Sabres Season Predictions: Forwards Part 2

On Friday I made my predictions regarding the performance of Sabres forwards that have a cap hit of $3 million or more. There wasn’t a real reason for going in financial order, it’s just that…well, when you make a list you need an order. And I hate going alphabetical.

So now it’s Monday and it’s high time I finish off the forwards. So here’s what’s going to happen this year to all the guys up front that make under $3 million (check CapGeek.com for that salary data…they do a lot of work and deserve the attention).

Paul Gaustad – Oh boy…it must be Monday, because I’m starting this list off with some heartbreak. This is one prediction where I really, honestly hope I’m wrong, but everything seems to indicate this is how The Goose‘s year is going to look.
Right now the Sabres have about six guys that can play center. Now before you get all up in arms, I didn’t say they’re strong at the center position…I said they have six guys that can play center. Roy, Hecht, Boyes, Gaustad, and McCormick have all played center for this team. Leino was just brought in to play center. For that matter, Gerbe and Ennis have been listed as centers in the past, although their production drops significantly (same as Boyes). So let’s assume people land where they’re most productive. Roy‘s on the first line, Leino‘s probably on the second, and that’s where the log jam happens.
I mentioned on Friday that I don’t see Hecht going anywhere, much to most fans’ chagrin. I believe he was integral in landing Christian Ehrhoff. They mention that Hecht helped here (about 2/3 of the way through) and it was reported on the radio that he tried to convince the defender to come to Buffalo. So if Hecht makes it to the third line he’ll probably be playing with Gerbe and Pominville…which squeezes Gaustad to the fourth line. So now the Sabres are paying $2.3 million for a fourth line center, while they’re already paying McCormick over a million and he can center that line. That’s a lot of dough for not a lot of minutes.
On the plus side, Goose is probably going to return to the main penalty killing unit, and he’ll win a lot of important faceoffs. But is that enough to keep him on the Sabres, where he is much beloved and is a leader in the locker room?
…I doubt it. It saddens me to no end, because Gaustad has been my favorite Sabre since 2005. He’s hard-nosed, he consistently scores around 25 points, and he opens up a lot of ice for his line mates. If they did play him on the third line, I think you’d find Gerbe and Pominville putting up a lot of points.
My heart tells me Goose will retire a Sabre. But, I don’t write with my heart, and my brain is more skeptical. If they don’t intend on re-signing him (remember, Ennis and Myers are both RFA’s next year), I’m betting they’ll work to trade him and get something before he walks out the door…and I will probably cry. I will. I’ll be man enough to say that I’ll miss my man-crush…I’ll miss that faceoff-winning, goalie screening, punch throwing, trash talking man more than I’d miss any Sabre. It would crush me if they end up trading him, and I hope I’m wrong about it. If I have to choose between the Sabres moving Hecht, moving Gaustad, or refusing to move anybody, I will choose to keep Gaustad where he is until he retires.
Unfortunately it makes sense. And if they pull the trigger on this, I’ll be sad, but then I will pick myself up and be ready for this team to make a dynasty for itself. I keep saying that in order for this team to grow, it’s going to hurt. If we want them to trade for a #1 center, they’re going to have to give up a lot to get it. If we want them to sign big free agents, they’re going to have to overpay. And if moving my favorite Sabre of all time is what gets them in a position to win the Stanley Cup, so be it.

This year –  I see Gaustad putting up his usual great numbers and getting packaged and moved near or before the deadline. Then I see Dan buying a bunch of ice cream and just eating his sorrow.

 

Nathan Gerbe – Okay, enough of that depression-fest. I was shocked when Gerbe signed on with only a $1.43 (repeating, of course) cap hit. He had a slow start to last year, but around January he remembered how good of a goal scorer he was and he began to put up great numbers. I didn’t realize he only played 64 games last year, which makes 31 points a bit more impressive. For perspective, Derek Roy‘s rookie campaign was 19 points in 49 games. Give this kid a full year of offensive play and you’ll be elated that they have him for 3 seasons with that kind of cap hit. Really, is Tim Kennedy taking notes (obligatory shot at Tim Kennedy)?

This year – He’ll probably start on the third line, since it’ll be tough to beat out Vanek and Ennis for the top two. But he’ll earn himself plenty of ice time and don’t be surprised if he puts up around 35 goals and totals around 60 points.

 

Cody McCormick – He had a career season last year, totaling 20 points, squashing his previous high of 12 points. He was on the fourth line regularly (though he saw stints playing with goal scorers like Vanek and Stafford) and filled in a great all-around role. McCormick fights (and actually wins them), adds offensive pressure, and earned a 3 year contract with a $1.2 million cap hit. Definitely a great upgrade from what Rob Niedermayer brought for around the same price (similar stats, mostly due to a late surge by Niedsagoal). It’s good to see hard work rewarded.

