The 2007-08 season proved greatly disappointing for the Buffalo Sabres in terms of their previous years success. After winning the Presidents trophy last season, the Buffalo Sabres failed to make the playoffs this year. They were only four points out from the 8th and final spot, held by Boston.
At first, this seems like a huge let down for a city of fans used to such great success over the past few years. However, take into consideration losing Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency and losing guys like Maxim Afinegenov and Teppo Numminen to injury, it would seem as though this Buffalo didn't fair as bad as you'd think. Then, take into consideration The Sabres were still the second highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference and third highest in the entire league, then the picture suddenly becomes bigger.
Sure, a high scoring team like the Sabres SHOULD have made the playoffs. Many people see this as the begining of a great collapse from a team that already almost faced its demise from bankruptcy a few years back. The bottom line is this; the Sabres don't need a whole lot of changes. Sure, to return to the post-season the Sabres will need some minor off-season tweaks, but not enough to consider this team in a "rebuilding stage". Lets break down some possible off-season moves for the Buffalo Sabres.
unrestricted free agents: Michael Ryan
restricted free agents: Steve Bernier, Paul Gaustad, Clarke Macarthur, Mark Mancari, Daniel Paille
When you lose guys like Danny Briere and Chris Drury and still finish third overall in the league in goals for, your pretty deep as far as scoring goals is concerned. Coach Lindy Ruff got career years from center Derek Roy and right wing Jason Pominville. Dereky Roy finished better then a point per game, while Pominville set a career high in assists with 53 and was a nearly a point per game with 80 in 82 games. Roy seems to have stepped up into the number one center position for Tim Connolly, who again missed most of the season with injuries but still managed 40 points in 48 games.
Every team has their own little edge. The Detroit Red Wings have their puck movement. The Philadelphia Flyers have their grit. The Anaheim Ducks have their size. Without a doubt, The Buffalo Sabres can score goals. They dont really need to many changes up front. Thomas Vanek had a slow start but had a stellar second half and nearly hit the 40 goal mark for the second straight year. Ales Kotalik and Jochen Hecht once again hit the 20 goal mark, and youngster Daniel Paille set a career high with 19 goals. If Afinegenov and Connolly can stay healthy, that's eight guys that offer consistent scoring.
You would figure it stops there, but it doesnt. The Sabres do have a considerable amount of size upfront as well. Paul Gaustad, stands 6'5 and remains their number one option for a third line center who can play both ends of the ice. Then theirs youngsters Drew Stafford and Steve Bernier, both who had 16 goalds and both who stand at 6'2.
Convinced this teams pretty deep at forward? If your not, it gets better. The Sabres also recently signed Boston College forward Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe led the nation in scoring with 35 goals and 33 assists in 43 games. Gerbe averaged over a point a game his collegiate career, with 133 points in 123 games. Despite being only 5'6 and 160lbs, Gerbe has a decent chance at cracking the Sabres line-up next year given his international experience playing for Team USA in the World Junior Hockey and Under-18 championships.
The only possible free agent signing I see is a second line center in place of Connolly. But they fared well in the offensive department without him for a good portion of the past two seasons. If anything, they could possibly shop him for a defencemen.
unfrestricted free agents: Dmitri Kalinin, Teppo Numminen, Nolan Pratt
The only slight area where the Sabres need some improvement. They should look to bring back Dmitri Kalinin, who brought a nice physical presence to the team. Hopefully they can get Teppo Numminen back, who is a great two-way physical defencemen despite his age. Jaroslav Spacek continues to be helpful on the powerplay, with seven of his nine goals coming on the man advantage. However, he could be shopped to another team that needs a veteran defencemen and has salary to spend. Rounding out their solid defence core would be two way blue liner Toni Lydman, one of Buffalos most consistent defencemen this season.
Their biggest off-season task would have to be trying to replace Brian Cambell. If the Sabres cant convince Cambell to leave San Jose and return to Buffalo, they could possibly look to sign someone like Mark Streit. Streit has been quoted saying he wants to stay in Montreal because he's so comfortable in their locker room. However, something tells me the versatile veteran that can play forward or defence would find himself right at home on the high scoring Sabres.
As far as a younger options to bolster their blue line, the Sabres could make offer sheets to Joni Pitkanen or Dustin Byfuglien, both restricted free agents. Pitkanen enjoyed a much better year this year with Edmonton then his first few with the Flyers. He's a solid two way defencemen with good size and is getting better and better offensivley. Byfuglien, who swapped back and forth this year between forward and defence, scored 19 goals and added 17 assists in only 67 games. Those numbers might be decieving for a defencemen who plays up on offense occasionally. But Dustin is a big boy at 6'3, 246lbs. If the Sabres can get that much offense from a guy that big, he's gotta be at least worth a look. Rounding out possible blue line additions would be veteran two way Sandis Ozolinsh and defensive d-man Brooks Orpik.
unrestricted free agents: Jocelyn Thibault
Ryan Miller will obviously return as the number one guy for Buffalo next season. It was an up and down season for Miller, but who can complain when a guy plays 76 games and finishes with a 2.64 GAA and a .906 save percentage? The Sabres will probably look to shop the free agent market in search for of a decent secondary goaltender who can play 20-25 games in relief of Miller. Among the free agent goal-tenders this summer fit to back up Miller, Johan Hedberg, Johan Holmqvist, Alex Auld, Ty Conklin, and Dan Ellis would fit the bill nicely. Seeing as how Nashivlle will probably do anything and everything in their power to bring back Ellis, who was better than great for them in their first round playoff exit against Detroit, the Sabres next best bet would be Conklin. Conklin, a former Saber himself, was fantastic during the Penguins while number one goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was out with a high ankle sprain. If the Pen's cant find a way to sign Conklin, I wouldn't at all be surprized to see him backing up Miller.
Resign: Daniel Paille, Paul Gaustad, Clarke Macarthur, Dmitri Kalinin, Teppo Numinen (should he decide to return)
Free Agent Needs: Offensive Defencemen, Physical-Defensive Defencemen, Veteran Two-Way Defencmen
Possible Trading Block: Tim Connolly, Jaroslav Spacek
Top Rookie: Nathan Gerbe
There's no doubt that the Buffalo Sabres have talent. They-re a team that thrives on speed, passing, and their ability to score goals. They have a fantastic coach in Lindy Ruff and a cup-determined General Manager in Darcy Regier. The Buffalo Sabres franchise has yet to win a Stanley Cup despite its recent success in past years. Regardless of the fact that they didn't make the playoffs this year, with the young core of players they have and a world class Coach that has already molded them into contenders, its only a matter of time before the high scoring Buffalo Sabres introduce themselves to Lord Stanley. Many people thought it would be another five years until the Sabres reached such an accomplishment after losing "irreplaceable" veteran scorers Danny Briere and Chris Drury.
I guess you can say Derek Roy and Jason Pominville redefine "irreplaceable"