5 Bold Predictions for Buffalo Sabres' 2013-14 Season
With less than a week until the start of the Buffalo Sabres' 2013-14 season, it's time to make some bold predictions. Thus far, the team is 4-1-1 in the preseason, but that's hardly an indicator of an Eastern Conference contender. Still, we can't count out the Blue and Gold just yet.
With the beginning of the rebuilding process, a lot of things are going to be different in Buffalo. That means some players will have to step up and take new roles, while others may be shipped out of town.
Either way, it looks to be an intriguing—albeit probably unsuccessful—season in the Queen City. Here are my five predictions for the season.
Cody Hodgson Leads Team in Points
In his first "full" season with the Sabres, Cody Hodgson recorded 34 points in 48 games, which is prorated to just about 71 points over a full 82-game season. That's pretty excellent for a guy who was just 22 years old.
As he enters his third NHL season, Hodgson has another summer of training with Gary Roberts under his belt. For those who are unfamiliar with Roberts' training program, just know that Hodgson is working his tail off in the offseason.
With Thomas Vanek on his wing, Hodgson will surely get his share of assists. Still, I think the youngster can be a 30-goal scorer if everything goes right. With the uncertainty of Vanek's future and Hodgson's ascending game, I think we have a new scoring champion on the team.
Thomas Vanek Is Named Captain
Yes, I just said that Thomas Vanek's future is uncertain. And yes, he probably will not be a Sabre past this season. But still, I see Vanek as Ron Rolston's man.
Having worn the "C" in the preseason and the "A" for years, I think he is firmly on the radar for the job.
Why, you ask?
Well, first and foremost, I think that Hodgson may be the next in line, but at 23, he is still much younger than most NHL captains. Having a man like Vanek, who has paid his dues at the NHL level, serve as captain for a year will be a nice bridge to the future. Once he is gone, then the new era of Buffalo Sabres hockey will really begin.
Ville Leino Records 40 Points
Ville Leino has been nothing besides the butt of jokes in Buffalo since he first stepped on the ice. Frankly, if you're making $4.5 million a year, then you have to produce. However, it's important to recognize that the man has not been healthy.
In the past two seasons, Leino has missed a total of 51 games due to injury. Sure, his 25-point season in 2011-12 was one to forget, but wasn't that the case for all Sabres? In 2013, when he was healthy—and mind you, that was only eight games—he recorded six points for a very respectable .75 points per game.
While no one is expecting Leino to light up the league, I think that fans' expectations are lower than they should be. On a team devoid of elite offensive talent, someone is going to have to pick up the slack.
Don't be surprised if a healthy Leino puts up more than half a point per game.
Ryan Miller Is Traded at the Deadline
Ryan Miller is on the backside of his prime but is still a good NHL goaltender. For his sake and for that of the Sabres, it's time for both parties to go their separate ways. The only problem is finding a suitor.
These days, the goalie trade market in the NHL is very weak. Many teams have shown they can win in the playoffs with goalies who are not considered elite (see: Chicago Blackhawks and Antti Niemi). That being said, there are always contenders that are not satisfied with their man between the pipes.
Look for Miller to be shipped off at the deadline, but don't expect the return to be high. He is no longer in Vezina or Olympic MVP form and he's in the final year of his contract. Still, it would be better to get some sort of return on this asset than to see him walk in the summer.
Sabres Finish 13th in Eastern Conference
As a Sabre fan myself, it breaks my heart to say this, but this year's team won't be making a playoff appearance. With the new playoff format and the strength of the Atlantic Division, I see this team finishing in seventh place in the division and 13th in the conference.
Frankly, the team is going to be starved for offense and is young on defense. Add all of that up, and you have a tough job if your name is Ryan Miller or Jhonas Enroth. Though the team could get off to a hot start, as young teams are often prone to do, I can't imagine it being sustained.
Unfortunately for this squad, things are looking pretty bleak in 2013-14.