Sabres Season Predictions: Forwards Part 1


So I’m getting antsy, and I still feel like writing about hockey. Yahoo! Sports blog Puck Daddy has been running their season predictions for the top 25 players of each position. Kvetch at their choices all you want, this inspired me to get my performance predictions out of the way for this Sabres team. It’s not jumping the gun now, right?

Let’s just go in order of expense (thank you CapGeek.com):
(this list assumes players won’t miss a lot of time due to injury) 

 

Thomas Vanek – I call him “The Camel,” but I think his nickname over the years should have been “The Bomber.” Because not only will he drop bombs on teams, scoring clutch goals and devastating opponents, but he also catches the most flak from fans. Vanek’s seen as lazy by many, which is unwarranted and really only done because people think it’s hilarious to beat dead horses. I get it. Someone made you giggle when talking about it a few years ago. You’re not original because you keep bringing it up.
Fact: Vanek has had exactly 2 seasons where he registered under 60 points. One was his rookie year, the other was 2009-10 when he also played the fewest number of games (71). He lit on fire this year, flourishing down the stretch and scoring the most points since the President’s Trophy-winning team. To hit the point home, Vanek played on the 3rd line that year…matching up against other teams’ third pairing defenders, whereas now he’s playing against the best the other team has. Yeah. Kid’s grown up, a lot. Sprinkle in the fact that he has been the best Sabre in the post-season two years in a row, scoring 8 points in 10 games, and you’ll see why I think he’s on the upswing and will be Captain material.

This year – The Camel is going to bring home his third 40+ goal season, scoring 44. He flourishes under pressure, and I’m convinced Lindy Ruff is going to give him the Captaincy. That will only add to his performance.

Jason Pominville - If Vanek is “The Bomber,” Pominville is definitely “The Middle Child,” because people are quick to write him off when he does something right, then immediately blame him for earning too much money. Do his stats defend him making $5.3 million per year? No. But he has been the model of consistency, and fans and coaches alike should know what they’re going to get out of him. He’s got a nasty slapshot that usually goes wide, he isn’t very physical, but yet he had four straight 82-game years, each of which netted over 60 points. In fact, Pommer had his best year after Drury/Briere-gate, bringing home 80 points with a disgusting 53 assists.
You know what right wingers have never had an 80 point season? Bobby Ryan, Rick Nash, Phil Kessel, or Johan Franzen. Yeah, Pominville’s a pretty good player.
Unfortunately he’s still in question due to that nasty scrape to his achilles tendon in Game 6 against Philly. He’s not listed as injured, but I’d be shocked if he was able to just waltz in and play second-line minutes. I expect him to be on the third line for the start of the season, which may affect his point production. But if he’s on pace to recovery, expect him to be constant as the Northern Star.*

This year – The team’s saying he’s not hurt, but I’m not buying it. Dude sliced his damn achilles. He’ll start out a bit slow, playing less minutes, but he’ll easily have over 20 goals and around 50 points.

 

Ville Leino – Here’s the good news. Leino’s going to be awesome. Here’s the bad news. A lot of fans aren’t going to understand how or why. He had 53 points last year, and I don’t think he’s going to get higher than that. True, he’s going to be on the second line (presumably), and he’ll be playing a position that he is used to (he was a center up until he was 23 years old). But Leino is going to shine when it comes to on-ice intangibles. He’ll control the play, he’ll be difficult to get off the puck, and he’ll win some key face offs (he had a FO% of 57.4% last year, while listed as a winger). He also won’t be anywhere near as infuriating to watch as Tim Connolly.
Watching Leino the last couple of seasons, what caught my eye is the effort he puts in. He doesn’t quit, he skates hard for his entire shift, and he comes out firing on the next shift. I really am picturing a version of Chris Drury who scores about 15 points less during the season. He’s going to win over a lot of people who watch the entire game, and the jerks that only watch highlights are going to bitch about how he’s overpaid.

This year –  A new team, new position, and new role make Leino hard to predict. I doubt he’ll top last year’s 53 points, but look for him to have a great plus/minus and special teams presence. His line-mates (presumably Stafford and Ennis) are going to put in a lot of goals because of ice Leino opens up, even if he does not get assists from it.

 

Derek Roy – “The Whipping Boy.” It even rhymes. Yesterday I commented on Jim’s post, stating why I used to really, really, really dislike Derek Roy. To quote myself:

I think it was because he just kind of got handed the keys, and I don’t feel like he really deserved them for a long time. He got compared to Danny Briere because he was small and skilled, except that Briere had to fight tooth and nail to earn every bit of respect…Briere came from Phoenix where he was under-appreciated because of his size, so he trained with Canada’s strongest man, he was a family patriarch, and when he came to Buffalo he blossomed.
Roy, meanwhile, waltzed in and was given the third line center role. He excelled at playing with Afinogenov and Vanek against other teams’ third pair defenders. Consider that the Sabres were one of the few teams in ’06-’07 that rolled 3 scoring lines…nobody knew how to defend against this third line of skilled point scorers.
Roy had a reputation for diving, as we all know. He outgrew it by the time Briere and Drury left, and unfortunately he was immediately branded with another reputation; he wasn’t Briere or Drury. He was still a party boy (I’ve personally seen him falling over drunk on Elmwood the night before a game) when he was being touted as the leader of this team.
Now, I say that I used to dislike him. Going into last season, it seemed like he grew up a lot. He really sold me even before he was on pace for a point per game, and I honestly don’t buy in to the whole “we started winning because he got hurt” mentality. I think it’s a snub that he’s not seen as one of the top 20 centers in the league, and if he plays a whole year this season you’ll see people convinced that we have a true #1 center.
It just took time.

TL; DR - Just like Vanek, the kid grew up a lot this last year. He looked like he finally figured out what was important, and I think missing all that action only made him hungry for more success.

