Its late July and you can still taste it. No, not the refreshing taste of an ice cold beverage on a patio, but something bitter. Yeah that’s it. That bitter taste from last years first round playoff exit from the Northeast Division champions to the Boston Bruins, a team that blew a three games to none series lead in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. Questions of what could have been, all gone in a six game series loss to the rival Bruins. After a great regular season commencing with 45 wins and huge optimism, one thing yet again was proven. The Sabres just could not get it done when it counted, in the playoffs. They sealed their demise with special teams being the difference. They also didn’t get a couple of lucky bounces like the Bruins did in the series but that’s the way the hockey gods work.
So now its the off-season, which technically began on July 1, (but we all know that talks between free agents and teams always start before then, just never admitted) Darcy Regier had a chance to make a big splash with more than a few big name defensemen available, including his very own Henrik Tallinder. After Toni Lydman bolted Buffalo, Tallinder shortly followed. Apparently Darcy didn’t offer up the dollars to keep him in Buffalo, and he wouldn’t match New Jersey’s contract for him. Two staples on the blueline lost, however in all fairness to Regier, there were better options out there.
Now down to pretty much three defensemen, coupled with the addition of prospects, Regier had to do something. He went out and signed Jordan Leopold, to an three year nine million dollar deal. Leopold, who is 29, had his best year in 2003-2004 with the Calgary Flames. He was a part of a very good defensive core that year with the likes of Robyn Regher, who took the Flames to the Stanley Cup Final. More importantly, it was one of only two seasons in his career (the other one being 2008-2009 where he played 83 games between the Avalanche and Flames) where he played all eighty two regular season games. He also had career highs in points and plus minus (82 GP, 9G, 24A, 33P, +8). The thing that should worry Sabres fans the most though, is that he is prone to injury. You have to give Leopold full points for toughness, as he has gone through almost every type of injury and come back (hernia, groin, fractured wrist, hip ailment, lacerated leg, pneumonia, and most worrisome a history of concussions) If healthy, Leopold can almost match the production of losing both Tallinder and Lydman. He also has the potential to be the anchor that the Sabres are desperately looking for on their powerplay.
Another nice addition to this team is the veteran leadership of newly acquired center, Rob Niedermayer. I think this veteran presence in the locker room will benefit the Sabres especially in the playoffs. We can’t forget to mention that Niedermayer wins over 50% of the face-offs he takes. One last tidbit, maybe his brother Scott will get the itch to play again and want to play with Rob if things are going well in Buffalo in mid-season for one last playoff run together.
So far the Sabres have addressed a couple of needs, but something still lacks. They still don’t have a superstar game breaker. Argue if you want to about Thomas Vanek being that guy but you can probably name a bunch of other players you would like to have be “the go to guy” instead of Vanek. Up front they still lack some scoring punch and grit, something that Regier will have to go out and get. On the blueline they have a very sold core of veteran defenseman with Craig Rivet, Steve Montador (a teammate of Leopold in 2004) Jordan Leopold and of course the very talented Tyler Myers. You can factor Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera into that mix as well. Most importantly, they have an all world goaltender in Ryan Miller. The Sabres need to build great hockey teams around Miller before he wants out or waits to bolt if things are bad when he becomes a free agent in 2014. Goalies like Miller don’t come around Buffalo that often so the Sabres should be thinking about winning now and not later.
About the Author
Written by George Kouvalis
A huge fan of sports who loves to travel for major events. I've seen my fair share of major games and events including three Olympics, Wimbledon, The Masters etc.... Always up for a road trip or a drink to talk over sports or pro wrestling, in any city I am in or online. Favorite Teams: Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto FC, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Bulls, San Francisco 49ers, Toronto Argonauts, Manchester United, and of course the teams I blog for, the Texas Rangers and Buffalo Sabres. Follow me on twitter at the handle georgekouvalis