NHL 2011-12 Predictions: 5 Reasons the Buffalo Sabres Are Stanley Cup Contenders

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NHL 2011-12 Predictions: 5 Reasons the Buffalo Sabres Are Stanley Cup Contenders
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Last season, it wasn't until March 6th that the Buffalo Sabres jumped into the Eastern Conference's playoff picture for good. For the first 150 days of the 2010-2011 NHL season before March 6th, the Sabres were outside of the top eight for all but three of them—the first three days of the year.

Suddenly, though, the Sabres had finally cracked the ice and were off and running in the postseason field. Buffalo finished the season with a 9-1-2 record from March 19th on and eventually slid past the New York Rangers for the No. 7 seed. The Sabres then took a 3-2 series lead in their quarterfinals matchup against the then-defending Conference Champion Philadelphia Flyers before falling in Games 6 and 7.

This summer, owner Terry Pegula opened up the bank account for spending of all sorts, and general manager Darcy Regier decided to take the opportunity and pour cash into a team that he hoped would soon turn into a Stanley Cup contender. And, in our minds, he's done exactly that.

Regier was able to make an impressive handful of trades and signings he wouldn't have been able to do without the support of Pegula, and, though he really did spend all the money he possibly could, was able to create an even better Sabres squad for the 2011-2012 season that truly has what it takes to go all the way. The past two seasons have certainly not been poor ones in upstate New York, but the upcoming year promises to be even more victory-laden than before...and here's why.

Note: This slideshow was Part 1 of a four-part series looking in-depth at a few specific teams who we believe have become new Stanley Cup contenders or new playoff teams with their offseason moves.

Part 2, portraying why the Florida Panthers will be a playoff team in '11-'12, can be found here. Part 3, looking at why the Los Angeles Kings are Cup contenders next season, can be read here. Part 4, stating our reasoning behind calling the St. Louis Blues a postseason team, is available here.

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