Sabres Season Predictions: Defenders and Goaltenders

Time’s ticking down. I picked apart the forwards, openly predicting who I think is going to disappoint and who I believe is going to shine this coming season. Since the defense core and goaltending is so much smaller in number, I’m condensing them into one post as I read the future and tell you who is going to do what this coming season.

Once again the order of the players comes from CapGeek.com. Predictions for this season have nothing to do with their salaries (though any jabs I throw in about fan expectations may come from that).

DEFENDERS

Robyn Regehr: It was like waiting for a goal review. I had ear buds pressed into my ears, straining to get through an entire show of Schopp & The Bulldog without losing my freaking mind, waiting for any bit of information on the trade with Calgary. All I knew was the Sabres were trying to land a nasty, physical veteran defenseman. Someone who wouldn’t let other teams take advantage of Ryan Miller. I had cold sweats, refreshing Twitter faster than it would update itself, hoping against hope that Regehr would choose willingly to waive his no-trade clause and come to the Blue & Gold.
There is no joy in Mudville, I reminded myself. Casey strikes out. He won’t want to come to-HOLY HELL WHAT A DEAL!
Just like that, the team dynamic drastically changed. Just by adding Regehr, the Sabres entire defense looked completely different, and fans are going to see it every game out of this guy.
Regehr won’t do much in the scoring department. I’m calling him for about 12 points and a plus/minus of plus-1. But he’s going to land some brutal hits, and fans are going to take notice the first time someone covers Miller or Enroth with snow.

Christian Ehrhoff: Ehrhoff’s primed to take the most flak of any Sabre this season. Puck Daddy has used his enormous, front-loaded contract as an example of things that make Baby Jesus cry. Which is fine, because I hated the Kovalchuk contract and Rick DiPietro’s 15 year abomination, and honestly the Ehrhoff deal is just barely on this side of legal compared to what got the Devils in serious trouble. That being said, they’ve also put a lot of weight on the German’s shoulders for this coming season.
Ehrhoff is not going to have another 50 point year. He won’t even break 40. Why, you ask? Because neither of the Sedin twins play for the Buffalo Sabres, it’s going to take some time to get this power play into gear, and Ehrhoff will be splitting offensive defenseman duties with Myers, Sekera, and Gragnani. But the guy does have a wicked shot and he isn’t afraid to carry it up the ice. Expect about 30 points from him this year, and he’ll have a good solid plus-8 because he’ll get paired with someone defensively responsible.

Jordan Leopold: He’s been kind of unfairly forgotten, but Leopold was a big shot in the arm for this team’s defense last year. Losing Tallinder and Lydman left a gaping hole in this team’s leadership, and I’ll be damned if Jordan didn’t do his best to fill it. He’s been known to be a voice in the locker room, and he makes sure to translate that out on the ice (unlike the ailing former-captain Craig Rivet). Last year was a career season for him, playing the second-most games of his playing career after a couple years of injuries, and racking up the most points (35) that he’s ever scored. On the downside, he was also a nasty minus-11, a career worst.
Since Myers will probably be paired with Regehr, and Ehrhoff will need a more defensive partner, I’m afraid that may relegate Leopold to either the third pairing or the trade market. Which is a shame because he’s really done some great things here, and I feel like he’s still got a lot to add. But fighting for ice time and being replaced as the most senior member of the defense core will take a toll on his stats. Expect Jordan Leopold to notch about 20 points and be somewhere around negative-6 for the year. He’ll also probably get moved near the deadline to make way for Tyler Myers’ monstrous contract extension.

Andrej Sekera: I was a big advocate for trading Sekera at the deadline, or trading his RFA rights this off-season. Neither of those things came true, and now that he’s inked a four year deal with the Sabres I hope he proves me wrong on everything I’ve ever said about him. That being said, the kid has never been consistent.
Even last season, during which Sekera show all kinds of offensive prowess, he was benched for a large period of time and went away when he was on the ice. He’s the perpetual “could be,” and unless he repeats last year I don’t think he will ever be what is expected of him. Unless, that is, you expect an inconsistent defender with flashes of skill that warrant an inflated contract.
Sekera’s position on this team is no longer in his own hands. He’s let it become dependent on how everyone else is doing. When Myers couldn’t get a competent partner to save his life, Sekera kind of slid into that spot and he got hot at the right time. Well now there are some new blue liners in town that have long, consistent, and powerful reputations behind them which will ensure they get first pick at the top pairings. Sekera’s likely to be a third pairing defender, one or two screw-ups from sitting on the bench. I peg him for about 15 points and a negative-4. Oh and Whiner Line callers will be the bane of his existence.

