Sabre Rattling

Most people would contend that this year was Buffalo’s greatest chance at contending for the cup since the finals. Everything was roaring during the regular season for the small market team.

Their young tender, former Spartan Ryan Miller was playing quite well in net in his sophomore season. The defense was skating healthy and Bryan Campbell was having a career year. Forwards were having spectacular runs as well, with 4 players scoring 30 or more goals including sophomore surprises Vanek(43) and Pomminville(34), and Briere(95) breeching the 90pt mark. Winning games 7-2 here and there, firing on all cylinders, and their surge of fans hoped their team would push the same right on through the Eastern Conference.

But they didn’t. Sadly they fell short of expectations in the conference finals and that got the ball rolling…downhill. Briere and Drury, the teams’ captains, top 2 centers and leaders would flee east along with Zubrus. So that brings us to what many view as a trip down in the standings for sure. Just about everything I’ve read and heard is saying that the Sabres are worse off this year and definitely not going to go far in the playoffs…if they make it there.

However, I feel (and I’m probably the only one that does) that exactly the OPPOSITE is going to happen this year. That’s right; Buffalo will make it to the Cup finals this year (though they may not be as high in the regular season). By this point you got to think this is probably one of the most ridiculous things you’ve heard and believe I’m hockey moron. How could a team that lost quite arguably its’ best two players get Better? I’d like to explain.

As far as I know never has a team won a Stanley Cup with two captains. Maybe it has happened before, but if it did it is rare. With two leaders, is it really possible for a club to form around separate people? I think it is definitely harder at least for a team to be cohesive. Who do the rookies model themselves after? When there’s 5 seconds left, an offensive zone face-off, and you’re down a goal which captain should take the draw; Drury or Briere?

Buffalo doesn’t necessarily have a shortage of experience and leadership either. Numminen has a wealth of knowledge that he brings to the team that includes several Olympics and 52 playoff games. Miller has proven that he can handle the pressure and then some after two consecutive seasons in the NHL off-season. Spacek made it to the cup finals next to Pronger on the first PP unit. Sure the Sabres have a very young team (only 4 players 30 and over), but I don’t really see how that’s a bad thing. Every player in the pros has bound to have been in the playoffs at some point in his career. So why would it be any different? You either show up or you don’t.

The Sabres probably have the best core of young stars and prospects in the NHL right now. Miller is obviously a solid and capable goaltender just stepping into his prime. Vanek has showed that he just may be the team’s franchise player and is only 23. His style greatly resembles that of Marian Hossa except that he shows up in the playoffs. Afinogenov is a poor man’s Pavel Bure. Roy was likely crowned Buffalo’s legit first line center and is arguably a steal at $3 million less than his predecessors. Connolly has amazing dekeing skills as an above-average second line center when he doesn’t have a concussion. Buffalo also boats five additional top six forwards besides the ones I’ve already named; Paille, Stafford, Hecht, Kotalik, and Pomminville. And that’s only the forward crops. Every one of the defenseman on the roster has a bit of polish in both ends and all share something in common: they can skate. Well maybe not Numminen, but he’s the exception to the rule. There depth is second to known either with great role players such as Gaustad and enforcers like Peters.

So let’s go over of a checklist of what it takes to have a cup winning team and if the Sabres have one.

Goaltending: +

Top Line Scoring Presence: +

Forward Depth/Scoring: +

Defense: +

All-Around Defensive Depth: +

Coaching (Ruff got the Adam’s last year and a goofy stash): +

Leadership/Experience: +

Sweet New Jerseys (I personally have #30): +

I’ll be waiting to watch the Sabres on that wonderful network that is Versus and they should be in the finals come June (so I look less like an idiot and more like a genius, well smart at least).


17 Responses to Sabre Rattling

  1. BLUE_AND_WHITE says:

    yeah, its funny to see people predicting how the east will shape up, and the put Buffalo out of the playoffs. the team has so much talent and youth that they  will hardly miss a beat. My bet is Connelly takes 1st line center and gets 90-100 points.

