Another offseason goes by and still no Kovalchuk or Gonchar in a sabres uniform however as always there is optimism in sabreland. Here's a look at what the sabres accomplished and what they still need to accomplish this offseason and what to expect in the upcoming season
The Buffalo Sabres lost two key members of their defense when Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman filed for free agency and before you assume that Darcy Regier played Mr. Scrooge with their contracts, you might want to reconsider.
In Lydman's case, I don't think Regier had any interest in bringing back the Finnish defenceman. With options like Marc-Andre Bergeron, Andy Sutton, and Jordan Leopold (who eventually signed with the Sabres) on the market, Regier decided to take his chances. In my opinion it payed off, as Jordan Leopold brings more leadership to the team than Lydman.
Henrik Tallinder, however, was a different story. The Sabres tried hard to re-sign Tallinder, who worked very well with protege defenceman Tyler Myers; however, they fell short when the New Jersey Devils offered Tallinder a staggering four-year deal paying him $3.75 million per year. I won't be the first to say that Tallinder had a great year and deserved a pay raise, but with four goals and 16 assists I'm not so sure $3.75 million is a fair amount.
Instead, the Sabres turned their attention to Tomas Kaberle. However, that excitement for Sabres fans was short lived when Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke decided to play hardball and would not budge to a Sabres counter-offer.
The Sabres turned their attention to defenceman Shaone Morrison, who signed a two-year, two-way deal. Still, the Sabres are exploring other options like Marc-Andre Bergeron and Portland Pirates defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who is expected to have a great shot at making the opening night roster and making a splash in the 2010-11 season.
Overall, I don't believe the Sabres defensive core has really changed. The Sabres defence is good, not great, but good with loads of unharnessed potential from guys like Gragnani, Sekera, and even Myers which, if harnessed, could lead to better success on what was a rather disappointing defence, scoring-wise.
For the last few years the Sabres have been prioritizing the addition of leadership to the roster and they may have finally clicked this offseason. With the key additions of journeyman Jordan Leopold and veteran Rob Niedermeyer, the Sabres have finally put together the leadership necessary to lead a team through the playoffs.
Even though the defense and leadership look great the Sabres still lack one very important and final piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle: Thomas Vanek's super sidekick. As good as Vanek is, it's difficult to win with just one elite scorer, four playmakers, and a Stafford as your "top six."
Even if top prospect Tyler Ennis has a great year, at the tender age of 20 he may not be too much of a factor come playoff time. The Sabres should turn their attention to shedding some of their seemingly endless supply of prospects for an NHL-ready scorer who can help improve what was a very dismal and series-breaking powerplay.
Speaking of powerplay, it's not too late for the Sabres to bolster that powerplay as Marc-Andre Bergeron (who I have hinted in this article on more than one occasion) is still available along with his 13 goals and 21 assists. With all of the attention being turned to Bieksa and Mitchell, the Sabres could very well sign Bergeron at steal price.
The only downside is Bergeron's defensive abilities are less than adequate, which may explain why the Sabres have waited more than a month to sign the guy.
Overall, this year's Sabres team is not too different from last year—unpredictable, full of potential, and heavily dependent on US Olympic hero and Vezina trophy winner Ryan Miller.