5 Ways The Sabres Season Could Be Ruined – Or Can It Be?

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Well the regular NHL season is nearly upon us. In one short week the Sabres faceoff against the Ducks in Helsinki, Finland. The story of the season is a blank slate to be written on, a fresh layer of powdery snow to by skied upon, a clean ice surface to be skated upon. All the possibilities lay before us as we ponder with wonder like a kid on Christmas Eve – could this be the year we get that most special gift of all? Could this be the year the Sabres pull it off and bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to Buffalo?

Of course, we have every reason to be positive. Every Sabres writer has gone off ad infinitum about the magic that Terry Pegula has brought to the city. Indeed anything is truly possible: the Sabres have long had grit, great coaching, a great goalie and pretty good scoring. The only thing missing lately (on paper at least) has been a great defense, and they seem to have corrected that by adding Regehr and Ehrhoff.

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We're believing now. But should we temper expectations just a little bit?

So we seem to be primed for a great season and a run at the Cup. Or are we? There are many question marks and nothing is written in stone for this team. So here are some what-if’s – some of them a little scary, but don’t worry, as I’m wearing my lucky anti-Sabres-jinx underwear.

1. What if “Big Ville Style” doesn’t pan out as a center?

Leino may just fit the bill and be that #2 center we were looking for. But if he’s a bust, I think the Sabres are still ok. He’s looked good moving the puck around on the 2nd line with Ennis and Stafford and should always be capable of creating scoring chances. Pitching in defensively and on faceoffs is the issue. With the improved defense, even if Ville is a complete flop, we should still be ok. Also, it’s not like the Sabres have been great at faceoffs previously and they’ve been just fine. When they need a good draw in their own zone, that’s when it’s time for the Gaustad line.

Verdict? We’ll be ok.

2. Miller gets hurt

This is one that probably no one wants to even think about, but it had to be brought up because it’s potentially the biggest hurting that could happen to the Sabres. Ryan Miller not playing up to form we’ve already seen (see last year) and that ain’t even all that bad. But if he has a serious injury (*knocking on wood and throwing salt over my shoulder while I type that*) can the Sabres still compete and have a deep playoff run?

Compete – yes, I don’t think that’s a problem at all. We all saw how well young Jhonas Enroth handled himself down the stretch run last year. He’s got the skills to pay the bills to hold the fort down while Miller recuperates. They should still be able to reel off wins with the improved defense.

Now could the Sabres make a DEEP playoff run if Miller is out indefinitely or towards the end of the season? As is usually the case with a goalie in the playoffs, you never quite know until he’s battle-tested. Enroth seems to have the confidence, and I think he’d perform rather well, but maybe the stakes or pressure would get to him. And despite my faith in him during the regular season, I’m a little bit sketched out thinking about having him between the pipes in the playoffs.

Verdict? We’ll be ok (mostly).

3. A big injury in the top line: Roy/Vanek/Pommers gets hurt indefinitely

Again, not something we want to really think about, but think about it we must. (Ok, we don’t HAVE to, but hear me out!) The Sabres were already without Roy for the bulk of last year and they still finished 4th in the Eastern Conference in scoring – and they were only 2 points behind 2nd place Tampa Bay. With the improvements elsewhere this should be even less of an issue than it was last year.

Again, I’m thinking of every anti-jinx I can to prevent this from happening, including leaving offerings for Jobu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I know what Vanek brings to the team: a threat to score from anywhere, a hard-nosed mentality, a much-improved game defensively, plus the leadership. However, with the depth at wing and the dearth of centers, I think Roy would be the greater loss to the team – and they got over it last year.

Throw in some optimistic improvements in Boyes’ game plus the bonus in scoring on D from Ehrhoff and the Sabres would still be ok.

Verdict? We’ll be ok.

4. The young core doesn’t perform like they did down the stretch of the 2010-2011 season

Gerbe, Ennis, McCormick, heck let’s even throw Stafford in there as he’s only 25 – these guys were a vital part of the Sabres amazing run to amass points and make the playoffs last year. Now, I don’t THINK it was a fluke, but what if they can’t recapture the magic they had? What if they outright suck?

You could say Stafford got lucky with all those goals he scored as part of hat tricks – what if those quit coming? Ennis pitched in with 20 goals and 29 assists but it could be argued that many of those were flukey. Gerbe worked hard and got lucky on several of his goals, including the wicked no-look backhand turnaround shot – what if his luck doesn’t continue into this season?

This is one that I have a really hard time with thinking could happen, but I had to play devil’s advocate. Sure, these guys might take a small step back, but not all of them and not a whole bunch. They’re skilled and they should improve. You know Gerbe and Ennis are going to work hard, that’s just how they play. Stafford might not crack the 30-goal mark again, but he should be close and he’ll be a valuable weapon.

Verdict? Not likely – we’ll be ok.

5. The Defense doesn’t gel/is porous/has a rash of injuries

As for gelling together as a unit, Lindy Ruff is one of the best coaches the Sabres have had – we should give thanks to the hockey gods before each and every game for allowing Lindy to be in Buffalo all these years. Just look at what he’s done with previous teams and compare the squad we have now to them. He should be able to get the most out of these guys. Besides, they’re mostly mature professionals. Ehrhoff and Regehr will get on anyone who’s not pulling their weight. Tyler Myers showed that he’s not going to slack off, and I don’t think Mike Weber will either. Leopold and Morrison are pretty seasoned and don’t seem to be the types to take shifts off. That leaves the possibility of Sekera and Gragani being slouches – but even if that happens, we’re talking about the 6th defenseman on the ice. I’m not worried about them not gelling.

Could they be as porous as a sponge? Obviously they’re improved (duh) and the young guys have learned a bit more. Sekera, Gragnani and Weber might get off to a slow start, but aside from Sekera I’m not worried. Grags and Weber showed tenacity and smarts, although Gragani’s sample size is pretty small. Actually, I’m not the biggest Myers fan in the world and I think he can improve quite a bit defensively. However, as a whole, they’re going to be at least decent and steadily improving throughout the year.

Now if they have a rash of injuries, there may not be much we can do, much like the 2006-2007 playoffs. I guess this is too vague or a weird possibility but they’re so deep that unless there’s a crazy statistical oddity to the point where we think the Sabres are cursed, then this shouldn’t be much of an issue.

Verdict? We’ll be ok.

 

Wow that was a lot, and much than I thought it’d be going in. If you’re still here reading this, you deserve a cookie.

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QUICK! Eat that ugly thing before the season starts - We must destroy all remnants of the slug logo to rid any bad juju this post might have caused.

In the long run, I think the Sabres can even manage having 2, maybe even 3 of these things happening at the same time – just so long as they don’t happen in the playoffs. If nothing else, perhaps thinking about these possibilities  will temper our expectations and allow us to just enjoy the season – whatever  may unfold. After all, hardly anything goes according to plan.

Anything that was missed? Could the Sabres really somehow miss the playoffs? Should we not even dare to think about things like this? Should I really end this post with a question?

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