The Buffalo Sabres energized a fan base and stole the Eastern Conference away from the other teams two years running before getting eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The last two years the Sabres were mired into tenth place, but claim to have been a few pieces away from contention. Those pieces have still yet to arrive.
With the exodus of decent players via free agency continuing, the Sabres are restocking the bench with inexperienced players from the minors, instead of signing impact free agents, clinging to the age old point in Buffalo that big spending at free agent is not a viable way of conducting business in a small market.
While Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, Chris Butler, Andre Sekera, and Clarke MacArthur are all guys that can help on this roster, none of them are going to impact this team enough to propel them into the playoffs. Experience wins playoff games, and the Sabres no longer have that playoff hunger that drove them to the Eastern Conference finals.
With camp just about two months away, the Sabres still have some glaring needs.
Goaltending – Patrick Lalime is not the answer at the backup position. When Ryan Miller went down to injury last season, Lalime played well but was not enough for this team to lean on and even limp into the playoffs. Look for Ryan Miller to have another exhausting season of carrying more weight in the crease, because of Ruff’s inability to trust his backup netminder to do anything other than keep a spot on the bench warm. Keeping Tellqvist would have been a better option than keeping Lalime around, and the Sabres lost him to the KHL. Add two weeks of international play at the Olympics for Miller and your going to see him fizzle out before April rolls around.
Defense – The Sabres do not have a quality veteran on the blue line, save for Craig Rivet. Tallinder and Lydman should be considered in a class of one hit wonders, no longer able to manage the load they did when Drury and Briere were here.
Wingers – Thomas Vanek is going to have another great year. That is the type of player he is. Had he not gone out to injury, he could have easily had a 50 goal season. The problem is the supporting cast around him. Slump was the name of the game last year when it came to supporting forwards.
Center – Buffalo does not have a grinder at center – a position the team tends to be small at anyway.
Line Changes – a team that once boasted the ability to beat any team by rolling four quality lines, can no longer afford to keep their top line, maybe top two lines off the ice for any length of time.
Enforcement – with the exit of Andrew Peters from the scene, still without a contract, the Sabres are without any type of enforcer. Granted, Gausted and Mair can get dirty if necessary, but Peters was the closest thing to a fighter the Sabres had. The resigning of Kaleta puts more scare into some opponents, but he ducks and runs away from guys after cannonballing into them.
Inexperience is going to be the name of the game. With quality leaders this team could have done well with younger guys, unfortunately there is no calming leadership player for this team, on or off the ice.
Get excited for hockey because it’s almost here Buffalo, but don’t get your hopes up. The Sabres will scratch and paw at the trade deadline, but will once again be watching hockey in April, May and June.