As you handle your elation—or indifference—about the new CBA, the Buffalo Sabres look forward to turning the ship around from a disappointing 2011-12 season.
The Sabres had a relatively quiet offseason prior to the lockout, signing depth players like John Scott, Kevin Porter, and Nick Tarnasky, and trading Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars for Steve Ott and Adam Pardy.
Yet there has been a lot going on in the AHL and junior ranks while the NHLers have endured the work stoppage.
So what will the 2013 Sabres look like.
While there are many questions about the Sabres' forward unit, none of those questions revolve around their top six.
In what may be seen by many as their lines 1a and 1b, the Sabres' top six could be as good as anybody's in the league.
Line 1a will likely be Thomas Vanek on the left, Cody Hodgson at the pivot, and Jason Pominville on the right wing. Vanek and Pominville played extremely well together last year and head coach Lindy Ruff will likely want to keep the two together to give Cody Hodgson the ability to use his natural playmaking abilities.
Line 1b will feature the dynamic Marcus Foligno—Tyler Ennis—Drew Stafford combination that seemed close to unstoppable at times during their 13 game run last season. Ennis had been battling injuries during his stint with Langnau of the Swiss-A league and not much light has been shed on their severity, but he should be good to go when the puck drops.
The bottom six forwards is where the questions start.
Four spots seem to be set with Ville Leino, Steve Ott, Nathan Gerbe, and Patrick Kaleta slated for the wing spots on lines three and four, with Ott able to play a hybrid center-wing position, especially in the defensive zone.
The issue is the centers for the third and fourth lines.
As of right now it seems Cody McCormick, Luke Adam, and Kevin Porter will all spend some time on the team, with McCormick and Porter splitting the fourth line responsibilities depending on the matchup.
But that does not include Mikhail Grigorenko who has simply lit up his fellow juniors on both the QMJHL level and the Wolrd Junior Championship stage. An unconfirmed report popped up last month that said the Sabres had guaranteed that Grigorenko would be available to his QMJHL team, the Quebec Remparts, regardless of whether the NHL had a season or not.
If he is unavailable, look for the Adam, Porter, McCormick rotation. If he is available, he will likely slot in, at least for his nine game tryout period, at the third line center, pushing Adam back to the fourth line where he would likely have McCormick behind him in the press box.
The Sabres' defensive corps is easily the strongest area on their roster.
Led by Tyler Myers, the Sabres blue liners will be among the best groups in the league if they are able to avoid the injury bug that plagued them all last season.
Myers and Robyn Regehr will likely have the top pairing responsibilities, especially given how well Myers played at the end of last season, including a streak of 20-plus games without surrendering an even strength goal while he was on the ice.
Christian Ehrhoff and Jordan Leopold will find a place in the bottom two pairing, with Ehrhoff likely on the second and Leopold on the third.
Andrej Sekera, assuming status quo, will find his way into the lineup, but he is also likely to be the biggest candidate for a trade, especially given his strong play in the World Championships after last season.
The big question is what to do with some of the young talent that was displayed last season during the defensive unit's rash of injuries.
Both Brayden McNabb and TJ Brennan played extremely well and impressed many fans and the Sabres' brass, during their stints with the team.
However, the two players are in different positions regarding their contracts for the upcoming season. McNabb is able to move between Rochester in the AHL and Buffalo without passing through waivers. Conversely, if Brennan were to play for Rochester once the NHL season starts, he would have to pass through waivers. That would almost ensure that he would not be on the Sabres or the Amerks as his 30 points in 33 games not only leads the Amerks, but is also second in the AHL among defenseman.
So look for one of two scenarios:
Either Brennan will be the team's sixth defenseman, leaving Mike Weber and Alexander Sulzer in the press box, or Brennan will be traded so Darcy Regier doesn't lose him for nothing and Sulzer and Weber will compete for the sixth spot.
This assumes Sekera is on the team of course, and if he is not a spot for Brennan and one of Weber and Sulzer opens up as well.
There's certainly no question that Ryan Miller is the Sabres' number one goaltender.
Miller returned to the form Sabres fans hoped he would at the end of last season, basically putting the team on his back and willing them toward a playoff berth.
If the Sabres are going to challenge for the Stanley Cup this year, it will be because of Miller's Vezina-level play.
Jhonas Enroth will back Miller up, but this year the rumblings that he should be starting have been muffled considerably.
The Sabres' special teams were not nearly as good as advertised last season, with the powerplay finishing 16th in the league and the penalty kill ending up at a very uncharacteristic 19th.
In order to see the playoffs this year, both areas will need to see improvement.
There will not be any major personnel changes to the powerplay, with Derek Roy's departure likely being the only hole needed to be filled from the end of last season. Look for an expanded role from both Ennis and Hodgson in light of that. A healthy Ehrhoff and Myers will also go a long way for the man advantage.
The penalty kill was ravaged by injuries last year, with Myers, Regehr, and Jochen Hecht all missing significant time. A healthy team should go towards improving the result as Lindy Ruff's system is one of the best in the league, but players like Leino and Pominville will be relied upon to get the kill out of the bottom of the league.
Something to be added to the old adage "nothing's certain but death and taxes" for NHL players this season?
As the NBA and NFL showed last year, labor strife and compressed training camps and shortened seasons lead to injuries. Sabres fans are certainly familiar with this concept from last year.
What that means is more opportunities for the young players in the Sabres' ranks to get some stints in the NHL.
Brayden McNabb is at the top of that list and will likely be the first defenseman recalled in the event of an injury, but Mark Pysyk may see time as well.
On the offensive side, depending on where Luke Adam starts the year, he may be one of the first recalls due to injury. Other Amerks forwards to keep an eye on are Brian Flynn, Zemgus Girgensons, and Mark Mancari.
As for non-AHL players, only Mikhail Grigorenko was on the list submitted to the NHL prior to the lockout that designated the players able to be called up from their junior teams, and that would likely have to be for training camp.
For those Sabres fans looking to see World Juniors hero Jake McCabe at training camp, it likely won't happen. McCabe's eligibility at the University of Wisconsin would be lost if he were to sign a pro deal, and given the fact that he almost certainly would not make the Sabres' roster, it seems like a waste of time for him to appear during the NCAA season.
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