Spending spree puts Sabres in position to contend
Last season the Sabres record of 43-29-10 was good for 96 points and a seventh seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs. However they were unable to get past the Flyers in the first round. After that disappointing exit from the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, new Sabres owner Terry Pegula opened up his wallet to improved the team as well as tweaking the on-ice product during this off-season.
On the day of his press conference, the natural gas billionaire stated: “Starting today, there will be no financial mandates on the Buffalo Sabres hockey department.”
Thanks to those words, there are a few new faces that can truly help this club, not only this year, but for a good part of the near future. This season it’s a new look and a new feel for this Sabres club. Also, there is a new man in charge doing all he can to put together a consistent winner.
Since his taking over for the ‘Dominator’, Dominik Hasek, Ryan Miller has proved to the while hockey world that he is a bonafide starting goaltender with the ability to carry a team throughout the grueling 82-game season into the post-season.
Where they lacked from there was in their on-ice abilities. Lindy Ruff, the man with the longest held coaching tenure in the NHL, will have some new talents to help his team in their quest to bring Lord Stanley to Buffalo.
Although Tim Connolly has seen his time with the Sabres come to an end, the main man brought in to help create further offense on the ice will strive under Ruff’s system.
When the Philadelphia Flyers figured out they would no longer be able to afford bringing back Ville Leino, the Sabres jumped and reached out to the winger, signing him to a six-year deal worth just over $27 million.
Coming off a career year which saw Leino post 53 points, Ruff and company will hope the chemistry is found quickly for the shifty 27-year-old Finn. Though his time within the NHL has seen him strictly on the wing, there is plenty of speculation that he’ll go back to playing center, which was his position in Finland.
Leino joins a cast of players gifted with offensive talents. Derek Roy, Tyler Ennis, Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, and the offensive weapons for the Sabres will have their hands full in the Northeast Division this year with the reigning Stanley Cup Champions preparing their skates to defend that title. Ennis will be called upon to produce better than he did last season for the Sabres, as well as the hopes of Nathan Gerbe maturing and bettering his production.
With a restructured defense, Miller and company could make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference this season. Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr will provide veteran stability on the blue-line. They will not only keep the team competitive, but also help the growth of Tyler Myers and the young defensemen within the Buffalo system.
New ownership, new faces, but the same overall goal will help fuel the fire in helping this team’s quest for the Stanley Cup.
As quoted by Terry Pegulla himself on his inaugural press conference: “Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres’ reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup.”
Additions: Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr, Ville Leino, Ales Kotalik
Subtractions: Tim Connolly, Steve Montador, Chris Butler, Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer, Patrick Lalime
Fresh Faces from the Farm:
- Marc-Andre Gragnani played well last postseason and could play a role on the power play to start the year.
- Two big forwards to keep an eye on are Zack Kassian (2009 1st rounder) and Luke Adam (2008 2nd rounder).
X-Factor: Ville Leino
Leino is making some hefty money for only scoring 19 goals last season. Understanding his pay scaled is based off of projection, he will be a key factor on the offensive side of the puck in Buffalo.
Breakout: Mark-Andre Gragnani
Once he cracks this Sabres roster out of training camp, he will explode onto the point-scoring scene for D-men. Keep in mind he has put up very respectable numbers in his AHL time (206 points in 283 games)
On the Hot Seat: Brad Boyes
Simply put, Boyes needs to find the back of the net on a more consistent basis.
Bold Prediction: Thomas Vanek will score 45 goals.
The Final Word: Thanks to Pegula’s deep pockets, the Sabres have emerged as one of the Eastern Conference’s top contenders. This is a well-rounded team with depth. If Miller puts together a season like his one in 2009-10, look for them to give Boston a serious run in the Northeast Division.
RLD’s Buffalo related off-season posts:
July 1: Is Pegula spending money wisely? (Link)
July 20: How will Buffalo get under the salary cap? (Link)
July 26: Off-season Grades: Northeast Division (Link)
August 27: Who improved the most this off-season? (Link)
August 30: Is a surprise in store in Northeast Division? (Link)
Ryan Porth contributed to this post
Photo credit: Getty Images
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