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Vanek is a goal scorer, not a leader
The Buffalo Sabres have drafted well over the past decade with superstars Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, and Brian Campbell starting out in the organization. Other solid draft picks include Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville, and Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers.
Given the makeup of their current roster, the Sabres are an organization that takes time and effort to develop players. Vanek, Roy, and Pominville are the trio expected to drive the team offensively, but none of them have emerged as the leader the organization craves at this point.
In Lindy Ruff's first season (1997-1998), he reached the conference finals. In his second, he led Buffalo to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Dallas Stars. Ruff has been to the conference finals twice since then, but has yet to return to the Cup finals.
Ruff is one of only two coaches to win 500 games with the same team, yet he finds himself on the hot seat. Owner Terry Pegula made a big effort to bring in more talent this past offseason and on paper, it sure looked like he had.
The onus is on Ruff to find the right chemistry for the team on the ice. The Sabres have never been an organization to break the bank for new players, and it appears Lindy Ruff is having difficulty managing a team with a lot of new faces.
The aforementioned trio of Roy, Pominville, and Vanek is expected to put the puck in the net. The offseason acquisition of Ville Leino was intended to add scoring depth. The 28-year-old center signed a six year, $27 million contract this past offseason, but has be ineffective most of the season.
Roy has had a subpar campaign with only 25 points in 49 games; Stafford has also posted dismal numbers. The Sabres have one of the worst offenses in the league, notching a lowly 2.3 goals/game.
Solid defensemen Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff joined the team this season. Buffalo traded for the rights to Regehr's year year, $8 million contract. The Sabres signed the 29-year-old Ehrhoff to a blockbuster 10 year, $40 million contract, hoping his puck-moving play would fit well with the team. Despite these additions, the Sabres have a goals-against of 2.9, good enough for 23rd in the league.
There was a lot of drama surrounding Milan Lucic's hit on Ryan Miller that left the star net minder concussed. Since the collision, Buffalo's season has derailed. Sitting near the bottom of the Eastern conference, this roster is clearly not worth what Peluga is paying. With expensive and ineffective additions signed to long-term contracts, the poor play may be there to stay in Buffalo.
Buffalo is a small market by NHL standards, with a blue collar population of around 250,000. The franchise has never won a Cup, but continues to have a strong presence in upstate New York. With one of the best atmospheres in the NHL, Buffalo is a great hockey city that champions its players. Despite great attendance figures, ownership has been historically frugal.
Under new owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres are finally spending near the cap. It's unfortunate for fans his spending has not resulted in wins.