A deep-pocketed, passionate, competent owner can make a world of difference for a team. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks, or the Los Angeles Angels or the New England Patriots. It’s too early to know for sure, but it appears as if the Buffalo Sabres have hit the mother lode and could join that list.
After decades of inadequate and often muddy ownership, they were purchased last February by natural gas billionaire Terry Pegula. He’s a hockey nut that has long been a Sabres fan, and he is already putting this team on the right track.
The payroll is healthy, the organization has all the resources they need, he bought the AHL team so that he could control the development of his prospects, and he has players and fans believing in his vision.
The Sabres do not struggle for crowd support, but they have often had issues translating that passion into on-ice success. They are not going to immediately start a Stanley Cup dynasty or anything, but they sure got a big boost in the right direction.
Buffalo Sabres Offseason Moves
The team made a conscious effort to upgrade their defense this offseason, and they certainly appear to have succeeded. They traded with Calgary for Robyn Regehr, and they absolutely robbed the Flames to get him. He’s not young, but he is an elite shutdown defenseman who rarely makes a mistake.
In the free agent market they grabbed Christian Ehrhoff from Vancouver. The German is a very strong two-way defenseman coming off of two very strong seasons in a row. The combination of those two guys seriously elevates their back-end, and no one will be happier about that than goalie Ryan Miller.
2011-12 Buffalo Sabres NHL Outlook
The Sabres were as impressive as a team can be for the last quarter of the season last year. They looked to be all but dead in the playoff race with 25 games left, but they forgot how to lose down the stretch and worked their way all the way up to the No. 7 seed. They took Philadelphia in the first round in a stellar series as well. They went on a remarkable run.
Given that the core is largely intact and the team is improved from last season it seems reasonable to assume that they will keep moving in the right direction this year.
It is no coincidence that the hot streak started soon after Pegula took over. Now in the first full year of his reign it would not be surprising to see the positive feelings, and play, continue.
What’s most promising about the team’s prospects this season is that, fundamentally they were strong. They played much of the season in a total funk that they couldn't seem to shake, but once they did they played up to their potential. Given their very strong goaltending, excellent defense and solid offense, there is no reason to doubt them this year.
There are deeper, more talented teams in the league, but there are no obvious holes here. It should also be noted that they have Lindy Ruff behind the bench. He is the longest-serving coach in the league, having been coaching in Buffalo since 1997. There is a reason for his longevity— he’s really good. Ruff is a major asset, and one who has the full loyalty and support of his new owner.
There won’t be a lot of room for rookies this year after Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe moved up to the bigs and played well last year. There’s a good chance though, that Zack Kassian or Luke Adam could move up. Kassian is a bruiser while Adam is a center who played 19 games with the team last year with limited success but with plenty of promise.
2011-12 Buffalo Sabres Schedule
The Sabres open their regular season with a game each in Helsinki and Stockholm. Some teams have suffered a post-Europe hangover in this situation, while others have excelled.
Buffalo Sabres NHL Futures Odds (from Bodog)
At 18/1 to win the Stanley Cup, according to NHL odds, the Sabres are the 11th team out of the 30 in the league. That’s a pretty fair assessment of their chances, and I can’t argue with them being behind or ahead of any team. If they can play with the spark and belief that they did late in the season then there would be serious value in this price, but that’s not certain.
2011-12 Buffalo Sabres Predictions
I am bullish on this team. Ryan Miller is an outstanding goalie, and he’ll have a better defense in front of him. There is at least one significantly better team than them in the East—Washington —but I don’t expect them to have any issues making the playoffs this year. In fact, given that the Bruins have to deal with the stress of trying to defend their title this year, I would not be surprised at all to see the Sabres win their division.
They won’t be my Stanley Cup prediction, but I would not laugh at anyone who took a shot with them.
Doc’s Sports is very excited for this upcoming NHL season. Visit our home page to access all team previews, as well as more sports articles, betting odds and full coverage on the 2011-12 NHL season.