Buffalo Sabres Enter the Offseason with Many Unanswered Questions
How did Darcy Regier keep his job? Will Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek be wearing Sabres uniforms next year? Will Ron Rolston remain as head coach? How far away do they think they are?
These are not easy questions to answer, although the answers to the last two can be inferred from the presser.
The team did improve in the standings under Rolston's tutelage, but the fact remains that the defensive and neutral zones were no better under him than they were under Lindy Ruff. When the playoffs were actually within the team's grasp, they lost two games in a row in embarrassing fashion, falling 4-1 to the Winnipeg Jets and 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens.
Simply put, Rolston should not be the team's coach next season.
The delay in his status likely means that the team wants to keep him on as their AHL coach, not their NHL coach. The conversations Regier was referring to are likely discussions concerning Rolston's willingness to move back down to Rochester, and likely not about Rolston's vision for the Sabres.
The other question that may have been answered is how far away the Sabres think they are.
Regier used the word "suffering" a few times, something the local media jumped on immediately.
But when you take a step back and look at how things have unfolded, one has to think that the management team doesn't think they're far from competing at an elite level. If they thought they were, Regier wouldn't have been at that press conference.
How realistic that view is remains to be seen.
The future could be extremely bright. There are a ton of young, seemingly NHL-ready prospects with undeniable talent in the organization.
Mikhail Grigorenko asserted himself more in the offensive zone upon his return from the QMJHL. Joel Armia helped lead his team to the Finnish Elite League Championship last week. Mark Pysyk looked great in his 19 games. Johan Larsson has been excellent in Rochester, playing on a line with a much-improved Zemgus Girgensons.
Prospects are unproven, and are anything but a sure thing, but there are guys proving themselves at the NHL level too.
Cody Hodgson has made Darcy look like a genius, and likely would have scored north of 70 points in a full season. Mike Weber solidified himself as a top-four blue liner. Marcus Foligno struggled in the goal column, but showcased his grit and creativity throughout the season.
What it comes down to is the NHL is a fluid league. Teams go from good to bad and vice-versa every year. Look at the rise of the Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks and New York Islanders and the fall of the Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers this season. Sometimes all it takes is the right piece.
This brings us to the first two questions posed. It seems Darcy still has his job for two reasons: The top brass feels the team isn't primed to be a bottom-feeder again next season and they want Darcy in charge of unloading one or both of Miller and Vanek.
It seems to be almost a foregone conclusion that one of the two are gone.
After hearing Vanek's scrum on locker clean-out day, if Miller goes, the odds of Vanek being shopped increase exponentially. So while Sabres fans would see two of their three franchise cornerstones leave, the return on the two would be the equivalent of a small fortune.
Between the potential draft picks, blue chip prospect(s), and current roster players, the trade of those two may be the shake-up this team needs.
But as it stands right now, the Sabres will sit and watch while the greatest two months in sports commences tonight. After learning they will pick eighth in June's draft, and possibly own another pick in the top-20 depending on the Minnesota Wild, they can go to work framing their new plan for the Stanley Cup. With no roster moves being allowed until after the Cup Finals, which could last until June 28, Sabres fans could be in for a whirlwind couple of hours as June ends.
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