High Projections for the 2011-12 Sabres Have Begun, but Don’t get too Excited yet, Billy

Always the bridesmaid.

4 Superbowls, 2 appearances in the Stanley Cup Final – and 6 second best ribbons.

Prognosticators and the media haven’t been kind to Buffalo for quite a while, and who can blame them? Having an “internal cap” and “spending budget” never did scream “Cup or bust” here for the Sabres.

Still, now that Pegula and Regier have busted through the Cap ceiling – leading all NHL teams in salary – the hockey world has no choice but to at least raise an eyebrow. Bookies are salivating, ready for the bets to start pouring in from over-excited Buffalonians.

Um, it’s Billy Brown calling. l’d like to bet on the Super Bowl. On Buffalo. To win. Right.

-(Billy Brown on the phone with his bookie. From the script of “Buffalo 66.”)

Take a breath, folks. And please, take your bookies off speed-dial. Yea, the offseason has been a thrilling ride, but we haven’t ever won a dang thing when it mattered most, and we haven’t won a single game in the 2011-12 season.

High projections have started to come to print for the 2011-12 Sabres. The core of our Blue and Gold roster that barely squeaked into the playoffs last year is still here, but with the additions of Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino, expectations have vastly risen for next season.

Excited? You should be. We’re in uncharted ice, here.

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Those banners look awfully lonely up in the rafters - but there are some who are saying the HSBC might be adding another banner or two by the time the 2011-12 season is finished.

“The Hockey News” published their list of the “Top 10 Offseason Winners” recently. Though the offseason is not yet over (and certainly not over for the Sabres, who are already over the cap with Marc-Andre Gragnani and Jhonas Enroth yet to sign), Adam Proteau had this to say about how things have changed at the HSBC:

The Sabres received enough of a boost this past season when new team owner Terry Pegula assumed control of the organization. And Pegula put a lot of his money where his Sabres-loving mouth is this summer, ponying up for D-man Christian Ehrhoff, outbidding numerous teams for left winger Ville Leino and adding rugged blueliner Robyn Regehr from Calgary. If the Sabres don’t challenge Boston for the Northeast Division title, it won’t be because they don’t have the players.

Challenge the Bruins? The team that just won the Stanley Cup? Yep. Those Bruins.

The NE Division crown and the Stanley Cup are a long, long way off, and there is a lot of hockey to play before we can back up our bold new hopes, but at least we can enjoy some realistic dreams for once.

Then again…

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"Oh, and, Billy. lf Buffalo ever makes it back to the Super Bowl, bet against them."

We’re still Buffalo – that snake-bitten town that has never won a thing (apologies to the Bills of the AFL and our beloved Bandits). We’re all pretty excited to be bringing players in – very good players – but hopes are still tempered around the Queen City.

This past season, the Sabres went on a remarkable run to make the playoffs after Pegula took over on February 22nd. They posted a 16-4-4 record down the stretch, before running out of gas and Pegula magic in a hard fought first round series against the Flyers. It remains to be seen how much gas these new additions will bring to the squad, and if that Pegula magic still holds any lionizing power over the locker room.  This time, it’s a stretch of 82 games instead of just 24.

It’s still about surviving that long regular season, it’s still about making the playoffs – and then winning 16 of those extra and bloodiest games before anyone else does.

That’s a tall order.

That is a lot to hope for, and we’re all a little rusty on hope here in the Rust Belt.

But at least, for once, we can have some realistic hope. Even if we do keep our hopes a little quiet.

Go Sabres.

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