5 Burning Questions for Buffalo Sabres' 2013-14 Season
Heading into the 2013-14 NHL season, the Buffalo Sabres appear to have more questions than answers with their roster. Not only is it unclear which young players will make the roster, but the future of veterans like Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller are both up in the air.
Entering their first full season under Ron Rolston, the Sabres hope that his skills in developing young talent pays immediate dividends. Still, the team is a part of the new-look Atlantic Division, which boasts five teams that made the 2013 playoffs.
Things could get ugly.
Though a significant amount of hope remains for the years to come, the 2013-14 season could provide even more heartache than the previous campaign. Let's take a look at some of the biggest questions surrounding this squad as it approaches the season.
Who Will Be the Captain?
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Since the trade of Jason Pominville, the Buffalo Sabres have been captain-less. At this point, there seems to be no front runner for the job. Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott and Christian Ehrhoff are three veteran candidates for captain, but the first two are in the final year of their contracts.
On other side of the coin, Rolston might look to put a youngster in charge of this team, and who better than Cody Hodgson? Recently inked to a six-year contract worth north of $25 million, the 23-year-old will be in Buffalo for the foreseeable future. With so much uncertainty on the roster, the blossoming center may be the guy.
If Hodgson doesn't earn the captaincy, look for a veteran whose future in Buffalo appears stable. In that situation, I think Rolston hands the "C" to Ehrhoff, the most steady defenseman on the team.
What Will Happen to Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller?
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As they both enter the final year of their contracts with the Sabres, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller appear to be all but gone. Both players have toiled in Buffalo throughout years of change, but have never gotten the opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup.
When the trade deadline approaches, the Sabres will most likely be on the outside of the playoff picture, looking to deal their best assets for futures. Unfortunately, the market for starting goalies at the deadlines has been slim to none in recent years. Vanek, on the other hand, could provide quite a haul in a trade, but the sooner the better.
Sadly for the Sabres, it still remains a possibility that neither player is traded and both walk away as unrestricted free agents for no return. Darcy Regier and company know that feeling all too well, as Daniel Briere and Chris Drury did just that six years ago.
Let's hope for everyone's sake that the organization can handle this situation properly. Otherwise, Regier may be on the chopping block.
Can Mikhail Grigorenko Break out in His Sophomore Campaign?
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In his first stint in the NHL, Mikhail Grigorenko was only able to manage five points in 25 games played. Though not horrible numbers—especially considering how abysmally the team started the season—fans expected more out of the highly-touted Russian.
After a demotion to the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts at the midway point of the NHL season, Grigorenko continued to prove that he was far too talented for junior hockey. Stuck in limbo, the 19-year-old had to improve his skating and overall intensity to make a bigger impact in the big show.
As we approach the season, it is all but a guarantee that "Grigo" will be a part of the Sabres' roster. How big of an impact he will make, though, is anyone's guess. Personally, I expect the 6'3" pivot to turn some heads.
With the league's 22nd-ranked offense in 2013, they sure could use his talent.
Will Tyler Myers Finally Take the Next Step?
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It seems like just yesterday that Tyler Myers was being touted as the next big thing on defense in the NHL. Since then, the likes of Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and PK Subban have proved themselves to be more reliable than the 2010 Calder Trophy winner.
Seemingly riddled by injuries in the past few seasons, Myers has had trouble finding his game on the ice. His points per game total has dropped in each sequential NHL season, and he has hardly looked at home in his own zone, as well.
Enter Ron Rolston.
Known for working with Team USA's Development Program, Rolston knows a thing or two about helping youngsters improve. This is a far stretch from Lindy Ruff, who never appeared to be a fan of younger players.
If Myers can stay healthy and find a reliable defensive partner, look for him to find his stride in the 2013-14 season. After all, defensemen take a long time to develop. We can only hope that this is the case with this towering rearguard.
Is This Team Remotely Close to Being a Playoff Competitor?
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In the NHL, making the playoffs is not the most difficult of feats. In fact, more than half of the league's teams get a chance to battle it out for the Stanley Cup. Still, the Sabres have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons and appear to be bottoming out before they return to the big stage.
With a team that has little offensive depth, young defensemen and a goalie whose best years appear to be behind him, how can we expect them to make the playoffs?
To make things worse for Buffalo, the NHL's realignment did them no favors. Stuck in a division with Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa—to say nothing of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who I think could surprise some folks—things look bleak.
Only the top three teams in each division are guaranteed a playoff spot. After that, there are two wild-card berths in each conference. With 16 teams in the East and 14 in the West, it appears to be more than an uphill battle for the Sabres.