, and our sporting life is on the rise.
Reading that the National Football League is setting the salary cap based on 75% attendance at football games, and that the British Grand Prix is thinking about 140,000 spectators this July, I feel like the light in the distance, to a return to “normalcy”, is visible.
This by no means suggests that this COVID-19 pandemic is over, but the ability to see the end, or even comprehend it, is somewhat of a relief in itself.
Of course vigilance and safety are still important, but think back to 11 months ago...
The anniversary of all this madness, for me, will forever be known as "Rudy Goebert Day" on March 11. He tested positive for COVID-19, the NBA shut down its season, the rest of sports quickly followed and lots of life ground to a halt. If you’d been paying attention, you knew that what was coming appeared to be very bad and life-altering for our world.
Thinking about outdoor sporting events is doable.
The PGA Championship is aiming for crowds. The Buffalo Bills, from what I understand, are planning for several different contingencies with regard to attendance, too.
And while indoor sporting events might lag a bit behind, and we might still have to take some measures going forward, I’m more than ready to see all of your beautiful faces (or half of them - mask up) come summer sports season.
The two-point overtime/shootout win: Top target
I might as well go ahead and name a top target in free agency, right?
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: I think there are lots of good ideas on how to build the Bills going forward. Keeping a few of their own players makes some sense, aiming for depth in free agency is good, gunning for a stud game-wrecker works. Drafting running back, wide receiver, cornerback or whatever.
I can make a lot of it make sense, quite easily.
But if I’m aiming for my top target, it’s Jonnu Smith.
The Titans tight end that’s set to hit the market is a pass-catching threat that played lots of snaps with Tennessee. Smith is a slick route-runner and threat after the catch. While he’s not quite the Travis Kelce/George Kittle matchup nightmare, he presents challenges to opposing defenses that the Bills have not been posing.
Spotrac pegs Jonnu’s value at about $8 million per-year, so if I want to make an easy swap of it, I’m going dollars in/dollars out with wide receiver John Brown there. Tyler Kroft and Lee Smith (retiring) off the roster will cover $6 million of that cost too.
I know it’s not quite that simple, with other Bills players to pay, but there’s no doubt they can make it fit.
Now is not the time to back away. It’s the next Stefon Diggs move to push forward that’s needed. Smith would give the Bills passing attack, yet, another layer, and more flexibility to run 12 personnel if they needed to with both Smith and Dawson Knox on the field.
I like it. Get Jonnu Smith.
The one-point overtime/shootout loss: The Skinner situation
The question since Monday has been, “How does this situation get resolved?”
The answer is not any closer than it was.
It’s been pretty clear that since Day 1, Ralph Krueger is not all that interested in Jeff Skinner’s game. He took him off the power play, and submarined his production and ice-time last season.
More than anything, what happened to Skinner last season was a PR problem.
You’ve got plenty of the advanced stats to show you that he produced on a level he normally does, but with a big contract came big expectations. His 14 goals in 59 games wasn’t too far off, but he had zero power play goals. Skinner had never had fewer than four power play goals in any season, and his first year in Buffalo he tallied eight, as part of the 40-goal campaign.
Skinner’s ice-time dropped from 18:30 to 16:29 last season. This year, he’s dropped to 13:36. The Sabres identified him as a piece to build with, paid him handsomely (as the elite 5-on-5 scorer that he is), but the coach they hired flat out doesn’t want what he does.
We don’t have to talk around it. He’s never believed he deserves top line minutes.
Krueger was hired before Skinner signed that deal and never put him on his 40-goal line in Year 1. He refused to do it. This year, he gave it a quick minute, but the bad puck luck that’s followed the whole team has led to a very good player paying the price.
The situation is untenable. Are the Sabres going to attempt to dump the contract and spend an asset to get rid of him? Are they going to have a fancy $9 million press box attendee? Are they going to trot him back out for limited minutes?
All of this is the coach’s call, right?
The question to ask is: If you have a coach that can’t get the best out of the players, can you find one that can?
The hockey team for the last 4-5 years has operated with a belief that “the plan” of a person running it just needs more time to work itself out. That’s obviously not gone to plan.
With Skinner, there should be no expectation to get anything different after these two years. Skinner scored 14 even strength goals last year in 59 games. Only Eichel and Reinhart had more. And still he started this year on the fourth line.
It’s hard to believe that there’s anything Skinner could do to make a difference with Krueger. Skinner is No. 1 on the team in expected goals per-60 minutes, and he sits for the NHL team that scores the fewest goals at even strength. They have 20 even strength goals in 16 games.
If we’re playing the “well the last general manager signed Skinner” game, then the obvious next step is that the last general manager also hired the coach. You can sell it as a mismatch that Jason Botterill is responsible for if you’d like, but none of that really matters today.
How does this get resolved? Or, put differently, what does this general manager think of it all?
Kevyn Adams, you’re up.