It’s late April 2010 and the atmosphere is grim in the Buffalo Sabres locker room. Two centers have been interviewed back-to-back about the fan disdain for their performance in Buffalo’s six-game loss to the Boston Bruins. One, Tim Connolly, isn’t close to saying any of the right things but the other, Derek Roy, is crushed like a man in his first marital spat. The honeymoon is over.
Roy was left in pieces that day by the sentiment that existed amongst fans and analysts: Roy’s two assists in six games were a monumental disappointment. That the points came in the Sabres’ two wins may be irrelevant to some, but the fact was not lost on me. Lindy Ruff had called Roy the engine of the team going back to the team’s upstart campaign after the lockout, and that team had Danny Briere and Chris Drury (heard of ’em?).
Roy’s next season was a revelation, or so it seemed. He scored in the first three games of the season on the way to averaging a point-per-game heading into Christmas, only he didn’t get there. With 35 points in 35 games, this was the Roy that fans saw glimmers of during the previous five mostly-inconsistent seasons. He was distributing the puck, facilitating the power play and cutting down on his horrendous knack for minor penalties. He was “on it,” as the kids say.
Then he got hurt with a capital ‘H’: a torn quad tendon. He was out four-to-six months, but he barely fit into that time frame: Roy returned in four months and three days, showing little burst but posting an assist in the Flyers’ elimination of the Sabres in the first round.
With Connolly gone, this was to be Roy’s year. It’s hardly even resembled one of his lesser campaigns. Roy’s .64 points-per-game is his worst since his rookie season when he notched 19 points in 49 games. He was 20 years old.
Has he fully recovered from the injury? It’s impossible to say, but something’s not right with Roy. The most frustrating thing about No. 9 is that he may very well be the engine of this team. Laugh if you will, but look at the facts:
— When Roy records a point, the Sabres are 12-2-3.
— When Roy fails to mark the scoresheet, the Sabres are 5-15-0.
It’s maddening. Perhaps it would be better stated if I went with he’s maddening. Roy doesn’t seem to be vacationing during losses, something that looked rather damning during the early absences in his career. In fact, he seems to be pressing. At his worst he channels the worst of Maxim Afinogenov in blue-and-gold; Bad giveaways and fluffed chances are the bane of his season. At his best — this year — he simply looks like an average NHL player.
That’s a major regression for the engine of the Buffalo Sabres, an engine that needs a major overhaul. The Sabres have the NHL’s ninth-leading scorer in Thomas Vanek and its 11th in Jason Pominville. Imagine the season Nos. 26 and 29 could be having with a productive middle man. Roy’s 23 points are 102nd in the league, behind seven defensemen and tied with four others. And despite the major production coming from Vanek and Pominville, Roy sits 37th amongst players deemed centers by NHL.com. That’s behind guys like Rich Peverley, Tyler Bozak and David Legwand and it is not for lack of ice time: Roy is averaging the same or more minutes per game than Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Sedin.
To borrow an adjective from BBG, those statistics are even more vulgar than the Sabres play of late. Where are you, Derek Roy?