Mel Kiper’s haircut

Von Miller. That's what I look like that in Under Armour, too...

The long-awaited NFL Draft is finally here. They’ve been talking about this thing for months, but before today, the most important bit of news on the topic has been the fact that Mel Kiper got his hair cut this week.

Because really, I couldn’t care less about players moving two spots on the Big Board from the week before, especially in the middle of March. I can’t handle predictions for the draft — often dubbed the biggest crapshoot in sports — months before it even takes place.

I’ll never understand how player rankings can change so much from the end of the season to the big day, but they say it helps teams make better, more informed picks (apparently the Bills haven’t picked up on this). NFL reporters aren’t going to do nothing after the Super Bowl, but it just wouldn’t be ESPN if they didn’t give us the same news as the day before with a minor tweak instead of showing more about the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now that were finally within my range of acceptable time to discuss the draft (pushed back a little bit by the Sabres), I’m ready to talk about the third name Roger Goodell might read next tonight.

I read Allen Wilson’s draft preview in the Buffalo News last week and I watched ESPN’s segment dissecting the Buffalo Bills, both of which have Buddy Nix taking Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. As Kiper noted in the segment, a linebacker like Miller fits the persona of Buffalo picks — not flashy or sexy, but a safe pick made to fill a need (and a pretty darn good player, too).

That’s about the best argument there is for him. He’s a pass rushing outside linebacker who would be a nice fit for the Bills’ 3-4 defense that is not getting what it hoped out of Aaron Maybin. I don’t think Paul Posluszny has done that well either, but he has gone on the record saying he “want[s] to be a Buffalo Bill for a long time,” which is more than most can say. I’m not expecting much out of Shawne Merriman.

Hopefully Miller would also help the run defense, which was  painful to watch last season, giving up a league-worst 169.6 yards per game.

Public opinion seems to be split between Miller and Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Allen Wilson didn’t think he’d be available for the Bills at 3. Todd McShay says Carolina should take him No. 1.

Dareus is 6-3, 319, and looks to be an immediate impact player. I think the offensive line is a bigger need area for the Bills than defensive line, but players this good are hard to pass up. Buddy Nix has a track record of taking the best player available, regardless of need (see: Spiller, C.J., for a recent example), and Dareus fits that mold. He just might not make it to 3.

Some people argue Cam Newton is one of those players that is the best around. Potential franchise quarterback, they say. He’s one heck of an athlete, but I just don’t see it.

When I think of franchise quarterbacks, I think Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. These are pocket passers, not scramblers. Last season at Auburn, Newton ran for 1,409 yards. In their careers, Manning and Brady have a combined 1,329.

That alone is not a fair assessment of Newton because he did put up one of the highest passer efficiency ratings in NCAA history and is not a true scrambler, but the NFL is much different from the NCAA. No matter good the defenses are in the SEC, you just don’t draw up running plays like that for quarterbacks in the NFL, and from all accounts, Newton is no Mike Vick.

Donovan McNabb is a rarity, but I’m not comfortable handing the keys over to a rookie. The Bills are driving a beat up ’75 Ford as it is. You don’t put a first-time driver behind the wheel and expect him not to have problems with the car.

Marcell Dareus is a baaaddd man.

You’d think Bills fans would learn the lesson with one-year wonders after seeing what Maybin (hasn’t) done on the field. Newton was at Florida for two years, didn’t play behind Tebow and ended up transferring to a junior college in Texas. Blinn won the national championship under Newton, but I really hope a lot of D-I quarterbacks could succeed in JUCO.

The funny part is that after the BCS National Championship game, all the talk was about Nick Fairley and the inevitability of him going first overall after such a dominating performance. He’s since fallen from the “you’ll never be able to spend this much money as long as you live” draft spots to the “just boatloads of money” positions, although neither is a good place to be for someone who reportedly has responsibility and work ethic issues.

The only argument I like for Newton is that it makes a splash. It puts the Bills on the map and gives us a player everyone knows about. When I was in L.A., a professional NHL journalist made the comment that “it must be hard in Buffalo with the Sabres being [our] only pro team.” I paused for a second and my tone changed. “We have the Bills,” I said, sparking laughter among others in the room (I’m hoping because they felt bad for the guy, not because they forgot too). Newton would be a player fans across the country would associate with Buffalo and would be a nice talking point for people to bring up the Bills.