  2. hatterson says:

    I'll pick out some obvious errors.

    "Buffalo doesn't necessarily have a shortage of experience and leadership either."  You then go on to name a grand total of 3 players, only one of whom would be considered a leader on another team.  They don't have leadership and experience that is a simple fact.  If you want to argue that they'll get over it then go ahead, but please don't try and tell me Miller and Spacek are great leaders.

    "Buffalo also boats five additional top 6 forwards besides the ones I'vealready named; Paille, Stafford, Hecht, Kotalik and Pomminville."  Quite simply this is pure bull.  I'll start with the first choice.

    Paille, 43 career games played, 4 goals, 10 assists for 14 points. A career +10.  A point every third game does not make you a top 6 forward, even with a good +/- rating.  Not to mention he's only got 14 points.

    Stafford, 41 career games played, 13 goals, 14 assists for 27 points. A career +5.  Okay some better production but I can hardly call 27 career points a top 6 forward.

    Hecht, 473 career games, 110 goals, 184 assists for 294 points. A career +83.  Respectable stats and last season was good.  Probably the closest to a top 6 forward out of these 5.

    Kotalik, 291 career games, 78 goals, 87 assists for 165 points. A career -12.  Barely over a point every other game and last season was no different.  Does he look out of place on a second line? no.  But I wouldn't call him a top 6 forward.

    Pominville, 140 career games, 52 goals, 46 assists for 98 points. A career +21.  Decent points per game ratio, thanks to a breakout season last year.  However I still can't call someone with less than 100 points in his life a top 6 forward.

    Do these guys have the potential to develop into top 6 forwards? Absolutely no question.  However you *cannot* call them top 6 now, it's simply not true.

    Buffalo season this year rests on a lot of ifs.  If Vanek can step up and be a true top line winger.  If Roy can step up and be a true #1 center.  If Afinogenov can keep from giving the puck away 12 times every game.  If the Rochester call-ups can fill in the holes left.  If someone can step up and take leadership.  If Connolly doesn't get hit in the head by anything moving more than 1/2 mile an hour.

  3. wingsfan13 says:

    how can you decide who becomes leaders when? they may have not been leaders in the past but they may step in when a void needs to be filled.  leadership/experience isn't just years old or nhl playoffs games played either.  Young players can be leaders by stepping up when the team needs them the most.  Pros have experienced pressure from playoffs throughout their entire careers, not neccessarily in the nhl, but at some time in their youth.  In development when your young you learn you have to take it up a notch in the postseason period.  it shouldn't make a difference what level it's in.

    i really never meant that Paile, Stafford and the like were top six forwards already.  if you notice that in the topic sentence i said talent and prospects.   right now they may be prospects.  but with more playing time thanks to some departures they may just be top six forwards next year, or at least playing like a top six forwards.  they have the ability, they just have to fill the voids; stats and games aside.  getzlaf is rated as a first line center, and probably isnt yet, but he played like a top center in the playoffs.  does that not make him a top center for the time being?

    yes vanek had only one good year and could tank next season.  yes roy also has yet to prove #1 center material, afinogenov improving his defense and connolly avoiding a career-ending concussion.  but if buffalo comes together, gets lucky, and everyone contributes their share, they can make it to the finals.  thats what it takes to get that far, a team to have the right go right at the right time.  thats what i was going for.  a response to everyone jumping ship because two of the teams many talented players leaving.  it could actually be a blessing in disguise to have a definite #1 and #2 center versus a 1a and 1b.  addition by subtraction.  some players step into the spotlight when they get more time and could actually improve the team by playing more.  the reason because they never had the chance entirely to show before.   i hope i cleared up some stuff.

  4. Tweek says:

    It wasn't sad that they didn't get there.  They have a douchebag, arrogant coach. 

