The 40th season of Sabres hockey in Buffalo kicks off this fall and already the Sabres and their fans cannot wait. By the first week of October the Bills will all but be eliminated from post season contention in the NFL, thus the sports landscape in Buffalo will shift to the Sabres, and deservedly so.
Last year the Sabres came off yet another Division Title but suffered another Buffalo-esque post season exit from the playoffs by losing in five games to the Bruins in the first round. Special teams were the difference in that series and the Sabres have tried to solve this problem in the off season, with some success. The 2010-2011 season will not be measured simply by a playoff appearance, but by at least winning one playoff round this year. At least that’s what Sabres fans hope for. Realistically it looks as is Buffalo will be in tough to even make the post season in some peoples eyes. This is due to the fact that the Eastern Conference will be the closest its ever been in quite a while, with 9-10 teams having the potential to make it into the post season. The Sabres and Bruins will be fighting it out for top spot in the division, but with all the other good teams in the Eastern Conference you will have to win your division to guarantee a spot in the playoffs. Now, let’s take a look at the team this year
FORWARDS: (Potential lines)
VANEK- ROY- HECHT
POMINVILLE- CONNELLY -STAFFORD
KALETA- GAUSTAD- GRIER
ENNIS- NIEDERMAYER- GERBE
The Sabres seemed crippled offensively at times last season. Not one Sabre even cracked the 30 goal plateau, which is pretty amazing seeing their success in winning the division. Not that I am against scoring by committee but to be successful in the NHL you need a game breaker or two that can score when needed.
The season will ride with how far the play of Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford go. Vanek has to live up to his $7 million a year contract, anything less than a 40 goal campaign for a guy getting this kind of coin is living down to a deal. Vanek is a guy that can score 50 goals if motivated enough to play every night. There seem to be more than a few nights in the year where he looks to be “going through the motions” so to speak instead of playing his game. Vanek is very skilled player but this needs to be his year to break out to a 50 goal guy.
Drew Stafford is in a different boat, he needs to prove that he is indeed a top six forward in this league. With all the hype in coming to the Sabres, Stafford hasn’t become the player they expected. He is a good skater, has soft hands and has a great offensive hockey sense. After coming off a horrendous 09-10 season (71GP, 14G, 34PTS) Stafford will be expected to at least double his goal output to even be considered in the top six forward category.
Finally up front. Expect another 75-90 point year for Derek Roy if the goal scoring can come thru. Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville will need to pick up some of that scoring as well this season. Pominville just cannot seem to get back to that player he was a few years ago and he needs to do so. The health of Tim Connelly is another issue. When he is healthy he can be a great playmaker and even anchor some of the powerplay. The potential checking line of Mike Grier, Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta will be one of the better shut down lines in the league. Rob Niedermayer between Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe will allow for their defensive games to develop. Finally, look out for Zack Kassian to have a run at making this team as the 13th forward. Kassian turned heads at the prospects camp and will look to the same at the main camp. He is a tough customer and loves to throw the body. Combine this with a knack to score goals and he could become a fan favourite in Buffalo.
DEFENSE: (Potential Pairings)
MYERS – MONTADOR
LEOPOLD – RIVET
SEKERA – MORRISONN
In my view the addition of Jordan Leopold, Shaone Morrisonn were big ones in the off season. I like what these two guys bring defensively and in Leopold’s case offensively as well. Leopold will play with Myers on the point on the Powerplay and Morrisonn adds some extra toughness to the blue line. If Tyler Myers can repeat his Calder Trophy performance this season he will be an even bigger force than last year. Steve Montador has the experience of playing with Myers that will allow for Myers to play his game. Look for a breakout year offensively from Andrej Sekera.
Ryan Miller is one of the best goalies on the planet, plain and simple. Miller gives this team a chance to win every night despite how good or how bad the team in front of him is playing. Unless he falls to injury, or fatigue from playing 65-70 games this season, look for Miller to have another potential Vezina winning season. His backup, Patrick Lalime is still hanging around and will be a suitable replacement for Miller when he needs a night off. Jhonas Enroth will try to unseat Lalime as the backup this year, but the Sabres seem to love Lalime so it may not happen.
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