The Buffalo Sabres came out of nowhere following the lockout that ended the 2004-2005 NHL season.
Many sports experts had them picked near the bottom of the heap in preseason power rankings. Yet the Sabres exploded onto the scene with a fast and furious style of play that relied on speed, finesse, and a transition game with puck-moving defensemen that exemplified the new NHL.
They were one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference and the entire NHL for two seasons following the lockout.
However, offseason departures of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, and to a lesser extent Dainus Zubrus (who had joined the Sabres at the deadline and was a good, hardworking physical player down the stretch in the 2006-2007 season) left some serious skates to fill.
Thomas Vanek was signed to a large contract to prevent the Oilers from claiming him, and he responded with a decent season. However, a decent season was not enough to get the Sabres back into the playoffs. It was a disappointment to all Sabres fans after the past two seasons.
So where does that leave the Buffalo Sabres? There were a couple of bright spots that came out of last season. One was the play of defensemen Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber at the end of the season. Those two may come to be pillars of the defense for a long time to come.
Also, the duo of Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville served as a very good scoring combo and effective leaders. The Sabres played some of their best hockey when one of these two was wearing the "C."
During the offseason, the Sabres traded away Steve Bernier. He came in at the trade deadline when Brian Campbell was traded to the San Jose Sharks, for a pair of draft picks.
The Sabres then parlayed one of those picks and another one into deal with the Sharks for defenseman Craig Rivet.
This last addition could be a very important one. An assistant captain with the Sharks last season, Rivet is a veteran with leadership abilities. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been wearing the "A."
One of the things the Sabres were sorely lacking was veteran leadership. Teppo Numminen did not play until the very last game of the season, and previous captains Drury and Briere both departed before the season began.
Yes, Hecht and Pominville did provide some leadership during the season. However, Rivet brings that veteran presence on the blue line that the Sabres were missing. The defense definitely improved with this signing.
The Sabres have the potential to reclaim their spot in the Eastern Conference as a playoff team. It comes down to the defense improving, veteran leadership to help the team stay true through the rough times during the season, more of the supporting cast chipping in with scoring, and Ryan Miller playing as well as he can.
The future can be bright, but it is up to the Buffalo Sabres to make it that way.