  5. Rabid_Badger says:

    I think a lot of people are too quick to write off the Sabes after Drury and Briere leaving.  Yes, those are big holes, but not big enough to not make them a contender.  If Conolly plays a full season he should approzimate Drury's offensive output, albeit with less goals.  Vanek needs to match what he did last year, Roy should increase his point total by 10-15 being a top center.  The defense is intact and Miller should at least match what he did last season.  Outside of having a good Smolinski type 3rd or 4th line center the team seems to be in good shape.  I don't think Hecht or  Kotalik, a former center, cut it in that role.  I look for Stafford to be a 20-25 goal scorer with about the same in helpers.  The team is still pretty stacked from top to bottom.
    Ottawa lost Havlat, Hasek and Chara and all they did was go on to the Cup Finals.  I wouldn't be shocked to see Buffalo and Ottawa in the Eastern finals again….of course every knee-jerk reactionary Rangers fan will say I'm full of it since their team spent heavily on free agents and act like the Cup is all but theirs.

  6. Milohabs says:

    I've said it before, but am I the only one who thinks Briere & Drury are over rated???

    Drury is great,a nd any team would love him. He will make NY a tougher team to play against BUT, he's no superstar and Roy amongst some others will be able to replace him. Briere…wait and see what a bad signing this turns out to be. In BUffalo he was surrounded by a very strong club and this helped inflate his stats. is he good, YES, but again, his offense can be replaced by Vanek amongst others. His departure will be felt even less than Drury. Look for Briere to drop from 90 points to aprox 65-70 points in Philly next year.

    Buffalo is a stronger team with these 2 players, but at the end of the day, Buffalohas a very impressive roster still, and if they can stay healthy they'll still be in contention for the Eastern Conference champs.

  7. canucklehead_101 says:

    If you mean to tell me the team below is going to be competive again this year i'd be dammed

    Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov=Too many snipers togther makes bad chemistry
    Hecht-Connolly-Pominville= Injury Prone but talented
    Paille-Mair-Stafford= Fast & Gritty
    MacArthur-Gaustad-Kotalik=talented & young

    Lydman-Kalinin=shut down
    Tallinder-Campbell=younger & scoring touch with size
    Numminen-Spacek= size,  skill but old
    Paetsch

    Miller= good young goalie
    Thibault=washed up old goaltender

    Compared to Colorado:

    Smyth-Sakic-Hedjuk
    Wolski-Stastny-Svatos
    Brunette-Richardson-Rycroft
    Guite-Laperriere-Parker

    Liles-Hannan
    Clark-Skrastins
    Leopold-Sauer

    Budaj
    Theodore

  8. hatterson says:

    Good job of answering my post.  Finally someone that responds intelligently and doesn't say "lol ur dumb they will own"

    I still think you're counting no Paille and Stafford to step up too much with a combined 1 season of NHL experience (in terms of games played), but to each his own.

    And about Afinogenov.  I wasn't talking about shoddy play in his own end.  For the most part he's not horrible playing defense.  When he actually decides to show up that is, although that's a completely different issue.  What I'm talking about are the absolute bonehead passes he'll make in the neutral zone resulting in an odd-man rush the other way.  These mostly result in him trying to push the play too hard and do something spectacular every shift rather than just get the safe play done.

    I believe it was one of the HNiC broadcasters that said "He'll make a play no one else could, then he'll make a play no one else would."

    I'm not saying I think Buffalo will be a bad team, I think they'll be somewhere in the 4-6 seed in the East and still net either high 90s or low 100s in points.

    Although they still have yet to address the one glaring weakness they have in the playoffs.  The inability for their defense to stand up in it's own zone.  Against a team with any size in forward they simply get pushed around in their own zone.  Near the end of the season teams started to figure out how to get to Buffalo and wear them down.

  9. SabresFan220 says:

    It would help if you knew what you were talking about. Obviously the Afinogenov line doesn't have bad chemistry, they were unstoppable at times last year. Your combinations are a little fudged, but you also forgot Mike Ryan who will see a handful of games this season too. I know, you're thinking "Who the hell is that and who cares?" but he's a talented guy who should be able to chip in the offense next year. The Northeast division won't be the pushover it was last season, but the Aves' division should be tougher to win.

