NHL.com continues its preview of the 2013-14 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
With the overhaul in full swing in Buffalo, question marks abound as the Sabres prepare for the 2013-14 season. Ron Rolston enters his first full season as an NHL coach, with the Sabres organization relying on him to lead the youngest roster in the League back to prominence.
Training camp will be one long battle, with scrimmages and preseason games determining how the team will line up come opening night. Here are the three biggest questions facing the Buffalo Sabres heading into the season:
1. What can we expect from Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller? -- At last season's NHL Trade Deadline, general manager Darcy Regier said he was "open to everything" in terms of trades, including forward Thomas Vanek and goaltender Ryan Miller, who each can become an unrestricted free agent following this season. Miller sold his home during the summer, but said it was more about looking for a larger one for the family he wants to have with his wife. Around the same time, Vanek was telling reporters he had no interest in enduring the Sabres' rebuilding process.
So where did Miller and Vanek end up? Back in Buffalo, of course.
Amid all the arrivals, departures and prospect call-ups, Miller and Vanek survived the overhaul. With each entering the final season of his contract and rumors continuing to swirl, their status throughout 2013-14 will be a major storyline.
Each was diplomatic with reporters at the start of training camp.
"You start to see a situation here where you can build something good, something that's going to last," Miller said. "That's what I want to be a part of, whether this is the last season I can make a difference or it's going to continue forward. I just want to make sure that I'm a positive influence on this team moving forward and that Buffalo has a lot of success or a foundation to build success on in the future, because I do care about this area and the people."
If Miller and Vanek reach free agency next summer, it will be up to the team to make a move. Although Regier said he will not shuffle the team during training camp, a recent report said Buffalo would pay some of Vanek's salary if a trade was made. With all this in mind, one has to assume if Buffalo's postseason chances fall apart early, Vanek and Miller may find themselves on the trading block.
2. Will Cody Hodgson earn his new contract? -- A restricted free agent, Hodgson and the Sabres agreed on a six-year, $25 million contract the day before camp opened. The signing sent a message that Buffalo is ready for a new generation to assert themselves, starting with the 23-year-old first-line center.
"We are extremely excited to have signed Cody to a long-term deal," Regier told reporters at the time of the signing. "We feel he is going to be an important piece of our organization's success in the future and look forward to watching him develop as a player."
In his second full NHL season in 2012-13, Hodgson emerged as the team's premier playmaker, setting up linemate Vanek for several of his 20 goals while scoring 15 of his own. His 34 points (15 goals, 19 assists) were second on the team to Vanek.
The next step is for Hodgson to continue to prove he deserves to remain on the top line. How he fares on a team where he is considered a veteran -- a veteran with a hefty, long-term deal attached -- will be something to watch.
3. Who wears the "C"? -- Buffalo is in the market for a captain, and has been for a while. With Jason Pominville's departure to the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline, the Sabres lost their leader of two seasons. While rumors have swirled regarding the captaincy, Rolston told the Buffalo News he would rotate it during the preseason before making a final decision.
Talk has suggested various veterans for the role, among them Vanek, Christian Ehrhoff and Steve Ott, but an outside possibility may be Hodgson. Many teams have shifted toward younger captains, such as the Colorado Avalanche and 20-year-old Gabriel Landeskog, and Buffalo could benefit from a captain with a long-term contract.
Rolston said he wouldn't hesitate to name Vanek or Ott captain despite each entering the final season of his contract. However, the organization expressed its confidence in Hodgson with a big contract, so the captaincy would seem the logical next step.
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