Jan 20, 2012; London, ON, Canada; London Knights center Max Domi (16) in action against the Owen Sound Attack at the John Labatt Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sharpening The Blade. What Is The Big Focus For Next Season?

Finishing at 21-21-6, the Buffalo Sabres are following one motto, “Rebuild.”

It’s no secret the Buffalo Sabres “achilles heel” this past season lays heavily on the lackluster defense that we have. As a cliché would read, the defense, at times, seemed like it was “swiss cheese.”

Leaving one of the best goaltenders, by my opinion, in Ryan Miller, out to make the majority of the saves. While he was equal to the task, you still have a team that allowed an average 33 shots per game. That is alot for a goaltender to handle, regardless Miller turned away the shots, only allowing for 108 total goals.

Mar. 31, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (10) during a game against the Boston Bruins at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Dishing out two of the core defensemen at the trade deadline, with Jordan Leopold heading to St. Louis for a second round and conditional fifth round in the upcoming 2013 draft, and then Robyn Regehr to the LA Kings for a 2014 second round and a 2015 second round pick.

Also moved out of the Blue and Gold’s defense was TJ Brennan, Buffalo’s first pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, where he was traded to the Florida Panthers for a 5th round pick.

But let us not also forget the Jason Pominville move that brought us Johan Larsson and Matt Hackett from the Minnesota Wild. Earning us hefty pick this coming draft.

So with that, where do the Sabres need to improve? The answer?

Everywhere.

As a means of defense, the Sabres need to look for a solid wall throughout all of their lines.

The team showed flashes of a defensive brilliance at times, but in small doses. Up and coming players such as Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb show real promise up and down the ice as two defenders that could very well make their stay inside Rolston’s core defense as soon as next season.

But the real question is why not? Two players, very comfortable with Rolston’s system of play, joining a team full-time where they know and are comfortable with the team, can do a lot more than just riding on skill alone. If there are two players from the minors coming up to compete with the big boys, its Pysyk and McNabb.

Other defensemen worth giving a nod to include the likes of Mike Weber, who was probably without a doubt the most consistent defense the team had from beginning to end, and right down the stretch. Although the team still missed the postseason, the work Weber did to keep us in the hunt for as long as possible was incredible. His physicality in the corners and all around the Sabres zone is just what this struggling team needed and will need when the team brings in some young guns in need of an experienced player to teach them.

Feb 7, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; the Buffalo Sabres sabres line with defenseman Mike Weber (6), defenseman Tyler Myers (57), center Cody Hodgson (19), and left wing Thomas Vanek (26) during the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

With a growing defense and a hope that Tyler Myers can return to his freshman year standing in confidence. Very little might be needed when it comes to the draft.

Offensively, the team seemed to have it right at the beginning of the season and as the season began to wear off. But the importance came right in the middle, when the team really needed it.

The big offensive burst came from the likes of Thomas Vanek, Cody Hodgson, and for the time being, Jason Pominville. All of them being the top line. This line, existent for most, if not all, of Lindy Ruff’s last 16 games as the head coach. While it did produce the large chunk of points for the team, it wasn’t helpful to the rest of the lines.

But then entered Ron Rolston, who in his first move was shaking the lines up a bit, and moving the top three to other lines, not as a punishment to them, but as a reward to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines, trying to spark an offensive burst out of young guys and those who don’t put the puck in the net as often. In most cases, the risk actually worked some nights.

That’s what we need. We don’t need the likes of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, although having them would be nice, what we need is chemistry, we need the team to go out there, and be able to tic-tac-toe, passing through the opponents feet, and placing the puck in the net like it’s no problem at all.

Draft wise, this is where the picks can come in handy, the league is always changing, and in today’s league, the young players are what have some teams feeling the pain.

I say the team, which has its first pick at 8th, should go for some offensive talent, that of which could land them another Russian threat in Valeri Nichushkin, RW from the Moscow Dynamo, possibly landing right in the laps of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston, as he could very well be the producer we need. He’s quick, big-bodied, with a sense of positioning that could help the transition to the NHL easier, and the best part, he will work the gritty corners and areas that we need to secure, place him on the line with Vanek and they could compliment each other very nicely.

Who knows, Grigorenko or Hodgson might fill the center and that could be the top line. Wait and see how the draft goes, and if the team does what they did this past offseason, he might be elite in no time.

Other players who enter the sights include Ryan Pulock, Defenseman of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who at 6′ 1″ and 210 lbs, has the potential to do some damage, and with a slap shot like his, could provide some offensive pressure from just inside the blue line.

Some crazy speculation as well, Max Domi, Center from the  London Knights. Only standing at 5′ 10″, he isn’t afraid to go to the dirty

Jan 20, 2012; London, ON, Canada; London Knights center Max Domi (16) in action against the Owen Sound Attack at the John Labatt Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

areas and won’t back down for anyone. He is an explosive player, with great balance and a heart and fire to get right to playing in NHL almost immediately. While he has been known to try and move out of position from the defensive zone, sometimes costing a goal here and there, that is minor tuning work compared to what he could have to develop.If the Sabres are still looking for speed, grit, and developing skill, then Max Domi is a package deal.

Goaltending is simple, if you’re going to build the defense, then keep Miller. It’s no use trying to build strength and a thicker wall if you’re going to get rid of the man who backstopped 90% of the shots he faced. When it comes down to it and the battle between him and Enroth, Rolston should look to what St. Louis or what the surging Pens have been doing. Divide the time in net more equally. Miller is a solid goalie, and Enroth is just as solid. If one guy has an off night, Rolston could just as easily switch out and focus more on scoring and the defending and let the two collaborate on the save percentage.

My prediction for next season roster:

Offense:

Vanek – Hodgson/Ott – Nichushkin

Leino/Ennis – Hodgson/Ott – Stafford

Foligno/Gerbe – Porter/Domi – Kaleta

Scott – Domi – Kaleta

Defense:

Ehrhoff – Myers

Sulzer (Granted he is healthy)** – Weber

Sekera - Pysyk

Pulock* – Pardy**

*Pulock will spend first season in AHL for development, but will most likely get call up for injuries or filling in for scratches

**Pending UFA’s

 

Goaltender: 

Miller (46 games starting) & Enroth (36 games starting)

What are your observations for next season and wants when it comes to the draft? Comment below!

Tags: Buffalo Sabres

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