This year – I don’t know if he’ll match last year’s offensive output, but look for Cody to match that intensity. He’ll put up more than 12 points, mostly because he knows he can do it now. Last year also gave him the most penalty minutes of his career, probably from a record amount of time on ice. He’ll brawl, he’ll enforce, and he’ll tap in around 18 points.

 

Patrick Kaleta – Did you know Kaleta hasn’t played more than 55 games in a season? His hard style of play has led to some painful injuries, but every time he’s on the ice the other team knows about it. He’s often included in lists on the internet (the most important kinds of lists) for “worst pest,” “cheap shot artist,” or “biggest pain in the ass.” Good. There’s a reason I want to make shirts that rub his character right in other teams’ faces.

I spent about 5 minutes throwing this together. Please, please, please go ahead and steal it and print it and WEAR IT!

I don’t know what will happen when Patty’s contract is up this year, but I don’t see too many teams lining up to trade for him. Both because of his injury-prone status and because they all hate his face. I’d like to see him return to his strategy last season, when he put up 15 points instead of 9. We’ll see what his new role is, though I’m sure it’ll be on the fourth line.

This year – Kaleta will have 12 points, with an equal number of broken bones.

 

Tyler Ennis – I’m predicting right now that when this team wins the Stanley Cup, it’ll be Ennis‘ stick that sinks the winner. He cooled off after a hot start last year, but then he showed up again for the playoff push. I think playing with a dependable center will really let Ennis shine, as will the more capable defense that joins the rush. It’s not very likely that a defender that roars in with the puck will score, but it does create rebound chances for someone as quick and smart as Ennis.
Tyler also gets some “street cred” as I call it for being a leader at the development camp earlier this year (thank you Die By The Blade). He did a great job working with the prospects, showing them that a lot of hard work in the minors can land you a dream role on the NHL team. It also gave casual fans a reason to watch (“Hey! It’s Ennis. What’s he up to?”) and see young players like Persson, Foligno, Kassian, and Luke Adam.

This year – I don’t predict a sophomore slump for Ennis. Quite the contrary, the presence of a solid center in Leino will bring out the best in him. I think he’ll have a fantastic season, soaring up around 65 to 70 points, and giving Vanek a run for his money.

Matt Ellis – If he stays in the big club, Ellis will be a solid banger on the fourth line. He was only up for 14 games last season, and didn’t record a point, but don’t forget that he had 15 points with the Sabres the year before. He’s a solid guy to plug in where they need him, and he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes that ever hurt the team. He’s got a 2 year deal, the first year being a two-way contract and the second year being a one-way. This allows him to be  a leader and number one guy down in Rochester this year, but still be called up in case of injury. A great strategy, since he has plenty of experience and knowledge to give to the prospects down there.

This year – There are always injuries in hockey, so we’ll see Ellis in the NHL for a bit. He’s a solid penalty killer and a hard worker, so look for him to put up a few points. But his role will be best played in the AHL.

Honorable MentionLuke Adam – Aside from having the funniest Wikipedia picture of anybody, Adam also acts as a complete spoiler for everything I’ve predicted so far. He’s expressed a lot of confidence in his abilities and work ethic, telling WGR that he can be a Top 6 center. Good. I like gusto, and I like a bit of swagger in my hockey players. He’s young, he’s big, and he’s probably too good to learn much more in the minor leagues. If someone told me that he would be on the Sabres this year, perhaps bumping Hecht out of the third line center role, or god forbid take the second line from Leino, I’d ask where I have to sign. If Adam can earn that Top 6 spot, everybody that was calling for him to be traded is going to be begging for forgiveness.

Now here’s the deal with Luke Adam. He needs to develop a wicked backhand shot and nickname is The Cool Hand. That’s called marketability.

This year – You got me. This kid’s a great x-factor for this team to have. Look for him to start in the AHL, then get called up due to injury. Then…who knows.

follow Dan on Twitter and whatever you do, don’t forget to hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Topics: Buffalo, Buffalo Sabres, Cody Mccormick, Darcy Regier, Derek Roy, Drew Stafford, Eastern Conference, Fansided, Florida Panthers, Free Agency, Goose, Hockey, Jason Pominville, Lindy Ruff, Luke Adam, Matt Ellis, Nathan Gerbe, NHL, Northeast Division, Patrick Kaleta, Paul Gaustad, Playoffs, Portland Pirates, Predictions, Ryan Miller, Sabres, Stanley Cup, Terry Pegula, Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly, Trade, Trade Deadline, Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, Ville Leino

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