Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 3 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Buffalo Sabres Preview.
Please resort to myhockeybuzz page for previews of teams falling before this team.
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What a roller coaster year Buffalo Sabres faithful endured this last season. It all started with a lot of hype heading into the year with Ryan Miller once again ready for another great season. However this was overshadowed with a problem the franchise was facing regarding ownership. Nothing can break a team down like an ownership group that is looking to rid themselves of their franchise. Just simply looking at the Tampa Bay Lightning and how they were totally destroyed soon after winning the cup in 2004 shows what an ownership turmoil can do to any given team. Lightning fans were on top of the world before losing Khabibulin, Boyle, Richards and many, many more of their fan favourites before the team finally found a stable ownership with Jeff Vinik just last year.
The Sabres have spent numerous years being a low profile NHL team that implements their own salary cap based on their owners request. However, long reigning coach Lindy Ruff has been able to put together a great team year in and year out. However, no matter how many playoff appearances they can achieve, nothing can anger a fanbase more than losing star players year after year. Buffalo just could not afford to keep their stars because of this ownership group lead by Tom Golisano. Drury, Briere, Campbell and many others were lost to free agency over the years.
However, on the 2nd day of the 2nd month this year, Buffalo Sabres franchise was sold. Total rights of the franchise were turned over from Golisano to Pennsylvania businessman Terry Pegula, a name that has become very well known all over Buffalo today. Pegula, a lifetime fan of the franchise was excited to take over and let it be known to Sabres management that they have full permission to spend up to the salary cap ceiling. This was shown instantly at the trade deadline when Sabres GM Darcy Regier went out and acquired $4 million scoring forward Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues.
Buffalo was able to squeeze into the playoffs as the 7th seed and matched up to take on the Philadelphia Flyers. Using an average offense, and a great defense lead by towering Tyler Myers, the Sabres pushed the previously crowned Eastern Conference Champions to their limit. The series went to game 7 before Philadelphia took home the series and won it in front of Flyers faithful at the Wells Fargo Center. The 2011 Buffalo Sabres season was now over. However, the Terry Pegula era has officially begun.
Major Players Added:
Like stated above, Terry Pegula took over the ownership in full force and GM Darcy Regier’s time to shine was now. It is no longer a time where the Sabres lose their stars on July 1st when free agency kicks in. Nor is it a time where the Sabres are one of the lowest spending teams in the NHL. This season starts an era of Buffalo Sabres hockey fans will be sure to enjoy as much as, if not more then the time of the “French Connection” and the time of Dominik Hasek.
Robyn Regehr: On the second day of the NHL draft, the Sabres took advantage of the high salary Flames team and made a deal to acquire defensive defenseman Robyn Regehr. They sent over Chris Butler and prospect Paul Byron to Calgary in exchange for Robyn Regehr, former Sabre Ales Kotalik, and a 2nd round draft pick. Regehr is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL and has played a sound physical defensive game in Calgary since he started his career in 2000. He and Tyler Myers could really be a match made in heaven. Sabres fans have every reason to be excited for Robyn. On the other side, Robyn who wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause until Pegula convinced him to, is all but sold and excited to be a part of this newly build Sabres team.
Christian Ehrhoff: Regier made his next big move before July 1st even struck. After the Islanders traded for the rights of Ehrhoff from the Canucks shortly after Vancouver’s Stanley Cup run, Islanders GM Garth Snow set a deadline to sign Christian, but was unable to do so. Therefore, he shipped over the rights to Christian Ehrhoff to the Sabres who were looking to make a splash in the short 2 days time they had to sign him. Well, a hair over 48 hours is all Regier and Pegula needed to convince Ehrhoff that Buffalo was the place he will call home for the next decade. The Sabres and Christian agreed upon a monster 10 year deal worth $40 million US. with an annual cap hit of $4 million, his salary comes at a respectable amount for the 29 year old defenseman who has shown his brilliant play in Vancouver scoring 44 and 50 points during his two year Vancouver tenure. However, this front loaded contract will see Ehrhoff earn $18 million in the first 2 years of the contract, and $22 million spread upon the final 8 years. Clearly enough to convince him to spend his career, and possibly life in Buffalo.
Ville Leino: leading up to Canada day, Sabres faithful saw their team make a splash and restructure their defensive corpse giving them depth to build around franchise defenseman Tyler Myers. However, on July 1st Pegula and Regier together were able to bring in a big offensive piece to Buffalo to join the newly built team. Although coming at a hefty cost, Leino has shown in Philadelphia that he can be counted on to score goals and set up many as well. Given a limited role in Philadelphia, Ville will see his ice-time, as well as his production on the rise in Buffalo. While many will question his 6 year $27 million deal ($4.5 million average) now, in the upcoming years Leino will have every opportunity to prove that he is worth the money, and will become a fan favourite in Buffalo in no time!
The Others: Ales Kotalik, the other piece in the Regehr trade was acquired by the Sabres as a salary throw-in by Calgary looking to clear cap space. Judging by the fact that he has yet to officially choose a sweater number back on his former team, Kotalik looks like he may fall victim to being buried with his $3 million cap hit in the AHL to clear cap space for the Sabres who are now over the cap by a few million dollars. Paul Szczechura was recently signed out of Tampa Bay as a move to add depth to the Sabres lineup.
Who Was Lost:
Tim Connolly signed on with the Toronto Maple Leafs for 2 years worth $9.5 million
Marc Mancari signed on with the Vancouver Canucks for 1 year worth 525k
Steve Montador signed on with the Chicago Blackhawks for 4 years worth $11 million
Patrick Lalime announced his retirement from the National Hockey League
Rob Niedermayer signed on with HC Lugano in Switzerland
Mike Grier is currently an Unrestricted Free Agent
Just seeing the additions the Sabres made to an already built playoff team excites the everyday Sabres fan. However what really makes it better is trying to put together the line combinations of this team without feeling like your giving a great player a role that doesn’t fit him. Sabres have as much as 8 possible players that can fill a top 6 role, with many prospects lead by Windsor Spitfire star Zack Kassian looking to make a splash at training camp. It has been a while since Sabres fans have been this excited heading into a season, however, this year Buffalo will be atop all the NHL sites and will be given a lot of press time. With Vanek showing flashes of great leadership last year, its safe to say that he could very well be the next named captain of this team to kick-off the Pegula era. However, Pominville, Stafford, and even Myers are also possibilities and could very well each make a case for their own as well. Sabres do face some cap problems at the moment. However these problems are different then every other year. Usually facing the problem of reaching the cap floor, this year the Sabres are currently over the cap ceiling by $3+ million and must shed salary before the season begins. And as stated above, Ales Kotalik may fall victim to the salary cap and could possibly be starting his season with the minor league Rochester Americans of the AHL.
The defense the Sabres are heading into 2012 with is a lineup that one should avoid as much as possible. With 21 year old franchise cornerstone Tyler Myers only getting better and building off of his Calder trophy win just two years ago, he will have a lot more help this year then he has in years past. Jordan Leopold and Myers will round out a top 4 that will also include newly acquired Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr. However, the Sabres facing a logjam on the blue line as well have Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani, fighting for the final 2 spots. Shaone Morrisonn seems like the projected odd-man out who will face the same problem that Kotalik faces. With or without Morrisonn, Sabres will head into this training camp with a far better group to man the blue line then they have in a long, long time.
In goal, Buffalo is set for the present and for the future. Starting goaltender in Buffalo is none other than American hero Ryan Miller. Currently entering his third year of a 5-year deal, Miller can be one of the games best goalies on any night, and is as stable as they get in the crease. He will be holding that starter job in Buffalo for the foreseeable future at least. Backing him up no longer is veteran Patrick Lalime. This year Jonas Enroth will finally be given his well deserved spot as the full backup of the Sabres starter Ryan Miller. signed on for the upcoming season, Jonas can take a lot of pressure off Miller and is good for 20-25 games leading into the postseason. Sabres faithful will not have to worry about the man in the blue paint for a long time.
Deen’s Projected Lineup:
Thomas Vanek - Derek Roy - Drew Stafford
Tyler Ennis - Ville Leino - Jason Pominville
Nathan Gerbe - Paul Gaustad - Brad Boyes
Jochan Hecht - Cody McCormick - Patrick Kaleta
Tyler Myers - Robyn Regehr
Christian Ehrhoff - Jordan Leopold
Andrej Sekera - Marc-Andre Gragnani
Sabres will head into the postseason in a tight battle with the Philadelphia Flyers for 4th in the East. The battle for home ice advantage will be won by the Flyers. However, this will set up the first round rematch of the 4th seeded Flyers against the 5th seeded Sabres. Last year, Buffalo took the Flyers to game 7 and this year they will do the same. Once again, the Flyers will prevail and the Sabres will walk back home empty handed after round 1. However, in the coming years the Sabres will be a force to reckon with. Expect Thomas Vanek to eclipse the point-per-game average, and prove to the Sabres he is the leader of this franchise.
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