The Buffalo Sabres have been an up-and-down team for a few years, but whenever they're down, they always seem to recover.
Of course everyone remembers those dynamic Chris Drury and Daniel Briere years, but when those two were signed away many wondered how Buffalo would recover. Could they get the team back to a competitive level? What would the response from the fans be to the losses of those two stars?
The Sabres were able to replace those stars with younger, high-ceiling options, they're top-10 in the league in attendance (and the 14th-biggest draw on the road), and having an All-World goalie certainly helps.
While everyone pays attention to the Pittsburghs and Washingtons, the Sabres should be a fun team to watch this year. They're also a fun team to make 10 bold (and not so bold) predictions about.
1. Someone scores 30 goals this year
Thomas Vanek had 28, Derek Roy 26, and Jason Pominville 24, but no one on Buffalo scored 30. The magic 3-0 may be an understatement however. Vanek has scored 40 twice in his career, and last year was his standard "down year" (having never scored 40 in consecutive seasons). Who am I to mess with a pattern?
2. Chris Butler goes from minus-15 to even (at least)
Butler's minus-15 was the worst on the team last year, and a far cry from his plus-11 the year before. So what gives? Butler figured himself out offensively last year with 20 assists (and just one goal), meaning that the University of Denver product can now put both sides of his game together in the same year.
3. Patrick Kaletta scores 10 goals and sits in the box for 100 minutes
Ten goals doesn't seem like a stretch for Kaletta because he scored that many last year. In fact, it almost seems too low, but 20 goals and 200 penalty minutes are both too high, and 15 and 100 don't go together as well as 10 and 100. Penalty minute-wise he's been 11 minutes off the century mark in each of the past two seasons, so he could easily push that milestone too. Next year? Twenty and 200!
4. Ryan Miller repeats as the Vezina winner
If Miller were to do this, he'd be the first man not named Brodeur or Hasek to win it in back-to-back years since Patrick Roy did in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Last year wasn't even the beginning folks. He was good before that too. Don't expect this to slow down.
5. Thomas Vanek scores 80 points
Last year Buffalo didn't even have a 70-point scorer (Roy led the team with 69), so that would be a good starting point. Both Vanek and Roy are good candidates, and both have done it before (2006-07 for Vanek, 07-08 for Roy), but Vanek seems like the better candidate. Why? I don't know. He only had 53 last year and 64 in each of the previous seasons, but he'll get 80. I hope.
6. Tyler Myers scores 15 goals
Last year's Calder winner had an outstanding debut as he was just one point away from top-10 in defensemen scoring. Although I don't think he reaches that height this year production-wise (he scored 41 just one in junior, with last year being just the second time he crossed that plateau in his career), he's got a booming point shot that will lead to plenty of goals. Keep in mind only five defensemen scored 15 goals last year and 10 the year before, so it's certainly a premier class of offensive defenseman he would join if he did it.
7. Tim Connolly doesn't miss any time due to injury
He played 82 games in back-to-back years with the Islanders and Sabres (2000-2002) and 81 the year before that, but since then it's been a mish-mash of 64, 2, 48, 48, and last year's 73. Maybe he misses time with a suspension because he makes fun of Sean Avery's girlfriend or something, or gets a cold (Cold's DON'T count as injuries for this), but he doesn't get hurt. Hopefully.
8. Nathan Gerbe should be a Calder Trophy finalist, but won't be
While you're paying attention to Edmonton (Hall, Eberle, Svensson), Boston (Seguin), and Toronto (Kadri) to name a few, don't forget about Gerbe. He's performed offensively at every level he's played at, he had five points in 10 games last year for the Sabres, and had two points in two playoff games too. Unfortunately because he's played 10 games for the Sabres in each of the past two years, he becomes ineligible. Thanks Sergei Makarov...way to ruin it for everyone.
9. Buffalo sends four players to the All-Star game; the most of any team
My predictions: Miller, Vanek, Roy, and Myers. I know what you're thinking: Way to go off the board. Well...thank you. I try.
10. Buffalo finishes second in the East
The losses of Henrik Tallinder and Tony Lydman hurt, but they'll cope. Myers, Craig Rivet, Jordan Leopold, Steve Montador, and Shaone Morrisonn will help bring the young guys along.
The Buffalo Sabres hang a picture of the Stanley Cup in their locker room as their goal for the year. Not strange? What if it were to paint a cowboy hat on it and play "Hell Bent for Buffalo" after every win while making sacrifices to Brett Hull? And you thought it was going to be a tame "stretch".
Bryan Thiel never thought he could include Aaron Pritchett and Sergei Makarov in the same article. He is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and is featured over at Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! E-mail BT at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.