Of course no team, no matter how great can avoid the whole “what if” situation. Things like injuries and travel do play a part in every team’s long journey to the post season and the Stanley cup finals. Despite all the scenarios that can play out I still believe that you are only as good as your weakest link and unfortunately for the other 29 teams in the league, the Sabres weak link isn’t very weak at all.
Many teams make the mistake of underrating the players they sign to fill their non-desirable roles on the roster and unfortunately for them, it does eventually come back to bite them. You don’t have to go back too far in history to understand what I am talking about.
In fact, our very own 2006-2007 Buffalo Sabres were a prime example of why you have to put some thought into every signing instead of just plugging in players to make your roster legal. As far as skill goes this may have been the most offensively gifted Sabres line up of this decade. Unfortunately thanks to some mis-management the sabres lost a couple of players who on paper looked insignificant but in the end may have caused the Sabres downfall in the conference finals.
The fact is that if you expect to win in the playoffs you need to have the right balance of players, great coaching and determination. The bad news for the 06-07 Sabres was that they only had two of the three. Don’t get me wrong it’s not like they did not want to win the cup but they simply did not have players on that roster that were willing to lay it all on the line to reach that next step.
Players like J.P Dumont, Mike Grier and Jay Mckee (who were all let go the previous year by the Sabres) are the kind of people who are willing to do the dirty work and the other plays that won’t show up on the score sheet to ensure that their team is victorious.
So what is so special about this team you might ask? The truth is that even though this might not be the flashiest or most skilled lineup in the league, it is definitely one of the most well rounded. We all know Ryan Miller is one of the best goaltenders (if not the best goaltender) in the league but things like injuries and fatigue could limit his effectiveness down the stretch and in the post season.
Now that Jhonas Enroth is part of the mix, Miller will no longer feel the need or pressure to start 60 or 65 games during the regular season, which is a luxury that other goaltenders such as Henrik Lundqvist cannot afford. As far as a weak link in goaltending goes I think this is about as good as it can get.
If the saying defense wins championships really is the truth, than the Buffalo Sabres are in great shape this season as they hold undoubtedly the best defense in the NHL. Having Tyler Myers and Robyn Regher as your top pair is one thing, but you know your defense is outstanding when you have to bench a defenseman whose career plus minus is a +22 (Mike Weber) and another defenseman who led your team in playoff points last year (Marc-Andre Gragnani).
When you combine that with puck moving defenseman like Christian Ehrhoff and Jordan Leopold, you’ll find that the Sabres have the perfect combination of players to make up the best defense in the NHL.
Last but certainly not least is this years group of forwards. You can say what you want about the talent level of the top six but it’s the third and fourth line that really speaks volumes about this group of forwards. Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Kaleta are the type of heart and soul players you like to have on your team and in Gerbe’s case he can pack a scoring punch as well.
Brad Boyes may not be your typical third line player but should the time come where a player such as Leino suffers an injury, it is great to have another proven player in your lineup who can fill in as oppose to giving up draft picks and prospects to acquire short term help.
The great thing about the NHL is that anything can happen. Who knows, maybe the Oilers and Senators really will play in the Stanley Cup Finals or maybe this really is the Sabres year. Regardless, the one thing I can guarantee is that this is an exciting time in Buffalo for the fans and the players and that alone should translate into a successful campaign for the Buffalo Sabres.