The Buffalo Sabres finished their 2011-2012 campaign strong, missing the playoffs by a mere three points after finding themselves in last place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break.
Obviously, this team isn't far off. Most of the trouble the team encountered this season can be attributed to injuries, as they lost over 350-man games because of the injury bug. We most likely won't see that again.
The front office began the offseason already by announcing yesterday that both Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier will return for 2012-2013. I know there are folks on both sides of the fence here, but I don't think enough can be said for continuity. Ruff brought a mostly healthy team on a mad charge in the second half, and Regier signed players such as Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino while trading for Robyn Regehr and the overlooked Alex Sulzer.
The team also will have salary room to work with, having the contracts of Jochen Hecht, Brad Boyes and Shaone Morrison coming off the books. The likes of Boyes especially can be replaced instantly by new-found gem Marcus Foligno. Add in Paul Gaustad, and that will give Regier about $12 million to use.
Virtually the entire team will be in place with just a couple restricted free agents to wrangle under contract, most notably Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta.
Unfortunately, the team still only has one glaring need, and that is a true No. 1 center. This year's free agent crop is surprisingly thin at that position. The head of the list reads: Daymond Langkow, Ollie Jokinen and Jarret Stoll. Only Jokinen has ever been considered a No. 1, and his 2011-2012 salary of $3 million will probably go down.
I know people will say that Derek Roy could be traded, but I don't really see any team trading a No. 1 center for a package containing Roy. Let's hope Regier can do something to fill this long-standing hole.
It doesn't often fall into place as it is now, but Buffalo finds themselves in an interesting position holding most of the necessary pieces to make a run. With the right move—and I said "move"—this team may even be a favorite.