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Sabres Season Preview

With a disappointingly short post season appearance last season the Sabres are back hoping to extend their season well into next spring.  With the season kicking off later today against the Senators it’ll be our first chance to see if this is the year everything is different.  The year when everything clicks, there are no major slumps from important players, no injury issues.  The year where the cup comes to Buffalo.

This team was good last year.  Northeast Division champs was a nice start to the post season and with Miller leading the way this city had high hopes when the Boston series kicked off.  However, it was quickly seen that this team wasn’t good enough, whether it was injuries or major players having a bad week, they didn’t have enough to get out of the first round.  Will a few tweaks in the off-season change this?  The optimistic fans will think so, as do I, however this town has been tormented by its sports teams and those fans are becoming more rare each passing season.

More than personnel changes were needed as this team needs some veteran players to pick it up a bit.  Everyone has a bad game here and there but the Boston series last year was horrible for multiple players…namely Roy, Connolly, and Pominville.  That cant’ happen.  These players, the leaders of this team need to be “clutch”.  You don’t play worse when pressure is on the line, you play better.  You could see it in Roy during locker clean out last year.  Maybe it was watching the younger guys run circles around him or maybe it was the fact a team with so much hope at making a run at the cup was out before ever really getting started.  Lets hope not only him, but Connolly, Pominville, Stafford, and Vanek really step it up this year and give this team the offense it needs in front of the best goalie in the league.

Stafford and Connolly are both in contract years and it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen a player step up to the next level when fighting for a job.  Stafford had a good preseason and will hopefully carry it into the regular season.  I see this as a make or break year for him, another season like last and he’ll be hunting for a job.  If he has that breakout season he’ll be able to demand a decent chunk of money while entertaining multiple offers whether it’s with the Sabres or not.  Connolly has proven himself a good forward but his main issue is injuries.  Last season was the first time we’ve seen a full year of health out of him.  If he can do it again, while being productive, he’ll be well sought after also.

Ennis, McCormick, and Gerbe all have something to prove.  They all proved themselves last year in the playoffs by stepping up while the veterans seemed to take a few steps back.  These players are the future of the Sabres and will be the next Connolly, Roy, Vanek, and Pominville.   As much as I’d like to see them have 40 goal seasons at this point in their career they’re still learning and essentially adding support to the scorers of this team.  With that said, I see them easily doing that with Ennis having a decent shot at the bringing the Calder Trophy to Buffalo again.

Ryan Miller has nothing to be ashamed of last year.  He won a silver after coming within inches of a gold medal in the Olympics.  He took home the Vezina trophy as the top goalie in the league.  He’s brought more attention to this team than it’s had for years.  He kept games close that shouldn’t have been because the guys mentioned above couldn’t break through and score to save their lives at times.  With the largest workload of any goalie last year he never burned out and never looked like he was over-worked when he was.  Without him would this team be any good?  It’s hard to say but I’m glad we don’t have to find out this year.

Defense had the big shuffle in the off-season after losing two veteran players in Lydman and Tallinder.  I was a bit worried to see them go but after picking up Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold I felt much better.  Lydman and Tallinder were always the good players no one really appreciated.  They did their job well without ever being great which was more than most expected from them when they were signed.  Morrisonn and Leopold are the same way as many people have probably never heard of them with good reason, they’re not standout defensemen.  I believe they have a better shot at getting to that next level than both Lydman and Tallinder ever did.  We just have to sit back and see what the Sabres can turn these players into.  As much as we can look back on their past seasons to get an idea there’s no doubt they’ll be different under “The System”.

Tyler Myers is back hoping to avoid the infamous sophomore slump.  He looked good in the pre-season so I’m hoping he skips past it.  My guess is he’s in the running to add a Norris trophy to the Calder he won last year.  I think he, along with Miller, will be responsible for even more focus on this team.  Everyone loves a young breakout star.

So…where will this team end up?  It’s impossible to say for sure.  You can read all the rankings, all the predictions, believe all the hype from this team or that but when it comes down to it the bottom team last year could win the cup this year.  You can’t predict how good a team is going to be until you see them play actual hockey.  My opinion?  I see the Sabres easily making the playoffs.  They have the talent, it just needs to click.  If that click is loud enough they have a shot of challenging for the cup in my mind.  If it’s not then who knows where they’ll end up.  All I know for sure is this team, this city, this region, needs something different.  Lets hope this is their year, our year.

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