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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
Ryan Miller, Tylery Myers (Getty Images)
It’s finally here, the start of the regular season.  The past off-season seemed longer than others, including the two non-playoff seasons in recent history.  Sure the early exit had something to do with it, but I think it’s more of the anticipation to see what this group does to build upon last year.  There was a lot to build on too. In particular:
  • Northeast Division Title
  • Calder Trophy winning Defenseman Tyler Myers
  • Vezina Trophy winning Goaltender Ryan Miller

Those three things are nothing to take lightly, yet the Sabres are not the favorite in the Northeast Division this season (according to prognosticators), and some have them struggling to make the playoffs.  As regular readers of this blog know, I work for the Sabres.  Take that for what it is, but I don’t understand where the naysayers are coming from. 

The team was a 100-point team last season, won a division that produced four playoff teams, has the best goaltender in the league, one of the top young defenseman, and a head coach that continues to prove his excellence in the league.  I’m sure it stems from the lack of splashy moves in free agency or the trade market this summer.  To that, I pose these questions:  Did the Sabres really need to make a splashy move?  How many blockbuster trades actually occurred this summer?   How many trades happened at all?

To answer the first question, not really.  The team has two players that took home hardware in the summer (Miller and Myers), and project to be even better this year, if that is even possible.  The team did lose two quality, experienced defenseman, but added two quality defensemen in the free agent market in Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn

Both appeared to fit in nicely in pre-season play, a surprise to no one.  The Sabres still have enough offense in the lineup, and expect to get more with rookies Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe making the opening day roster.  Both players were surprise contributors during last year’s playoff series against Boston. 

Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford are in contract years, and that usually translates into great numbers (that goes for most players in the league).  Connolly is coming off a career high in points (65), and perhaps will be this year’s Tomas Plekanec, who lit up the scene in Montreal last season in his contract year.  Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and Jason Pominville are expected to continue to lead the charge in the goal department, with Pominville poised to get closer to 30 this season after a down year with 24. 

Mike Grier (Getty Images)
In the grit department, Mike Grier re-upped for another season, and veteran Rob Niedermayer signed on with a Stanley Cup on his resume.  Cody McCormick makes them tougher and adds some versatility, able to play center or wing.  When you truly look at it, the Sabres are a good team that added a nice mix of experience (Leopold, Morrisonn, Neidermayer) and youth (Ennis, Gerber, McCormick) to a core that is entering the prime of their careers (Miller, Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Hecht, Connolly). 

As for the trade question, how many significant deals actually occurred?  The answer is not many.  Nathan Horton to Boston was attractive and makes the Bruins deeper, if healthy.   The move now looks necessary with the Marc Savard still on the mend with post-concussion issues.  The Chicago Blackhawks had to move several role players from the Stanley Cup winning roster (Byfuglien, Sopel, and Versteeg the most notable), and couldn’t re-sign winning goalie Antti Niemi (now with San Jose).   Vancouver acquired Keith Ballard with Steve Bernier being a key piece to Florida in return.  And Montreal trade Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis after his great playoff run. 

That move and most others were motivated by money (such as the Simon Gagne trade to Tampa Bay).  You can look at all the trades at this link.  Sure there are players there that would be nice to have in the lineup, and I’m sure Darcy Regier explored some of them and will continue to do so during the season, but the point is they didn’t need to disrupt a roster that won the division last year.  Regier needed to add to it, and I believe he did via free agency and natural attrition. 

Some other notes:

♦  I no longer need a calendar or schedule to tell me when it’s hockey season.  My nose knows.  My sinuses are under attack, just like many of you reading this.  I actually don’t blame hockey.  I blame all the kids back at school spreading cooties.

♦  I hope those of you that attended the Power Play Luncheon appreciated Coach Joe Crozier.  Crow was asked shortly before the lunch began to say a few words before Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff addressed the crowd.  It was vintage Crow, a fiery speech to get the troops ready for action.  All of us at HSBC Arena love having the former Sabres coach around the office each day, and a mere hello from Crow picks your day.

♦  It’s going to be demanding start to the season for the Sabres:  six games in nine days, with five against teams that made the playoffs last year.  That includes a home and home with the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  The good news is four of the six are on home ice. 

♦  Two TV notes for you: 81 of the 82 games will be on TV this year on MSG, VS., or NBC.  All will be available in HD (I hear the collective yeah from WNY).  And, I look forward to having Mike Robitaille back with me Saturday when the Sabres host the NY Rangers.  Roby has worked hard to get back and appreciates all the support he has received. 
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