Looking Ahead: Moves to Bring The Sabres Back To Contention

Ryan Senior Writer IApril 27, 2008

When thinking about Sabres histroy, the 2007-2008 season will probably go down as the streakiest season in team history.  For one stretch of time, the loss of leading scorers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury, both free agent departures, seemed to be taking it's toll in an obvious way.  Then, the Sabres would turn it on and look like the team it should be: a team with the ability to skate with anyone and a talented group of young players.

The Sabres can still be somewhat proud, though.  It's tough to lose that much production, not to mention trading away your #1 defenseman in Brian Campbell.

*Tangent Alert!*

Before I go on about what I think the Sabres should do this off-season, let me say that I miss Campbell's presence.  Soupy was an exciting, slick skating defender and  he was really becoming the guy the team envisioned he'd be all along.  He  also lowered his shoulder to deliver arguably the greatest hit in NHL history on R.J. Umberger.  Hey, R.J.: Keep your head up!   

Ok, back to the task at hand.

Again, losing that kind of production is tough, but this is a team that should have made the playoffs.  Goalie Ryan Miller, who NEEDS to be locked up long-term, is right on the cusp of "elite" status and carried the team for stretches.  He seems to lose focus at times and lets in the occasional soft goal, but there are few guys I'd want in the net over him.

The offense has a solid core built around speed.  Pomiville, Roy, Afinogenov, Hecht, Stafford and Vanek are all capable of being 30 goal producers. Gaustad and Mair provide the grit and the occasional spark.  And then there's Tim Connolly.  God help Timmy.  The guy has all the tools in the world. He really does. He just does not have the hockey intelligence to succeed.  No one has ever driven me as crazy as Connolly does on the power play.  Great passing skills but when you make such dumb decisions, does it even matter? Combined that with the fact that he's not sturdy on his skates and he's soft and you see where my problems with him lie.

The defense is adequate. Nothing more, nothing less.  We have too many decent to solid guys.  Since we lost our only true puck moving defenseman, that's an area of need.  I feel we also need a big, mobile, nasty S.O.B in the mold of Montreal's Mike Komisarek to make opposing forwards think twice about anything they do.

So heading into the draft, I believe we need to fill those two needs as well as pick up a play-making center.   Picking 13th, it seems like our best shot is to pick up a mobile defender.  If still there, Colby Robak seems like a good fit.  He's a big kid at 6'3'', he's mobile and a surprisingly good offensive defenseman.  Granted, he won't contribute right away but it's a step in the right direction. 

I'd also like to see the Sabres tab centerman Jori Lehtera in the second round.  Lehtera could potentially fill that play making centerman role, as Lehtera picked up 29 assists for Tappara in the Finnish League.

As far as free agency goes, I don't expect the Sabres to make a big splash as historically it's not how they operate. I expect them to go after lower profile guys and remain quiet.  I'd like them to go after a guy like John-Michael Liles who is set to become an unrestricted free agent.  He would slide right into the top two pairings and be that puck mover we sorely need.

There isn't a ton out there as far as physical, stay at home defenders are concerned.  It looks like taking a flyer on an aging vet might be the only option at this point.

Long story short, the Sabres are on the cusp of returning to the playoffs.  A few changes need to be made and a few of the mainstays need to up their game (don't turn your back on me, Vanek!). Here's to hoping that things are on the upswing for the Blue and Gold.