Shaone Morrisonn: Here’s where I write something snarky and overly-critical about the guy with way too many extraneous letters in his name. Fact of the matter is Morrisonn was signed because the Sabres desperately needed a guy with any experience to round out the team, he had injury issues, and he never got into the rhythm for the season. Now fans and analysts have all but defaulted him to the AHL or the bench, and his $2 million cap hit would take a bit chunk out to help the Sabres get to the salary cap.
If he goes to the AHL, he’ll want to be traded. If he gets traded, it’ll be for beans. But the team has signed players of such a caliber that, barring injuries, we won’t see Morrisonn suit up for the Sabres this season.

 Tyler Myers: The Golden Boy of Buffalo is about to get a raise. A big one. Take one look at the Drew Doughty issues or the Shea Weber deal and you might get an idea of what Buffalo’s in for with this. And the thing is, it’s entirely earned. Myers has only begun his career and he’s already a commanding, game-changing force out on the ice. I peg him as the entire reason the 2009-10 Sabres went from missing the playoffs to winning the division, and his fluctuations last year coincide with the team’s slow start and great finish.
Myers is going to power his way to about 45 points and a plus-10,  a huge contract extension, and the season of his life as he plays side by side with his favorite player in Robyn Regehr. Myers is this team’s Chara, this team’s Weber, and this team’s Jack Johnson. He’ll solidify himself to be as much a marquee player for this team as Ryan Miller has been for the last 5 seasons, and expect the contract length to rival or top Ehrhoff’s 10 year deal.

Mike Weber: Richard Kind‘s lookalike is going to lead the team in hits again, though they will probably fall short of Regehr’s in terms of punishment. Still, Weber’s going to be a consistent, chug-a-long third pairing guy that will play some minutes on the penalty kill. I doubt he’ll repeat last year’s stats, but look for him to score a few assists (about 10 points) and land in the positive (I call plus-6).

Marc-Andre Gragnani: Boy was I relieved when this team signed Gragnani to a one-year deal. I realize there isn’t a lot of room on this roster for him, but this kid is good. Very good. He led this team in points during the post-season at a time when a lot of the point scorers (and defenders) evaporated. Frankly, the bench is not at all where I want to see him, but where does he go? The answer I’d have given you in June was to trade Sekera’s rights and make Gragnani one of the top six. Well that option seems to have come and gone, and I’m betting the only way the kid will play as a Sabre past this season is if Morrisonn and Leopold get traded or if there is a career-ending injury. But most likely Gragnani will be ready to go if needed, and otherwise shopped around as a package deal for a center.
Still, assuming he plays the whole season, he’ll get some great offensive output of about 25 points and a plus-12.

GOALIES

Ryan Miller: What can be said? Statistically Miller had a career average season last year. When I write that, keep in mind that in his “career average” years thus far he has had a depleted defense in front of him and a leadership void up on the forward lines. For Miller’s “career average” years the team hasn’t had their wingers coming back to help a whole lot and their defenders have either been incapacitated or more concerned with scoring than preventing goals.
With Regehr in front of him, with Myers not stumbling at the beginning of the year, with Sekera being anything resembling consistent, with Ehrhoff’s puck control, with the continuing lack of Dmitri Kalinin on this team…there are so many factors that are just ready to click in place. And when they do Ryan Miller will look around and say, “Is this game supposed to be this much easier? Seriously? Is this how Brodeur and Tim Thomas do so well year in and year out? Because of a solid defense?”
I’m calling it. Career year. And with tough competition out there like Pekka Rinne for Nashville and a red hot Tim Thomas in Boston, it means so much more when I say that Miller will be in Vezina form.
Of course that is also thanks to…

Jhonas Enroth:  Here’s your X-factor, Sabres fans. Enroth is highly skilled, and he’s ready to go. There were rumors that he wasn’t willing to sign the smaller contract that he signed, but then I guess Tim Kennedy called him and screamed, “TAKE IT! TAKE WHAT THEY OFFER! Look what happened to meeeeeeeee!”
Enroth is going to get more playing time than any Sabres backup since Marty Biron, and he’ll get  it without Miller being injured. This advantage is twofold. First, more playing time will give him more of a rhythm and keep him fresh, unlike Lalime or Thibault. Second, a hot up-and-comer is just what Ryan Miller needs as motivation to stay in tip-top shape and on his A-Game. Miller earned the starting job from Biron, and now he’s going to have Enroth trying to earn it from him. And that will make the goaltending get better and better instead  of plateuing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Topics: Andrej Sekera, Boston Bruins, Buffalo, Buffalo Sabres, Christian Ehrhoff, Craig Rivet, Darcy Regier, Eastern Conference, Fansided, Free Agency, Hockey, Jhonas Enroth, Lindy Ruff, Marc-andre Gragnani, Mike Weber, NHL, Northeast Division, Patrick Lalime, Playoffs, Robyn Regehr, Ryan Miller, Sabres, Shaone Morrisonn, Stanley Cup, Terry Pegula, Trade, Trade Deadline, Tyler Myers

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