Rick takes a look at Buffalo from September of 07...and pretty much minus some players...you could say the same this year.
At the offset of the free agency period many people felt Buffalo was doomed with the loss of their Captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury. You add Danius Zubrus to the mix and for most teams this would spell disaster. Well Buffalo fans luckily the Sabres are not most teams. Although there might be a small drop off in points this season, I still expect we will contend.
The loss of Briere will be offset by the return off Tim Connolly. #19 speed and creativity will surpass Briere's talent level. When healthy Connolly has proved to be one of the more exciting players in the NHL seemingly having some of the best vision to create plays I have seen in years. The loss of Drury is my primary concern his clutch performances and leadership on the ice is something that can never be replaced. However Drew Stafford is someone who might be able to help dampen the blow although only 22 years old, Stafford has shown great leadership already. Jason Pomminivlle really came into his own last season and he should score over 30 goals again playing with Connolly.
The player who will really come into his own this season and make some noise is Derek Roy. Roy has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, now coming into 3rd season he is going to turn some heads. Already in the pre-season Roy has produced a 6 pt game including having a natural hat trick. This is something I feel he will continue into the season. Big money was given to Thomas Vanik and with that comes big expectations. He had 42 goals last season and is expectated to at least match that total. The extremely effective line of Roy, Vanek and Max Afinigonov remains untouched so look for dynamic play from them once again. Role players such as Gaustad, Hecht and Kotalik are expected to continue to produce, while rookie Clarke Macarthur looks to have a break out season.
The Sabres defense remains untouched, Teppo is out with a non hockey related ailment, but should return by December or January. All-Star Brian Campbell will continue to rise towards being an elite defenseman. The duo of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman return as one of the top shut down tandems in the league. I know Lindy has toyed around separating them in the pre-season however, I think that once this season gets under way you will see them matched up against the opponents best lines. Demitri Kalinan looks to rebound off a tough year, going into his contract year, I feel he will rebound to hit pay dirt come off season. Jaro Spacek had a decent season but did not play up to expectations. He was for the most part solid until the playoffs. If he can stay healthy, he should be fine. Especially with Andrie Sekjara waiting in the wings. Spacek must show considerably improvement or chances are he will be traded. That brings me to a player I see with tremendous upside Nathan Paetsch. This kid should see some serious playing time this upcoming season. With a blistering shot from the point he might be the anchor the Sabres have been looking for on the power play.
In the pipes Ryan Miller is back for his 3rd season as the starter. After two solid season in a row the soft spoken leader has become the face of the franchise. Miller will continue to improve and will assume a huge leadership role in the wake of losing Drury. The only addition to the Sabres in the off season comes in the form of veteran goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who is a considerable upgrade from Ty Conklin.
The Sabres may have the biggest bunch of NHL ready prospects playing down in
I don't see the Sabres contending for the President's Trophy this year. I do feel they will make the Playoffs and prove their nay sayers wrong. Even with the losses of the Captains the drop off of talent is not that far. Come Playoffs its anyone's ballgame. With Lindy Ruff at the helm, this is a team you can never count out. I see another year of making the Conference Finals only to lose to eventually Stanely Cup Champions The Pittsburgh Penguins.
So Sabres fans although we won't win the Cup, we should still surprise some people with a solid playoff run.