The Annual 2 In The Box Sabres Awards have been issued. Read about the players who surprised, angered, disappointed, and amazed Sabres' fans, and where your favourite players stack up against the opinions of 2 In The Box contributor Chris Ostrander and Co.
Buffalo - April 23, 2014 - The Two in the Box awards are back yet again for another year and I’m joined in the voting by the newest contributor to the site, Tyler Roeder. Tyler will be chipping in with posts here and there to hopefully increase the content on the site above the current level, which is not very much at all. Each of the players or topics we picked are represented for each category. We didn’t agree on every one but each viewpoint is included below the winners.
Most Valuable Player – Tyler Ennis
Chris: In a lost season with few redeeming qualities, Tyler Ennis recaptured some of the magic he and Drew Stafford shared at the end of the 2011-12 season on his way to leading the Sabres in goal scoring. After a year in which his value began to be questioned, Ennis came back with an impressive run that could cement his value moving forward.
Tyler: Ennis was able to win me over with his play late in the year, after nearly losing me with some Maxim Afinogenov-esque play in the middle portion of the year. Ennis was able to put up a respectable 11 points in 20 games after the team was gutted at the trade deadline.
Least Valuable Player – Ville Leino
CO: Allow me to take the easy way out with this choice. Leino was a ghost for nearly the entire season and punctuated the punchline he had become by going scoreless on the season. He put only 38 pucks on net this year, fewer than such offensive dynamos like Mike Weber, Henrik Tallinder and Matt Ellis. His time in Buffalo has been nothing short of a disaster and his inevitable buyout will rid the team of a failed attempt at buying their way to a contending roster.
TR: What else can be said at this point? When you make $4.5 million and get outscored by John Scott, you get the LVP. It’s safe to say that this year was final year (Thank God) of the Leino era in Buffalo, which is best for both parties.
Top Prospect – Rasmus Ristolainen
CO: Ristolainen almost doesn’t qualify for this award considering he appeared in 34 games this season. He did, however, justify his draft position and set himself up to be a cornerstone on the Sabres’ roster for the next number of years.
TR: The Sabres have steadily stocked the prospect pool over the last few years, and have done so with a focus on the blue line. The 6’ 4” Finn got a taste of the NHL this year, but was better served being in Rochester. While with the Amerks he put up nearly .67 pts/gm; and with the 19 year old only growing stronger and more experienced, the sky is the limit. It’s a strong bet he’ll start next season with the big club.
Jekyll and Hyde Award – Cody Hodgson
CO: By the time the dust settled on the season Cody Hodgson wound up leading the Sabres in scoring. His 44 points just barely edged out Tyler Ennis and the two pivots were the only two players to reach 20 goals on the year. However, Hodgson’s season was plagued by long bouts of lackluster play but he seemed to be rejuvenated when he was moved to the wing late in the season. The Sabres would benefit greatly if that serves as a spark for him.
TR: Hodgson was expected to take the next step as the team’s bona fide number one center this year. Whether or not he truly is or can be a number one center is another debate, but to say that he didn’t play like one this year is fact. While there were good stretches in the beginning of the year as well as spurts during the course of the season, two different stretches of one point in six games, and a one point in eight stretch show that he went missing far too often.
Consistently Consistent Award – Christian Ehrhoff (Chris), Brian Flynn (Tyler)
CO: There was no escaping the minus monster that was the Buffalo Sabres this season. However, Ehrhoff turned in an impressive campaign where his possession driven play remained a constant on Buffalo’s blueline. He won’t wow you with thundering body checks and his offensive contributions haven’t been as impressive as the year he had in Vancouver prior to signing here, but he’s been a rock and more than justifies his contract.
TR: While not the most gifted player on the ice, #65 comes with an honest effort every night. After coming up last season as a relative unknown, Flynn has proven himself to be dependable in his own end, as well as being capable of some offensive output. A solid penalty killer, look for the 25 year old to take another step forward as a solid bottom six forward.
Unsung Hero – Christian Ehrhoff (Chris), Drew Stafford (Tyler)
CO: For some of the reasons I listed above, Ehrhoff has been a steady contributor without receiving as much praise as he probably should. I would assume his lack of physical play and his European heritage doesn’t appeal to certain facets of the Sabres fan base which, in turn, diminishes the returns he provides in the eyes of the fans. Perhaps with a stronger supporting cast his offensive numbers will begin to climb in the coming years.
