Buffalo Sabres 2005-2006
TEAM PAYROLL: $28,294,230
GENERAL MANAGER: Darcy Regier: Entering 9th season as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres.
HEAD COACH: Lindy Ruff. Entering 9th season as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres
FORGOTTEN MOVES: Not much was done for the Sabres before the lockout began. They remained a low budget team that hoped for a salary cap. No additions were made to the roster.
TEAM MODE: The Sabres are in the hunt for the playoffs, but with the loss of long time Sabre Miroslav Satan it seems questionable. The Sabres remain the same on the forward lines, with the likelihood of former first rounder Thomas Vanek making the squad, in hopes of a productive season. A key player will be Jochen Hecht, who proved his offensive abilities last year scoring 52 points in just 64 games, and an impressive plus-minus rating of 17. Hecht is fairly young at age 28, and entering in his prime years of his career. The Sabres may just get lucky if Hecht stays healthy and performs as a 1st line winger. On the other wing is former blue chip Isle’s prospect JP Dumont, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, who is now 27 years old and finished the last season played with a career high 53 points. With Hecht and Dumont as solid scoring wingers, it leaves Daniel Briere as a strong point producer for the Sabres. With these three young forwards, plus Stanley Cup winner Chris Drury, veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen, and solid two-way defenseman Tony Lydman, the Sabres should be considered a playoff contender.
TO TAKE CHARGE!: Chris Drury may become the center of the attention. The 29 year old spent a short time in Calgary, but knows where he stands out in the NHL. He has great character, good offensive abilities, and the kind of future leader that will become a fan favorite in Buffalo land. He has to regain his 60 point form and push the young Sabres each game. Drury knows what it takes to win. He has been under great coaches and good leadership, and it is his turn to make himself into a role player for the Sabres and take his game to the next level as a point producer and a leader.
ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): A steal in the Gratton trade, Briere came off an amazing productive season recording a 65 point season. Yes, the Sabres will miss Miro Satan and his explosive offensive abilities, but they carry a young team with a solid first line. Who will be the main guy to look at, though? Chris Drury. After his short stay in Calgary, the five time 20 goal scorer returns to Buffalo leading a team of young players to the playoffs. With the new rule changes, Drury should be able to regain his 60 point form and strengthen the top two lines, depending where Ruff places him. One of my sleeper picks of the year is Maxim Afinogenov. The skilled Russian finds himself in a more spacious NHL where he can burst in the neutral zone receiving two line passes. On NHL.com, Afinogenov appeared twice in the Top 10 greatest goals of the 2003-2004 season. Entering his 6th season as an NHL’er, Afinogenov can prove to be a skilled 2nd line scorer, and probably a key player on shootouts. Look for Tim Connolly to turn his career around this season. After a full year of recovery from injuries that hindered his development, Connolly has a lot to prove this year, if healthy. Another player who has struggled to meet expectations is Taylor Pyatt. Still young at age 24, Pyatt needs to prove his worth in order to have any hopes left of his capabilities as a potential power forward.
COVERING THE D-ZONE: The Sabres seemed to have lost out on any improvements offensively, but on the defense GM Regier made a couple of improvements after losing Alexei Zhitnik to free agency, and James Patrick to retirement. Adding Teppo Numminen fills the hole that Patrick left. Though health may be an issue, Numminen is a leader on and off the ice and could push former Flame, and newly acquired, defenseman Tony Lydman towards career highs. Lydman has been added to the group on defense to make up for the loss of Zhitnik. Though he may not be in the same class as Zhitnik, Lydman provides a good combination of responsible defense and decent offensive production. Returning as original Sabre defensemen, Jay McKee and Dmitri Kalnin. These two add bulk to the defensive core, and solid defensive abilities. On the plus side, Kalinin is also another decent offense producer from the blueline, and look for him and Lydman to be the main power-play defensemen.
GUARDING THE NET: The Sabres have a great commodity in the crease. From the goalie that I favor, Martin Biron, to solid back-up and potential starter Mikko Noronen and to long time blue chip prospect Ryan Miller, who is now 25 years of age. The best goalies in training camp and pre-season will guard the net throughout the season. But, what if this leads to Miller being a solid performer, maybe even better than Noronen? The Sabres have some tradable assets that could be very useful, especially to add offense. I still think Martin Biron is the main guy in nets, and he should be more than ready to lead the Sabres towards the playoffs. Either way, whoever gets the start will have to be at the top of his game to enforce the Sabres defense if the offense does not prevail.
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: I recall watching Thomas Vanek playing in the Frozen Four Finals for Minnesota. And what do you know? He played that finals game right in Buffalo. Vanek is a combination of size and refined skills. He is strong on the puck and as he will add more frame and strength to his body, Vanek may be the future forward for the Sabres. I still like to stick with one young player in Ales Kotalik. He is in the mid-twenties now, but the Czech forward proved his offensive potential two years ago when scoring 21 goals in 68 games. With more room to score, Kotalik can prove to be a 25 goal scoring forward.
PROJECTED LINES: It’s a toss due to the possibility of maybe Afinogenov stepping up his play and if Thomas Vanek receives a 2nd line spot. Here is a possible scenario:
EXPECTATIONS: The Buffalo Sabres could most likely be expected to finish just out of the playoffs in 9th place of the Eastern Conference. Still a young team, the Sabres depend a lot on their young offensive tools. Any injury to a significant player, such as Briere, Hecht, or Lydman, may put the Sabres through rough moments.
PROJECTED: Contrary to what may be expected throughout the league, I never under estimate the Buffalo Sabres. They are a young team, but one that can compete for the playoffs nonetheless. I like their goaltending, the defense is strong defensively with good skating defensemen who can contribute offensively. I think the offense remains the major concern, but with Briere, Drury, and Hecht, the Sabres should be good enough to keep low scoring games by scoring enough and shutting down the opponents with their strong defense. I project the Sabres to make the playoffs as the 8th seed team of the Eastern Conference.