Truth be told, I don’t want either Auburn product on my team. I approve of Miller or Dareus, and I wouldn’t be that mad to learn the Bills traded down if someone came calling.

I feel not taking a quarterback at some point would be a huge mistake. There will be high-profile passers around when the Bills come up in the second round, which is where I’d like to see Christian Ponder or Ryan Mallett taken. Andy Dalton and Jake Locker also fit into this draft position, but I’m not as high on them.

Blaine Gabbert isn’t a terrible pick at 3, if that’s a route the Bills want to take, but it is a stretch. However, I’d rather have Gabbert than Newton. If the Bills want to wait a little bit longer on a QB, Ricky Stanzi could be a good middle-round pick. After that, it’s really not worth it.

Whoever we draft, I want Fitzpatrick under center next season. Let the kid watch and learn for a little bit. A lot of rookies become captain checkdown like Trent Edwards, too afraid (or not confident enough) to throw into tight spaces. It would be good for any young guy to learn from Fitzpatrick’s ballsy, “I can fit it in there, just watch me” style.

Patrick Peterson (DB) and A.J. Green (WR) are both highly talented, high first round picks, but for once, I’m hoping the Bills can just pick someone we won’t hate them for.

Ryan Miller ought to be furious

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I have about six thousand different thoughts right now about Game Seven that I’ll get to tomorrow, but right now I just want to make a brief mention about Ryan Miller.

Nobody should be more pissed off right now than Miller. I’m usually harder on him than most, but after Danny Briere, I think he was the best player in the series. (Have you ever seen so many 1-on-0’s from point-blank range? And he stopped almost ever single one.)

Ryan Miller single-handedly kept the Sabres afloat for a large portion of this series, and Game Seven especially. The first period was an absolute atrocity, but Miller was there every time for the first 19 and a half minutes. He let his team down once. They let him down half a dozen times.

Miller rarely got to play with the lead in this series, a huge advantage for goalies, and as soon as the Sabres built one up for him, they let their guard down shortly after.

Every Buffalo win in this series was by one goal — two 1-0 games and an overtime win. How often does a goalie steal a game for his team in the playoffs with a shutout, not once, but twice, and then still lose the series?

That has to be maddening for a goalie. I’d imagine this scenario has happened a few times in NHL history, but it can’t be very often.

To his credit, I can’t remember Miller being very vocal about it. If CC Sabathia threw two no-hitters in the same series for the Yankees and they still managed to lose, I’m sure he’d have a few choice words for the hitters after the fact.

Looking at Miller’s play might show just how bad the rest of the team was. The two shutout wins were basically gifts to the offense. What did they do besides that? Not much. The pooped out after a hot start a few times and disappeared completely not long after.

Ryan Miller was even credited with an assist in the series. He had the same amount of points as Brad Boyes, Mike Grier, Mike Weber, Chris Butler, Steve Montador and Jordan Leopold, all of whom played at least five games in the series. Try as he might, Ryan Miller can’t be counted on to provide the offense, too.

Miller faced more shots than any goalie in the playoffs, and finished with a 2.93 goals against average and a .917 save percentage, respectable numbers that should have been more than enough to win given the poor goaltending Buffalo was going up against.

Every Buffalo Sabre not named Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford or Rob Neidermayer (the only players with positive plus-minuses) better chip in and take Miller out for a nice dinner after this is all said and done (Chris Butler can leave the tip, too). If anybody should be mad about the loss, it’s Miller, and I respect him for not saying anything about it.

Game Seven: Whatever it takes

Bill Wippert/NHLI

It all comes down to this. Game Seven. It’s always Game Seven, but now it’s really Game Seven, if that makes sense. Every game in the playoffs is a must-win, but this is about as big as it gets.

After two consecutive collapses, I’m not going to say I think the Sabres will win. I’d also have a hard time saying I think the Flyers will win. I think Philly has been the better team in the series, but neither has been great.

I don’t think Ryan Miller has been as good as he gets credit for being, but he has done well given the poor defensive showing in front of him.

People are talking about the Sabres’ new-found toughness this series. Being tough is a lot more than pushing a guy after the whistle when he just bumped your goalie. That needs to happen 82 times a year, minimum. That’s basic hockey.