    Sure the Aves will be a good team to watch next year, but they also play in a very competitive division in the West. Budaj was very good last year, but is he ready to be #1 full time? Colorado will be in a dogfight for their division just because there are good teams in it.

  10. kamullia says:

    Ironically, you might be right about “…never has a team won a Stanley Cup with two captains,” but only because you used the word two.

    I did not do full research on this, but the 88/89 Calgary Flames won The Cup with tri-captains Lanny McDonald, Jim Peplinski, and Tim Hunter.

  11. Leafs-4-Life says:

     This article is a joke! It's a joke! I want wingsfan13 fined and I want him suspended! That was a joke!

  12. senators101 says:

    I agree with your seeding placement.  I think Ottawa's going to win the division, putting Buffalo nowhere better than 4th. But I think that's where they will land, 4th. 
    The people you mentioned don't have a point a game because whenever they got called up, there was no room for them on the first and 2nd lines.  Pominville got 30+ goals, he's a top 6, and will likely hit that number again.  Connoly is one hell of a centreman and extremely gifted and will help his wingers to get some big points. 
    Buffalo, in the past 2 years has been completely log-jammed on the first lines, those kids aren't getting enough playing time to get a point per game.  Now that they will get that playing time, those points per games will increase big time.

    You're bang on with the size.  They need that and they need lots of it.  Even if it's not in the back, but for the forecheck, they gotta pick up some wingers that can lay some big bodychecks and wear down the other teams D.

  13. TheHabsEnthousiast says:

    Who'd be your captain this year ??
    Would you bet on a full season for Connelly ? I wish him best but in traffic, he's just like a deer on the Highway..
    And are the youngsters reliable and confident enough all by themselves ? They'll make it to the playoffs but they won't go very far, and then, in a couple years, maybe one, they might be back on top but the next year is gonna be a character builder..

    my opinion:  they get one or two veteran guys like Peca and Danny Markov and they're good to battle for the division title..

  14. wingsfan13 says:

    likewise as far as being mature, it is appreciated.  i take it ur a sabres watcher of some sort so you probably have a better gauge than me since i only get to watch some 10-15 games online or on tv.  i think the major flaws of afino is that he tends to get blinders on and just put the jets on and goes. as well as he is injury prone too likely because of that.  basically what you said. i feel that buffalo just mirrors anaheim (minus defense) mainly with their young forward talent.  i'm counting on this kind of production from everyone-
    Roy-30g 40a
    Afinogenov (barring injury which is a strech)-35g 35a
    Vanek-45g 50a
    Hecht-20g 25a
    Kotalik-15g 20a
    Stafford (had 30pts in 1/2 season as rookie)-20g-30a
    Connolly (also barring injury which is likely)-20g 40a
    MacArthur (he's actually quite good and fast, might excell)-10g 15a
    Ryan-15g 20a
    Pomminville-30g 40a
    Paille-20g 20a
    Gaustad-10g 15a
    Peters/Mair-10g 10a combined

    Vanek-Roy-Pomminville
    Paille-Connolly-Afinogenov
    McArthur-Hecht-Stafford
    Ryan-Gaustad-Kotalik
    Peters/Mayer

    Buffalo is one of the hardest teams to sort out lines because they change constantly, get close times, and who knows who ruff puts higher on the depth chart.  not to mention some players could actually be playing second line while they are on the fourth line and might actually get a good amount of time on the lower lines.

    so i'm projecting 280goals for buffalo, 20 less than last season
     

  15. Rysto says:

    Buffalo's certainly not going to fall off of the face of the earth — they were the deepest team in the league last season, so they can survive the loss of Drury and Briere. Losing really hurts their depth, of course.

