After a terrible start that left the team with the second-lowest number of points in the entire NHL only a month ago, the Buffalo Sabres have surged to a 7-3-3 record in the 13 games since. One of the main reasons for the club’s recent success has been the play and leadership of forward Steve Ott.
Acquired in the off-season from Dallas, in a trade for Derek Roy, Ott has been seemingly everywhere on the ice as of late. And perhaps he actually has, as in Saturday night’s 2-1 victory in Montreal when he logged 23:26 in ice time, the third-highest of his career. Ott hits, agitates, takes face-offs, plays special teams, and sets up and scores goals.
Hockey traditionalists know about the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick”: A goal, an assist, and a fight. In a recent win over Toronto Ott may have introduced the “Steve Ott Hat Trick”: A game-winning goal, the Carubba Collision hit of the game, and a penalty for blowing a kiss.
Yes, a penalty for blowing a kiss. At Maple defenseman Dion Phaneuf. And the Sabres fans loved it.
As the Sabres play has improved this past month the fans have rallied behind their team. And Ott has become a fan favorite. According to him the affection is mutual,
“It’s a lot more fun; they make it a home game instead of a road game, that’s for sure. I thought, obviously, the building came alive… It’s an understatement how much energy you get from loud fans and fans that want to cheer for you. We’ve been waiting for this; we obviously haven’t shown them everything we have but it’s definitely a huge bonus when you have 19,070 on their feet.”
During the team’s darkest moments earlier this year, veterans such as Ott and Robyn Regehr reportedly directed some strong words towards their teammates in the locker room regarding their level of effort and commitment. This brings us to the issue of leadership.
Soft-spoken captain, Jason Pominville, is certainly not a fiery leader. And while one alternate captain, Thomas Vanek, has played through pain and led by example – he scored both goals in the defeat of the Canadiens, after coming back a second time this year from the injured list – the second alternate captain has been a disaster.
Drew Stafford was a healthy scratch for the Canadiens game. That’s a far fall for the former 31 goal scorer with his four million dollar salary. Stafford has a woeful 11 points so far this season and the team’s worst -12 plus/minus rating. He has been The Invisible Man.
Steve Ott should have a letter on his jersey. Now.
The 30 year-old was an alternate captain (AC) in Dallas. He has the attitude, the production, and the experience for the AC patch. Unfortunately, protocol in such matters may require more time, and perhaps a roster move, before that can happen.
In the mean time, Ott’s performance has not gone unrecognized throughout the league. TSN recently reported that the Vancouver Canucks contacted Buffalo about possibly trading for him.
The Sabres declined. Wisely.