The last Sabres team to boast this much depth and skill went to back to back Eastern Conference Finals in the two seasons out of the lockout. Those teams may not even have been as skilled as this current Buffalo team, but they had well defined leaders.
Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, and Jay McKee were guys that Buffalo could lean on when the going was tough. When games began to slip away, there was always a guy like JP Dumont, or Brian Campbell to step up and reverse the momentum.
The young players fed off of that confidence. You could see it in their eyes, and the fans could feel it in the arena. In game 5 against the New York Rangers during the 06/07 playoffs, you could just sense the Sabres were going to find a way to tie the game. With the goalie pulled and eight seconds remaining Chris Drury wristed a juicy rebound into the twine.
It wasn’t just a lucky bounce, the Sabres best players willed their team back into that game, and after tying it up, was there any doubt they would win the game in overtime?
This 2011 version of the Buffalo Sabres is absolutely devoid of leadership. There are no players on this roster who have won a Stanley Cup, and while they face adversity as a result of injuries early in this season, who among them is stepping up to carry the team?
Jason Pominville seemed like a smart choice to be named Captain, he is a great two way player, and has paid his dues in this organization for a decade. Yet Jason flunked his first true test as the leader of this franchise. He had the opportunity to step up and drop the gloves with Milan Lucic after he ran over our star net-minder, yet Jason was silent.
Anyone else on this team could have stepped up in his absence, but players follow their leader, and unfortunately on this night they took a cue from their absentee captain.
If this team is going to reverse its fortunes from this injury plagued mediocrity they are mired in at the moment, someone is going to have to emerge as a true leader. Someone the younger players can look up to, and someone the veterans can feed off of.
Paul Gaustad is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff, and Robyn Regehr have all played 30 games or less in the blue and gold. It will be hard for a player whose future with the team is in doubt, or new acquisitions to gain the respect of the room.
Ehrhoff has really played a spirited brand of hockey in the past few weeks, and there’s no doubt Regehr has added some grit on the backend. Yet neither player has had a moment yet where their play has defined what this team is all about.
Sometimes leaders emerge from seemingly nowhere, maybe a guy like Andrej Sekera or Jordon Leopold will step into that role. Or perhaps one of the youngsters like Tyler Ennis, Zack Kassian, or a soon to be healthy Tyler Myers can become the heart of this team.
Regardless of who it is, Buffalo needs to find a spark and quickly. The Sabres finish December with eight straight conference opponents, including four more divisional matchups. These are critical points if Buffalo is to secure a playoff spot in April.
Will anyone step up and lead this team out of mediocrity? Or will we be discussing a roster overhaul by Valentines day? It’s not too late for the former, and there’s no better time than now.