After two straight years of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, the Buffalo Sabres have since been on the outside looking in.
Buffalo cannot say they do not have the talent; they are led by Thomas Vanek who has the potential to score between 40-50 goals per season. They also have Tim Connolly who, when healthy, has the potential to be a point per game player. They are led by one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, Ryan Miller, who is on the list of potential players for the American Olympic squad.
The list of prospects with great potential is very strong, led by the little speedster in Nathan Gerbe, while the promising Chris Butler anchors the defensive prospects. Jhonas Enroth is the next in line in goal, who will most likely report back to Portland to begin the season to get consistent reps, and will get the first shot if Miller or Patrick Lalime go down with an injury.
The summer has been active, as the Sabres' organization signed Paul Byron (2007 sixth-round selection), and Tyler Myers (2008 first-round selection). They also signed their first two selections in the 2007 draft in TJ Brennan and Drew Schiestel to entry level deals. You should expect to see all four prospects in Portland this year, with Myers as the only player with an outside chance at starting the upcoming season with Buffalo.
Also, 2009 first round selection Zack Kassian has a shot once signed to make the Sabres from the beginning. Expect Mike Weber to make great strides this year and possibly spend the entire season in Buffalo as well.
In addition, the Sabres hung on to a very underrated and possibly underappreciated player in Matt Ellis, signing him to a one-year deal. So far, the Sabres have lost one free agent in Jaroslav Spacek, however signing two defensemen in Steve Montador and Joe Dipenta.
Montador, known locally for his time in Erie with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, spent last season with Anaheim and Boston. He spent last year in the Swedish Elite League. Dipenta is expected to spend a majority of time in Portland, and Montador with the Sabres.
Two Sabres have been extended invitations to Olympic tryouts—Derek Roy (Canada) and Ryan Miller (USA). These invitations come with added expectations, as Miller and Roy will be expected to become big contributors for the Sabres.
The Buffalo Sabres will have the ability this year to positively reflect the blue-collar town of Buffalo. The Sabres will have to be able to grind out many games this season in the difficult Northeast Division. They have hard-working forwards Adam Mair and Patrick Kaleta, as well as hard hitting defenseman, Steve Montador.
Realistically, the Sabres should finish second or third in the division, however, never count out the chance for them to win the division.
Projected Standings for the Northeast Division:
2. Buffalo Sabres
4. Montreal Canadians