Oh the drama that was the Summer of 2013.
We said our goodbyes to Ryan Miller on the final game of last season (and Thomas Vanek), and continued to say goodbye to him (and Thomas Vanek) when he sold his townhouse, before the draft, after the draft, and are now preparing ourselves to say goodbye to him again (and Thomas Vanek) when this now incredibly young Sabres team is failing to find ground in the playoff race come the trade deadline.
You know you’ll miss his “Arrrgh I just hit the post” face. Or not. More on that down below.
And hey, we even tried to trade Drew Stafford, but that fell through, so… here we go again with another potential 30 goal season from that on again off mostly sniper. So our drama with him continues. Should be awesome. PROTIP: Go to the net, Drew.
Also, I was lucky enough to get the invite and find the time in my recent busy busy schedule to head down to the FNC to meet up with Craig Kanalley and a host of other fine Sabres bloggers for this year’s summit. A little more on that later. First, let’s talk expectations for 2013.
Spoiler alert: we’re going to be very, very good this year.
Barring catastrophic injuries to some fundamental positions, the Buffalo Sabres are poised this year to challenge for the North East Division and for the Stanley Cup. They are seasoned, mature, in their prime, know what it takes to win and know what causes them to lose in the playoffs.
So far, they are healthy, and in Europe to start one of the most anticipated seasons in memory. As John Tortorella kindly pointed out for The Hockey News in their season preview, the last three Cup winners started their seasons overseas. It’s no guarantee by any means, but I don’t mind piling on yet another portent of good things to come for our boys in Blue and Gold.
This season preview is joining a hoard of similar previews already published, so we’ll keep it short and to the point here.
Readers of BSN should be familiar with the Sabres’ “picket fence defence,” as talked about in length here earlier this year. The brunt of this season preview is actually in that previous, and quite comprehensive post, so give it a click. It’s a fun read, too.
To quickly paraphrase that post: the Sabres’ defense was too young to help carry this team through the playoffs last year. Despite a strong 16-4-4 finish, the lack of true veterans along the blueline was an Achilles’ heel that the team could not overcome (see Chris Butler: getting burned behind the net at the worst possible times against Philly).
Well, gone is Chris Butler, and in are Christian Ehrhoff (winner of the almighty Canucks’ Best Defenseman of the Year award for the past two seasons) and Robyn Regehr (arguably Calgary’s best defender, and rigid backbone of the Flames aside Jarome Iginla). Landing these two defenders was huge.
Of course, landing a bonafide #1 center was the #1 wish of Sabres fans in the offseason – but as we wrote here before, the Sabres were already ranked 4th in the East in goals for last season, and that was without Derek Roy. Ville Leino will make anyone he lines up with better. The young core in the Queen City, including the likes of Tyler Ennis (who scored 20 goals as a rookie, which is a pretty big deal in the NHL), Nathan Gerbe, and Luke Adam will continue to blossom. The Sabres may have wanted Brad Richards, but they never needed him in order for Lindy Ruff to roll scoring lines with the players already here.
Truthfully, it was our defense needed help, and folks, Pegula and Regier not only helped to bolster that blue line, but they created something so fearsome that it is now one of the best in the NHL. Forget those afraid to prognosticate the obvious and stop at saying “they look good ‘on paper.'” We’ve seen enough of the preseason to know that this group is for real, that this group is smart and talented, that it is deep enough to overcome injuries, that this group can protect Ryan Miller, that it can QB the PP, and that it will keep goals against to a minimum.
Speaking of Miller, the newly married and settled netminder must feel like he’s entering a second honeymoon with the Sabres: with these new blueliners surrounding him, he’s again among the favorites to win the Vezina Trophy. Actually, he is THE favorite – at least at the betting resource site Bodog.com, which has him at the top with odds of 5/1. Backup Jhonas Enroth will help provide victories when Miller needs a night off.
So there you have it, folks. The season in preview includes a top tier offense, a scary good defense, and a netminder ready to reclaim his status among the very best in the world.
A few wildcards will give us some plot twists as the season goes along:
- Ville Leino will not only have to succeed at the center position during play, but also at the faceoff dot. Puck control is the name of Lindy Ruff’s game.
- Brendan Shanahan, now in charge of league discipline, is handing out headshot suspensions like Halloween candy. This will cut down on some contact – especially early on in the season as the league and Shanahan adjust to this new direction – and that means the speedy Sabres could be given the deadly advantage of more open ice.
- Again, as Torts pointed out, the last three Cup winners started their seasons off on a Euro-trip. Coincidence? Maybe, but the Sabres should come back as a more closely-knit group (oh so critical along with the new additions of Leino, Regehr, and Ehrhoff). If they falter, well, it’s hard for any team to come back from a slow start in this NHL.
It’s the true beginning of the Pegula Era, and it’s time to expect big things. Anything short of a Stanley Cup will be a disappointment for this team. The competition is very strong – it will be a tall order to usurp the Bruins, Capitals, and Penguins and get to the Finals this time around. But all the pieces are in place to get it done, and the players are ready.
Go get ’em, boys.
For a more complete review, be sure to visit (or re-visit) these posts: “The Buffalo Sabres’ Picket Fence Defense: the 2011 Achilles Heel,” and “Stanley Cup 101: Sabres Cup Dreams Hinge on Bolstering Defense” (We made that last link a “sticky post,” so you can find it on our home page for a while.)