TR: Stafford has been the media and public’s whipping boy for the lion’s share of his time in Buffalo (those who know me know my feelings on #21), but credit must be given when it is due. As the last remaining member of Darcy Regier’s core from 2007-08, Stafford has taken on a leadership role when sorely needed, and also finally began to play with the intensity and physicality many long thought he was capable of. If he is here next year (I don’t think he will be), he will be leaned on heavily both on and off the ice, it’s up to him to continue where he left off this year.
CO: As has become tradition, the MVP takes the corresponding award for the best player at their position. Ennis was the team’s best forward this year and I hope to see him to continue blooming.
TR: While only 20, Girgensons played like a 10 year vet in his rookie campaign. While his stats may not jump off the page, he was (in my opinion) the forward who made life most difficult for the opposition. He is capable of playing in all positions, and was rewarded for his efforts when Ted Nolan put an “A” on his jersey in the season finale. I look at Girgensons and see a future captain.
Mike Peca Best Defensive Forward – Zemgus Girgensons (Chris), Brian Flynn (Tyler)
CO: Did you watch this team this year? I guess Zemgus Girgensons could earn a nomination given that he had one of the more respectable possession numbers on the year. Johan Larsson would also deserve a nod despite his limited time with the big club this season. Girgensons play indicated to me that he has a strong defensive acumen which should translate well to a two-way game down the line.
TR: As previously noted, Flynn has carved out a nice career in the NHL mainly on the basis on effort and positioning. Ted Nolan leaned on Flynn as a key penalty kill as time went on, and Flynn was able to improve on his faceoff percentage as the season progressed.
Tim Horton Best Defenseman – Christian Ehrhoff
CO: From top to bottom Ehrhoff was the team’s most consistent defenseman for the entire year. Tyler Myers enjoyed a nice surge at the end of the year and could certainly parlay that success into a terrific 2014-15 campaign but I’m still waiting to see him come back from an offseason ready to play hockey.
TR: Ehrhoff has got a bad rap over his tenure in blue and gold for a variety of things, but the fact remains that he is their best defenseman. Ehrhoff logged under 20 minutes of ice only four times this season, and most of those minutes were against top opposition.
Phil Housley Best Offensive defenseman – Tyler Myers (Chris), Christian Ehrhoff (Tyler)
CO: This award goes to Myers thanks to the way he finished the season. He was a force inside the attacking blueline and pushed the play effectively down the homestretch of the schedule. Despite only playing 62 games, he led the group in goal scoring and showed a nose for pushing the play that had been absent in recent years. If healthy and rolling through an entire season how he ended this year I’d suspect his numbers would increase dramatically.
TR: As much as I wish I were giving this to Tyler Myers, Ehrhoff displayed more of a knack for joining the rush and creating chances. Ehrhoff was also best on the team (in my opinion) when it came to starting the offense from the defensive zone, whether it be by passing or skating.
Mike Wilson Worst Defenseman – Mike Weber & Jamie McBain (Chris), Jamie McBain (Tyler)
CO: This joint award goes to the team’s Benny Hill Defensive Pairing. Things just didn’t seem to click for the two this year and McBain’s contract status and the luxury of holding two compliance buyouts could potentially see the Sabres starting next season without either player.
TR: Somehow McBain was granted the highest percentage of defensive zone starts on the team. Not exactly sure how that happened, as McBain and Mike Weber jockeyed all year for this award. It goes to McBain due to the fact that he came from Carolina with at least some sort of reputation as an offensive defenseman. That never quite materialized in Buffalo, as he never looked comfortable. Still only 26, there’s time for him to rebound, but I doubt he’ll get the chance to do it in Buffalo.
Ed Note: Given that we both voted for McBain he appears to be the true winner despite Chris awarding both he and Weber his vote for the award.
Ales Kotalik Shootout Award – Matt Moulson (Chris), Thomas Vanek (Tyler)
CO: Moulson led the team in shootout goals this season with Tyler Ennis a close second. I’ll give Moulson the nod here as he was the closest thing to automatic the Sabres had in the skills competition.
TR: The Sabres had only one player on their end of the year roster that was at 50% in the skills competition (Ville Leino, who when 1-2). That being said a posthumous award is being given to old friend Thomas Vanek. Vanek was the closest thing to automatic the Sabres had over the years, and he usually got it done with his lightning quick realize.
Judge Smails Mulligan Award – The Pat LaFontaine situation (Chris), Marcus Foligno (Tyler)
CO: This was bad in every way, shape and form. Bringing LaFontaine back was not only a way to extend an olive branch to one of the organization’s most popular figures, but a way to bring some positive PR to a team that was positively horrible to that point. The circumstances surrounding his departure will be stored away with the truth about the Roswell Landing and Kennedy’s Assassination. When he left he pushed the Sabres back into a quagmire of bad press and ugly rumors, it would be nice to see them have a do over on this one, whether that means altering his responsibilities or finding a better working relationship.
