Buffalo Sabres: Drew Stafford Among Top Concerns Heading into 2011 Season
The Buffalo Sabres are coming off a semi-impressive 2010-11 campaign, in which they registered a record of 43-29-10. Led by youngsters Tyler Myers and veterans like Rob Niedermayer, the Sabres earned the No. 7 seed in the NHL East Conference Playoffs, only to be knocked out in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Heading into the 2011 season, the Sabres seem to be in an even better position to succeed, especially with the new ownership led by Terry Pegula, who has brought a identity and energy to the city of Buffalo.
With several prospects on the rise, there are still some concerns Sabres fans have about the upcoming year.
How Will Brad Boyes Be Used in 2011?
As the 2010-11 NHL trade deadline came and went, various rumors and speculation surrounded the Buffalo Sabres, as they were expected to be big players in the market. However, the day came and went with one trade, the acquisition of right winger Brad Boyes from the St. Louis Blues for a second-round draft pick.
Unfortunately, the 29-year-old's style of play has been tinkered with so often throughout his career, that he wasn't really able to find a niche right away in the Sabres' system.
Primarily a one-way forward and goal scorer, the Blues coaching staff reportedly had him staying back defensively, where he was out of his comfort zone. In Buffalo, he became a hybrid winger/center under head coach Lindy Ruff.
For Boyes to return to his 40-goal former self, the Sabres coaching staff needs to realize his true abilities and deficiencies to make him a solid player on the roster.
Did the Sabres Give Drew Stafford Too Much?
Drew Stafford is a 25-year-old rising star, and after being drafted 14th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, he has scored 94 goals with 102 assists in 317 career games.
Recently, general manager Darcy Regier re-signed Stafford to a four-year, $16 million contract, locking him up through the 2015 season at an average cap hit of $4 million per year. Regier stated, "It was important for us to get Drew locked up. What we saw from Drew this season is exactly what we expected when we drafted him."
Stafford set a career high in goals this year with 31, but now with his new deal he must continue his stellar offensive play that really took off in January by becoming a consistent 20-goal, 60-point player year in and year out.
Will the Sabres Really Bring Back Chris Drury?
As of late, there have been rumblings about veteran center Chris Drury making a return to Buffalo. However, would this really be a good move for the team? If Drury were to return, he wouldn't be able to just walk into the locker room and expect the captaincy.
Drury is an aging veteran, but he still has the ability to be stout in penalty kills and a solid third-line center. With the aging Mike Grier and Rob Niedermayer on their way out of Buffalo, Drury could bring the experience and veteran leadership to fill the void they leave behind.
Another point to consider when determining whether Drury could return to Buffalo, is the amount of money he might expect.
The Sabres have $13 million in cap hits with Jason Pominville, Brad Boyes and Drew Stafford, so if Drury is expecting a big $3-to-$4 million dollar deal, he better look elsewhere.
Which Restricted Free Agents Will Be Re-signed?
This offseason, the Buffalo Sabres really need to retain the youth that show promise of a bright future.
Nathan Gerbe had an unbelievable breakout season, ranking ninth on the team in points with 31 despite playing just 64 games with limited minutes. Gerbe should be Regier's top priority in the re-signing stage. He skates hard, plays with a chip on his shoulder and is always making plays.
Marc Andre-Gragnani is another restricted free agent who needs to sign a deal. Coming off a solid season in which he earned the Eddie Shore Award, given to the AHL's best defensive player, he will add great depth to Buffalo's defensive group.
Chris Butler is another defenseman who becomes an unrestricted free agent, and he should be re-signed. He and his linemate, Tyler Myers, have developed a rapport with one another, and he continues to show improvement.
Jhonas Enroth is currently the backup goalie, having switched with veteran Patrick Lalime, and played incredibly this past season in place of Ryan Miller. He has the tools to become a starting net-minder in the future, and if he signs for the right price, he will give Miller a lot more opportunity for rest.