5 Questions the Buffalo Sabres Must Answer in 2013
Anytime a team doesn't make the playoffs, they have a lot of questions they need to answer about themselves. No matter what happened, the reality is the team was not good enough to get into the postseason, regardless of the reasons.
The Buffalo Sabres faced those questions at the end of last season and are now ready to undertake the start of the shortened 2013 season with a few tweaks in their lineup.
Essentially, general manager Darcy Regier saw enough in the team at the end of last year to keep most of it intact this offseason, choosing to find the answers from within.
With that in mind, these are the five biggest questions the Sabres will have to answer to get over the playoff hump this season.
1. Can Cody Hodgson or Tyler Ennis Be a No. 1 Center?
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Last year the Sabres entered the season with a big hole in their roster: A No. 1 center.
Derek Roy was never that guy and Ville Leino was transitioning from wing and many questioned his ability to pick up the position at an elite level.
This season, things are a bit different.
Coming into training camp, the Sabres have three young and talented pivots that have the ability to be the team's No. 1 guy in Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis and Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigorenko is 18 years old and has a lot of learning to do, so to expect him to be the top guy this year is being a bit too optimistic.
The other two, on the other hand, have the experience and the talent necessary to get there this year. And at least one will have to in order to get the Sabres in the conversation with Pittsburgh and the Rangers.
Hodgson will likely be playing between Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, and Ennis between Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford. Both lines will see ample ice time and head coach Lindy Ruff certainly hopes that each of the young centers take a step forward this year.
2. Can Ryan Miller Continue His Torrid Stretch from Last Season?
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As much as many in Buffalo may have tried to dismiss him last season, Ryan Miller is arguably the most important player in a Sabres jersey.
Nothing can prove it more than how the team's play correlated with his own play last season.
It was simple. When he was bad, the team was bad and when he was good, the team was good.
The stretch the Sabres went on from late February until the end of the season was no coincidence. From February 1, Miller was 18-6-4, including five shutouts. He essentially carried the team on his back and willed them toward the playoffs.
So, the question becomes whether or not Miller will play like he did at the beginning or the end of the season. If he keeps up his Vezina-level play from the end of the year last year, the Sabres will almost certainly make the playoffs and will likely contend for the Northeast Division title.
3. Will All 9 NHL-Ready Defenseman Stay on the Roster?
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As of right now the Sabres have nine NHL-ready defenseman in training camp.
Those nine are: Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr, Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, Alexander Sulzer, TJ Brennan, Adam Pardy and Jordan Leopold.
That does not even include the wealth of young talent they have improving in Rochester in Brayden McNabb, Mark Pysyk and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc.
Veteran Joe Finley was claimed off of waivers Monday, cutting into the depth a bit, but the reality is there is almost too much for the Sabres to handle.
So will they keep all nine of these blue liners?
The answer to that question could be answered before the season even starts, especially after the Edmonton Oilers traded a third-round pick to the Dallas Stars for Mark Fistric, a serviceable but unremarkable stay-at-home defenseman.
With a deep draft class for the 2013 draft, Regier may look to load up on picks, or he could look to supplement his bottom six forwards. Either way, especially with the apparent need of defenseman around the league in places like New York (Islanders), Minnesota and Detroit, the Sabres have a lot of bargaining power right now.
4. Does Mikhail Grigorenko Make the Team?
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With two days of training camp done, including the Blue-White scrimmage held in front of over 10,000 fans last night at the First Niagara Center, the most pressing question on Sabres fans' minds is whether or not phenom Mikhail Grigorenko will get to stay in the NHL.
Right now it seems like the Sabres' first-rounder in the summer's draft will get his five-game shot.
He impressed Ruff with his body skills in the first day of practice on Sunday and then gave a repeat performance on Monday in the scrimmage. That includes a rifle that hit the crossbar behind Miller who seemed to not even see the shot.
Grigorenko also took some hits and responded well, which was something Ruff was looking at.
While his offensive skill and vision were complemented, Grigorenko was also able to show off his skating ability which many have said was greatly improved from last summer's rookie camp held in Buffalo.
Realistically, Grigorenko's fate has a huge impact on the Sabres' plans moving forward this season. If he stays he will likely start between Steve Ott and Ville Leino. That will allow Jochen Hecht to play the fourth line. If he goes, Hecht will move up to the third line and Cody McCormick and Matt Ellis will likely share the fourth line duties.
No matter what happens, it'll be interesting to see if No. 25 makes the team as an 18-year- old.
5. Do Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier Survive the Season?
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It has been the topic of conversation the past few seasons, but the calls for Regier and Ruff's heads came loud and clear last year during December and January.
While owner Terry Pegula has shown his unwavering support for his coach and general manager, some have to wonder how long the two last if the Sabres struggle again to start the year.
Recent history has shown that coaching changes in the middle of a season can be extremely beneficial, with Ken Hitchcock's Blues and Darryl Sutter's Stanley Cup Champion Kings being the prime examples of last season.
Also, while nothing official has been cited or even substantiated, a few hockey writers have thrown out the idea of Brian Burke taking over the Sabres.
One would think a fast start would cement Ruff and Regier for the rest of the season, but a slow start could mean the end for the pair.