Fans in Buffalo were disappointed again after what looked like a promising season. The Sabres made the playoffs for the first time since winning the President’s Trophy in 2007, but were then bounced out by the Bruins in round one.
A well-played season with impressive performances from Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller gave the city of Buffalo plenty of reason to believe that the team would succeed in the postseason. After all, the Sabres earned home-ice advantage with the No. 3 seed, and were 25-10-6 at HSBC Arena.
It didn’t matter. Boston did its job against Buffalo, and is now playing in the next round, leading Philadelphia two games to none. The top three teams in the Eastern Conference were defeated in the first round. Also, all of the Vezina Trophy finalists (Ryan Miller, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Martin Brodeur) did not make it past the first round. It just goes to show that anything is possible in the postseason.
An early exit has the Sabres focused on what moves it will make this summer. Buffalo has nine players that will become free agents if they are not signed by July 1st.
One of the biggest questions is whether or not the Sabres will trade Tim Connolly. He certainly has trade value and could make a big impact with any team, but he still has one year left on his contract, which is $4.5 million.
Connolly played more than 63 games for the first time since the 2002-2003 season, but failed to put up the amount of points that the team hoped for. Connolly was the fifth overall draft picked in 1999, and earned 96 points in 113 games spanning over three seasons.
This was Connolly’s year to prove what he could do over a full season. Despite scoring 65 points, the most in his career, Connolly was expected to do more than that. Many fans do not want him anymore, considering his cap hit is $4.5 million. It will be interesting to see what Regier plans to do this summer regarding Connolly.
Many Sabres fans already expect Raffi Torres to join another team by next season. General Manager Darcy Regier stated that the trade did not work out for the team, or for Torres. Torres earned six assists in 16 games with Buffalo, and did not make an impact on the team.
There is a good chance that backup goaltender Patrick Lalime will not return to the team for next season. His contract is up this summer and he won just four of 13 starts during the season. Many could argue that he did not see consistent playing time and was basically thrown into the net every couple of weeks.
Lalime remains a solid backup, but he could play a greater role on another team. Buffalo may keep an eye on Martin Biron, even though he is coming off of his worst career performance with the New York Islanders.
It would not be a reach to sign Biron to a small deal worth $1 million per year. That would give the Sabres time to determine if Portland Pirates goaltender Jhonas Enroth is ready for the NHL.
A pair of Buffalo’s defensemen are also looking for a new contract. Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder each earned just over $2.5 million last season, and they each scored four goals and 16 assists.
It may be tough for the Sabres to sign both, but expect at least one of them to return next season. Losing both defensemen would leave the Sabres with open spots on the roster, and Mike Weber may not be ready to make the jump from the AHL.
Buffalo native Patrick Kaleta is likely to resign with the team for two or three years. The fourth line bruiser is known for being an agitator on the ice. He knows how to effectively aggravate opponents and consistently draw penalties.
Mike Grier, Tim Kennedy, Matt Ellis, and Adam Mair will also become free agents if the Sabres are willing to let them go. It should be an interesting summer with plenty of solid free agents hitting the market. Let’s see what Regier, in possibly his final year with the Sabres, does to try and improve the team.