This is Part Two of an eight-part series of questions about the Sabres that many people have been wondering about over the offseason
Defense hasn't really been a strong suit of the Sabres for the few years after the lockout. However, last year's defense may have surprised many people.
While it certainly is not an elite defense, the Sabres' defense could have been considered a top 15 defense last season, which puts them in the top half of the league.
With the emergence of defensman Tyler Myers, the Sabres gained a credible defensman on their team who will probably make his name in the league for years to come. While defensman Henkrik Tallinder can be credited for the "tutoring" of Myers, Tallinder's play benefited just as much as Myers' did.
Steve Montador had a decent year as far as statistics go, and he was highly underrated as far as the Sabres defense goes. His partner for most of the year, Toni Lydman, was mostly solid, though he had trouble with turnovers.
Craig Rivet, captain of the Sabres, had a down year, playing with rotating defensman Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler; with neither being able to nail down a roster spot. If there was anything weak about the Sabres' defense last year, it was their defensive depth.
Craig Rivet's troubles sprouted from an injury that he had suffered the season before, when he tore the double labrum in his shoulder. Rivet recently had surgery on the shoulder and should be back by the season opener, according to GM Darcy Regier.
Besides hoping that Rivet's shoulder heals up nicely, the Sabres had two other problems at the beginning of this offseason: the expiring contracts of Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder.
The Sabres were not able to get a deal done before free agency kicked off, as they lost Lydman (Ducks) and Tallinder (Devils) to their respective new teams.
To fix this problem, the Sabres made two defensive signings. Darcy Regier announced the signing of defensman Jordan Leopold to a three-year deal on July 1st, the day free agency in the NHL started. Many assumed that Leopold would be the only addition to the Sabres' defensive core, as it was expected that Regier would fill the remaining spots with minor leaguers like Mike Weber or Marc-Andre Gragnani.
However, Regier shocked the Sabres fan base by waiving forward Buffalo's own Tim Kennedy, and then signing defensman Shaone Morrisonn on the same day. Morrisonn brings the Sabres a strong, stay-at-home defensman, who has been partnered with offensive defensman Mike Green of the Washington Capitals.
With the subtractions of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, someone would be hard-pressed to say that the Sabres could roll out a better defensive unit this year, though it is possible.
Jordan Leopold brings the Sabres a possible power play quarterback, as Leopold is known more to be an offensive defensman; something the Sabres truly lacked last season.
Shane Morrisonn brings the Sabres a stay-at-home defensman they've been missing since Jay McKee left to join the St. Louis Blues in 2006.
If Rivet can come back fully healthy, he could have a bounce-back year along with defensive partner Chris Butler, who could certainly use a healthy Rivet after the year he had last year. Butler was a revelation during the final months of his rookie campaign, though he went through a major sophomore slump. Playing with a healthy defense partner could do wonders for Butler in his third and final year on his entry-level contract.
Tyler Myers hopes not to have the sophomore slump as Chris Butler did, but he can look no further than Maple Leaf's defensman Luke Schenn that it could very well happen to himself this year. Myers is a very smart defensman who seems way beyond his years in his knowledge of the game.
The big question is: of Andrej Sekera, Mike Weber, and Marc-Andre Gragnani, who makes the big club? Sekera will need to have a strong camp in order to make the team, as he seemed to be in Lindy Ruff's doghouse along with Chris Butler last season. It is quite possible that Butler could be sent back down to Portland in favor of Weber or Gragnani. Weber would bring the Sabres another stay-at-home defensman. However, Weber does log a lot of PIMs, and a lot of stupid ones at that. Gragnani brings an offensive upside to the Sabres, as he has led the Portland Pirates in points for defensmen the last two years. Andrej Sekera will likely make the team no matter what, as he has a one-way contract. Sekera could end up being the Sabres' 7th defensman, though, meaning he'd see a lot of the press box.
Through all of this, there is one person who hopes that the Sabres' defense is at least on par, or better than the Sabres defensive unit last season. Ryan Miller won a Vezina Trophy for league's best goaltender last season behind this defense. If this year's defense is better than last year's, then that bodes well for him.
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