Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Sabres Preview: Corey Tropp Autograph Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

There's something about the Buffalo Sabres that makes me unable to ever take them seriously, part of it based on 42 years of watching them implode and then watching them try to turn things around with absurd decisions, like that time in the mid-2000s when they fired almost their entire scouting staff and resorted to video instead of in-person scouting, resulting in a handful of first-round picks never suiting up for even an entire NHL season's owrth of games in their entire careers, the top picks of 2005 (Marek Zagrapan, 13th overall) and 2006 (Dennis Persson, 24th) never suiting up in an NHL game at all and no one in the 2011 crop ever playing in Buffalo. Signing Jack Eichel to an overpay three years too soon, extending Jeff Skinner to be paid more than Sidney Crosby and going at it without a true #1 goalie are all desperation moves that keep a team at the bottom of the standings, at least once the season's 15 games old, when the "real" teams get their legs going. Kevyn Adams is now in the ejectable GM's seat, probably because former captain Chris Drury is happier taking a back seat with the New York Rangers and awaiting an opening that doesn't seem like total career suicide.

What makes their odds look good:
Look, I'll say it now: Eichel is no Connor McDavid, not even close. He's no Nathan MacKinnon, no Leon Draisaitl, no Crosby. But he's a very good young player who may one day hit the 50-goal and 100-point marks - perhaps the century points plateau a handful of times - and who might grow into the captain's role, but he's not there yet. As a matter of fact, for all the rumours we've been hearing and that were semi-confirmed by both the star player and management over the past three years, it seems like he's learned how to lead from Ryan O'Reilly, who skipped town when Eichel took his job. One does not lead with negativity and threats. Well, ROR does and wins Selkes, Conn Smythes and Stanley Cups that way, but he also crashes into restaurants with his car. Rasmus Dahlin has also shown nice glimpses of a #1 defenseman, but he's still a few years away from his prime. While I do not believe in the Sabres' ability to grow so much as to make the playoffs and become serious contenders yet, they do have promising pieces. And I like Ralph Krueger as a coach, I just don't feel like he'll be the person they trust when the kids are ready; I think Buffalo might be the first team to hire a woman as head coach when they are, so that she gets a path to and true opportunity for success.

Question marks:
Is Eichel ready to take a team on his shoulders, Jarome Iginla-style? Will the Taylor Hall gamble pay off for anyone other than Taylor Hall (because so far in his career, it never has)? How much does Eric Staal have left in the tank? Are the Sabres - as currently constructed - better than at least four of the following teams: Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers?

There are some nice key pieces seemingly in the right spots on this roster, yet so many who just aren't. And others are in the right one technically (Cody Eakin in a #3C role, for instance) but who do not seem to fit with the team. I'll be honest, I don't know much about projected second-lone winger Dylan Cozens, but if he's as good as I've read, he'll surpass a lot of prospects in the organization that just haven't shown to be where they should be at this stage of their development; the Sabres should be either at the same level of evolution as the Edmonton Oilers (challenging for a division title) or Toronto Maple Leafs (due for a retool after failing for a few seasons as an actual serious contender).

Seventh in the Metrpolitan/East Division.

Which brings me to Corey Tropp, the team's late third-round pick (89th overall) in 2007, ahead of Alec Martinez (4th, 95th), Art Ross winner and Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn (5th, 129th, but everyone slept on Benn), Jake Muzzin (5th, 141st), two-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Maroon (6th, 161st), Carl Hagelin (6th, 168th), Nick Bonino (6th, 173rd), Paul Byron (6th, 179th), and Carl Gunnarsson (7th, 194th).

At 31 years of age, he may not get another crack at the NHL and his statistics in 149 games over four seasons with three teams (6 goals, 21 assists, 27 points, 133 penalty minutes and an average of 9:08 minutes payed per game) show him as a fourth-line talent, but he was nearly a point-per-game player in the AHL from 2011-12 (22 points in 29 games) until 2018-19 (40 points in 55 games), meaning he had real talent that may read well on video and in highlights reels, but perhaps an in-person check might have shown something in his temper that could have lead to the 2009 NCAA incident with Steve Kampfer and his perpetual 100-PIM seasons in the AHL.

Here he is donning #78 in the Sabres' dark blue 2010s home uniform, on card #CS-TROP from Panini's 2012-13 Certified collection and Certified Signatures sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied, on-sticker autograph.

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