There's been a lot of grumbling in Sabretown. Granted, a trip from a President's Trophy-winning season to two consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs - without major free agency splashes - would reasonably cause even the most diehard of Sabres fans to wonder what in heck Regier is doing to earn his paycheck.
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At least, it seems reasonable.
What free agent moves are desired? What moves would fans like Regier to make? While it's hard to swallow that division opponent Montreal is moving aggressively to turn their team around from a dismal 100th anniversary season, fans shouldn't get trapped into the belief that the Sabres need to make a splash to stay competitive in the Northeast Division.
Let's look at the players stocking the top two lines for Buffalo - Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly, and an actor to be named (likely Clarke MacArthur or Jochen Hecht, though Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy will be challenging for roster spots in camp).
Out of these players, four have had point per game seasons (or seasons just shy of a point per game). Clarke MacArthur quietly had a strong rookie season, scoring 31 points in 71 contests, and there's no reason that the talented prospect shouldn't be expected to improve upon that this coming season.
Provided that the team can come to terms with RFA forward Drew Stafford, there's no reason to believe that the top two lines will need more than slight tweaking; certainly they won't warrant big-money free agency splashes.
With the scoring lines addressed, what else is there? We needn't even dwell on goaltending - Miller is a workhorse when healthy and only went down because of a collision with Scott Gomez last season; while Patty Lalime is a questionable backup, it's possible that Enroth (with a strong camp) could challenge for the position of Miller's backup. While a journeyman would be ideal, barring a long-term injury to Miller, the lack of a solid backup goalie shouldn't prove too problematic.
The real question marks are defense and depth lines.
As it stands, the defensemen vying for roster spots will be as follows:
While the Sabres are taking criticism for letting Spacek walk - who led all Sabres blueliners in points last season - this could be good for the organization, long term. There are a lot of young defensemen itching to make a jump to the NHL, and opening up a spot for the future of the organization to step in - while risky - could play out. Chris Butler, who has talent as a puck distributer, has already stated he wants to vie for a spot as the Sabres go-to quarterback on the powerplay. As a talented two way defenseman, he can only help bolster a Sabres blueline that was guilty of being sloppy in its own zone last season.
The other moves - the signing of Steve Montador and Joe DiPenta - were underrated, at best, by Sabres fans. Steve Montador is a blue-collar defenseman that can dish the rough stuff, play effectively in his own zone, and chip in offensively - Sabres fans may remember him for his tussles with Sabres captain Craig Rivet last season when Montador was with the Anaheim Ducks. Again, a move that can only improve an all-too-porous Sabres blueline - and Joe DiPenta, a hardworking depth player, has a great locker-room presence and an unyielding work-ethic.
This may be an opinion only I hold, but I've long thought that the Sabres bottom two lines just weren't big enough - and I'm glad to see Regier addressing that with the signing of Cody McCormick. The big Colorado forward should do well in filling out the Sabres bottom two lines. While signing a journeyman defensive forward like Rob Niedermayer would only serve to aid that move, I suspect that Sabres fans will have to be content with McCormick's signing.
So what's the fuss?
Sabres fans are rightfully ticked off at their team's average performance these last two seasons - but it isn't time to sound the alarm yet and start revamping the team altogether. The Sabres have a solid core of talented forwards, good defensive prospects, elite goaltending, and have made moves to bolster their defensive consistency (inability to hold a lead has arguably been their Achilles' Heel since the 2006-2007 season).
Should fans be worried? Yes. Two seasons missing the playoffs is certainly cause for worry.
But Buffalo has a gifted team, and it's not time to give up on them yet.
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