The Sabres really need to check themselves. They all need to take a long look in the mirror before they head down to the arena tonight. Game Seven toughness is different. When you go down to block a shot, you can’t secretly be wishing it misses you. Blocking that shot is going to hurt, but if you want to win the game, you need to go out and actively seek that pain.

It’s not enough to want it. Everybody wants the glory. Giving everything you have on every single shift may not be enough. If you want to win a Game Seven, you need to find some other level inside you that you haven’t been able to get to.

Many players may not even know they have it in them, younger guys especially. Every one of Jerry Sullivan’s columns lately has been about Danny Briere. He’s feeling it. He’s in the zone. I don’t like the guy anymore. He’s a cake eater now; he’s one of them. But dammit do I respect him. Briere has been on another level lately. It’s been Game Seven for him for quite some time. Thomas Vanek has shown flashes. He’s not there yet, but almost.

I think I just referenced the Mighty Ducks and Anchorman in the same paragraph. I love it.

It looks like Derek Roy will play. Andrea Sekera might too. The Sabres are going to need the lift. If anything, it gives two fresh bodies who haven’t taken a beating yet.

Finishing your checks and standing up for your teammates, your brothers, does not make you a playoff hero. It makes you a decent player in the regular season. Every player needs to find the heart of Nathan Gerbe, the feistiness of Pat Kaleta and the killer instinct of, well, Briere.

Everybody talks about composure this time of year. Composure might last for 60 minutes, but at some point tonight, grown men will cry. If it’s not from pain, it’s going to be from sadness.

It’s much better to be watching your boys play in the next round from a hospital bed because you sacrificed your body for the team than it is to be watching someone else play because you weren’t willing to.

Everyone wishes they would have given a little bit more of themselves when they see someone else kissing the Cup. There’s no flea-flicker or hidden ball trick in hockey. If you are going to get somewhere in the NHL Playoffs, you’re going to earn it.

If you want to take a Game Seven, that’s how hard you have to go. That’s the kind of sacrifice it takes to win in hockey. Honestly, I’m not sure the Sabres have it in them. The Flyers were an eight-seed that made it to the Cup finals last year. I’m thinking they might. Maybe it’s better to be a road team. All Buffalo will have in that arena is the 20 guys in blue jerseys on the bench. You do it for the guy next to you, you do it for yourself, and you do it for the Stanley Cup Champion you’ve always wanted to be.

When I think of “Stanley Cup Champion,” I don’t think Sidney Crosby or Pat Kane. I think Ray Bourque and Scott Neidermayer. These are grizzled vets who would do absolutely whatever it took. When the Ducks won the Cup in 2007, Chris Pronger said he separated his shoulder after getting hit during the game, but when it kept popping out, he just popped it back in and kept playing.

I know Drew Stafford wants to win Game Seven. I’m not sure if he is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Were going to find out just what our Sabres are made out of tonight, and for the sake of the city, I hope they have it in them.

Eighty-eight games and it all comes down to one. The Sabres have their fate in their own hands. Grown men will be left crying tonight. I just hope Terry Pegula isn’t one of them.

NHL Playoff picks

The greatest playoffs in all of sports, for the best trophy in all of sports, begin tonight.

I’ve spent most of this week coordinating a full-page preview for this week’s Griffin Newspaper, which can be found here as well as in this week’s issue.

Those picks were done by my sports writing team. Here are my selections:

Eastern Conference

1-Washington Capitals over 8-New York Rangers in five games.
7-Buffalo Sabres over 2-Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.
3-Boston Bruins over 6-Montreal Canadiens in seven games.
4-Pittsburgh Penguins over 5-Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

Western Conference

1-Vancouver Canucks over 8-Chicago Blackhawks in four games.
2-San Jose Sharks over 7-Los Angeles Kings in five games.
6-Phoenix Coyotes over 3-Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
4-Anaheim Ducks over 5-Nashville Predators in six games.

Two upsets, one sweep. Wanted one lower seed to advance on each side, and I thought Phoenix has the best shot in the West after taking Detroit to Game Seven last year.

Chicago limped into the playoffs, losing win-and-in game number 82 and only getting in because Dallas lost too. If you can’t get up for that game and grind out a W, you deserve to get swept.

I’m really not worried for the Sabres. It’s an interesting feeling that I want to write more about tomorrow, but there’s a weird sense of “we got this” in town. We were a seven-seed when we went to the finals in 1999…..