    However, I just can't see Buffalo getting past Pittsburgh and Ottawa next season. Ottawa, as we saw in this season's playoffs, is just an awful matchup for the Sabres. Ottawa has a mobile defence capable of keeping up with the Sabres' forwards, and they use a heavy forecheck that attacks Buffalo's main weakness: their defence isn't that great at moving the puck. Buffalo uses an even heavier forecheck than Ottawa, but the Senators' defence corps is built to move the puck quickly and efficiently away from pressure, which makes one of Buffalo's main weapons into a weakness. Now Buffalo's lost its two of its three most important players(Ryan Miller being the third), while Ottawa has lost only Schaefer, Comrie and Preissing(and the three of them had a single assist each in the Buffalo series). Anything can happen in the playoffs, as all Sens fans know, but if Ottawa plays like they did in the 2007 playoffs I just can't see how Buffalo is going to get by them in a 7 game series.

    Pittsburgh looks like another bad matchup to me. The good news for Buffalo in such a series is that Pittsburgh's defence is not good at moving the puck(although the acquisition of Sydor will help Pittsburgh here — that was a very underrated signing). This means that Buffalo will be able to establish their forecheck and generate a lot of turnovers. The main problem for Buffalo is that they weren't able to stop the Spezza line from destroying them, so what's Crosby going to do to them? Buffalo doesn't have a shutdown defenceman worthy of the name(and no, Sabres fans, Tallinder does not count, as was proven so thoroughly in the Ottawa-Buffalo series). Buffalo is in much better shape in this series than against Ottawa, but Sidney Crosby's playoff coming out party is rapidly approaching, and I would not at all be surprised to see it start in a series against Buffalo. One thing's for sure; we would certainly see a lot of goals in such a series.

    The only other team that I think would give the Sabres some trouble would be the Rangers. This is a better matchup for Buffalo(as Buffalo demonstrated just this year), but of course the additions of Gomez and Drury make this a much more difficult series for Buffalo.

    Buffalo can hardly be counted out in the East, but ultimately I don't think they have the horses to go all the way. Of course, no doubt many people made a similar claim about Ottawa's chances this season in the wake of Chara and Havlat's departures, and we all know how well that turned out.

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  17. davey says:

    Miller will be just fine. Jocelyn is about the same quality of a backup that Marty was at a reduced price.

    The D is ok, but if I were to guess I'd say a deal for Kalinen or (less likely at his contract) Spacek is in the works. I doubt Paetsch would've gotten the multi-year deal he got unless he is expected to be in the team's top 6. If that's the case, the d takes a step back for sure.

    No surprise, the sabres will suffer the most at forward, after losing Briere, Drury, and sort of Zubrus. The Sabres will suffer most at center. Derek Roy is good for nothing but diving, and was nothing but a mistake in keeping around. Tim Connolly is as enigmatic as one can be: On skill alone he's as good of a #1 center as anyone else in the nhl: But he's also missed better than 50% of his games as a Sabre. I'd love to say he's ready to become a bona-fide #1, but I can't be sure he isn't a hit away from retirement either. We'll skip the 3rd line for now because the sabres don't have a another top 3 center other than Ales Kotalik right now. The 4th line is fine in the middle: Mair and/or Gaustad are as good up the middle as any of the 30 NHL clubs have in the middle on the 4th line.

    Other concerns at forward: Pominville is no better than a 20 goal scorer without Briere in the middle. Hect could go either way: he may show how versatiaille of a forward he is without having 2 great centers to do the work or he'll be average at best. Max has to put up as the second coming of Bure or get shipped off to the Rangers, Flyers or whatever team is currently most committed to killing the new cba and sending the NHL into another lockout. Vanek, well…..the fate of the team now rests on him: 40+ goals was great last year, now that he's the 2nd highest paid of his draft class next to Sidney Crosby, 50+ goals, and over 100 pts is a reasonable expectation if the team is to 3-peat as a conference finalist.

    Losing Danny and Dru will amount to a big hit: At best 7th in the EC. Just my opinion, feel free to disagree.

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