Buffalo Sabres fans, brace yourself. It is going to be a bumpy ride this season in the passionate hockey market that is Buffalo. This Sabres team turned in a horrible effort during the 2012-2013 season and they fired their longest tenured head coach Lindy Ruff. Their new head coach Ron Rolston wasn't the best choice in my opinion but many of the decisions Buffalo management has made in the past four or five years have been questionable. There has been little done this off season by Buffalo management but we will take a look at what is there and give you a taste of the train wreck which is the Buffalo Sabres.
On offense the Sabres will return the likes of elite player Thomas Vanek. I've never been a Vanek believer but he sure has proved me wrong especially the last three seasons. Vanek led his team in points and goals last season with 20 goals and 41 points. He had a 73 point effort in 2010 and turned in 61 points in 2011. Vanek is in the last year of his contract with Buffalo and if the rebuilding phase is truly going to happen they need to move this guy. Vanek is costing the team over $6 million this season and over $7 million next year. Joining Vanek on the top line is underachieving veteran Ville Leino who is enjoying a fat cat salary without doing much to deserve it. Leino cashed in on his 53 points season in 2010-2011 with the Flyers and inked a six year contract worth $27 million dollars with the Sabres. The Leino contract is laughable. The guy had 25 points in 2011 and played in just eight games last season. It is a travesty that Buffalo management did not buy Leino out during the off season. No one is going to want to trade for this guy. I'm sorry Buffalo fans but you're going to have to wait another year with Leino as the top right wing before Buffalo comes to their senses. Another highly paid underachieving forward is Drew Stafford who had just 18 points last season. The right winger is getting paid about $4 million a year and hardly deserving it. Moving Stafford this season is possible and they should probably do that in order to build for the future. Centering the second line is veteran and physical force Steve Ott. The Sabres will need his leadership throughout what will be a tough season. Ott had 24 points and 93 penalty minutes in 48 games last season. The real meat of this team is their young guys such as Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, and Mikhail Grigorenko. Of the three, Hodgson is the most proven commodity and will be anchoring the first line playing center. Hodgson had 34 points over 48 games and I like the way he plays. He needs to improve defensively this season in order to take the next step. Tyler Ennis got moved to left wing last season and will probably stay there. He had 31 points last season and will only improve this year. Grigorenko is the most unproven of the bunch. He was selected as 12th overall in 2012 draft. He had just five points in 25 games but he is only 19 years old. There is a lot potential there for Grigorenko and hopefully this season he can start to reach it. The Sabres offense is not going to be good this season. They were ranked 22nd in scoring last year and they will probably not improve this season. That will be especially true if the Sabres can manage to dump some of their veterans.
Defensively the Sabres are terrible. They ranked 22nd in goals against last season and that might get worse this year if the Sabres play the young players in their organization. Tyler Myers has remained a mystery to the NHL world after winning the Calder Trophy in 2009-2010, he has regressed heavily. He had just 8 points in 39 games last season. Myers is earning $5.5 a year and is signed through the 2019 season. It might be time for the Sabres to cut the rip cord and trade Myers for some draft picks. Myers will likely be paired with veteran Christian Ehrhoff who had 22 goals in 47 games last season. Ehrhoff led the team in ice time last year and he is defensively their best option. The Sabres also have Henrik Tallinder and Jamie McBain, two uninspiring blueliners. The Sabres should give their youth some experience this season and opt for them over the veterans but we will see if that actually happens.
Goaltending has always been solid for the Sabres. Ryan Miller had a rough season last year but playing with a horrible defense in front of him didn't help. Miller went 17-17-5 with a 2.81 GAA in 2013. He did not have a single shut out. Miller is in his last year of his contract and the Sabres need to get something for him. They need to move Miller and rely on the 25 year old Swdish netminder Jhonas Enroth who seemed capable during his 12 starts in 2013. Enroth had a 4-4-1 record with a 2.60 GAA and a shutout. The Sabres also acquired prospect Matt Hackett from Minnesota last season when they traded Jason Pominville. Hackett was called up 12 times in Minnesota and had a respectable 2.37 GAA and .922 SV% in those games. He will get a chance to make the big club permanently if Miller is dealt. Goaltending is probably the best of the three categories for the Sabres.
The Sabres are not going to have a good year this season but it's something that most hockey clubs will go through from time to time. They are in rebuilding mode right now and if they do it right the Sabres can certainly be successful in the future. I would be leery of Buffalo management actually going about it the right way though. They seem like they are quick to take shortcuts and they should be on the long road now. While the Sabres play on the ice will not be appealing, watching what they do to further their rebuilding cause will be interesting. They need to move their veterans including Vanek and Miller during the season in order to quicken up their rebuilding process. We expect the Sabres to finish near the bottom of the league again this season.
Odds to win Stanley Cup: 100/1