Over the next 30 days, I will be previewing all 30 NHL clubs. I will be looking at their available salary cap room, the additions and deletions from the 2008-09 rosters and where I think they will stack up in their division and conference for the 2009-10 season.
Let's get a move on with the Buffalo Sabres, Northeast Division, and the Eastern Conference.
The Buffalo Sabres currently have 18 players under one-way contracts, two goaltenders, six defensemen and ten forwards. The salary cap hit for these 18 players is $50.13 million. Add to that the two-way contracts of prospects, Chris Butler, Joe Dipenta, Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick. The Sabres still have one significant RFA to sign, Drew Stafford. The 22 players that are signed give the Sabres a salary cap hit of $52.61. That gives a lot of room to sign Stafford and make any other moves that GM Darcy Reiger feels he needs to make to improve his hockey club.
Steve Montador signed a 2 yr. $1.55 million UFA contract from the Bruins. Joe DiPenta signed a two-way, 1 yr. 550K UFA contract from the Ducks. Cody McCormick signed a two-way, 1yr. 550K UFA contract from the Avalanche.
Jaroslav Spacek, Maxim Afinogenov, Andrew Peters, Dominic Moore, were lost to Unrestricted Free Agency. Teppo Numminen announced his retirement after 20 NHL seasons.
Restricted Free Agents still to Sign:
Drew Stafford and Mark Mancari.
Prospects that Impressed in 08/09:
This former 4th round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Butler was a mid-season call-up after the Sabres’ Defense went through a rash of injuries. During his rookie season, Butler played in 47 games and made enough of an impression, to allow the Sabres to feel comfortable enough, to let Spacek leave via free agency.
Butler is a mature offensive defenseman that is reliable in his own zone. He was a team leader at the University of Denver helping to set an example for a very young team. As a well-rounded player, he works well in tight spaces and makes the first pass well.
The former 5th round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in ’05, Gerbe played in 10 games during ’08-09. Gerbe will be looking for a regular spot with Sabres and should battle with Kaleta for the final roster spot.
He uses excellent speed and an ability to create space to make up for his lack of size. As a well-rounded offensive player, Gerbe was able to set the tone for his teammates, and provided a spark throughout the season. He looks to follow Buffalo’s Briere/Roy mold of diminutive but aggressive centers.
The former second round draft pick of the Sabres in ’06, Weber as played in 23 games over the past two seasons. The 6’2” defensemen is entering the final year of his entry level contact, so he will looking to battle with DiPenta and Butler for the final defensive roster spot with the Sabres.
Weber is a tough, defensive-minded player. That can make the long pass out of the defensive zone. He has a hard shot and takes pride in finishing his checks. He has improved his offensive game to a respectable level, and did not look out of place in a scattering of NHL games last season.
Prospects to watch in 09/10:
The former 6th round pick of the Washington Capitals, in ’05, Kennedy played in one game in ’08-09 after spending the majority of the regular season in Portland of the AHL. The 5’10” left winger is projected as a quality defensive forward. His defensive zone play and willingness to take the body have remained strengths, and he showed good leadership ability with his college team. Though not a pure scorer, he is an opportunistic and smart offensive player, with good fundamentals.
The Sabres’ first round pick, 26th overall in ’08, Ennis turns 20 years old as the NHL season starts in October. He could go back to Medicine Hat in the WHL or start his pro career in the AHL with the Portland Pirates. Ennis is a pure offensive talent who possesses excellent speed and quickness. At 5-9, he is able to use his skating ability to undress defenders or carry the puck until the play develops. He has a quick shot, and is very effective in setting up teammates.
After a banner year in the WHL, Ennis is ready to take the next step. He would fit right in at the AHL level, as he needs to continue to evolve as a playmaker against more physically imposing competition.
The first round draft choice, 12th overall in the ’08 entry draft, Myers has premier size and excellent potential as an offensive defenseman. At this early stage in his development, he is already a great skater, but needs to become a more reliable passer and point man. At 6’6, if he can add some bulk and an edge to his game, he can be an imposing presence on the blue-line. As it stands, he is one of the most promising young prospects in the Buffalo system.
Myers plans to continue with the WHL Kelowna Rockets next season, but with the effort the Sabres made in moving up to select him, they may look to progress him quickly through the system.
Recap of 08/09:
The Buffalo Sabres looked like a playoff team in ‘08/09 but a rash of injuries to key players, including All-Star goaltender Ryan Miller, who missed 13 games due to an ankle injury, sealed the fate of the Sabres and they finished 10th in the conference.
First-line center Tim Connolly missed 34 games with back and rib injuries but had 47 points in 48 games. Some think Buffalo is a team without a superstar, but if Connolly could maintain that pace over a full season, he'd be on the verge of stardom.
On top of that, defenseman Craig Rivet was rehabilitating from knee surgery when the 2008-09 season started and he missed 13 games in December and January with a shoulder injury.
The Sabres finished third in the Northeast Division and missed the playoffs by two points. The Sabres were 12th in the NHL, averaging 2.95 goals a game and were 14th allowing 2.79 goals against per game.
Outlook for 2009-10':
The Sabres are well-balanced club with two evenly skilled lines. Thomas Vanek scored 40 goals last season and was battling for the league lead until he missed nine games with a jaw injury. Tim Connolly averaged almost a point per game despite missing 34 games due to a variety of injuries. Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford are all 20+ goal scorers.
The Sabres also have one of the top goaltenders in the game today. Ryan Miller is a former All-Star and likely starter for the U.S. at the ’10 Olympics in Vancouver. Back-up Patrick Lalime is a capable back-up but his days as a starting goaltender may be behind him.
The Sabres are an average defensive club, without a superstar defenseman. With the departure of the teams number defensemen over the past two seasons, Firstly, Brian Campbell to San Jose, via trade and then Jaroslav Spacek, via free agency to the Canadiens. Head Coach Lindy Ruff is looking for a group effort for a group of number 3-4 defensemen on most NHL clubs.
I foresee the Sabres finishing second in the weak Northeast Division and battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
On August 6th, I will be reviewing the Calgary Flames, as I continue to preview each of the 30 NHL clubs.