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A Look Back and a Look Ahead

The NHL landscape has changed in the last few weeks and it’s not done yet! By the end of the week, no team will look like they did at the end of last season. Thursday is a bittersweet day for fans everywhere. It’s a time to look to the future and yet it is also a time to say goodbye to some favorites.

Opening Night:

This team provided some good memories. Of course it all got changed as Dan Paille was shipped to Boston fairly early on in the season. One of the problems with this team was its depth. That may sound ridiculous but if you think about it no one was ever called up. When an injury took place one of the copious reserves filled in.

The Sabres never called up a Defenseman that leaves them in limbo about the abilities of Mike Weber and Marc-Andre Gragnani for next season. This was a team that was successful yet streaky. It also severely lacked grit and toughness. In the top 12 forwards only three have been in more than five fights in their NHL career (Gaustad, Grier, Kaleta). On defense just two (Montador and Rivet). Let’s take a look at the players that were the 2009-10 Buffalo Sabres:

Thomas Vanek – Derek Roy – Drew Stafford

Clarke MacArthur – Tim Connolly – Jason Pominville

Jochen Hecht – Tim Kennedy – Mike Grier

Matt Ellis – Paul Gaustad – Patrick Kaleta

[Adam Mair (IR), Dan Paille]

Craig Rivet – Chris Butler

Andrej Sekera – Steve Montador

Tyler Myers – Henrik Tallinder

[Toni Lydman (IR), Nathan Paetsch]

Ryan Miller [Patrick Lalime]

Some high points of the roster was the emergence of Tyler Myers, who won the Calder Trophy and looks to be a future Norris Winner. Also 3rd and 4th line scoring from players like Jochen Hecht and Mike Grier making the Sabres a very balanced, very dangerous scoring team.

Final Roster:

Tim Kennedy – Derek Roy – Thomas Vanek

Tyler Ennis – Tim Connolly – Jason Pominville

Adam Mair – Paul Gaustad – Mike Grier

Nathan Gerbe – Cody McCormick – Patrick Kaleta

[Matt Ellis, Raffe Torres, Drew Stafford. Jochen Hecht (IR)]

Tyler Myers – Henrik Tallinder

Steve Montador – Toni Lydman

Andrej Sekera – Craig Rivet

[Chris Butler]

Ryan Miller [Patrick Lalime]

That would be the team going into next season assuming every player that is a pending free agent is resigned. Not very pretty. Part of the reason for the Sabres’ early exit in the playoffs was their inability to field a competent roster. Part of that falls on the coach, part on the front office and some on the players.

At left wing we have 3 rookies (including a 5’5″ sniper on the 4th line) and a 4th line center (playing on the 3rd line). At right wing we have our top line left winger. Our trade deadline pickup is sitting on the bench. This team still managed to win games! It’s positively baffling!

My point in all of this is maybe tweaking is all this team really needs. Vanek played like a man possessed on the right side and Kennedy didn’t look too out of place on a top line. Gerbe, Ennis and McCormick all proved themselves in the playoffs. Andrej Sekera showed me something in the playoffs and the Olympics that I hope to see next year in Buffalo: toughness, physicality and maturity with the puck. There was definitely hope for a team that did win the Northeast Division Title.

Next Season:

Thomas Vanek – Derek Roy – Jason Pominville

Jochen Hecht – Tim Connolly – Drew Stafford

Tim Kennedy – Paul Gaustad – Mike Grier

Tyler Ennis – Felix Schütz – Patrick Kaleta

[Nathan Gerbe, Mark Mancari]

Tyler Myers – Chris Butler

Andrej Sekera – Mike Weber

Steve Montador – Marc-Andre Gragnani

[Craig Rivet (IR)]

Ryan Miller [Jhonas Enroth]

Estimated Cap Hit: $51,367,857

Estimated Cap Space: $8,032,143

This would be the team if no moves were made this off-season  except to resign RFAs; no UFAs signed no trades made. Doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence does it? At the same time it may only need tweaks to be successful. Keep in mind a few things that no one seems to think of in times like this.

The players who were bad this season (Drew Stafford, Chris Butler, Paul Gaustad) know they were bad. They are intelligent people who play a fast paced game where it is difficult to make drastic style-of-play changes mid-season. Any or all of these players could turn it around the way Jochen Hecht and Henrik Tallinder did this year and have a great 2010-11.

Another thing to think about is the center position. Connolly and Roy will likely stay, the Sabres will not make roster shattering moves to replace players who produce. Connolly and Roy are good players, they just aren’t the players most fans want in Buffalo. The Sabres have one of the best 1-2 punches at the center position in the league.

That’s not saying they will stay it’s saying Darcy Regier will not pull the trigger on any rash trade involving them. He will bide his time and make sure he gets the most out of the deals he makes. Look for 1 to move at the trade deadline after a player like Tyler Ennis or Luke Adam proves he can play center in the NHL. So as you play armchair GM keep this roster in mind as you look to July 1st because this is really what you’re working with.

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