This should be the word trending in Buffalo this coming NHL season and it already has been a little. Savvy Sabres fans have either recognized the moves by Murray as mindset changers or at least they are trusting what the GM is saying. Whatever your position is on the moves made this offseason, this season has a different feel to it. No question.
The real question, however, has been floating around constantly in the past week and a half. Have the moves made the Sabres too good for the race for last. I, like a lot of fans in Buffalo, tossed my cards in early and just decided to accept defeat for one more season, hoping for only a little improvement. However, we have different factors this year that we weren't expecting and I think the moves have skewed fans' projections for this year. Some say the moves put us out of the McEichel race, some say the moves don't affect us. There is no way to predict the future so all we can do is speculate. And let's face, that's about all there is to do in July aside from Barbecues and Margaritas. So, without the use of analytics, let's get to it.
Brian Gionta - My favorite acquisition this offseason. No need to beat a dead horse. Captain. WNY native. Leadership. Great qualities one after another. But the Sabres need to score goals and while Gionta's career shows that he is a great goal scorer, he's 35 years old. Some are predicting 15-20 goals for him this season and I think that's about right. This will be improvement on the stats sheet. But I don't believe it will be enough to translate into 8 more wins. Aka the amount of wins it would take to tie the Panthers and Oilers for least wins in a season (going by last year's stats).
Josh Gorges - I can't tell if I like this more than the Moulson signing but either way it was a great deal. A heart and soul guy is added to a team that needs that mentality. But Gorges does not bring offensive production. So he does not resolve our goal scoring problem.
Matt Moulson - I love that he's back and that we were number one on his list. He reminds me of Patrick Sharp in the way that Sharp was on the Hawks when they were garbage and remained on the team. He might be glad nowadays that he didn't ask for a trade. As for offensive production, Moulson was on the team last year and at best I think he cracks 30 goals this season. Not tremendous improvement.
Andrej Meszaros - Please stop with the Sekera comparisons just because they are both defenseman from Slovakia. This was a slick move by Murray as he was able to get an offensively talented defenseman to replace McBain (there's a joke in there) and he was able to sign him to a lucrative one year contract. This is an interesting player because he could very well inject some offense. Albeit at the rate of just about any old more-than-decent offensive defenseman.
With the four big signings mentioned above, can we really come to the conclusion that now we are too good to finish at the bottom? Keep in mind that the Sabres would need to score 39 more goals and earn 14 more points in the standings this coming season just to tie Florida for worst in the league in those categories. Plus we do not have Ryan Miller and I believe that the Miller who was vying for a starting position for the Olympics is a better goaltender than Neuroth. The conclusion to be made from these signings is this: in terms of stats, these four players don't make up a lot of points for the Sabres. Going by their projected stats alone, all they really do is make the race for last a little bit closer than it was last season (I mean the Sabres were just excruciating last season). But there is an X factor.
All of this talk of changing the attitude in the dressing room might actually have a profound impact on points this season. But they will come from the players already here. It has been seldom talked about but with the Sabres having a different attitude than last season, players like Ennis, Myers, Hodgson, and Foligno could see huge increases in production. And while this potential improvement would remove us from the hunt for last place, would it be such a bad thing for these players to finally start showing some real production? I would welcome it. This season will be about balance and I either want to see a full tank or see these players show real improvements. Let's not forget that Stafford is in a contract year (D-Bag). You have Stewart to factor in. And, oh yeah, I almost forgot that there are a lot of great young talent on this team that could include Reinhart this season.
It's brutal honestly. I want to finish last so bad and I want to see the bubble Sabres players do well so bad. I know we have the talent coming up through the ranks but if Ennis, Hodgson (on the wing!!!!), Myers, and Foligno ramp up their production, this team could be in an even better position in the next couple of years and longer. But I want a shot at McEichel. Good lord...
Attitude is the word. Will it affect the bubble players to increase their production? Will it guide the young youngsters to play with confidence and contribute on top of setting the standards for conducting oneself like a pro? Only time will tell.