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Eye On Hockey Mailbag: Is Buffalo going to waste Thomas Vanek?

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

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The Buffalo Sabres have missed the playoffs in two of the past four years and even with Thomas Vanek's incredible scoring pace find themselves with a 3-5-1 record to start the 2013 season.

That's obviously not good.

What's worse is there doesn't seem to be much of anything to indicate that they're going to get much better.

Even though their offense has been solid through the first two weeks of the season, it's all coming from from the trio of Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson. They've also been one of the worst possession teams in the NHL which isn't a great sign for them when it comes to sustaining their current offensive outpout. Especially when Vanek, Pominville and Hodgson hit a slump, which they no doubt will at some point.

About the only thing that gives me some optimism about the Sabres is their goaltending with Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth should improve at some point.

I'm still not sure that's going to be enough.

That all brings us to our first question of the week:

In a league where coaches have a shelf life of about two or three years, Lindy Ruff has been behind the bench in Buffalo since the start of the 1997-98 season, which is pretty incredible. Especially since this has been a team that's missed the playoffs six times in 10 years and hasn't made it out of the first round since 2006-07.

You're talking about one of the longest-tenured head coaches in all of North American sports. I'm not sure if the Sabres are at that point in the season where they're going to make a change, and I don't know that you're going to see many in-season coaching changes in a shortened season anyway. Teams might just wait until after the season (there were three coaching changes during the 1994-95 season, all in the Western Conference) to clean house.

But even more than that, I've come around on the belief that if you're going to make a coaching change you also need to take a long hard look at the job your general manager has done. After all, the general manager (in this case it's Darcy Regier) is the guy who was responsible for putting the team together. And if that team is struggling to win games and not consistently making the playoffs, that's a problem that probably starts at the top.

The Sabres have a lot of money tied up in a team that's been pretty mediocre the past two years and has some ugly looking contracts on the books (Ville Leino, a 10-year deal for Christian Ehrhoff).

This doesn't look like a team that's a big trade away from correcting itself in-season, and if the Sabres continue to struggle and miss the playoffs yet again, ownership would be crazy to not look at major housecleaning in the front office and behind the bench.

Sadly for Sabres fans, that probably means Thomas Vanek's big season will be wasted.

He was playing alongside Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb. That certainly doesn't seem right.

But yes, something is definitely not right in Washington right now, whether it's the team as a whole or Alex Ovechkin himself. The team is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, and he has just two goals through his first nine games this season entering Tuesday's action.

The only other time in his career he's opened a season with just two goals in his first nine games was the 2008-09 season, and it took him until game No. 12 to get his third goal.

(For what it's worth, he then ended up finishing the season with a league-leading 56).

Of course that was a different Ovechkin when he was just entering the prime of his career and pumping shots on goal like few other players in the history of the league. We're never going to see that player or that type of production from him again.

As I wrote last week, he still seems to be on a pace (given the number of shots he's generating) to finish with around 16 goals this season, which would be about a 27-goal pace in a full 82-game season, continuing his decline in recent years.

But while the Capitals might be doomed this season, and Ovechkin's most productive days are most likely a thing of the past, I'm not quite ready to entirely give up on Ovechkin in Washington just yet.

For one, I still think he's too valuable to the Capitals organization on and off the ice, so he's not going anywhere anytime soon. But let's just say, just for laughs, that the Capitals would entertain the idea of moving on ... which team in the NHL is going to take on that contract at this point? And why?

Before the season, I had the Islanders as one of the worst teams in the NHL. Through the first two weeks they've been a bit of a surprise with a 4-3-1 mark through their first eight games and are one of the highest scoring teams in the league.

But is it for real?

They're definitely a more entertaining team than they've been in recent years, and they do have some exciting young talent with John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Matt Moulsonand Michael Grabner up front. But I'm still not sold yet, especially on the back end with their defense.

Right now they're riding entirely on the strength of their special teams units ( their power play is clicking at 29 percent and their penalty killing unit that is also in the top-three in the NHL) while they've struggled to control play in 5-on-5 situations where they have a minus-five goal-differential. That is a concerning sign for when their special teams units hit a slump (and they will, because no power play hits on nearly 30 percent of its attempts for a full season -- even if it's a 48-game season).

The Islanders are getting better, and they probably won't end up as the worst team in the Eastern Conference this season, but I'm not sure they're a playoff team yet either.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @Agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

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