Don Cherry is loud.
And his suits are louder.
Most hockey fans these days think of “Grapes” for his brash commentary in “Coach’s Corner” between periods during “Hockey Night in Canada,” and for his unique… style.
Many young fans do not know that Cherry was once a coach in Boston, and holds onto a very precious coaching record – one that may never be broken. In the 1977–78 season, Cherry got 11 of his Bruins players to net 20 goals or more.
Talk about rolling the lines.
Rolling the lines is something Lindy Ruff loves to do, and the emergence of players such as Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe, along with the addition of Ville Leino, should give him plenty of scoring lines to juggle. How many players of the Blue and Gold could score 20 or more this season? Is it possible for the 2011-12 Sabres to challenge Cherry’s record, 34 years after it was set in stone?
For the record, the answer to this question, every season, is “no,” but it is always fun to count how many of our boys that could reach Number Twenty. Remember, despite only posting four 20 goal scorers last season, the Sabres scored an Eastern Conference 4th-best 245 goals (only 1 behind Boston’s 246, 2 behind Tampa’s 247, a big ol’ 14 behind Philly). This season Buffalo’s young guns and depth of scoring should only improve.
Let’s see if we can put “Grapes” on notice. Here’s our candidates for 20 goals in 2011-12:
1. Thomas Vanek – TV has never scored less than 25 goals in a season in his entire career. Moving on.
2. Drew Stafford – after a breakout campaign that saw him terrorize the NHL (actually, mainly the Bruins) with 31 goals in only 62 games, it would be shocking if Stafford failed to reach at least 20 this season.
3. Jason Pominville – While he hasn’t hit 30 goals since the 2006-07 season, he also hasn’t failed to hit 20 in a season since. A lingering tendon injury may slow him down in the pre-season, but don’t expect one of the Sabres’ most consistent scorers to fail to reach the 20 goal plateau for his 6th consecutive season.
4. Tyler Ennis – Besides Vanek, Stafford, and Pommers, this offensive dynamo was the 4th member of the 20 goal club last season – his rookie season the NHL. The 2009-10 AHL rookie of the year, Ennis made his transition to the NHL seamlessly. Defenses and statisticians will be watching out for this guy for years to come.
5. Nathan Gerbe – After a slow start, the former AHL rookie of the year of 2008-09 finally managed to break out of a transitionary slump to the NHL, registering 16 goals in 64 contests this past season.
6. Derek Roy – With only 10 goals to his name last year in a season cut very short by injury (35 games), Roy only needs to stay healthy to hit 20. He hadn’t otherwise failed the marker since the 2005-06 campaign.
7. Brad Boyes – a lack of depth at center could spell doom for our 7th selection on this list, as his goal scoring for the Blue and Gold plummeted after he was shifted from wing to center in the 2011 playoffs. If Lindy Ruff can keep him on the wing, 20 goals is certainly achieveable with enough ice time and time on the power play.
8. Ville Leino – the ultimate wildcard, Leino enters the 2011-12 lineup as not only a guy who can score 20 goals, but can help every other player before him on this list reach the same. The Sabres have a lot riding on this guy.
It’s time to be frank. Those are the only real candidates currently on the roster that should hit 20 this season, but there are a few more darkhorses:
1. Luke Adam – The AHL rookie of the year for the 2010-11 season scored 3 times in 19 games with the big club last year. Adam must first earn a roster spot with the Sabres in training camp and the pre-season, but if he makes it, he’ll be throwing a lot of pucks at the net. From there, he’ll have to storm out of the gate more like Ennis and less like Gerbe did as rookies – otherwise it’s unlikely he’ll earn enough ice time to hit the back of the net 20 times.
2. Jochen Hecht – the center/left winger from Mannheim, West Germany, has hovered around the 20 goal mark for most of his career. Hecht has only hit 20 goals twice – albeit recently – in the 2007-08 (22 goals) and 2009-10 (21 goals) seasons. He was able to put in 12 goals in 67 games last season. Anything from 10-20 is possible with this guy.
3. Tyler Myers – 11 goals as a rookie, and then 10 as a sophomore – the sky is the limit for Myers. The addition of veteran blueliners Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff will only make him better, but reaching 20 goals is still a reach.
4. Christian Ehrhoff – the Buffalo power play is going to live and die on the heels of its new quarterback. Ehrhoff should help the Sabres’ special teams flourish, a point that made it tempting to keep him out of the “darkhorse” category. However, with 14 goals in 2009-10 and 2010-11 – with a very strong Vancouver team – it’s hard to see him scoring any more than that in Buffalo.
It looks like Grapes won’t be sweating over Buffalo taking his precious record this season.
Still, we’ve just listed 12 players here that are going to be serious scoring threats in the upcoming season – and we didn’t even consider a re-emergence of Patrick Kaleta, or an unlikely full NHL season for Zack Kassian. What this fun little list really shows us is the dangerous scoring depth that the Sabres have for the upcoming year.
4th in scoring in the East last year, and oh-so-close to 2nd? It’s not so dumb to imagine the Sabres challenging for the top scoring spot in the East this time around.
Stay healthy, boys. We’re in for a wild time.