TR: In a season where there are more candidates than not, I feel Foligno could use it most. After a quick start to his career in 2011-12, Foligno was granted a bit of leniency as he adjusted to his first year with expectations and an NHL job. This year, no such leniency was to be found and he struggled mightily. I am not sold on Foligno’s long term future in Buffalo. For a player who was once looked at as the power forward the team so desperately needed, 2014-15 might be a make or break year.
Best In-Arena Addition – Lights and projectors (Chris), Tim Murray & Ted Nolan (Tyler)
CO: The new additions to the game presentation arsenal were terrific. I’m particularly fond of the drop down screens that are used in Vancouver and the on-ice projections are terrific. Full marks for that addition.
TR: Many may think this is a strange choice, but hear me out. I’m not sure if the award should go to Murray or “No Regier or Rolston,” but no one can argue that the atmosphere at FNC was toxic early in the year. Yes the team was struggling, but the specter of Regier in the press box land an over matched coach behind the bench led to a mad (der?) fan base, as no one had confidence in the front office or coaching staff. This all culminated with a poor on ice product, and the nearly routine “Fire Darcy” chants, which made for even more miserable nights downtown. Regier’s ouster, and more importantly Ted Nolan’s (and Tim Murray’s) hire, gave fans and players reason for optimism. It is safe to say that games at foot of Washington St. were far more enjoyable the second half of the season.
Worst In-Arena Addition – Turd Jersey and new arena signage (Chris), Video Banners/”Seven Nation Army” type intro song (Tyler)
CO: These two are somewhat related. Clearly the third jersey is the worst thing produced by the organization this side of the slug logo. In fact, I much prefer the slug and the jerseys worn during that era to the festering turd that is the third jersey. The team also added new signage around the arena that reflect some of the design aesthetics in the third jersey, namely the number font. I’m not a huge fan of them as they don’t put forth a very professional look, in my opinion. They’re certainly better than the old section and waymarking signs but I think the design team could’ve come up with something better. Or maybe not.
TR: The organization set out to drastically improve game presentation this year, and did so in some areas, but not enough. It is clear to me that the organization went out of its way to glean ideas off of other teams in an effort to cobble together a serviceable pregame product. The white video banners are eerily similar to the ones at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, while the “Seven Nation Army” theme/intro may be the most overplayed intro/arena song in modern sports. The team must find a method of presentation that is uniquely Buffalo, and build an identity with it.
Best Tweeter – @FakeDarcy
CO: The one drawback of Darcy Regier’s tenure ending was the subsequent retirement of the @FakeDarcy handle. It was an awesome account with terrific comedic timing. He still pokes his head out every now and then.
TR: The magic finally ended for our old friend as real Darcy was given the boot early in the year, but he has still given us some good laughs.
Best Media Member – Dan Dunleavy (Chris), John Vogl (Tyler)
CO: The newcomer to the Sabres broadcast team earns my vote for the best media member covering the team. He’s a great choice to fill the massive shoes that Rick Jeanneret will leave behind and he’s been a great addition to the crew.
TR: The Sabres beat reporter continues to produce solid content without injecting personal agendas. The fact that he’s also a normal human being on social media (as opposed to some of his colleagues) counts for bonus points.
Goal of the Year – Zemgus Girgensons vs. Detroit
Eerily similar to Cody Hodgson’s dangle against Carolina late last season. If only they weren’t wearing the Turd Jerseys.
Save of the Year – Ryan Miller on Mikhail Grabovski
A great stop. Scrambling play where he maintained focus on the puck and made an incredible stop. Different from laying the paddle on the ice and having the shooter fail to lift the puck. Hand-eye coordination and focus were keys on this one.
Fight of the Year – Nick Deslauriers vs. NYI
We had to wait a while for a good one but Deslauriers’ tilt in game 82 was an awesome bout.
Chris Ostrander is a 2008 graduate of John Carroll University where he played all four seasons with JCU's ACHA hockey team. After graduation Chris spent the 2008-09 season with the Buffalo Sabres organization working for the Sabres and Buffalo Bandits (indoor lacrosse) Public Relations department. After his time with the Sabres, Chris worked with NBC's hockey coverage for the 2010 Olympic games prior to his current role as the Public Relations Director for the American Collegiate Hockey Association. He runs the Sabres, Bills and Buffalo-centric blog Two in the Box. If you have questions or wish to contact Chris, you can email him at email@example.com
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