This year – If he plays the full season, he’ll statistically put up points like a top center in the league. Last year the tenth best center in the NHL only had 71 points. Granted, it was a fluke year with so many injuries in the middle of the ice, but Roy regularly scores in that area. Even if he’s not a point-per-game man like last year, he’ll be considered elite once again.

 

Drew Stafford - Yeeeaaahhhh, here’s where the gushing comes to a halt. If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written on this site before you’d know I’m not the biggest fan of Drew Stafford. I thought Roy fell ass-backwards into a Top 6 Forward spot, but Drew Stafford made it an art. Afinogenov was injured and Stafford got called up to play with Danny Briere, and he ended up assisting on a game winning goal. I’m sorry…I could suit up for a game, manage to get a puck to Briere, and get credit for a GWG. It’s Danny Goddamn Briere. So that did not wow me as much as some.
Then Drew cashed in the following numbers: 13, 16, 20, 14 over the next four years. Those aren’t Top 6 Forward numbers for goals scored. People were all over Pominville solely because he was getting paid $5 million, whereas Stafford was scoring much, much less and earning only $1 million.
Well, here’s your chance folks. Drew put up 31 goals and 21 assists in his contract year. He got handed a contract worth $4 million per season, and he was present at the Entry Draft…Drew’s not getting traded or anything. Dude’s here to stay, giving this team 3 legitimate scoring right wings, if you feel that Stafford’s average play is “legitimate.”
I was chided on the social networking when I claimed that Drew would not score over 30 goals again. FINE! Let me say that I would LOVE TO EAT MY WORDS. If Stafford scores 100 points per season and I have to munch down a fine helping of crow for the rest of my life, I will love it because I will be eating that bird during the Stanley Cup Parade. My wrong-ness will be delicious. I will take suggestions for ways to humble myself if Stafford indeed becomes a true top line forward.
He won’t.

This year –  Get ready for some hate, Drew. Now that he’s earning some decent money he’s going to take some decent heat. He’ll return to his average for goals scored. His average is just shy of 19 goals, floating around 40 points. But don’t worry…he’s “captain material” and he “plays with an edge.”

 

Brad Boyes – He’ll probably play on the second line because for some reason Stafford will deserve first line minutes instead of him. Whatever. Boyes is going to produce great numbers if he stays on the damn wing. Barring injuries to Roy and Leino, he should do just that. Boyes will probably return to his form of scoring about 66% of the time (2 points every 3 games) and end the season somewhere around 25 to 30 goals and about 25 assists. But Buffalo fans will continue to hate on him because…you know what, I don’t know why. Because the Sabres didn’t draft him? Because he played in St. Louis? Because he didn’t show up on a motorcycle made of fire and single-handedly rip through the Flyers in the playoffs? I don’t know. Brad Boyes is going to be consistent and pot a lot of points, but fans and radio hosts alike will call for trading him based on the simple fact that he’s in the last year of his contract and Stafford is this team’s golden boy.

This year – Boyes will do alright with Buffalo, playing on the second line and not getting first power play unit time, but scoring some 40 to 50 points up to the trade deadline. They’ll trade him for nothing and he’ll meet Buffalo in the playoffs, scoring a couple of GWG’. Then I’ll scowl and do an angry-but-I-was-right dance and point out that 29 is not too old and Boyes is a more versatile player than Stafford and gwa8otg3ya2p0g9aw38gyf32g-

 

Jochen Hecht – Fans hate Hecht. Fans. Hate. Hecht.
Jochen Hecht is a solid and responsible two-way player that Buffalo fans cannot stand. He dares to make $3.525 million and be 34 years old! He’s traded off good year/bad year/good year/bad year since the President’s Trophy year. Consider this: that pattern should indicate that this year, the last of his contract, should be a good year. He scored 49 points, then 27, then 42, then 29. By this logic he should score somewhere like 38 points this year, then 33 next year until he calms and stays at 35 points every year until he retires. That’s how it works, right?
Being serious for a moment, Jochen Hecht is not getting traded before the season starts. He might, miiiiight get traded near the trade deadline, if they can find anybody that wants to take on that contract…maybe if there are injuries to centers and a team needs to plug a hole to push to the post-season. But the fact of the matter is he was tapped to help convince Christian Ehrhoff, his countryman, to sign with this team. The Sabres are not going to reward that loyalty by trading him. Sorry if you hate him, but Hecht is going to play consistent hockey. He’ll be on the third line center, between Gerbe and Pominville, and the Sabres will roll 3 goal scoring lines.

This year – See above. Hecht should be around 40 points this year, playing center on the third line. Maybe Luke Adam beats him for that job and Hecht is a 4th liner…which is really, really weird with the money he makes. I don’t know…there’s too many damn wingers on this team.

Ales Kotalik – He shaved the unibrow. Are you kidding me!? Look at the picture, that jerk shaved his unibrow!

This year –  “Guys, you have to keep working out. Or else you end up like me…making three million dollars playing in the minors.”

 

That’s it for now. On Monday I’ll be featuring all the forwards that make less than $3 Million per year.

 

 

* the Northern Star is not actually constant, I know. nerd.

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Tags: Ales Kotalik Boston Bruins Boyes Brad Boyes Buffalo Buffalo Sabres Darcy Regier Derek Roy Drew Stafford Eastern Conference Fansided Free Agency Hecht Hockey Jason Pominville Jochen Hecht Kotalik Leino Lindy Ruff NHL Northeast Division Olympics Philadelphia Flyers Pominville Portland Pirates Roy Sabres Stafford Stanley Cup Stanley Cup Playoffs Terry Pegula Thomas Vanek Tim Connolly Trade Trade Deadline Vanek Ville Leino