For Buffalo Sabres fans, it means preparing for another season of what ifs, free agents replacing quality veterans and hope that the kids from Portland will become stars immediately.
Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier enter this season with lofty expectations after barely missing the playoffs the previous two season and making the Eastern Conference Finals at the end of the '06-'07 and '07-'08 seasons. Either or both could be finding new jobs if the Sabres miss out on the postseason.
The cornerstones on the Sabres roster are set. Goaltender Ryan Miller continues to win games and give the team the opportunity to win games every night. Jason Pominville should rebound after a sub-par year last year, and the defense is getting younger with the addition of Tyler Myers.
Myers joins fellow free agent Steve Montador after Jaroslav Spacek left in free agency. Captain Craig Rivet did a good job with developing Chris Butler and Butler should have a breakout year in 2009-10. Myers will be under the gun from day one of training camp. He has no option to go to the AHL, so expect him to play every night.
Some fans were surprised that Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder are still on the Sabres roster, but they’re too valuable to let go. They should look for bounce-back years, either together or apart. Ruff has a history of being faithful to players that have played well for the team for a long time.
Derek Roy will continue to be the top scoring center for the Sabres. As long as he has Thomas Vanek on his wing, teams will continue to match up their best defensive pairing against the Vanek/Roy line. The team still hasn’t signed Drew Stafford, but fans should expect a deal by the opening of training camp. He, along with Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville, should have more productive seasons than last year.
A lot of the Sabres scoring on the second and third lines will rely on Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy. These two are looking to make the parent club right out of training camp and fans expect both on the opening day roster. Gerbe showed flashes of scoring while with the Sabres last year. Signing Mike Grier to mentor the younger players was a good move by Regier.
The pieces are in place for the Sabres to return to playoffs. It doesn’t matter which seed the team ends up being, because anything can happen during the NHL playoffs.