For two years the Sabres were a post-lockout model franchise. Blessed with an abundance of skill, Buffalo was one of the most exciting teams in the league and the fan base was energized. Alas, they have no Cup final appearances to show for it, and last year’s playoff miss might not have been an aberration. At least Sabres fans don’t have to worry about their team trying to move to Toronto.
2007-08: 39-31-12, 90 points (Fourth in Northeast)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Derek Roy did a nice job after being thrust into the No. 1 center role with Daniel Briere and Chris Drury gone. The residents of Pominville were able to rejoice 27 times (that’s a Rick Jeanneret favorite of mine). Ryan Miller might be slight in stature, but he was a workhorse, appearing in 76 games.
WHAT WENT WRONG: As most everyone predicted, the Sabres fell back to the pack. Thomas Vanek had a pretty good year, but not a $7 million one (and this could continue to be a problem going forward). Roy and Tim Connelly (when healthy) were fine in place of Briere and Drury, but the depth behind them wasn’t there and the Sabres were no longer one of the most feared offensive teams in the league. Brian Campbell did not sign an extension and was shipped out at the trade deadline.
ARRIVALS: D Craig Rivet, G Patrick Lalime
DEPARTURES: RW Steve Bernier, G Jocelyn Thibault
IMPACT PROSPECTS: F Nathan Gerbe, G Jhonas Enroth
Which Maxim Afinogenov will show up?
One of the biggest disappointments in the entire league last year, Afinogenov has to produce more than 10 goals and 28 points for the Sabres to succeed. He can skate with anyone, but he’s got to shake the enigmatic Russian tag in a contract year.
How much will Tim Connelly and Teppo Numminen’s health hold them back?
Numminen re-signed after missing almost all of last season with a heart condition, but he could help the Sabres have another sneaky good defense corps like those first two post-lockout years. Connelly is an excellent setup guy, but he’s missed more than 50 percent of the team’s games the past three years.
PROGNOSIS: The Sabres are at an interesting crossroads. They didn’t miss the playoffs by much last season, but don’t really appear ready to vault back towards the conference’s elite. A full season of Connelly, a bounce back year from Afinogenov and a step forward from a young guy like Drew Stafford could make that possible, but another year on the fringe of playoff contention seems like more of a possibility.
|Thomas Vanek||Derek Roy||Jason Pominville|
|Ales Kotalik||Tim Connelly||Drew Stafford|
|Daniel Paille||Jochen Hecht||Maxim Afinogenov|
|Adam Mair/Andrew Peters||Paul Gaustad||Clarke MacArthur|
|Jaroslav Spacek||Craig Rivet|
|Henrik Tallinder||Toni Lydman|
|Teppo Numminen||Nathan Paetsch|
|Andrej Sekera||Mike Weber|
|Patrick Lalime/Jhonas Enroth|
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations