We continue our preview of the Atlantic division today, with a look at the Buffalo Sabres. Thanks to Andy Boron (managing editor over at Die by the Blade) for taking the time to help us get to know his team a little better. Don't forget to chime in with your thoughts Wilderness!
Sabres offensive threats
Thomas Vanek has been and still is the #1 scoring threat on the Sabres, at least until February when he'll be shipped out of Buffalo for whatever group of picks and prospects GM Darcy Regier manages to snag. Post-trade deadline, the team will rely on Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, and Drew Stafford to be the top scoring threats, which as I type it made me throw up in my mouth just a little bit. Youngsters that will be expected to grow into bigger offensive roles over the next few years include Mikhail Grigorenko and Marcus Foligno.
Christian Ehrhoff is the teams top defenseman, and is underrated by most fans who still think of him as an offensive specialist. Ehrhoff made everyone he played with significantly better, according toCorsi stats while he was on and off the ice. Tyler Myers is the other big name that hockey fans know, but he's coming off perhaps the worst year of his professional career, and admitted to showing up out of shape after receiving a monstrous signing bonus in the offseason. This will be a make-or-break year for the former Calder winner.
Mike Weber will never be a first pairing defenseman, but he brings a few things to the Sabres back end that the team has sorely lacked in the past few seasons - physicality and leadership. He makes the simple plays that don't get noticed, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to protect his own net gives Sabres fans some measure of comfort when he's on the ice. His teammates agree, awarding him with the Unsung Hero award during last year's season finale.
Everyone knows about Ryan Miller, who at this point is a known commodity but also another candidate for trade entering the last season of his contract. If the Sabres do part ways with Miller, they'll miss his incredible consistency in the net - he's posted ES save percentages of either .915 or .916 for each of the past three seasons. Behind him is the diminutive but fast Jhonas Enroth, who many fans feel has earned a shot to prove his worth as a starter. He may get a chance to do so come February.
Ron Rolston is entering his first full season as an NHL head coach after taking over for Lindy Ruff 12 games in to the 2013 season. He did a decent job, but the real test will come this season now that the interim label is gone and he has a full training camp to implement his own schemes. Rolston's MO is a defensively responsible team that will outwork their opponents every night, which will sit well with the fans in Buffalo even if the wins don't come right away. He's known as a teacher of young men, and with assistant coach Joe Sacco known for the same thing, the Sabres extremely young roster next season should benefit from their experience.
Thanks to good drafting recently and trading away most of their veterans for picks and prospects, the Sabres have a fairly loaded prospect system. Headlined by Grigorenko, who will play in Buffalo all season, there's a bunch of hardworking, two-way forwards on the way up in Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, and Corey Tropp, to name a few. Defensively, Mark Pysyk leads a crop of very promising blueliners that includes recent draftees Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, among others. The team is even stocked with goaltending prospects, with Matt Hackett, Linus Ullmark, and Andrey Makarov all showing promise last season. The one place where they might be a bit thin is in high-end offensive talent. Aside from Grigorenko and Finnish winger Joel Armia, the rest of their promising young forwards are more of the two-way, jack of all trades types, rather than future 30 goal threats. Still, the Sabres have committed to a full franchise rebuild, and so far, the results for the 2014 season and beyond are looking very promising.
How do you feel about the depth of your team?
Terrible. If Thomas Vanek gets traded (and that's more of a when than an if these days) then the team's top forwards are either plagued by inconsistency (Stafford, Ennis, Leino) or haven't proven much beyond one good season (Hodgson, Foligno, Brian Flynn). They have pelnty of defenseman, but the word "unproven" can be attached to just about all of them. Buffalo fans are known for thinking mostly in "ifs" during the offseason, but it's going to take every "if" turning out right for this team if they're going to make any serious playoff noise next year.
Who are your fan favorites, and why are they favorites?
It didn't take Steve Ott long to capture the hearts of Buffalonians, from his honest post-game interviews, to the way he throws himself all over the ice, to licking his opponents visors. Patrick Kaleta is another favorite, mostly because he hails from Buffalo but over the years we've come to appreciate that he's evolved his game from "Cheap-shot McDouchebag" to a very good defensive forward who excels and drawing penalties. They may be jerks to everyone else, but they're our jerks.
Who are must follow writers on twitter for your team?
Aside from @diebytheblade (plug!) the best mainstream media follows are John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) and Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL). Both give balanced and informative coverage, and they stay out of the Twitter Wars that so many others get involved in. As for bloggers, Eric Schmitz (@3rdManIn) grills the team on game presentation and fan interaction in a very intelligent way, and Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) knows the future of the blue and gold like no other.
Who are must follow fans? (preferably non-crazy fans)
It's equal parts amazing and sad, but @SabresFacebook simply tweets comments that fans leave on the team's official Facebook posts, and shows an incredible cross-section of illiteracy and illogical thought that I wasn't sure still existed. The team also has a number of fake Twitter accounts associated with it, but the best is still @FakeDarcy, the not-actually-GM account that's stayed funny and relevant since its inception a few years ago.