Over the last few seasons, Buffalo Sabres fans have always been left to wonder "what if?"
Fans would wonder what would have been had the roster remained intact, with the summer of 2007 a prime example. Then, both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left as free agents, leaving the teams to revamp the roster again.
But times have changed.
Starting with matching an offer sheet for Thomas Vanek
last summer, Sabres ownership has gone about locking up their core players. Staying with the Sabres are goalie Ryan Miller
(5 years) and forwards Paul Gaustad (4 years), Daniel Paille (2 years) and Jason Pominville
Pominville admitted that one of the main reasons he didn't go to arbitration this summer and then become a restricted free agent in the 2009 offseason, was because of this recent trend to secure the future of the team.
"This is an exciting time and seeing that they were making a commitment now to keep the young core together was a definite influence on me deciding to stay here," Pominville said. "I'm very happy to see the organization lock up guys like Ryan Miller
. He's a guy that can win games on his own and will be the backbone of the team for years to come. Then to also lock up (Jochen) Hecht last season, then Gaustad and Paille this past summer, is a great sign.
"I could've played out the season and seen how it went next year, but when Ryan signed and the other guys, for me, it was an easy decision. This is where I want to be. We've had success as a group in the past with a good portion of us coming up through the ranks in Rochester. We've been playing together for a while now and because of that, there's a chemistry and young core here."
The Sabres' future up front is definitely bright, but the blue line and the team defense as a whole needs to improve. That's why General Manager Darcy Regier, who recently signed a two-year extension, decided to bring back veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen for another season and trade for Craig Rivet, another veteran. Last season, the Sabres ranked fourth in scoring, but were just 22nd in goals against.
"We scored a ton of goals last season and that won't be a problem, I think, this season and in the future, but we have to improve our defense as a whole," Pominville said. "Bringing back Teppo and trading for Rivet shows that management and coaching recognized this. These are two veterans who can really help the younger players. They have tons of experience and will be great in the dressing room and on the ice, helping us build a team-wide defensive system."
According to Pominville, Numminen and Rivet, who was recently named team captain, also will help offensively, specifically on the power play.
I could've played out the season and seen how it went next year, but when Ryan signed and the other guys, for me, it was an easy decision. This is where I want to be. - Jason Pominville
"Last year all of our defense were left-handed shots, so now to have two right-handed shots come in is huge," Pominville said. "We'll have more options out there for sure."
While the Sabres have seen their fair share of turnover in recent years, one staple remains. The tandem of Regier and coach Lindy Ruff is in its 11th season together, with Regier entering his 12th season on the job. Pominville says that stability has been the key to the club's success.
"You look at the job they have done for so long and it's pretty impressive," Pominville said. "These are two guys that are not only well-respected by the players here but by everyone in the League. I think that stability has helped and now to see it with the roster is huge. Playing for a guy like Lindy, a guy who is honest and tells you what he feels, make players want to play here."
Pominville is hopeful the stable core will yield more consistency overall.
"Going back to when Danny (Briere) was here, and up to now, I've always played with Jochen Hecht
," Pominville said. "We have a good chemistry and I love playing with him. Then last year we had a good start playing with Timmy (Connolly), but unfortunately Timmy got hurt. Hopefully I'm back with those guys, but I'll play with whomever."
For the Sabres, there is a renewed sense of optimism that derives from a new commitment to the future.
"We're excited here and can't wait to get going," Pominville said. "But the idea of this core being together for a while now has us really confident that we can compete and be contenders for the foreseeable future."